Q&A on Startups with Alexander Bekhterev – Marketing Certificate Graduate
Q: Tell us about your company, Era81?
Era81 is a democratic heaven for fashion customers. We source innovative product ideas from talented designers across the world and then let our customers decide which ones we should produce and also let them set the desired fair prices for the chosen products. So basically our customers get the fashion products they want at the prices they are ready to pay. From our side, we ensure that all the products are manufactured continuously and in the highest quality through partnerships with local craftsmen.
Era81 has been an incredible learning journey for me as an entrepreneur, and I deeply appreciate the role my UCLA Extension instructors played in helping my team develop a sustainable business model. Check out our video to learn how we came up with the idea and how we set our business processes.
Q: As Chief Marketing Officer can you share some ideas about the strategy for startup success?
First confirm the problem and then develop a solution
Many entrepreneurs come up with ideas that seem to them to be promising and inspiring, leave their jobs and invest all the money they saved (in worst cases the money of their friends and family as well) and several months or even years to turn the idea into a real product, and then oops–suddenly they find out there is no need for their product in the market. Quite disappointing, ah? And friends haunting you to get their money back doesn’t make it any better. So I strongly suggest to do the homework and check the market demand before investing your time and resources into a pig in a poke. With Era81 we’ve made several focus groups with designers and potential customers to ensure that both our target audiences are actually in need of our service.
Never underestimate the power of networking
When you work in a large corporation there is always a pool of internal expertise that you can turn to if you need advice or help for your project. But when you are in a startup team you usually lack resources to bring experience from the outside which leaves you with your team mates, friend circle and a network of random people you meet every day. But don’t be discouraged–all these people are hidden treasure that you just need to unravel from the ordinary situations. All you need to do is to be open and interested in other people’s lives, ask them questions and don’t be shy to share your own challenges.
Let me give you an example. I’ve been recently searching for a photographer and make-up artist for our upcoming fashion photo shoot. The professional services were too expensive for a startup budget and I was getting quite frustrated as there was no way we could get the quality we wanted matching our conditions. Then I decided to go to the gym to work out my frustration, called for Lyft and guess what? While talking to the driver I found out that he is a photographer and his sister-in-law is a make-up artist. Bingo! This approach also helped us to reach an investor from Harvard Business Angel Community. So, I suggest entrepreneurs should keep their hearts open to the people they meet as everything in the world happens for a reason.
Now think how big of an opportunity your studies at UCLA Extension is. In the school you are surrounded with smart and supportive people from all over the world and that is such an amazing pool of talents and ideas. Nance Rosen once said “You should always have an outcome in your mind for every conversation and be very specific“. While it’s definitely a great idea I’m quite sure that showing genuine interest in people is just as efficient and will also help in building strong trusting relationships rather than just growing a professional network. So go ahead and talk to your mates–you might be of great help to each other!
Stay in tune with the trends
Startups usually have very limited marketing budgets so they have to use a lot of imagination to promote their services. One great idea is to seek current opportunities: check for event and business contests. We’ve recently applied for Chase Mission Main Street Grants and ended up among Top-10 businesses in the US. The other smart idea is catch up with the trends that are going viral. Ice bucket challenge? Well, let’s do it in our Era81 t-shirt and have a really funny video. Beard of Conchita Wurst? Let’s make a best beard singer in Era81 team contest and post it on our blog. Such things are quite basic and while they won’t necessarily result in new customer acquisition they will still help you raise the brand awareness (especially if your creation is lucky to get viral). And that’s a big deal for your limited budget! I’ve got some great ideas and believe you could do as well in the Integrated Marketing Communications class by Marc Villarreal.
Be prepared to fail frequently
I’m not talking about the failure of the idea itself (which happens all the time, by the way) but rather about the weekly personal failure to deliver the work up to the standards. In a startup team you don’t usually have a particular role – everyone does whatever he can and if no one has the knowledge than someone (you) has to learn the thing from scratch. Therefore, you should be ready to learn enormous amount of information in different areas of business and you should do that quickly and efficiently. However, as any student at first you will inevitably make mistakes and the quality of your work will be, let’s say, capable of improvement and might make your team mates stress out a lot. So be mentally prepared to handle not only your learning but also someone’s nervous breakdown. Carry some chocolate cookies with you, just in case. At UCLA Extension classes, you are in a safe environment to make mistakes and it’s all for your better future. Take the advantage of this experience.
Take the help of your instructors
I am lucky to have some of the brightest UCLA minds to mentor me and want to spend their personal time to discuss my aspirations and ideas. I must say that every instructor blessed me with insightful information that I’m using to nurture Era81 and I’m grateful I got a chance to learn from those great minds. So I strongly recommend to every fellow student to seize the opportunity and talk to their instructors. You won’t regret it.
Q: Tell us about you higher education experience in Finland, Russia and the United States
Teaching methods among business schools generally are the same: case studies, group projects, interactive lectures and presentations. But there is one thing that makes a big difference: instructors.
At UCLA Extension every teacher gives more than just theory. All of them have solid and strong real life business experience which they’re sharing in the class. Many of the instructors are business owners, advisors or consultants so every lecture goes far beyond just an academic discussion.
In Russia, I had guest lectures and career fairs held by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, BCG and other renowned companies. While at UCLA Extension visiting lecturers come individually with their personal inspiring story. It is also notable, that business programs of Finland and Russia have global outlook (that is for 2-year Master’s degree): international marketing, trade, finance, industrial organization etc.
At UCLA Extension certificate programs are adjusted to the local US market and give deep insights about business environment here. However, the whole learning experience in the US creates a specific business mentality that anyone could successfully use abroad. That is probably why UCLA educational programs are ranked so high.
Alexander Bekhterev is a Marketing Certificate graduate and holds a master’s degree in International Business and Global Marketing from St. Petersburg State University, Graduate School of Management; and a master’s degree in Technology and Innovation Management from Lappeenranta University of Technology.
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