Eugene Yaroslavtsev was a software engineer at several companies before trying his own startup. With his co-founder, they launched an IoT platform on Kickstarter, where they raised $75,000, and then went on to join the startup accelerator Y Combinator. Though they shipped what they promised to their Kickstarter backers, ultimately the business didn’t work out. After that, he joined Uber, where he revamped their fare system, which shows the order price with a breakdown on the order screen.

While still at Uber, he took a vacation to Japan. On this trip, he reconnected with a friend from San Francisco who had recently launched her own startup, a marketplace for local service professionals (think photographers, tax accountants, plumbers, etc) called MeetsMore. After meeting with her and the rest of the team, he was quickly convinced they were destined for success.

Describing Ayako and Fumi, MeetsMore’s founders, he said, “I remember reading in one of Paul Graham essay’s that the most successful founders he encountered could best be described by a single phrase - ‘relentlessly resourceful’. I never really quite understood exactly what that meant. I finally learned when I spent some time with Ayako and Fumi. For them, “relentlessly resourceful’ isn’t a skill, it’s just who they are.”

Not only was the team good, but the product also matched up with his experience. He said, “It was a space adjacent to my work at Uber. Uber is a marketplace for the real world for transportation. MeetsMore is a marketplace for the real world for services. I felt it was an exciting challenge in a different vertical, it was something that I had relevant experience in, and felt that I could make a really good contribution.”

You can have a better quality of life in Tokyo, getting paid $50,000 per year than in SF making $150,000.

Also ready for a change from San Francisco, he saw Tokyo as being a more liveable city, something that’s important especially when you’re joining a startup. He said, “If you’re going to work so hard at a startup, why not do it in a place where your living environment feels like it is within your control. Like the trains run on time, you don’t have to worry about your bike getting stolen, and all the food tastes good. That’s what I really liked about Tokyo and Japan in general.”

He continued, “People often have this misconception, in terms of compensation, when they see the differential in engineering salaries between Tokyo and San Francisco. They say that engineers get paid so little in Tokyo that their standard of living must be much worse. But ironically it’s actually the opposite. You can have a better quality of life in Tokyo, getting paid $50,000 per year than in SF making $150,000.”

When you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

Ready to make the leap from Uber, he moved to Tokyo to join MeetsMore as their second engineer. He said, “Some people might ask, ‘why would you leave such an important position at Uber to be the second engineer at a random startup in Japan?’ My answer to this is a quote I saw written on the wall in Uber’s old HQ, originally from Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, ‘When you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.’”

Though the company had some traction at the time, it still was a long way to go. He said, “MeetsMore had initial traction, especially from the photographers category, but there was still a lot of struggle to make it grow. That was a long, difficult process, where we tried a ton of different things. Like one out of every fifty things we tried would work. It was lots of trial and error. Only about a year and half after I joined, we finally hit product market fit.”

Despite not speaking any Japanese when he first joined, still describing his ability as “so-so”, language hasn’t been an issue for him. He said, “Most of the people on the engineering team speak English to some degree of competency. We tend to communicate in a mix of both Japanese and English. Any time there is someone who isn’t good at Japanese, we’ll switch to mostly English for communication.”

Sometimes I’m working on really simple stuff, where getting something out quickly is important. Other times, I dive super deep.

At MeetsMore, he’s worked on an incredible variety of tasks. He said, “Sometimes I’m working on really simple stuff, where getting something out quickly is important. Other times, I dive super deep. Like basically creating a solution to a problem where you can’t npm install the solution, there’s no package for solving that. You actually have to just think about the problem from first principles, and solve it yourself. Most engineers on our team do the same thing, so it’s a lot of fun.”

One particularly interesting challenge he’s worked on is the interface where professionals set the area where they want to receive work orders from. While the UI uses Google Maps, outlining the specific neighborhoods that the professionals can choose is something he built. Starting with a public dataset that the government of Japan provides, he built a processing pipeline to transform it into something that could be rendered in a speedy manner.

Balancing the performance and fidelity was challenging, particularly for islands. He said, “I love going to islands, but I hate dealing with island geofences. Islands, it turns out have really rough borders at the shore, and that results in really complex geofences. But simplifying them can give you a really poor representation of the geofence. So you have to straddle, almost fine tune the simplification parameters of the algorithm to correctly account for it.”

We’re building the engineering foundation that the rest of MeetsMore is going to be built on for the next decade.

If you’re the kind of engineer who likes to work on hard problems like this, Eugene thinks it’s the perfect time to join. “We’re at this point where we need to reengineer a lot of our systems for the long term. I actually started a new team within MeetsMore that we call the Foundation team. We’re building the engineering foundation that the rest of MeetsMore is going to be built on for the next decade. For people who like to work on that kind of stuff, platformy things, where your customers are other engineers, that’s a really sweet job. I know for me it is.”

With COVID-19, the engineering team is working fully remotely, but in the past he’s enjoyed the in-person comradery they’ve had. He said, “The whole Japanese culture of going out for nomikais, after work parties, goes well with the whole startup culture. I also really liked, in Japanese it’s called gasshuku, or offsites. The offsites were super fun. Especially ones that were engineering focused where we went off somewhere and just kind of did this two day hackathon weekend of working on fun stuff completely unrelated to what we were currently building. Maybe only engineers will get it, but go to the mountains, write a ton of code, and then hop into an onsen hot spring after. That sounds like a good weekend to me, but I’m just a weird engineer.”

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