Women break new ground in Russia’s internet business

“As long as men own the oil and gas, the only major resource left for women is the Internet,” ex-Russian TV anchor turned businesswoman Yelena Ishcheyeva said at the first Startup Women Forum in Moscow last week.

Over the last nine years, the Russian internet population has grown to 50 million users from 6.5 million, bringing Russia to the top in global internet usage. Women account for about 65 percent of users.

But what does this mean in terms of business opportunities? Women internet users are a potential target for services like those advertising money-off deals or rebroadcasting the best episodes of Sex and the City. And, as we all know, no one can understand women’s needs better than women themselves.

This is not though about feminism, chauvinism or any other “isms.” It’s pretty much a matter of fact that women, traditionally good communicators, are likely to be better sellers, even if it comes to offering discounts for eyelash extensions. 

“In a country where there are statistically more women and most of the big companies are run by men, medium-sized businesses should be given to women. Internet startups are ideal in this sense,” says Alena Popova, best known in the Russian internet as an angel investor and the founder of several lucrative websites.

Popova, inspired by Silicon Valley’s Women 2.0 project, launched the offline Startup Women community, a women’s business association that brings together active and future businesswoman and helps them raise money for their IT ideas.

“We are set to launch a fully-fledged business incubator where we are responsible for fundraising, consulting, marketing and PR services. Our commission for all this is about 5% of the projects’ future profit,” Popova said, adding that she is ready to lend smaller amounts of money (about $10,000) out of her own pocket.

But when we think of successful Russian IT-entrepreneurs, it is men that spring to mind first. Men like Pavel Durov – the Russian equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg – whose social network VKontakte (In contact) far outstrips Facebook for popularity in Russia. For comparison, VKontake has a 130-million user base, while Facebook has a mere 4.4 million.

Other Russian men leading the way in the internet business here are Yury Virovets, a founder of the recruiting portal Head Hunter, and Arkady Volozh, the head of the Russian national search engine Yandex.

But women can still play a part in the industry’s development. Popova is convinced that the internet business is mainly about that well-known woman’s skill – intuition.

“Internet projects are easy to launch because of the minimal threshold. You just should have a clear-cut idea and a team of devoted people,” she says.

While there are still far less women than men in the internet business, the gap is slowly closing. One example of a female groundbreaker is Yelena Masolova, who in her mid-20s launched Darberry, a website offering services similar to the European discount voucher company Groupon. Five months after last year’s launch, Groupon bought up Darberry. And now the user base of the company’s Russian branch has reached 650,000, with a monthly turnover of about $1 million.

In February, Masolova was included in the Forbes’s list of the 30 most influential business leaders in the Russian internet. She may be joined by other women before long.

“Girls in the internet, unlike in other spheres, feel free since there is no gender discrimination. Use the chance before the boys overtake us,” says Alena Vladimirskaya, the founder of the online recruiting service.

MOSCOW, April 12 (RIA Novosti, Anastasia Markitan)

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