Ayaz Karimov is an Innovation and Technology Management master’s student at the University of Tartu, and co-founder of Inskillz (inskillz.io) in Estonia. He joined the PRISM Investor Track for LGBTQ+ students.
What is Inskillz?
When we started Inskillz (inskillz.io), it was just a marketing newsletter, and there, we were sharing growth hacking tips, vacancies, tools, and news. After a certain point, our subscribers started to ask whether we have the community or not, and we kept telling them that “currently, we do not have the community, but we plan to open one”. One day, we decided to open both Facebook and Slack communities. That was the moment that we became more than a newsletter, and we started to gather people who actively participate within the product development process with marketing, data, design, and product management background. Now, in this community, we regularly organize meetups, events, workshops, and we also create podcasts, blogs, videos. At Inskillz, we also build the games for the ones who would like to improve their knowledge in marketing, data, design, and product management. Currently, we are creating the games for large enterprises and organizations such as UNDP, EU, however, we plan to launch our first games for individuals already in December 2021. Basically, people will be able to play the games online or they will be able to purchase the board game directly from our shop.
From Estonia, how did you join PRISM?
One of my friends is into this investment and she was in a Slack community. One of the channels was called the LGBTQ+ community. Two days after I joined, someone shared the PRISM Investor Track program. When I saw this, I really got excited, and I applied and wasn’t expecting to get accepted. So why did I want to join the program? First, it’s an LGBTQ+ oriented program, so I enjoy being in the community. Second, it’s a student oriented program. So far, all the funds that I’ve joined are about professional people who are more than 50 years old, and it scares me to know that you have to be 40 years old to join a VC fund. PRISM was the first time I learned that students can also run a fund. In general, I was into expanding my network with the students who joined the program and people who came to speak.
How did you work out time zones to attend U.S. calls?
Sometimes, even at 4 a.m., I was awake to meet with the people from the cool companies because you can’t just write on their LinkedIn and say, “How’s it going? Let’s have a Q&A.” The speaker session was a unique opportunity given by Dorm Room Fund.
We had calls doing practices like the learning model, which was happening on Saturdays, and in these calls, it was okay to talk from 9-11 p.m., according to Estonia time, but when it comes to the calls with professional people for Q&A, it was 2 a.m, 3 a.m, and once it was 4 a.m. I remember once I was awake from 4:30 until 5:30 a.m., and my job starts at 8 a.m. When your interviews finish at 5:30 a.m., you really don’t have time to sleep. I didn’t even bother to sleep or didn’t bother to think about sleeping.
What cultural differences did you feel calling in from Estonia?
Everyone speaks English but in my university, all of us have broken English because it’s our second or third language. We had a Russian accent. We had an Arabic accent. But in this program, everyone is speaking so fast. In the beginning, I couldn’t understand some parts. Sometimes they were asking some questions I didn’t understand. For example, on the first day, somebody asked, “What is your spirit animal?” I don’t know. We don’t ask “What is your spirit animal?” in my country. I was Googling because I don’t understand, and I was searching for my spirit animal as soon as possible.
In general, I wouldn’t say there were too many cultural differences because globalization hit us way more than our previous generation. I felt the students in PRISM were also interested in the things that I am interested in, and they also follow the podcast that I follow.
Tell us about your experience in jail while in Istanbul.
I have close friends whom I talk with every day about the fun stuff happening with being gay and the sad stuff about being gay. When it comes to jobs and older people from the generations in Azerbaijan, I do not talk to them about being gay because sometimes I don’t want to argue with them, and sometimes, it’s too dangerous to talk to them. If the person is from my country, I try to be attentive, but when it comes to my friends, I have no orders. In PRISM, I felt so open. I told them this story:
I was once in a pride parade in Istanbul and the people were running after us, and they put us in jail. If you are in Istanbul and in the pride parade, even without a rainbow flag, they come and ask you, “What are you doing?” They invite you to their car, and you go to the jail and stay there for five hours and that’s all. In my case, it wasn’t that dangerous because I spoke Turkish.
When I shared this story with people in PRISM, they had so much energy and mentioned “Be gay, do crime.” I didn’t feel like I needed to stop sharing anything in the program.
What have you gained from PRISM’s LGBTQ+ community?
In Azerbaijan, it’s one of the worst countries to live as a gay man. In the Caucuses, there are too many who commit suicide every week and you cannot find a proper job. When it comes to Estonia, they don’t care who you are.
It is amazing to meet queer people in PRISM, and it’s cool because it wasn’t just that the program happened and went on. I believe we are going to keep it up, and I really liked the people who were in the program. They are so gay and I love it a lot.
In order to do assignments, sometimes we were in groups. During these calls, we had chit chats with the group mates. They were sharing their experience of how to be gay in their countries. There was one guy from the program who has a Ukrainian root, and I felt close to him as well because I am also part of this post Soviet Union country, and it was so great to know that something happening in another part of the world is similar.
Sometimes it is sad because the same problems are also happening in developed countries. I also feel encouraged every time when I talk to them because, for example, there was one guy, Adrian. When he was just talking about being gay, he was so courageous. Maybe it was just a conversation for him, but after the call, I felt more ready. Even now, at my startup, I really want to build up a program for gay people in Azerbaijan. That was something that came to my mind after one session.