FROM SELLING LIGHT-BULBS TO INTERNATIONAL INTERNET-COMPANY
Art school student. Cadet of the Suvorov Military School. Team player. Leader. Entrepreneur.
It could be your typical “I was an ordinary guy” story, but it’s not that simple. I went through a long and difficult journey as an art school student, a Military Lyceum graduate, a mover, a forwarder, light bulbs seller, a director of a chain of stores, a managing partner of a large company… But first of all, thank you for your interest in my story. My name is Vladislav Rudnitsky, CEO of 404 Agency.
My business [How it all started]
Childhood and school
I was born in Vinnytsia, a small Ukrainian town, and my parents are from Odessa, a city near the Black Sea. My childhood wasn’t that different from most Ukrainian childrens’ childhood: climbing on garages and trees, playing football. I was not a wunderkind, but not a bully.
I studied in art school, or rather, I tried to. Soon I realized that some of my classmates did not mind to do homework for me. I paid for this with my pocket money, but more often I bartered: for example, for pies or ball rental ?
That’s when I realized that it’s much more interesting for me to delegate my tasks to others than just do it by myself.
It was not an ordinary kid’s laziness. I knew that I wouldn’t make complex brush strokes as cool as my talented classmate would. And my innate perfectionism didn’t allow me to do anything of a mediocre quality.
I was learning how to motivate people: I gave them some kind of a target specification and followed up on the implementation. And as a result groups of students who shared a common goal were forming around me.
Just for the record, I wasn’t a leader in my class. I was always more focused on productivity, not on popularity: school festivals, wall newspapers, small plays.
Cadet Corps in Odessa
After the 9th grade I entered the Military School. 2 years of training has given me good physical form, but the main thing I gained was serious spiritual and military preparation. Not only I improved my leadership skills and learned how to lead other people, but learned to be personally responsible for my subordinates.
After this came a good result: I became the cadets’ team captain and we won one of the top places in the “Rules of War” competition. It was conducted by International Committee of the Red Cross. 20 teams from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Moldova were our competitors.
The serious “school of hard knocks” in my senior years defined my further approach to management and business.
On my return from Cadet Corps I decided to join the army.
Alone. Consciously. Not by someone’s advice or forced military conscription.
From the army to being a mover
After returning from the army, I started to work. My father wanted to show me the value of money and how hard it is to earn them. My career began with the position of a mover at the factory where my father worked. The whole point is that he was Deputy Director and I shouldn’t had been relying on him and had to start my way up the career ladder independently. We didn’t even show other employees that we knew each other: not communicating and not crossing our paths at all, so I could be treated by others as a regular worker and equal in the team. In 3 months I became a forwarding agent and then a senior forwarder.
Hard work and a monthly salary of 3400 UAH (around 400 dollars at that time) taught me to appreciate money. It was a good lesson, but of course I aimed for more than that.
I don’t want to exhaust you with all the small details. I’ll only say that later I was working in international company which produced navigation tools, then was managing one shop, after — was managing a shop chain.
I was growing as an entrepreneur, making new contacts and acquaintances.
Offline wasn’t enough anymore and I went online
At some point my social circle was enlarged by the guys who were engaged in web development. We launched our first business together — online-store of automotive electronics. So for the first time I had web-designers, programmers and copywriters in my team.
You must spoil before you spin well
I could write a multivolume work: “How to throw 36 000 dollars away and go bankrupt in just a year”.
As you may have guessed, with all my business projects I was pouring the money down the drain. I was learning from my mistakes, but basically just stabbing in the dark creating everything from scratch: content, design, copywriting, SEO and sales. I was even “playing with fonts” [don’t remember exactly] ?
At the end I happened to get to know the real experts in digital marketing, which finally allowed me to work “grown-up serious”. They also helped me to expand my social network, which is a key element.
A half thousand light-bulbs in a day
We’ve tried several things during our career, you know. We were developing simple landing pages for selling cheap perfumes, light bulbs and other small things. We had from 200 to 500 orders a day. We had to hire and train additional staff to work with it. We could spend around 1500 USD in a day, and get back 110-120%.
Then we started to get larger companies to work with. Opened a big online store in automotive industry, then closed it and opened 3 new ones. Now these projects marked their 8 years anniversary and became TOP-3 in their niche.
Times were getting tough and often we were losing our own money. But this helped us to look for the new opportunities, and constantly improve.
Money is not a goal, it’s a tool
The day has come when I realized that I was tired of it all. Small and profitable projects were not that interesting anymore, and large ones were automated and did not need me to be involved. And I decided to go and find what people call a “real job”.
I recalled I was studying at Genius Marketing — in a closed “Strategic Room” for a small group of young entrepreneurs. Dialed the number of a friend who worked there as a manager, and asked her to get a job for me in GM.
Being aware of my business projects, she, recovering from surprise, asked: “But why?! What will you do here, Vlad? You don’t need this”
But I didn’t want to stop and said that I would be satisfied with any option. After completing the interview, the next day I started to work in Genius Studio as a project manager.
The whole megillah all over again
I was full of motivation, energy and enthusiasm. I began to streamline my environment and started with those who worked with me on my current projects.
There were a lot of arguments, a whole bunch of discussions in Trello. In general, everyone got affected by me. I stormed the departments of design, copywriting, management. I noticed the top employees, whom I would like to see in my future team.
At some point, the director decided to step down as head of the company to be able to work on his own project. And then the chaos came. This “Game of Thrones” ended with the fact that I became the director, and from the beginning of the year — Managing Partner of Genius Marketing.
After only three months of work as a project manager, I became the head of a large digital studio. How did it happen? Because of perseverance, strong team spirit, respect for colleagues and subordinates.
I always appreciated the opportunity to work with the real professionals, and never felt bad about spending my time and money for them. All the time I’m trying to surround myself with highly intellectual people, professionals in a certain area of work. I’m getting bored with those who don’t want to grow beyond the amateur level.
I’m sure if I’d need help, I could count on my team in any moment, even in the middle of the night. They won’t ask how much money I’m going to pay and how much I will owe. They will just help with what I’m asking for.
They have no doubts in me, because I never fail them. From the young years I was sympathetic to Suvorov’s approach: he dressed like a simple soldier, shared food and shelter with soldiers, didn’t appreciate idleness.
I am, of course, not a backslapper sort of a guy, but always equally share difficulties and hardships with my subordinates. If something goes wrong with the team, then it will be the same for me.
What is the result?
At the moment, more than 50 experts work in the digital agency, and the quality and quantity of services are growing. We are engaged not only in the development of the clients’ business, but in the full PROCESSING of it. In order not to make allegations, I will show you the results in numbers in the form of “before — now”.
Before: 32 people who were new to each other.
Now: 50 members of the creative team, constantly interacting with each other at both the professional and personal levels.
Before: lots of projects (up to 120 per month).
Now: limited number of projects per month, but with a solid budget.
Before: a constant loss in quality because of the monstrous amount of work, as well as poor teamwork.
Now: a step-by-step team discussion of projects and individual solution for each client.
Before: the average salary on the market, which often was not related to the amount of work and time spent.
Now: completely transparent payment scheme, according to the efforts of each team member.
Before: a subsidiary of GM.
Now: a partner of Genius Marketing.
These results are not my personal merits, but the achievements of the team. I am convinced that a good leader must create and organize a comfortable working environment for the whole team. And he must work with the team on equal footing.