We're a small team in Ukraine with technical chops hungry for success. Finding a lucrative market niche and attracting real paying customers is a challenge, especially given our remote location.
So establishing a bizdev & sales partner in the States seems like a good idea. What's the best way to approach this? Applying to seed funds like YCombinator and TechStars seems like a good idea. Attending events like TC Disrupt and FOWA and network like crazy is another one.
What else could we try? Specific advice from someone who's been through a similar story is most welcomed.
Ideally, we'll keep most of R&D in Kiev while sales & bizdev as well as company formation will take place in the States.
You need to separate this in a) the company formation and b) the person.
In your situation, having a company in the US is probably a net loss. Some Americans may be comforted by seeing a US postal address. But the additional trust that is created by a US postal address is a 'weak' signal, the trust created by your branding, website design, social media presence, person names, blogging, publicized policies, etc. when combined is far stronger.
On the other hand, having a US holding company, and then having to deal with US - Ukrainian dual taxation issues, keeping your US company compliant with US laws from a desk in Ukraine, money transfers between US and UA, etc... All this adds up, and I don't think you fully appreciate how much work it will amount to in today's post-9/11 business climate.
Applying to seed funds like YCombinator and TechStars seems like a good idea.They will often require the principal people of the startup to be in the US, i.e. have a US work permit. That will be very difficult to arrange. Perhaps you should look at Seedcamp, a EU / global seed fund. But note, for this you would need to have the product vision pretty much ready. (I was a Mentor at Seedcamp Helsingborg, and I can clearly say that the pitches that were most market-ready were by far the most persuasive.)
What else could we try?Well, find a co-founder who complements your weak sides. But this will depend on where you are on the journey from desire to have a startup --> having some ideas --> having a realistic busines plan / lean startup market study --> having an actual product. Your question didn't quite say where you're at.
One thing I will add is, having worked with distributed teams for several years, I find that meeting in person every 6-8 weeks is absolutely indispensable. So in your case, I think you should search for a partner in Eastern or Western Europe -- outside Europe the travel time will be quite burdensome.
There is a bill before Congress called the "StartUp Visa." Here's a very recent TechCrunch article http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/14/finally-a-startup-visa-that-works/.
If the proposed changes are adopted and the bill passed, this will significantly decrease the barriers for Non-US entrepreneurs to enter the US.
I know you already selected an answer for your question, but id like to add my 2 cents.
Being in Ukraine you have a huge advantage than being in the states. This may sound partial because my wife is Ukrainian, but over the years i have found the talent in Eastern Europe is a lot better than what you find in other offshore countries or the US.
Compare that with Ukraine's tax friendliness, hunger for growth, low cost of living (& wages), high education, dedicated culture, and in your face culture of honesty and you have a recipe for a great location to base development from.
There are a few challenges you face.
1. Being incorporated in the USA probably gives you some asthetic advantages. This is easy to do since you dont have to be a US resident to form a INC here. Just need a mailing address $50 per month, File INC, (Around $800 year California, less in other states), bank account. You could have a US phone number and just use a voip service.
The beauty of internet apps is that your storefront is y our domain. I dont remember the last time i checked where a site was CODED in. You could host in the US. You could virtually be here.
With your concern about Business Development. The best BD is done in the form of commissioned contractors or affiliates with incentive to sell. Again, based on economic numbers, most power affiliates i have found are not of US, Canadian or Western Europe residency.
I think what would benefit you would be to assess your goals.
you would be surprised what advantages you have.
My advice, start a small project that you can afford.
Use it as SEED money for larger projects.
Grow your business organically.
If you share more about your venture, i would not mind chatting with you on Skype or a phone call. Again, i am very partial to Ukraine, and would like to support the cause as best as i can.
Best of luck