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Igor Balabanov | Ukraine | Say "Yes"!!

I studied to become an IT specialist, but soon understood that programming was not my cup of tea. I got a job working as a designer for a shoe factory and was quite excited at first, but as time went by I got dissatisfied with the whole work process. I had a lot of free time that I spent surfing the Internet, reading about leather and goods made with leather, researching various techniques and industrial design. I like leather, the way it feels and smells. I like holding it in my hands. I needed to move on, so I tried making my first wallet, then the second one and the third one…the first ten were all crooked and far from pretty, but I really liked the whole process. I wasn’t planning to turn it into business, it was merely a hobby. Gradually I started devoting more and more of my time to manufacturing leather goods and was really excited about it. I was improving my brand step by step, adding new designs, creating its logo and special packaging. It didn’t take long before orders started coming in. I didn’t have enough time trying to combine my regular job with manufacturing of leather goods. Still, I was reluctant to quit as it was risky and I needed a stable income. Things changed after I started coming home around 7-8 p.m. after one work and around 9 p.m. I had to continue with my other work, which lasted until 2 a.m. That’s when I realized that I couldn’t go on like this anymore. So I just quit! I have been consciously combining these two jobs for so long because I was scared to lose stable income. It’s like to shift gear when the tachometer needle is in the red zone! Yet I already had a feeling that things were going to work out. After that my whole world got upside down. I felt that my life changed on so many levels. I became more independent, responsible, and mature. Colleagues from my previous job said that even my face changed and became manlier, although I didn’t go to the army or travel anywhere. I didn’t do anything special at all! But this new life had a positive impact on my personality and I’m really glad I made that step. I used to sell my time to someone else, getting paid however they saw fit, but now I’m the master of my own life. And this is incredible!

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

Business consists of two main things – production and selling. That’s why my first main obstacle was the lack of money to buy materials and equipment. You can’t manufacture anything without them. I’ve started putting aside some money from my salary and managed to save up a certain amount. I bought part of the necessary equipment, then a little bit more, and so on. The whole process took me one year because salaries in Ukraine are much lower than, for example, in the U.S., and I was ordering leather and equipment from there. It was more expensive than in Ukraine or China, but the quality was much better. I had to save up money for months, but I don’t regret a thing. I have been using that equipment for years now. The second issue I had was that no one was buying my product. This problem was solved by time, Google indexing, and a little bit of money spent on advertisement.

What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?

Recently I’ve started reading «Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind» by Yuval Noah Harari, but what I recommend reading first is «Atlas Shrugged» by Ayn Rand. It’s a very powerful book that lets you understand the driving forces of people. It doesn’t give specific “how-to” business tips, but rather clarifies what type of businessman you should become, what ideals you should pursue, and what business ethics you should follow. One Ukrainian businessman noted that everyone should read this book before getting their passports. I feel the same way.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

My parents and friends weren’t against my business pursuits; on the contrary, they were very supportive. My dad really helped me by giving advice and preventing me from doing anything rash. I’m really grateful for that! Even my former bosses, managers at the shoe factory that I left, give me advice sometimes. I really value such relationships. I can’t say that support is key to becoming a great entrepreneur. There are a lot of successful businessmen who were discouraged by their parents and laughed at by their friends, but they paid no attention and just kept on going (for example, Michael Fridman - Net worth: 13.2 billion USD in 2018, Jeff Bezos - Net worth: 166.3 billion USD in 2018). Of course, it’s good to have the support of your friends and family. At least they won’t stand in your way!

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

I think there can’t be only one factor that determines success. If you have one and you’ve reached success – this is called ‘luck’. In other cases it’s a combination of various factors, circumstances, and right moves.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

My strategy was to make a lot of small goods at low prices that will sell in great quantities. That was a wrong idea. It’s best to sell middle-priced goods of medium size. You can also sell high-priced goods if your budget allows it, but my budget wasn’t like that. I would also advise myself not to spend a lot of money in the beginning of my venture. At that time I didn’t know where the money was needed most and how to spend it. That’s why the more money you have in the beginning, the more money you will waste. It’s best to save it until your business grows – that’s when you will need it the most. And you will have a better understanding of how to spend it.

What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?

When I’m about to do something I’ve never done before or I feel afraid to try something new, I tell myself “It’s not gods who make pots”. This proverb gives me confidence and ease to start a new venture.

I would also recommend to always say “yes”. I sincerely advise you to accept offers no matter what (unless they are downright dangerous or harmful). Even if it seems that a certain offer is insignificant, won’t bring you any profit, and is not your department in general – you should still accept it. You never know what fate has in stall for you, what type of people you will meet and who will notice you. Only 3 offers out of 10 turn out to be useful, providing the necessary impulse to develop your business and your personality. So don’t reduce your chances to get lucky! Always say “yes” to new offers and challenges.

Stand OUT!!

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