Education and Business - a Young Entrepreneur Talks About Startups and His University Experience
Why did you decide to give up studying?
I went to the university when I was 16. That wasn't some conscious choice - I did it mostly because everyone did the same. Few people know what they really want to do when they are sixteen. During my third year, I stopped studying, and by the fourth year I knew for sure that I've chosen wrong. Without any motivation to study, I decided to work more instead. First I worked as a promoter, then as a salesman at a shoe shop. I have to admit I've always liked stylish, high-quality things - I spent a lot of time searching for things I like and spent quite a lot of money on them. I was about 18 when I decided to sell shoes via the internet. And that was the start.
Did your education have any effect on your business?
Yes, one could say that I created my business thanks to the university - well, thanks to the contacts and connections I made while studying, actually. This is what makes ITMO one of the best universities. Even then, 5 years ago, it hosted different youth events - "Mister ITMO", for instance, there was a Student Council, a student union, different sports and creativity clubs. It all helped me meet new people who later became not just my friends, but also business partners. ITMO has always been the most modern and forward-looking of Saint Petersburg's universities - thanks to Rector Vladimir Vasilyev. He takes good care of the university, works on its branding, invests in the right things. The latter is most important for a university's development. For instance, one of my partners once invested into a failing university's diner - the university itself didn't make any money at all. After modernization, the diner started filling up gaps in the university's budget. One has to understand that not all investments pay off right on the spot, and Vladimir Nikolayevich does.
Is there any point in studying at a university if you know for sure that you're going to start your own business?
I can’t really say. A lot depends on the kind of business you're going to start. If we're talking about ITMO and programming, then you surely got to apply and graduate. To launch a successful IT-startup, you have to understand the technical side of it, and you can actually start your own business during your third year. I am sure that you'll have enough time for both education and work - if you're doing what you really like. I believe it's the same with law students: they can start working on their final years, as well. What about my own experience, I wouldn't have changed anything even if I could. Surely, I might have transferred to another department during my third year if I knew what I was going to do in the future - to something related to business. Maybe - if I were born in Saint Petersburg - I wouldn't have applied to a university at all, since I came here to radically change my life. It's hard to think about it now. Anyway, if one really wants to open his own business, he definitely has to try.
Startups often use investor's money. How does a novice businessman find financing?
There are actually lots of way to find financing that don't necessarily have to do with investors. I, for instance, started the production on my own, then took a credit and only then turned to investors. Thing is - one has to be really careful about dealing with them. The sponsors can try to take over your startup and replace you, the founder. I did everything to make it so that the Migliori brand is associated with me personally - and I've accomplished it. Also, as per my experience, investors are ready to work with a startupper only if they understand that he is ready to do anything to become successful. In essence, they don't invest in the project, as there is no project yet - they invest in a person. Especially if we're talking IT here. When I started my business, I spent all of my remaining money on it. I just wanted to make shoes and do it on the highest level. Even though I already talked to people in this business and they told me that this area is not a promising one. My parents tried to change my mind as well. I didn't even know much about entrepreneurship, but I still liked it.
Could you name the key moments in a startup's development?
First you have an opportunity to do something - and it becomes an idea. Then you have initial realization. It's most important to start selling as soon as you can, so that your business starts to get money. Even if all you've got at the moment is two pairs of shoes, one prototype - it doesn't matter, you have to enter the market. And this will already be a result. Then, after you find funding, it's time to gather a team and devise a plan for your future actions. A startup has to move towards some goal, always.
Why did you pick an Italian name for your brand? Did it have to do with your target group?
Honestly, it was by pure chance. I've been reading a Mafia book then, and they used this word a lot - Migliori. Surely, everyone thinks that Italian shoes are good, and we wanted to work in a premium-class market segment. Though I don't believe that all these marketing tools are so important when you're only starting your business. If your product is of highest quality, no one will may attention to in what language your brand name is. The brand will be associated with quality, with particular sensations – so one would think that "Migliori" is not "best" in Italian, but a shoe brand.
But you've still managed to successfully work for your target group - as well as create a Russian production...
Yes, but the point is - import phase-out is just something that's going on, it doesn't really affect us as a company. The premium-class shoe market suffered losses, but we are no market, we're a small company with its own customers. And that's a different thing. The fact that we've started to make high-quality shoes on par with Italian ones in this crisis times - that's just a good coincidence for both us and the market.