Eugene Shestopal (above, left) is the CEO of Poptop, a one-stop shop for booking suppliers and entertainment for events. He holds a Tech Nation Visa, and here explains how the programme helped him and his business relocate from Ukraine to Newcastle.
When I started Poptop in 2013, after 10 years of event management in Ukraine, I had a vision of a product that would make the lives of people like me easier, and allow even newcomers to the event management community to design a perfect event from scratch.
Since then, Poptop.uk.com has developed and grown, from a local marketplace of event suppliers, working only in the Ukrainian market, into a global event planning concierge service with a focus on the UK, and our main office in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Now, Poptop is visited by 1 million users each year, and helps more than 3,000 event planners every month.
We originally launched Poptop on the Ukrainian market and quickly achieved good numbers. Thanks to my expertise in the events industry and the quick product iterations of our CTO Ignat Tkhorovskyi, we managed to engage 8000 suppliers during the first several months after launch.
At the same time, we knew Poptop had the potential to be a global company, and the UK market had always been one of the most attractive for us due to its size and competitive landscape. We’d heard good things about the growing tech scene in the UK, and started to seriously look at opportunities that would take us there.
In November 2014 we were selected by UKTI to participate in the Sirius Programme in Newcastle, and launched onto the UK market just a few weeks after our relocation to the North East.
Thanks to the local community of mentors, startups, tech experts, and the fantastic accelerator programme run by Ignite, Poptop evolved rapidly, and achieved a much better product-market fit among our users.
Being physically in the UK allowed us to establish vital partnerships, learn quickly from our clients, and iterate faster.
For the Sirius Programme, we were granted Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visas, arranged through the programme. In order to continue our work in the UK and hire new team members we needed another level of visa, which would enable us to work and trade here, longer-term. Luckily, we were eligible for the Tech Nation Visa Scheme, which has made it possible for us to continue to develop and grow Poptop in Newcastle.
The whole process through Tech Nation only took around two and a half months from our initial application for endorsement.
We spent around two weeks working on supporting documentation and gathering recommendations, applied for the fast track option (Empowering the North) and received our endorsement letter within a month of submission. Getting the visa stamp from the Home Office took a further three weeks.
Having received our visas, we can now proceed with the development of our company and a long-planned investment round from UK venture funds. We’ll be strengthening our support and product development teams in the North East, and continuing to grow our international brand.
We’re looking forward to being back in the North East, taking an active part in the Tech North community of startups and developers, and giving back to the community that has supported us since we started Poptop. Newcastle is one of the most inspiring surroundings we’ve ever seen, and feels like just the right place to drive us forward. Our primary goal is to make Poptop the number one solution for event planners in the UK and in the world.
Photo: Eugene Shestopal (left) and Poptop CTO Ignat Tkhorovskyi. Image credit Poptop