Victoria Yampolsky is the CEO & founder of The Startup Station, an education and financial advisory platform for early-stage startups. Victoria helps startups articulate their business case to investors from the financial point of view. She works with founders to create a detailed strategic roadmap, a robust financial plan, and a resulting valuation that outline business logic, drivers, financial goals, and key metrics for their company. Victoria has also developed a comprehensive seven-course finance curriculum geared to entrepreneurs of early-stage ventures with little to no knowledge of finance.
More than 1,000 founders have taken The Startup Station’s courses to learn the basics of accounting, valuation, financial modeling, and startup financing and their clients have raised more than $50M. They have also worked with numerous accelerators including Rockstart, Starta, Numa, Halo, and more. Victoria also teaches at Bank of America Institute of Women’s Entrepreneurship At Cornell.
Previously, Victoria worked for Deutsche Bank and was a technology consultant with CapGemini’s Financial Services Division. Victoria holds a Bachelor’s Degree, Cum Laude, in Computer Science, with a minor in Mathematics from Cornell University, and an MBA, with honors, from Columbia Business School.
(Photo courtesy of Alyssa R. Bennett)
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Victoria Yampolsky: All my life I’ve been looking for passion. At first, I thought it was computer science and working as an IT consultant. Then I thought it was finance and working on Wall Street. I was wrong. As much as I loved quantitative work, I also craved creativity and human connection. I only found what truly makes me happy when I discovered entrepreneurship. I love being an entrepreneur because:
- I find it incredibly rewarding to be able to help other people and see the impact I make. I help founders make their dream a reality by accelerating their fundraising process with thorough financials.
- I get to create new things every day, whether it is financial models which represent founders’ vision, or new educational content, or new partnerships. Each day brings something new and exciting.
- Last but not least, I get to meet so many talented people – that is the part of the job I love the most. We are all in it together, and only together can we create the world we really want.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Victoria Yampolsky: My first venture was a film company. In addition to my computer science and math interests, as I child, I acted for many years. So I wanted to try my hand in the creative field. My role was to raise production and distribution funds for a slate of films.
I was not afraid to start a company – in fact, I was too confident because I have never really failed before. All of that was about to change as this venture turned out to be a complete disaster. I made all the mistakes first-time entrepreneurs make: tried to raise too much money ($165M), did not put a team together which justified that raise, attracted the wrong people to the team, did not do enough validation on our concept with the industry insiders. The list goes on and on.
The experience was very painful, but also humbling. Looking back it was absolutely necessary for my personal and professional growth. It gave me the insights and inner strength to start my second venture, The Startup Station which I run to this day.
As I ran The Startup Station, I did consider giving up several times. Every time I had these thoughts, I gave myself a timeline and a goal to achieve before I do that. In the end, somehow or maybe because of that approach, I always made it work. So I think in reality I was never ready to give up.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Victoria Yampolsky: The mistakes entrepreneurs make will differ depending on the stage they are in. I mostly work with early-stage entrepreneurs who have already validated a product-market fit and are raising their first/second professional round of financing. For that group, here are the top three mistakes I see:
- Lack of a clear financial plan which demonstrates how a company is going to execute its strategy.
Specifically, what goals do they plan to achieve, how, over what time frame, with what investment, and how they will measure success. Robust bottom-up financial planning can accelerate the fundraising process because it provides a clear execution roadmap. This roadmap can bring all stakeholders on the same page, increase the team’s credibility, and assuage investors’ worries about the team’s discipline and objectivity. Furthermore, this financial plan reduces execution risk. It empowers the company executives to correctly evaluate which parts of the strategy are working and make quick adjustments based on market feedback.
- Unrealistic fundraising expectations
Many entrepreneurs underestimate how long it would take them to fundraise as well as their readiness for fundraising. It is easy to correct this mistake – just talk to other founders who have raised money and learn from them.
- Mindset issues
This is a big one. We all struggle with our own inner barriers: whether it is sense of self-worth, fear of failure, impostor syndrome, perfectionism – fear of trying new things, etc. Not being aware of what is blocking us can really hurt us as we will continue to play out the same scenarios in our life. Oftentimes those blocks will make it impossible to achieve our goals. How we respond to stress, all the resentments or anger we hold take space in our brain which can be used for something else – like company growth.
I believe that personal development and growth are an intrinsic part of success for any entrepreneur. How can one do it? There are so many tools. The book which helps me is called “Radical Forgiveness” by Colin Tipping.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Victoria Yampolsky: For me, resilience is the courage and inner strength not to give up after you have failed. And most importantly, not to expect or be afraid to fail again. It is the ability to believe in oneself no matter what, no matter how tough life gets and what curveball it throws at you. And of course, learn from your mistakes so that you don’t repeat them.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Victoria Yampolsky: The Startup Station’s mission is to empower every founder to use finance to drive their business forward. We have deep expertise in strategic financial modeling. Our unique approach to modeling allows us to model ventures even at very early stages. We have worked with 150+ companies one-on-one across 15+ industries. 1000+ founders have taken our finance curriculum.
We offer financial advisory and education. We are also a community with many free resources for founders. Here is why we are different:
- We provide continuous support: pre-funding and post-funding.
- The models we build are “smarter” because, in addition to just being reconciliation tools, they are also business intelligence tools that help you drive your business forward and accelerate your fundraising process.
- Our financial plans show how strategic decisions convert into financial results, making it easy to explain to investors what you are planning to achieve, with how much capital, over what time frame, and what valuation you deserve.
- As you execute, you can use these models to react faster to market feedback because you are able to clearly understand what results resulted from which strategic decisions.
- For those who are bootstrapping or part of accelerators, we offer a comprehensive finance curriculum for entrepreneurs with no prior finance experience. With this curriculum, you can build a robust financial model and credibly value your company on your own.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Victoria Yampolsky: I am highly organized, detailed-oriented, have a high level of integrity, and have great listening skills. I am also really good at distilling a task into smaller ones and creating a clear algorithm for completion.
My analytical, organizational, and attention to detail skills allow me to create efficient processes and frameworks. I can also successfully manage expectations of employees and customers because we have a good idea of how long each task will take. This reduces stress for everyone involved.
Integrity (honesty, commitment to deadlines, transparency) leads to credibility and trust. Because of my listening and analytical skills, I am also really good at creating win-win arrangements which leads to many collaborations all around the world. As well as resolving conflict.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Victoria Yampolsky: I think it is incredibly important for a leader to live the values of his/her own brand. We lead by example, and actions speak much louder than words. Internalizing the company values affects how we do business, which partners we attract, how we interact with customers, what message we send out there in the world. It affects everything.
In general, I believe that living the company values is directly related to personal development and realizing what fears and doubts keep us from reaching our goals and being happy.
How do you monitor if the people in your department are performing at their best?
Victoria Yampolsky: I do several things to motivate people that I work with.
- I care about them, their well-being, and their professional and personal growth. More importantly, I show it. I am always there to listen and to provide support.
- I get them excited about where we are going together. I explain the big picture and how each task fits into it. I welcome their feedback on how to make it better.
- I keep the communication lines open so that they feel comfortable coming to me with ideas and when they are having trouble.
- I work with them to set clear deadlines and processes so that we reduce stress and can operate efficiently.
- When we have a good result, I offer financial rewards so that we all share in the success we create.
- I always give honest and consistent feedback about things they do well and where they can improve. I welcome feedback from them so that I can grow and we work better as a team. And I say “thank you, I appreciate you” a lot!
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Victoria Yampolsky: I would say this: dream big, but don’t get carried away by your ego. You will make mistakes and this is OK. Get mentors and a team that can support you. Join a community of other founders so that you can get additional practical insights and avoid the most common mistakes.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Victoria Yampolsky: My favorite life lesson is the one I learned only two years ago: “We are our own enemies. We are the reason for the life we have and we have the power to change it”. Two years ago, when the pandemic started, I was not in a good place, personally and professionally. I happened to attend a workshop that has changed my life. It allowed me to become aware of the limiting beliefs and negative emotions I harbored, some for many years. I understood how they affected me. More importantly, I learned the tools to work through them, let them go, and thus free my mind.
For the past two years, I’ve been working through different situations which were causing me to be unhappy and learning to let them go. I saw tremendous results. I became happier, my relationships and friendships improved, and my business grew exponentially. Before, I could not have even imagined any of that was possible.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Victoria Yampolsky for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Victoria Yampolsky or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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