Today’s episode is with Ellin Tolstov – the CTO of Level.Travel – the Expedia of Russia. A wide array of topics covered in this discussion with everything from Artificial Intelligence and momentum, Electricity, Failure, Cryptocurrency and React Native Coding.
Time Stamped Notes
0:11 Level.Travel Company Story
Ellin started Level.Travel in 2011 and launched a website in November 2012. He spent a year and a half just studying the industry and developing their first MVP with only three suppliers at the launch date. During this time, both Ellin and his business partner were in the process of obtaining funding and were working full times jobs. During their lunch breaks and evenings, they would work on this through meeting industry people and gathered all the intel that they needed.
1:41 Market Share
In terms of online sales and package holidays, it’s a very emerging market. Only about 5% of package holidays are purchased online and the rest are purchased through travel agencies.
There were 40,000 of these agencies back in 2011 and now there is about 18,000. The reason for this decline was heavily due to the economic crisis because all the businesses were an office in a basement with two travel agents working there and they didn’t have any barriers to enter the market.
3:20 The Number 1 Website for Package Holidays in Russia
80% of level.travel products are package holidays. They are the number 1 website for package holidays in Russia. Ellin describes their website to be like a retail store and their tech is used by the industry leaders like search engines. There are two main search engines that compete with Google in Russia and one of them is Yandex – which have the same share as Google. Yandex integrate the company data and it’s site is built on their technology – it’s just the front end design that is different.
4:23 Internal Development Team Size & QA Engineers
Level Travel now employs about 20 people including Quality Assurance engineers and analysts. Quality Assurance Engineers requires much more attention to detail than a developer. It’s tricky to convert any developer to a QA Engineers. It’s extremely difficult to fill these positions because there is not a lot in the market of highly experienced or skilled engineers. Developers have the flexibility of working anywhere whereas it’s a different story for QA’s. Not every company can afford a QA department. Ellin tries to remain focused on hiring from the best industries. He found a candidate that was structurally sound in thinking and she was able to set up all the processes and the flow and hire more people.
7:10 Developer Hire Process
Ellin has a HR director who looks for resumes online on all kinds of websites. When Ellin was in the US, he worked on a program with a company in San Diego. He was told Stack Overflow was a very good resource for hiring developers in the US, however he found this to not be the case in Russia.
8:57 Primary language at Company
The primary languages used at Level Travel are Ruby and Python for analytics and GOLAN for the highly intensive tasks like their search platform and heavy lifting applications. At the moment, they don’t have a mobile application, however they are planning to launch this in the new year. Ellin wasn’t included to use React Native. He was thinking of it as they use it on the web component but they decided to go native with swift as they feel its more natural to not be limited by the API’s provided by react native.
10:08 Joel’s Perspective on React Native
Hesitant at first to use React Native, Joel kept seeing massive companies like Facebook and AirBnb using React Native and their lead engineers writing articles on how they were using it and how much time it saved them. After about a year of that, Joel finally agreed to try React Native on a personal project. He was blown away but it and kept going down making customisations to assess the weakness’ and strength of the product but found more positives. He moved all of his future work to react native because react produces the native code or the source code for whatever the framework may be. What it does is it allows developers to build the reusable components which covers 60-70% of their code base. Essentially what that means is, you cut your business development budget by 60%. It’s unbelievable.
16:31 Artificial Intelligence On The Radar
Ellin feels that Artificial Intelligence is a useful tool in speech and image recognition but feels we are not close to a building a full blown AI machine. Joel brings up the fact that 130 years ago, the USA didn’t have electricity. It was not something people had in a common place anywhere. It barely existed at all. And now both Ellin and himself are here talking about AI advancing when there weren’t even have electricity or computers over a century ago. Joel believes he will see AI fully blown in this lifetime.
19:33 ICO & Block Chain
Joel discusses how investors call him and seek his advice to validate their investment in particular technologies. He has seen a number of bitcoin and ICO cryptocurrency projects – a total of 7 come over his desk over the past month. As he advises his investors honestly, he feels he likes the idea of the benefits of some of the ICO’s like Stash and Bitcoin as he likes the idea of independence from government. At the same time, it’s growing pretty fast and it is becoming hard to monitor. In trying to determine the scale of this, he found that it’s all private, unlike a stock exchange which is all public, it’s like you’re trying to get context but its difficult to know how much money is actually flowing to these junk start ups.
26:08 Artificial Inflating
Joel talks about similarities with CTO’s and Leaders of 400 people companies and how they didn’t take any investment capital. They built something while they worked their main jobs, they then went and found people to fund their services. They rolled that profit to hire their first employees and they did everything they could to design the best possible product. It’s a pattern of slow and steady over 10-15 years. A lot of things with start up’s these days is that it’s all artificial momentum. They don’t’ bring their customers any value. It’s going to catch up at some point.
31:56 Advice to Ellin’s past Self
Do everything the way that you did! Don’t be afraid to fail. Whoever doesn’t fail, doesn’t succeed.