I am by no means a storyteller or a person trying to write an autobiography. I am sharing my story to support a project I am working on which I am planning to launch on a Kickstarter. I believe the project has a potential to be a success taking me one step closer to my goal. I also believe my story can be of help to those who dare to follow their dreams no matter what and be interesting to those who would like to share this journey with me as it will be unfolding in front of their eyes....

Friday, 30 October 2015

Back to the roots, part II

Coming back to Russia I was 25 years old.

The plan was to build a factory that would produce a range of smoked seafood products. We registered a company and called it a “Pacific Product”.

A block of land was purchased to build on and the construction process started. Building from the ground up required careful planning and monitoring of all processes. I was learning new things every day. When I had time I helped at construction site.

The fun part was to work in winter. At 8am when it is usually -25 C to - 28 C, I had to unfreeze the engine of the snowmobile, good old Yamaha VK 540, and load up the sleds with equipment. We had to go about 1 km away to cut metal pipes which were later used in construction. Then I’d manoeuvre back and forth  all day bringing pipes back. The only footwear my feet didn’t freeze in were the boots made of dogs wool, I don’t know how they make them, but they are sold in stores and you really appreciate the warmth. 

We experienced a few major delays along the way which extended the construction stage greatly. Half way through construction the fishing factory was no longer in the picture, influential people made sure of that. We’d have to source raw fish from other factories until we figure out a way to have our own. Kamchatka has always been the biggest fishing region of Russia so finding a supplier did not pose a problem.
Construction stage lasted over 1.5 years. When the building was almost completed but legal papers weren't yet ready, I decided to start the process. I smoked 30 kgs of salmon, grabbed a friend who was looking for a job and drove to the area with office buildings. We went door to door offering our product, a few hours later all 30 kgs were gone. It was an encouraging result, from that day on we started the production process.

"Pacific Product" in winter
The product was smoked using a special technology, so the taste was unique. My father learned it from indigenous people of Kamchatka. Once people tried it they were hooked and wanted more.

My friend has become a full time sales person, later bringing his brother in too. A couple of months later we had a good portion of hospitals, schools, government agencies, banks, numerous small business offices etc. all waiting for us to come with bags full of our product on a fortnightly basis. We also had a few spots at markets and a number of small stores. The coverage of existing selling places and scheduled addition of new ones was under strict control.

A special sales technique was developed which started from the knock on the door and a smiling face of our sales person, before people knew it they had samples right in front of them to try, and that’s all we needed. 
At the very start at one of the banks
As it was mentioned earlier Kamchatka is a land of salmon, markets are full of it and many people go fishing. So selling it door to door was like selling bananas in Africa. First reaction was always “are you kidding me?”, after trying samples the majority ended up buying.

Our product got very popular, many people bought it as a present for their friends and family when they travelled to other cities. One of our very wealthy customers was apparently taking it as a present for a Queen of Monaco, or so we were told. We provided an excellent service with a free home delivery. 

A start of the day
By then we have purchased all the necessary vacuum packaging equipment and were experiencing with new lines of product.

When we got all the necessary certification we started pushing our product to supermarkets and small stores. For a while we concentrated on widening our stores distribution base, it didn't take long to understand why distribution companies exist. It takes a lot of time and resources to develop a big distribution chain. We approached a distribution company and increased our production even more. Now our product was on the shelves of big supermarket chains and many different small stores.

We competed with brands that were giants comparing to us, so we had to get the presentation of each line close to perfect and widen the range. We worked on the new improved design of the stickers we used and were getting close to having our own plastic packaging.

        Initial Design                                                New Design                                                            Plastic Packaging

We had 14 lines of product in our second year.

Most of Kamchatka's smoked salmon producers used liquid smoke to reduce the production cost. It enhanced the flavour and added the golden/brownish finish to the surface of the fish so it looked like it was just made. Some didn’t even bother smoking and soaked fish in liquid smoke, those who know the difference can tell by the taste straight away. Liquid smoke is a poison and we never used it.

Our point of difference was that we only used natural wood smoke in production and didn't add preservatives. We produced an Eco product and were taking pride in it.

We were in the process of establishing connections with big distribution companies and supermarket chains in the central part of Russia. Additionally we created our own online distribution channel, something that has never been done before for a product like smoked salmon. Our representative in Saint Petersburg organised an online sales platform with a 1 week delivery time. Once the order was produced it would then be frozen and delivered to customers within a week in a special thermo container. The distance between Kamchatka and the central part of Russia is 9000km. The first customers in Saint-Petersburg were very happy with the product, the second batch order was twice as big, the third one twice bigger than the second.. 

As was mentioned before we did not have a fishing factory anymore and sourced raw product from wherever we could find. By then I knew most of local dealers and companies that sold seafood. When I couldn’t find something, I started dialling numbers and eventually would be directed to the seller.

Kamchatka's Halibut
As time went by it has become more difficult to find what we needed. The price of raw product has also been steadily increasing. We had commitments from people we worked with and hoped for the situation to get better. We had to start to prioritise who to fill orders for first. Online distribution had to be stopped until the situation improved. At one point we had to buy salmon from Vladivostok and get it shipped back to Kamchatka, the salmon that was originally caught in Kamchatka.

What started to happen is businesses from the central part of Russia started to buy raw salmon straight from the ships in the see and ship it straight to Vladivostok where it would find its way to the customer. A good portion of salmon never reached Kamchatka’s shore anymore, freezers became half empty.

Having no raw salmon in Kamchatka freely available for sale was an unbelievable scenario, everyone was adjusting the best way they could. We had an agreement with one factory that it will supply us with what we need if we manage to push through for another 6 months or so, so we did. It was painfully difficult to maintain operations at levels below what we could potentially do.

By the end of 6 months the situation only got worse, we had to make some decisions. Our main supplier stepped in and assured that next summer, which was almost 9 months away, he’d provide us with enough raw product. In return we would have to redirect our distribution channels through him. He also assured that till then we’d have enough product to sustain operations at the minimum level.

I knew I would not be able to support myself and have the factory running in those conditions, but we had to give the business a chance. I decided that it is time for me to turn back to Sydney. By then everyone in supply, production and sales knew their roles and didn't require me to be present. The person in charge would just need to check daily reports. 

In 9 months the supplier could not fulfil his promise and the processes had to be stopped.

It was the middle of 2014, Moscow bought a big portion of Kamchatka’s raw salmon factories making the price skyrocket. A year later they started sending their representatives to the rivers buying salmon and caviar even from those who were fishing illegally.

The fact is these days, Kamchatka’s salmon and red caviar cost less to buy in Moscow than in the region it was produced in.

Our disadvantage was that we heavily depended on the market price and the availability of the raw product. If we had our own supply we'd pay 5 times less for the raw product and would be able to adjust. 

We managed to make it work our way and created a name for ourselves as one of the best smoked salmon producers in the region. Unfortunately we could not cope with tense market conditions at that time.

I was back in Sydney and ready for a new chapter.

To Be Continued..

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Back to the roots, part I

The factory was located in a remote region. The provision and workers were taken there either by a helicopter or by sea. The factory provided jobs for over 100 people, mostly unskilled labor. At the age of 14 I spent my summer working at another such factory so I knew the processes involved.

The most valuable currency in Kamchatka - red caviar
Factory operated 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, for over 3 months every year. Every shift was 12 hours of physical labour. It was not an easy job and not everyone could handle it, a few people were sent home, some of them young men. Conditions were rough, but in a good season one could make enough for the whole year.

I learned a few valuable lessons in that period, mostly about applying psychology managing a diverse workforce in challenging conditions.

In a helicopter on my way back
Upon my return from the factory my father laid out a few different scenarios of what could be done should I choose to stay. I was impressed with the scale of operations and opportunities that could be opened to me so I told my dad that I will stay with one condition only, once the new business is set up I would come back to Australia.

I knew it would probably take a few years and was ready for it. It took just over 4..

To be continued..

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Life in Australia, part II

After finishing uni with a Business and Commerce degree my next goal was to achieve certain results in a corporate world.

My friend helped me to get a job in an online home loans company. The annual salary was only $30,000 but I didn't mind, I kept a weekend shift at Sunglass Hut to compensate. My luck was that the world financial crisis struck shortly after I started and 2.5 months later I was already looking for the next place to work.

After a couple of months of searching I was invited for an interview at GE Money for a position of an underwriter for car loans. The catch was that the office was located over an hour drive from where I lived. Even though I wanted to work a bit closer to home I could not waste the opportunity. I strongly believe that EVERY OPPORTUNITY AWARDED BY DESTINY HAS TO BE TRIED OUT so I'd never have to ask myself a question 'WHAT IF?'. And I wasn't wrong taking it. I started working for a reputable company with a salary increase to $45,000. But the crisis affected GE as well. Seven months after I started, the company decided to centralise operations in Melbourne. I was offered to keep the job if I was willing to relocate to Melbourne. I loved Sydney way too much, so I declined.
My third job was with a Macquarie Bank in a Corporate Actions team. This time the salary point was at $60,000. By then I understood another important thing: CHANGE PROMOTES GROWTH. In 12 months I doubled my income and got experience working in 3 different fields. 
I stayed with Macquarie for the next year until they too started downsizing and started letting people go.
At Macquarie Bank
So 2 years and 3 corporate jobs later I had a pretty clear idea of what I want to do. I knew I could continue to grow in a corporate world, but something was lacking in my life, and that was the love of what I do.

I needed to do something that I would not regret spending 3/4 of my life on, something that would make me want to get up in the morning striving to reach my goals. I decided marketing would be a more creative and interesting field to work in, I knew that given an opportunity to work with organising marketing events I would be able to prove myself and progress to a managerial position.

In a few weeks of searching for an entry point into the industry I thought of another short-term solution. It was a month of May and that’s when a 3 months fishing period in Kamchatka starts. My family owned a fishing factory so I thought I could go there for a few months overlooking operations of the factory. My father was happy to hear I am coming over. I would see my family and make some good money along the way. In 3 months I would come back and continue to push further.. or so I thought..

To be continued..

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Life in Australia, part I

I was very impressed with Sydney and what it had to offer, so impressed that I had spent most of the money given to me for two months in mere three weeks. I didn't have an excuse for it so in my fifth week in Sydney I was washing pans and learning how to make pizza in Pizza Hut store at Bondi Beach. It was my first job in Australia.

A year and a half after my arrival to Sydney my fathers business started to struggle. His unwillingness to play dirty games government officials wanted him to be part of resulted in a fight for survival. I was told that sending me money was no longer an option and I would have to provide for myself if I choose to stay. He would still cover university fees but that would be it. I said alright, lets try it this way.

I’ve changed a few jobs during my student years. After Pizza Hut I worked at Woolworths as a cashier operator. I stayed there until I heard the news from my dad. After that I needed more hours and a higher rate so I started working as a casual function water, a bit later I combined it with a bar back job in a cocktail bar. I was also enrolled with a few talent and promotional agencies so I got jobs from them too from time to time. At one point I went to New Zealand for 3 weeks to sell oil paintings. We travelled from town to town doing door to door sales. My last job while at uni was a sales assistant at Sunglass Hut.

A function waiter at a Government House

W Bar

At Sunglass Hut with Nadine and Sergei(The best team)

I was lucky to meet people who were there for me in difficult situations, people who with years became my second family. My favorite saying to this day: FRIENDS ARE THE FAMILY WE CHOOSE OURSELVES.

To be continued..

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Beginning

I was born in a small settlement with a population of 5000 people in the Far Eastern region of Russia known as Kamchatka. Untill the age of six I remember my father wearing a Police uniform. It was called ‘Militia’ back then. I remember his long absences from home as he started his entrepreneurial business activities. My father made it big by establishing a cost effective coal supply chain for the boilers that provided central heating to a few major settlements. He managed to reduce the cost of coal by triple and was welcomed as a supplier. Two years later, we moved to the biggest city in the region: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. 

I believe many people choose their future profession by observing their parents. In my case it was no different, but my father did not have a clearly defined one, he was running businesses. He was very good at 'breaking walls' reaching goals that he had set for himself and it worked for him very well.
 Counting pennies was not in his nature and he always kept his word. He was in charge of his life and provided for his family. I wanted the same life for myself.

The very first lesson my father taught me was at the age of 7. I had lost some change on the way back home from the store and was afraid to admit it, so I said a cashier gave me that much, my mum went to the store and found out that I did not tell the truth. The slap over the head that I received from my father was a hearty one. I was both ashamed and determined to never let anything like this to happen ever again. NOT BEING HONEST HURTS YOUR LOVED ONES AND HURTS IN GENERAL. It helped me numerous times in life, pushing through hard times when retaining the integrity and complete transparency led to a much stronger dedication from the team reaching goals we had. 

Even though our family always had everything we needed, my father would not let us raised spoiled. Another important lesson he taught me was: IF YOU DO SOMETHING, DO IT RIGHT. No matter what the task was, if it was given to me by my father it had to be carried out properly. If it wasn’t, I’d do it again and again and again until it is done right. It was in my interest to put in an effort in order to avoid shameful remarks and go through a redoing/improving process until the desired result was achieved. At an early age I could wash our car for hours, and I still remember the frustration. This lesson served me well many times when I was solely responsible for business processes. If I didn't apply my best effort, it would lead to serious consequences. 

At the age of 17, straight after finishing high school I was sent to study in beautiful Sydney. My father still doesn't understand how I ended up in Sydney. From an early age he was getting me ready to study at Moscow's top university embedding a thought in my mind that I am to inherit his business and must study in Russia. The first to come to Australia was my sister Karina, and with her stories of how beautiful the country is she sparked my interest, making me want to study abroad too. It was an exciting prospect so I thought of all the benefits I'd get coming over and stormed into my fathers office. After a 40 minute speech and 2 minutes of silence he answered with 'get the documents ready'. In 2 months my journey on the other side of the globe began.

To be continued..

An Introductory Note

I am by no means a storyteller or a person trying to write an autobiography. I am sharing my story in support of a project I am working on which I am planning to launch on a Kickstarter. I believe the project has a potential to be a success taking me one step closer to my goal. I also believe my story can be of help to those who dare to follow their dreams no matter what and be interesting to those who would like to share this journey with me as it will be unfolding in front of their eyes....