The Story of Vytautas Atkočaitis: a Former Amazon Team Lead Who’s Now Developing the Lithuanian Prospective Future Unicorn Vinted Go
Vytautas Atkočaitis departed Lithuania upon turning 18, before even finishing high school. In the U.S., he worked at the tech giant Amazon for 7 years (5 of them in Seattle), gradually rising to a leadership position. Eventually, however, Vytautas waved his further career prospects there in favour of an offer made to him by the Vilnius-based startup Vinted.
Today, Vytautas, now the head of Vinted Go, and his team are linking and optimising the infrastructure of third-country carriers for Vinted’s clients, and developing a network of parcel terminals, which is already operational in 1,000 locations in France, and will soon reach Belgium and the Netherlands.
Vinted Go is focused on Pick-Up, Drop-Off (PUDO) terminals and reducing shipping costs for Vinted’s users, thereby also minimising the environmental impact of parcel delivery. According to the company’s environmental impact assessment, PUDO deliveries generate 62% fewer emissions than home delivery. Vinted’s network of suppliers, which currently encompasses 40 companies in 16 European countries, managed to successfully forward as many as 200 million parcels in 2021 alone.
The launch of Vinted Go was officially announced a little over a year ago. What was that year like for you? How does Vinted Go look today, in figures?
– In December 2021, me and the company’s leaders Mantas Mikuckas (then CEO) and Thomas Plantenga (now CEO) decided to start a new division, Vinted Go, whose mission would be to popularise PUDO. We debated 2 options – a parcel platform for e-com businesses in Europe, and a parcel terminal called Vinted Go in France. I spent the entire Christmas period generating different concepts and financial models. In the first week of January, we adopted the budget and got to work. I set the goal of launching an MVP within the next 6 months and, since my birthday is on 27 June, jokingly told my team that we “can’t miss” that occasion. The phrase immediately took root as a quip among my colleagues and partners. In the end, we managed to achieve our goal.
To be sure, the launch wasn’t perfect, but then again, they never are. Vinted Go began with infrastructure for selling Vinted’s marketplace. At the time, our team was around 80 people – engineers, commercial and administrative staff responsible for carrier integrations in Europe – which grew to 120 within the first year. Today, we have 229 employees, and a sizable customer service team. Having chosen the second of the 2 options I mentioned earlier, we’ve been successfully expanding Vinted Go’s network of parcel terminals in France. It’s currently operational in 9 cities. Since we can see the model working, and our goals being realised, we’re now raising the question of faster growth. In October, we acquired the Dutch company Homerr, thereby rallying our forces in Belgium and the Netherlands. We’re also considering other markets that might help the platform grow faster and more sustainably.
Can you let us in behind the scenes of your deal with Homerr?
– We’re aiming to create a parcel delivery network independent of other market suppliers. Already having warehouses in France, we’re building parcel terminals and control systems. We see an opportunity to reduce costs for Vinted members. Homerr’s been our partner for years, and since they were struggling to optimise their processes, and we were seeking to grow faster outside of France, we invited Homerr’s founders to join Vinted Go and pursue our common cause of more rapid growth in Europe.
The figures you’re bringing up seem astronomical. What does such growth mean in practice?
– We see lots of future opportunities. But yes, the beginning wasn’t easy, as we had to develop a stable organisational structure. The first 5 people I hired came from log-tech companies, such as Amazon and DPD. For a time, at least one of them always took part in our strategic decision making, until we managed to build strong, autonomous teams.
How did you nearly double your team in 6 months, and then triple it in 1 year, seeing that everyone’s been complaining incessantly about talent shortages in the high added value sector?
– We expanded geographically. A large part of Vinted Go’s team is based in Berlin, while others are in Amsterdam, London, Paris, etc.
What is Vinted Go’s No. 1 goal today? What are your ambitions?
– Vinted is working to minimise costs to its members, which is only possible by cutting expenditure across the board, and controlling the parcel delivery chain ourselves. We’re focused on building an effective operational model. According to our environmental impact assessment, the PUDO model generates 62% fewer emissions than home delivery. We also see a possibility to later start offering our network’s services to other market players.
Tell us about your journey to Vinted Go. What kind of environment did you grow up in as a child and teenager? Did you always see yourself pursuing business?
– I grew up in Šiauliai, surrounded by family and friends. My parents had a small business related to photography, and I’d accompany them to shops. Later, I’d often say to people: “I want to be an executive – driving around, collecting money”. I don’t know if that means I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I do know that I wanted to be successful. I won’t say I got high grades, as I’d be laughed at by acquaintances who read this. I never tried hard, skipped homework, didn’t even carry my books with me, and yet had a 9.3 score average in 11 th grade. My real focus, though, was extracurricular. Besides, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to be independent. This desire became increasingly strong as I grew older, and so, when I turned 18 in the summer, right after 11 th grade, I left for England. That’s where I finished school and went to uni. I soon realised that success mostly visits hard workers – to this day I never track my hours of work. I just go as long as necessary.
Prior to Vinted Go, you lived and worked abroad for over 15 years. How did your career develop, including your experiences at Gist, Carlsberg Group, and Amazon?
– Having moved to England and seeing that I’d soon run out of money, I got a job at McDonald’s. I didn’t like it. I remember how I had to get down on all fours to scrub fat off the skirting boards at night. After 6 months, however, I was promoted to shift manager, which made things easier. I worked evenings and nights at McDonald’s until the end of my sophomore year.
During my logistics studies, I managed to get an internship at a Carlsberg Group factory. Having started out in the Procurement Division, I was later assigned to a production line. Barely older than 20 myself, I managed a team of 40 people of my parents’ age. That’s how I got my early schooling in people skills. Frankly, I still hold that managing them was a far greater challenge than leading my current team, despite the radical difference in scale and complexity. After graduating, I got an offer to work at the logistics firm Gist, which is similar to Lithuania’s own Girteka. I left for Scotland, where I managed 6 warehouses. In 2014, though, I got a call from Amazon, which already was a well-known online platform, though not yet as massive as it is today. Although the interview process wasn’t easy, I managed to prove my ability to effectively solve real problems at work.
What’s your own hiring process today? What lessons have you taken away?
– It’s very simple – I’m looking for ambitious, talented, proactive, and resourceful problem solvers driven to create something big and valuable. During the first interview, I want to learn how candidates manage several key projects simultaneously, how they prioritise them, and how they’re disposed towards short and strict task deadlines. I don’t have any questions that I always ask – you can learn a lot from the routine situations that candidates bring up themselves. I’m looking for those who want to do, not just dream.
Did you learn that at Amazon? Many people today perceive its success in aspirational terms.
– It used to be hard to get into Amazon (that might be changing now, as their staff inches closer to 1M – more than some countries’ populations) and harder to remain. Week 1 is all about learning the operational and organisational rules, and the limits of your responsibility. After week 2, you must show them a plan of what you’ll be doing there, and how. Amazon is like a machine: data, processes, guidelines, and implementation deadlines; failing to reach a set goal is a non-starter. Working there was like a second uni to me, where I learned the meaning of creating global projects and processes, and managing huge international teams.
To which of Amazon’s projects have you contributed during those 7 years?
– I managed operations inside 300,000 m 2 warehouses, on a shift encompassing 1,000 employees. Then, I moved on to working on new delivery models and implementing new ideas. One of them was Prime Now – the 1 hour delivery service. In 2014, it was a crazy innovation that only a company like Amazon could develop. My own guess, though, is that Amazon never expected it to actually work. Later, this model got popular, and startups that were based on it raised billions in capital around the world.
In 2017, Amazon offered me a position in Seattle, taking partial global ownership of Last Mile Delivery. In practice, that meant implementing a programme, optimising costs, and opening new business avenues. One of the more interesting ones was Amazon acquiring Whole Foods (that’s like Vinted buying out Maxima) and deciding that food should also be delivered to clients. When I started getting bored, I turned to retail. We developed Amazon Go – brick and mortar stores with cashier-less, automated checkouts, though we soon clearly saw it wasn’t going to expand as quickly as expected. Then, after thinking about what’s next for a while, I started working on improving customer experience – we built algorithms that predicted which parcels were going to be late, enabling us to solve the problem. It was interesting – but then I got a call from Vinted.
What convinced you to return to Lithuania and take on a new, challenging business journey with Vinted Go? Maybe your reply will help us understand how to attract more foreign talent to Lithuania. What does, in your view, actually work?
– Interesting offers, challenges. I like work. And so do the people around me, both now and back when I was living abroad. Personally, I always wanted more responsibility and increasingly big projects. I knew how many years I had to spend at Amazon to climb this or that step. At the same time, I had an approximate knowledge of how things looked from up there, and I’d already hit the ceiling on the things that interested me. In short, to attract the best people, enable them to build, not execute.
In my case, there were also familial reasons, such as the birth of my kids. We reached a point that necessitated a decision – should we stay in America for good or should we go back to Europe, say, Amazon’s division in Luxembourg. Therefore, it was a mix of things: wanting for my kids to grow up close to their grandparents, an opportunity to work and build alongside one of the company’s co-founders, and my own ambitious goals and vision.
What are your hobbies? How do you rewind from, or recharge for, work?
– As a kid, I did lots of sports – from hammer throw to basketball – and sang in bands and choirs until about 22. In the U.S., I sometimes went to Las Vegas, as I love poker. Since European casinos have a rather more dour atmosphere, however, I let this particular hobby fall by the wayside. Today, I work and travel a lot. Otherwise, I spend time with my wife and our 4-year-old twins.
I believe that only people who don’t enjoy or aren’t suited to their jobs burn out. I don’t have that problem. Quite the contrary – I go to sleep and wake up smiling because every day allows me to work with top talent, building things that few people before us managed to.
What factor was the most decisive for Amazon’s success? What could startups, new businesses, or CEOs learn from it?
– Firstly, work on attracting TOP talent from the get-go. Secondly, prioritise generating real value, and think beyond current problems. Nearly all of Amazon’s projects during my time there were geared towards long-term value, even when that meant discomfort or major costs in the short term. It’s the same for Vinted – the business is 15 years old now, yet it’s still investing in growth, expansion, and generating long-term value.
What should aspiring startup founders do specifically – I don’t know, but they obviously need to have a global product. You probably can’t build anything terribly unique, but you can develop a product enabling higher performance via technology or modernising traditional industries. These are the possibilities I see today.
With that in mind, how did Lithuania and its startups look to you after all those years abroad? Where should we do better, and what can we be proud of?
– From what I could gather about the ecosystem, and this is supported by actual results, there’s no shortage of ambition. But more attention should be paid to efficiency and productivity. Lithuanian startups take great care to attract and retain talent, which isn’t a bad thing, but the balance sometimes gets skewed. You should focus on attracting talent not just locally, but also from abroad. This is especially true for a country like Lithuania, which is competing with larger and wealthier European neighbours, as well as the U.S. There should be no talk of working less – perhaps more effectively, but maybe more, too.
What’s needed for there to be more startups and unicorns in Lithuania? To make Lithuania the best country for unicorns in the world?
– We must help it become a global country, to attract global talent. Sure, there’s some progress, but I think it’s too slow. Some of my acquaintances – “successful Lithuanians” – would like to return, but Lithuania just doesn’t have the kinds of jobs they want. Foreigners also lack knowledge about Lithuania and how to successfully integrate. Migration should be radically liberalised to enable people from around the globe to work here. If we want to have at least 10 unicorns in Lithuania, we need more human resources. Just look at the U.S. – most of its businesses weren’t founded by locals, and many of their employees are from Asia and Europe.
I wish for Lithuania to attract at least 1 million additional residents. That would not only help with plugging up the existing gaps, but also inspire new ideas and boost our capacity to compete on the global stage. It won’t happen automatically, of course, but that’s a direction we must consciously take. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos once said, “Know the Plan, Nail the Plan”, but today in Lithuania we don’t even have the plan, so let’s start there.
This interview was prepared by Vilnius TechFusion partner Unicorns.lt. Find the full story in Lithuanian here: 7-erius metus vadovavo komandoms ir procesams „Amazon“, tačiau grįžo kurti į Lietuvą: ateities vienaragį auginančio „Vinted Go“ vadovo V. Atkočaičio istorija | Unicorns
Keep in mind – Vilnius is already preparing for one of the most important events of the year – the annual Vilnius TechFusion Startup Awards. At the event organized for the fifth year in a row, awards await both growing high-tech companies and heroes of businesses, talents and ecosystems that have already gained recognition in Lithuania and the world.
Vilnius TechFusion startup awards will be held on January 11, 2024, this year they are organized by Vilnius city tourism and business development agency “Go Vilnius”, Lithuanian startup association “Unicorns Lithuania” and “Sunrise Tech Park”.