Vladimir Gendelman is an entrepreneur who immigrated from Ukraine in 1989, with just a few hundred dollars between him and his two parents. His knack for computers gave him a start in founding a computer business. He then started and successfully grew a 16 person company making folders for businesses, Company Folders. Today, the war Russia is waging with Ukraine has impacted several of his staff members, who are based in Ukraine.
Vladimir left Ukraine, as so many immigrants do, for a better life and better opportunities. Under the communist regime, there were few options – few options for careers, wallpaper in your home, or even the car you can buy.
Upon arriving in the US, he started a computer shop. One day a friend asked him to find some folders for their business. Vladimir assumed he could find some with a simple online search. There were few to choose from.
A Better Solution
With the typical “gusto” of an entrepreneur, Vladimir assumed “there had to be a better way” and in 2003 he set out to find a solution to provide a better and a great variety of folders to business owners. He started this as a “side hustle” from his computer business.
I’m always curious about the “startup hustle” of business, how they got through the challenges of the start-up phase.
Credit Card Funding
Vladimir explained that he got his initial funding through “zero interest” credit cards. Many credit cards offer you an interest-free loan, for up to a year (or longer). If you pay it off before the stated time, you won’t owe interest.
Vladimir leveraged these credit card offers to fund his business for several years – accumulating a lot of debt.
Hard work is not new to Vladimir, he worked 7 days a week, all alone for some time, before making his first hires.
These first hires, who lived in Ukraine, and many who are with him today, helped him build his first website iterations.
Done is Better than Perfect
The first website was not perfect, but it was good enough for customers to “click” and make orders.
This is a POWERFUL lesson for all business owners. Don’t let perfection stop you from getting something DONE.
Vladimir’s early sales came from him participating in online discussion boards and going door to door.
Google SEO – Both Sides
So many businesses “live or die” by Google SEO, Company Folders, was no exception, especially in its early days.
They hired a firm to help them get high Google rankings. This worked. They were listed as the first and second listing in Google rankings. However one day, they got an ominous letter from Google saying that they had “unnatural links”. Which they did.
Within a few days, 70% of their traffic vanished. It took them some time, but through the dedication of the team, they fixed the SEO errors.
The company they hired didn’t do SEO right! The agency had links to them on gambling, porn and other “sin” sites. Google likes natural links and not artificial links just done for SEO, with no true relevancy to the linked words.
Don’t Use One Marketing Channel
The big lesson Vladimir learned from this experience is to NOT have your marketing or ANYTHING in your business that relies on one thing. If Google goes down, should your business? If Facebook blocks you, should that impact your business?
Do an audit and think of all the threats to your business. What can you do to mitigate these threats, if they should happen?
Why Are You Really In Business
One of the most important parts of our discussion is Vladimir reminding us all why we’re in business?
The business is simply a vehicle or a delivery mechanism to enable us to live the lives we want.
This is not just for we business owners, but for our teams. Our team members work for us, work for our business, so they can be paid. They want to provide for their families and live the lives they want.
Vladimir explained that his job is to ensure his team is happy
The Situation in Ukraine
We spent a few minutes getting up to speed on the situation in Ukraine.
Thankfully several of Vladimir’s team are safe, out of the country. Some are still inside the country but relatively safe, at this time.
There are not many bomb shelters in Ukraine, but there are basements.
The basements have rats, are humid, and have narrow entrances. Not only are they not comfortable but if lots of people need to enter or leave them, they’re a death trap.
Vladimir, in partnership with Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) Detroit has a not-for-profit, Love Without Borders. As part of this, there’s a fund, https://www.RealHelpForUkrain.org where all proceeds go directly to those in need in Ukraine. From tampons to heaters, there’s a lot of needs in Ukraine.
It is business owners like Vladimir who inspire me. I love hearing their stories and sharing them with you, to encourage you as you build your business!