13:42 | 14.01.16 | Interviews | exclusive 61852

Lara Setrakian: Armenian startup ecosystem is full of bright ideas

TV journalist and entrepreneur Lara Sedrakian is the co-founder of media and technology portal News Deeply .

News Deeply is a portal, where summery information on certain topics is gathered and later used by major media holdings and companies. It is financed by “Granatus Ventures” venture capital firm, as well as is the winner of the Enterprise Incubator Foundation (EIF), the World Bank and government’s co-financed grant competition.

Lara Sedrakian had worked in the Middle East for 5 years as a journalist, as well as in ABC News, Bloomberg Television, International Herald Tribune, and Business Insider. She was announced by Marie Claire magazine as one of the Top Women of 2012.

Itel.am talked to Lara Setrakian who lives in Honk Kong about her entrepreneurship as well as technological startup trends in Armenia.

-News  Deeply is considered to be one of the leading Armenian startups operating outside Armenia. What is the history behind it?

-The history of News Deeply began with an act of dedication and commitment to journalistic integrity. I was a television correspondent with ABC News and Bloomberg TV, based in Dubai, and covering the Middle East as a whole. I noticed that our media systems were having trouble keeping up with all the different stories that happen at the same time. We live in a very complex world and it is hard to keep up with what’s going on.

During the “Arab Spring” movements of 2011 I noticed that our media systems were unable to cover all of the important stories that were happening at the same time. One story in particular – the story of Syria – was being completely forgotten. All of the attention was on Egypt and Libya. Syria is a place I care about a great deal, with family and historical ties, and a lot of gratitude to the Syrian people for giving us a home. I decided to cover that story, because I didn’t want to leave it behind. So I created a platform dedicated to that single story, a platform called Syria Deeply.

 The success of that platform gave rise to many more ideas, as well as success stories from building our readership into a new model for international news. Since then we have expanded to five platforms, with many more topics to come.

-What were the core mistakes of your startup while developing?

The biggest mistake I’ve made is that I have been afraid, at times, to ask for help. I didn’t always have the courage or take the time to ask for advice, when there were so many people willing to give us their guidance – people who have run startups before, or people who could help us learn how to run a business.

As a first time CEO I truly needed their input. I’ve begun to take more time to ask for advice and to ask people for help when we need it. As long as you ask politely and you are thankful for their time, most people have been willing to give us a hand.

-How would your new project- “Refugees Deeply” help the Refugees’ issues?

- “Refugees Deeply” will be coming in the first quarter of 2016. We will be focusing on the global issue of migration and telling many stories about the people whose lives are shaped by the refugee experience.

There are 60 million refugees around the world – that is more than the size of many countries. We want to create a coherent picture of what they are going through.

Beyond this we are enhancing our technology platform and our customer engagement strategies.

 -How to transfer a startup into a successful business?

-The most important thing is to be organized and diligent, so that you can take a good idea and turn it into a reality. This includes building systems for how you manage your team, testing all of the hypotheses you have about the marketplace, and adapting on a regular basis to what you have learned along the way. User feedback and customer feedback is extremely important. 

-How would you describe current Armenian startup ecosystem?

-I think the Armenian startup ecosystem is full of brilliant minds and brilliant ideas. This is truly a time when talented people can shine and succeed, no matter where they are in the world, and Armenia will benefit from this greatly.

Yes, there will be challenges and some stumbling blocks along the way. But one thing we have learned from Silicon Valley is that even failure is not a bad thing – it can actually be a very good thing if you grow from your mistakes.

I think a key challenge for Armenian startups will be access, marketing, and sales in the global marketplace. Armenian startups will often need to develop a major customer base around the world. The best way they can do this is to find advisors, especially in the Armenian diaspora, who can give them guidance on how to work with customers in their target market or region. I know there are many people who would like to give this advice.

-Does Armenia participate in the developing of your initiatives? 

-We currently have a fantastic team in Armenia, composed of Arpine Grigoryan, Liana Avetian, and Narine Ohanyan. We are expanding that team, first with one new hire, then looking at how we can bring more of our value-added operations to Yerevan. We are very happy to be joining the ImpactHub as one of the startups based in their office.

 -What would be your advice to Armenian startups that are just starting out?

-Stay focused on the task at hand. Try to make the best use of your time and energy. Be as healthy as you can be with your food and exercise – this will help you have more energy and be more resilient with the journey of entrepreneurship. And don’t forget to ask for help! If you reach them in a kind and polite way, many people will join your extended network and support your chances for success.

Narine Daneghyan talked to Lara Setrakian