Alexandra Shaforost - owner, founder, managing director of "Society with Natural Taste # 1"
City: Moscow (originally from Crimea)
Family: son Mark, 9 years old
Education: Executive Edu - Harvard; MB– INSEAD; BA - NJCU
Career: Senior Marketing and Business Strategy Manager, EADS, Paris-Moscow; consultant to Value Partners (spin-off Mckinsey
in Italy), Rome – Moscow; Vice President of Jones Lang LaSalle, Moscow
Perfume: Cuir d'Ange, Hermes
Clothing brand: Maison Margiela, Prada, Loft design by…, COS, True Religion
Shoes: Prada, Saint Laurent, Premiata
Cosmetics:Shiseido, Sysley, LaurMercier, Bobbi Brown
Hobby: Alpine skiing, sunbathing with a book
Recreation areas: Paris, Singapore, California West Coast
Alexandra could easily become the heroine of Marie Claire, even without the history of her own business. We love them like this: a classic example of self-made. Originally from the Crimea, at the age of 19 she came to America, started by washing floors in order to earn a bus ticket to the university, and at 28 she was already a top manager. At 35, with an MBA at the prestigious French business school INSEAD, studies at Harvard and experience in top positions in London, New York, Singapore, Rome and Moscow, Alexandra decides to drop everything and devote herself to her newborn son. And three years later, he began to bake cookies at home, which in a few months were already sold throughout the country. Either thanks to experience, or thanks to intuition and a strong internal need (Shaforost's son was allergic to white sugar, and there were almost no tasty and healthy alternatives in Moscow), plus the fashion for healthy lifestyle,- but the project went off. Now it is not only the "Marc 100% Natural" biscuits and granola named after his son, but also several types of healthy snacks and instant oatmeal "Marc & Fiss".
Alexandra made an appointment for me in the center - at the Doublebee coffee shop on Bolshaya Bronnaya. She has a loft apartment nearby, and in this cafe, in addition to selected coffee, her cookies are also sold. I tried it: the taste is subtle, slightly unusual, but I ate a box of buckwheat cookies with lemon instantly. Even though the ingredients contain honey, it is completely savory! Alexander comes up with recipes herself, and approaches the selection of ingredients as a perfectionist: organic flour from the Altai Territory, Bashkir honey, wild lingonberries from Siberia, sugar cane from Mauritius, Belgian dark chocolate without preservatives and flavors, etc. The history of this startup is also exemplary - indicative. Alexandra, having set herself the goal of building a transparent business on the model of the Western, started small. She baked small portions of cookies at home and distributed her son to the kindergarten. Having received positive reviews, I began to bake in the kitchen at a restaurant with friends and gradually go out to suppliers. To reduce costs, a tender for packaging design was held over the Internet among independent designers, including students. Personally, I have people who find the drive to dramatically change their lives, arouse interest and respect. Alexandra did not disappoint.
MC: Many people dream of their own business. Your story is an example of a rather rare rapid success today. Uncover the cards: how to repeat your feat?
Alexandra Shaforost: Successful business takes a long time. It is better to divide any idea into small parts, into small projects. Then it's much easier to get started.
MC: What if you have a brilliant idea, but you don't know anything about the industry?
A. Sh.: First, you need to conduct a market research. Second, know your core competence. This is your strong point, the core that sets you apart from others. You may not know anything about the industry, but feel that the topic is close. Then you need to immerse yourself in it intensively. And all the rest is better to give to professionals. I am a big fan of outsourcing. In our company, for example, accounting, logistics, lawyers, mass production - all this is done by people outside the company. My task was to select partners whom I could trust.
MC: How many people do you have in your team?
A. Sh.: There are four people in the company itself. There are six more outsourced kitchens. There are also two factories with which we cooperate. And a few more drivers, a group of accountants, but they're all out of state.
MC: How did you, having arrived in Moscow relatively recently, find the right people so quickly?
A. Sh.: I believe that the main thing is for the character to fit. And so that the person is trained, responsible and cheerful. The rest I can always teach. And I teach absolutely everyone - from bakers to drivers. Therefore, I try to hire non-Muscovites. People from the regions are more hungry, just like me when I was an immigrant in America.
MC: Isn't it dangerous to do business in Russia now?
A. Sh.: People are afraid of stories that they learn about from newspapers, but in fact, there are no such checks for a long time, as before, when bribes were constantly shaking off you. As long as you are little, nobody is interested in you. Besides, if you are completely transparent, it is difficult to find something negative.
MC: You have an American passport and have lived in the West for half your life. Where is it easier to do business?
A. Sh.: This is a double-edged sword. Competition is incomparably less in Russia. But there is a very high cost of capital, big risks, problems with production, quality control, ingredients. But when you try to do something in the States, there is a two percent loan for any amount, especially if you have a good credit history. Plus, everything is easy there from a legal and industrial point of view, but incredible competition.
MC: How did you manage to make a profit with your cookies in a few months? It's just a dream
A. Sh.: Well, this is not a dream, but a calculated risk. I don't really like to take risks and owe someone. Therefore, I started everything at my own expense. Before that, for a long time, I earned more than I spent. Plus, after the birth of my son, I lowered the bar of needs. I began to do what was previously unacceptable to me: not to go to Louboutin, not to Prada, fly not in business class. Everything was done step by step. At first it was a small volume and a lot of customers who generated a flow of money. And only when I received an order from a large client - "Azbuka Vkusa" - I invested in rent and equipment.
MC: Your son was born in Paris and you spent the first three years of his life in Europe and America. Why did you return to Russia?
A. Sh.: I love Moscow very much. This is the most comfortable city for me. Even MB I did with a clear thought that I would work in Europe, but on projects related to Russia. The only alternative where I would consider moving from Moscow is Asia, where I lived for a while. For example, Singapore or Shanghai.
MC: How did you decide to quit such a cool corporate career?
A. Sh.: On the one hand, I'm probably fed up. On the other hand, since my child was not born at the age of 20, but at a more conscious age, I wanted to put my son in the first place, and adjust everything else. The first month was wildly fragile. I thought about going back to the office. It was some kind of madness: zero thoughts - it seems that you are dull before our eyes. Mom restrained: "Wait, the child needs to be fed every three hours - are you going to take him to the office, on the planes with you?"
MC: What was your first job?
A. Sh.: Dad and his family (my parents are divorced) were given refugee status in America for national reasons. And we left. Mom stayed in Kiev. I didn’t speak English, there was no money, and my first job was in the laundry. I was also a housekeeper, washed windows and so on. It was necessary to make money trite to get to the university by bus. This is probably why it's easier for me to take risks - I was at the very bottom and I know that I can rise.
MC: I always wonder where creative people get their inspiration. For example, how do you come up with recipes?
A. Sh.: I love to cook, experiment with contrasting tastes. This is probably from my grandmother - she cooked very well with me, and certainly not according to recipes, but "scraped along the bottom." So am I. For example, our lemon cookie. There is a Cojean chain in Paris, I love it very much. They had dessert - lemon poppy seed cake. I really liked its bright yellow color interspersed with black poppy. The memory of this cupcake helped me come up with my own recipe.
MC: Do you think a woman can have it all, have everything at once: career, money, personal happiness?
A. Sh.: In theory, probably yes, but I did not succeed.
A. Sh.: Many of my classmates got married when they were doing their MBA. In fact, business school is the best place to find a husband. The selection committee has already selected the smartest and most promising boys for you. At INSEAD we had 80% boys and 20% girls, at Harvard we had a 60 to 40 ratio. There will never be such an opportunity in your life when there are three of the smartest guys from all over the world. I realized this much later.
MC: So why didn't you take this opportunity?
A. Sh. : I just got divorced before MB. Before that, ten years of family life was enough for me.
MC: Was the husband American?
A. Sh.: No, Russian, but we met in America. He also received MB at INSEAD a year before me. The same smart and promising.
MC: Why didn't it work out?
A. Sh.: Classic story. When you do an MBA, it is both a field for marriage and a field for divorce. Especially if both are from the same environment. You have so many temptations, so many choices, and you change your life so radically that it changes your character. You have a new view of the world. My husband and I had a mutual decision. We decided that there is another life and we need to taste it. But we remained friends.
MC: There is an opinion that it is not easy to find a husband in Russia, especially if you are successful, independent and you are not 20 years old. What do you think?
A. Sh.: I agree. When I'm in New York, then, if I invest a little time in myself, even when I just walk down the street, they see me off, and in the bar they look at me like a goddess and get to know each other. It's more complicated in Russia. I believe that there are second halves and they are like children who, according to a theory close to me, choose their own parents. Children are born when the stars come together. With the second half, it seems to me, it should also work out this way. I am surrounded by a large number of unmarried men in Moscow, and many are interesting, but there are no halves yet.
MC: If you compare working in a corporate structure and your business, where is the stress level higher?
A. Sh.: It's like comparing: where is it easier to do business - in America or in Russia? There are pros and cons to both. Probably, if I were less lazy, I would have remained a banker. Because stress gives adrenaline. And I need a certain amount of adrenaline. You also have a high salary and a fairly large bonus, but you have a boss-routine-colleagues, and each of the factors can be stressful. And in your business, you can give your best, but there is no guarantee that it will work. You constantly have a large number of problems that need to be solved. Still, most people, especially in Russia, do not like to take the initiative and be responsible for it. In short, yes, your business is a constant stress.
MC: How do you deal with it?
A. Sh. : You can cry. You cry and let go. You can do yoga, go for a run, go somewhere. In short, you exhale. You inhale. And you go ahead.
9 know-how of a successful startup from Alexandra Shaforost
1. Take the opportunity seriously. An investor will never buy an idea in his life, and you will never make money from it. Your ability to implement an idea is worth the money.
2. Remember that practice is different from theory. It is better to multiply the estimated investment amount by three at once, because, most likely, you will spend twice as much as you expected, and earn three times less - at least in the beginning.
3. Start small and test the idea or product on as many people as possible. Maybe you personally like everything, but no one needs it.
4. Don't quit your main job. I always advise startups to stick to a fixed salary to the last. And in parallel - to plow 24 hours a day.
5. People decide everything. Your team is what will either pull you down or let you grow.
6. Don't reinvent the wheel. I’m more about the story about “let's take a good bike, add a nice basket, paint it, and it will turn out beautifully and fit into the Moscow snowdrifts”.
7. Think over every detail and strive for impeccable quality.
8. It is better to have at least a little understanding of law and finance in order to sensibly assess risks.
9. Research the market and select the best consultant to help build an effective mechanism.
Photo: Vasily Kudryavtsev
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