With her startup, The Good Cup Project, Kate Tyshchenko is trying to solve the problem of single-use plastic pollution, developing a travel mug with cutlery seamlessly fitted inside its walls. It’s her third venture; Kate previously founded a startup that connects people over home-cooked meals (think Airbnb for dinners), and she still advises corporations on digital marketing and data analytics. A former management consultant, Kate has a master’s in economics from the University of Regina, and a bachelor’s in logistics and management that she earned in her native Russia.
My first job ever… was as a detective’s assistant in Russia. I asked our local police office if they needed any help with catching criminals, and they hired me for the summer as an admin assistant when I was 13. At the time I really wanted to work for the police and be a detective.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I am the type of person who learns things quickly but also gets bored quite easily. I am interested in so many different areas — everything from neuroscience to micro-controllers. Running a startup is the only way I can never get bored because my life is so different every day. I also love making my life harder — “challenge” is my middle name!
My proudest accomplishment is… moving to Canada alone without knowing a single soul here and leaving my entire life back home.
My boldest move to date was… leaving a well-paying job in management consulting to jump into startups. Everyone was asking me why I did it, but I always knew this is what I was meant to do. The truth is, if you are a real entrepreneur, you cannot enjoy working in a corporate world.
I surprise people when I tell them… I do a lot of scuba diving, which is my favourite thing to do in the world.
My best advice to people considering launching a start-up is… to listen to your customers, but even more importantly, listen to those who are not your customers and try to understand why they do not use your product. Learn from them and constantly iterate.
The best advice I’ve received… was during my time as a mentor at Y Combinator startup school. A few things which Paul Graham said stayed with me. One was on constant iteration: “Pivoting is part of your startup growth.” It means that no founder just comes up with an idea and grows it into a billion-dollar company. You have to change on the way, to create something that people really want, not what you believe they might want.
“I am very much a generalist and I love exploring what else the world is about besides business… different perspectives and different people inspire me the most.”
My biggest setback was… when suppliers told me my first idea of an eco-mug was “not manufacturable” because of how injection moulding works.
I overcame it by… telling myself: “Unless it contradicts the laws of physics, there must be a way. It might be very expensive and not feasible, but it will take all my creativity to fix it.” I sat down and created a new design on a napkin, then I found my current engineer who actually took my design to the next level.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… doing what you love every day. Working on what you really care about!
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… learn how to sail. Is one hour a day enough?
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know that… I did stand-up comedy and I still plan to do open mic at least once this year.
The one thing I wish I knew when starting The Good Cup Project is… how to be more organized on a daily basis. Since I am a solo-preneur I sometimes struggle to organize my day in a productive way without killing myself and working super late. I also feel guilty when I don’t work and I still need to find a way of dealing with this.
I stay inspired by… reading and learning about a variety of different subjects and topics. I am very much a generalist and I love exploring what else the world is about besides business. I took classes in computer science, neurobiology, behavioural evolution, analytics and photography. Different perspectives and different people inspire me the most.
The future excites me because… the best time to start a business is now! Your customers are just a few clicks away and solo-preneurs like me compete with old and established businesses like Coca Cola. And it will only be getting better!
For my next step… I just got an amazing engineer as part of my team, so we are redoing the Good Cup design to make it more appealing for users as well as more feasible. I am super excited about how we will be able to change people’s behaviour and reduce the amount of single-use plastic cutlery and takeaway paper cups.