Olga Odintsova, MBA-7
Director of EY Tax Department in Russia
I participated in the grant competition and practically bolted into the last rail car. In the competition you can either submit your own project or resolve a business case. A business case is a real-life scenario which describes the facts at a company, and the commission wants to learn about your vision regarding this situation. I had no project of my own and delivered a presentation on the business case. I forced my brain to “spin round and round”.
Olga Odintsova, MBA-7:
“I participated in the grant competition and practically bolted into the last rail car. In the competition you can either submit your own project or resolve a business case. A business case is a real-life scenario which describes the facts at a company, and the commission wants to learn about your vision regarding this situation. I had no project of my own and delivered a presentation on the business case. I forced my brain to “spin round and round”.
You shouldn’t be afraid that you are unable to calculate NPV or customer value. If you demonstrate that in principle you are able to reflect, the commission notices
I prioritised spontaneous decision-making and self-presentation. And then the commission said that they felt it was important not to give the grant just to anyone providing the correct answers on the case, but instead to individuals who show they have development potential. As the commission is made up of a number of different people, the assessment is fairly objective. You can’t “play” to one member of the commission, you have only one option – you have to be yourself. You need to get enough sleep, be self-confident, listen carefully to the questions and answer them constructively. You must have real desire, it is not enough to simply answer everyone with the stock phrase: “I am so awesome”.
When I enrolled at SKOLKOVO, I wanted to expand my social circle, which had been limited to work and friends. I wanted new, fresh blood, inspiration and completely new ideas. I needed hard skills for professional growth: to understand the underlying economics of projects, finances, marketing and corporate finance. At some point I wanted to propose new services and speak the same language as my clients, using their professional language. At meetings with CFOs, I wanted to use the terminology they are used to, to understand the concepts in which marketers think. SKOLKOVO equips you with such knowledge.
By education I am a lawyer. And the business knowledge I have acquired makes me a unique resource. I always believed that if I were to obtain economic knowledge, I would become an even more valuable employee. And now I am convinced that this is the case
During the studies I really liked the marketing module. An unorthodox professor and original delivery. There was no explosion of colour, emotions or show. We were given specific techniques to enable us to understand the thought patterns of our consumers. How to identify what he or she actually wants. The professor has a cool methodology. Initially you don’t understand why he adopts such a roundabout approach when talking about marketing, but you end up with a comprehensive picture by the end of the fourth day. And this is the virtuosity of his teaching.
One figure is absolutely unforgettable — this is Pierre Casse. His module was striking and illustrated clearly to us all what leadership is. There were real situations when the entire group of 50 people had to reach a general agreement. And when 50 leaders try to reach an agreement about something, then it becomes loud and coarse, and emotional, with egos getting in the way. In the end, however, you understand from your own example what you are doing incorrectly and realise that you need to know how to listen to your neighbour, regardless of the fact that you are the star.
We had international modules. The USA and China are two absolutely different cultures. Economy No. 1, which has marshalled the unique interaction of the government, universities, start-ups and private capital, and an economy which has increased its GDP 20 times over the past 40 years. Honestly speaking, when I left the United States, I thought that it would be difficult to surprise me. However, China managed to astonish me. The module in the USA is such an emotional trip, so dynamic, there is so much show, and such a great deal of information. You meet so many people who give you a real buzz and say: “Why are you just sitting there? If you have a dream — then go and make it happen right now”.
Chinese culture – they assemble everything in line with the diagram up to the last single speck and then use this to build great Chinese walls. We studied at HKUST (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) – we were with Professor of the SKOLKOVO faculty Egor Pereverzev — he was the link between HKUST and us. He was able to immerse us seamlessly in Chinese culture and explain what certain events and things in China imply for Russian individuals and business.
China is a slow wave that slowly builds up and then suddenly overwhelms you
In China we visited two of the largest companies — Huawei and Tencent. China is a closed country, and you don’t always understand if they are providing you with true information or what they have decided to make accessible to the public. We would be given tours solely of show rooms as if we were at an exhibition. However, we understood that in China it is important to patiently build long-term mutually advantageous relations, and this is when a completely different China opens up to you. Hong Kong is not China from a broad cultural aspect. And it will be very interesting to observe whether Hong Kong manages to retain its “Western” culture against the backdrop of the rampant Chinese economy.
In the Silicon Valley we were able to access actual laboratories, actual incubators, we saw how the guys “play with” the next prototype, surrounded by leftover slices of pizza and cans of Coca-Cola. We saw how a guy from Novosibirsk was working in a garage – he launches satellites for video recordings required for agricultural needs. We met venture investors and heard lectures in Stanford. In other words, we also obtained views of business in the USA from a range of angles. We felt that we were in the centre, with the experts standing around us – theoreticians, practitioners, representatives of capital, start-ups. I believe that it would be hard to be better immersed.
Creating a start-up in America and creating a start-up in Russia are two different stories. We need to clearly communicate the idea that you shouldn’t limit yourself. Dream big, do small. Both dream and do. We saw this based on the example of both Americans and Russians who have moved there. It is possible to do business there with the people that you met. This is a real story, we exchanged our contacts with a number of guys, and discussed with investors opportunities for cooperation. If you have value, if you have a product, people are ready to listen to you, but you must be better than other guys who also want to do business. SKOLKOVO cracked ajar the door to Silicon Valley, even though this is a very closed community.”
Anna Barsukova, MBA-5
Managing Director of Organic Religion
I started working as an entrepreneur in education, created a music school for adults. I studied at the Higher School of Economics, specialising in “Economics and Enterprise Management” and it was useful to try out all this knowledge in my business. And after we opened a second school, I sold my interest to my partner, a musician, and decided to open a new start-up with the proceeds. Frankly speaking, that is how my company Organic Religion appeared. And in order to avoid making the mistakes I had made in the first business, I understood that I needed to expand my knowledge and obtain an education which would help me not simply to create a small business, but also to create an international company.
Anna Barsukova, MBA-5:
“I started working as an entrepreneur in education, created a music school for adults. I studied at the Higher School of Economics, specialising in “Economics and Enterprise Management” and it was useful to try out all this knowledge in my business. And after we opened a second school, I sold my interest to my partner, a musician, and decided to open a new start-up with the proceeds. Frankly speaking, that is how my company Organic Religion appeared. And in order to avoid making the mistakes I had made in the first business, I understood that I needed to expand my knowledge and obtain an education which would help me not simply to create a small business, but also to create an international company.
I was unable to go to Western schools immediately
First of all I had to obtain an English language certificate. These are specific lessons, and I didn’t want to waste another year. SKOLKOVO was the best option. There was also another reason – I had a business in Moscow and I had to be here. In July I passed the exams and was already admitted in August. I wanted to obtain an education in English according to international standards with a good faculty. At university some of the professors had been very progressive, while others had been a bit backward. For example, I felt that they delivered a marketing course from the 1990s. They cited examples of companies that no longer exist. And this is such a dynamic sector, in particular given the development of the Internet and social media. And when you are taught a slightly outdated course, you come away disappointed.
When I was young, I lived and worked as a model in New York. All the companies with cold-pressed juices and detox programmes originated from there. This was extremely popular in New York when I was there. Then I returned to Russia and understood that we didn’t have this. And when I had to decide what to do after the music school, I thought about creating such a project. I found partners who supported the idea and could manage the company operationally. And we started testing and creating this market in Russia — we were the first in this sector. We found a nutritionist in America who created all the programmes — in Russia this couldn’t be done professionally, we have neither the culture nor a juicing background.
Our company appeared in May 2014
At the time I was already studying at SKOLKOVO. Module after module we would process all the acquired knowledge, apply the metrics and perform analysis. I gathered the guys from my company, and we would test everything that I had studied at the business school. The team tapped into the educational process, everybody would learn something new and interesting for them. For example, I would turn up with some matrices and say: “Guys, today we are analysing competitors based on this matrix. And today we are considering its effectiveness. Let’s look at these areas. We will analyse this. Let us consider the competitive advantages that we are missing.” We sat and drew on a vast Whatman filter paper - this was very useful. We applied in practice at the company a significant number of conclusions drawn from these exercises.
My classmates really supported me
Everybody helped and gave advice. However, when you know the business from the inside, in principle you yourself have already sensed and understood a significant number of things. You would get the following type of advice: “Why don’t you try this? You need to be in all the gyms in Moscow.” And we understand that this wouldn’t be bad, but given our high cost of production and low margins, we cannot offer competitive conditions to gyms. More than half our class were entrepreneurs. And naturally this cohort of entrepreneurs would always seek advice: “And how do you keep the accounts?” or “How do you find premises? What realtors do you have? What are your rates? How do you conclude a contract with various suppliers?” These are basic things that you can find in all industries, regardless of what you are selling.
Everybody was creative in our group. Moreover, a number of students made the transition from the corporate world to the entrepreneurial sector. Natalia Pivovar was working at an international law firm. And during the studies she created her own brand together with classmates “It is snowing”, and is successfully making clothes. We all wear her wonderful sweaters.
After SKOLKOVO we did a consulting project with McKinsey
And I ended up in a group overseen by a McKinsey project director. He invited me to an interview and I received an offer. I am now thinking about what to do. On the one hand this is such an opportunity, and a good position, and a globally renowned company, and the objectives are interesting. However, I cannot combine this role with my business based on corporate policy. It is highly likely that I will find some construct which will enable me to retain my company, but at the same time work for them. To all intents and purposes, I don’t participate in the operational management of the company, and only cover global aspects. I have a director and we adopt key decisions together.
In Monaco a number of wealthy Russians are already our clients in Moscow — we immediately added to the customer database. And in addition our nutritionist, the author of all the programmes, works with a sports club in Monaco and often goes there. And she would say all the time: “What a shame that our football players can’t drink the juices that I create!” I said to her: “If your football players will drink the juices, then let’s create some for them.” In the end, everything worked out, and we opened a bar in Monaco that is still around today. We have four offices: two of our own – in Moscow and Monaco – and two franchise offices in Saint Petersburg and Almaty. In Monaco we have a large-scale project – our own bar and a large manufacturing facility.
We had a large number of applicants
That is why we also created a franchise programme. However, it is expensive, and so we have opened only two offices so far. Furthermore, the business specifics don’t make it possible to open offices in all small cities. The cost of production is high, while the purchasing power is low – in particular after the crisis. In each individual instance we consider the business model for the region and decide whether it is advisable to make investments both in the actual franchise and the equipment. Some people are simply doing something similar in their own region and don’t buy the franchise. There have already been a number of such instances, our name is copied and they try to repeat our recipes. We tackle this as and where possible, but this is also a form of recognition. They even created a company in Israel with exactly the same name, and even gave the same names to all the juices.
I came away extremely impressed by the intelligence of the students in our group
It is enjoyable not only to study and do projects with them, but also to spend time together, communicate and chat. The students are not simply intelligent, they are successful. At the same time, they are fairly young – in my opinion, the average age in our group is 28. Accordingly, the people have already reached a peak by the age of 30 both in the corporate world and in the entrepreneurial sector. In certain areas they set an example for me. And I understood that I had still not achieved that much compared with my classmates.
We went to Kamchatka, this was a very interesting module
It is very impressive with a great deal of outdoor activity. We were left in the forest and told that we would remain there, without receiving any warning. This was nerve-wracking: the group split into two camps, some people wanted to go back. However, there was a condition that we had to adopt a uniform decision. In the end we decided to remain and set up camp. And it was very interesting to observe how a number of people, who had appeared to be imperceptible, eminence grise during the studies, assumed the responsibilities of leaders and coordinated the working teams who built the camp. They organised the entire camp construction process, infrastructure, and came up with duty shifts. They opened up specifically in a critical situation when they understood that this was required. Until then they had allowed the keenest individuals to be leaders and run the process. And here once they realised that the team was about to collapse, they assumed responsibility and did this in a very skilful and correct way. It goes without saying that it was extremely interesting to observe all this. And it was also interesting to observe how some people gave up and stood to one side.
It was sad that everything came to an end
We understood that we would meet up again and maintain relations, but we all have our own lives, work and schedules. It would be extremely hard to meet up as we had in our studies. Once we made a group trip to Amsterdam. The guys are now making their way to SKOLKOVO for events. Previously we would celebrate as a group birthdays, New Year, the Eighth of March (International Women’s Day, 23rd February (Defender of the Fatherland Day). Occasionally someone launches a new project and invites everyone to the opening, we also come and support them. In our group Marina Nefedova opened a hairdresser salon for kids. The guys met up, I couldn’t make it as I wasn’t in Moscow at the time. The girls from “It is Snowing” held a New Year party with their brand, we came to see them at their show room.
The School hears all our requests and comments
MBA-5 was the first programme to be conducted in the modular format, and there have been some modifications since then. I can see that a great deal was improved in the 6th group and would be even better in the 7th. The school understands how the programme should look and how to create it correctly. And in general the education is good and provides you with a real foundation. The faculty is superb. Everything depends on whether the individual is ready to take it on or not. And this is the same everywhere: an individual can turn up and simply sit in his corner on the telephone for this money, play games and leave. We also had a couple of students who were like that. To all intents and purposes, they were not that motivated to take up what the group and professors offer. At the same time, however, there are a number of examples when the people did their utmost and their careers and businesses started to flourish. I think that everything depends on the individual.
I would like to say honestly that I had not expected my education to recoup the financial costs. It is very hard to calculate as you are investing in yourself, in your own development and in your own future. I definitely have no regrets. If I had a chance to take this decision again, then I would have done the same. Has my business become super-profitable? Has it grown six-fold? No, but this might have been impossible due to the economic situation and the actual business model. I definitely know that the education invigorated me. We have guys who are trying to recoup their financial investments. I adopted a different approach. I received for this money a number of new positive emotions and new knowledge, and in general a new vision of the world, which may well be priceless. I would advise you to go and study at SKOLKOVO.”
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