Focus on Russian businesswomen: Nadia Bochkarev, LOOKSIMA
Ahead of International Women's Day, Modern Russia is focusing on Russian business women. Today's post is an interview with Nadia Bochkarev, Founder and Managing Director, LOOKSIMA. LOOKSIMA, which stands for Looks I Most Adore, is an online international stylist marketplace, with a mission to provide professional and affordable stylist services to a wide audience.
1. What gave you the initial idea for LOOKSIMA? Within less than a year, you brought the company to the two largest fashion markets in the world – the U.S. and Russia. How did you achieve this?
If you think about it, the idea of bringing together stylists, online fashion stores and users on one platform makes perfect sense. How many people want to look as if they used a professional stylist’s advice and how many can in reality afford the services of a professional stylist? We wanted to make such services free for our audience and help the users solve the essential problem of what to wear for various occasions. Women know very well what I am talking about. And this is the primary objective of LOOKSIMA. The catch here is to provide advice that is as tailored to the person’s criteria as possible so that we could replace an offline consultation with a professional stylist. At the same time, how many stylists can get a virtually unlimited audience? We wanted to provide a solution for both sides. In addition, the platform helps the stores because we can increase their sales. We build a socially important business and this is what really matters to us. By giving style advice and by providing direct links to the products in the stores, we save our users time and money – they don’t have to search endless catalogs of products online any more and they don’t need to think how they should dress for a business meeting or a date or a night out. All the products are handpicked by professionals and the user can immediately buy what he/she likes. Most importantly, we are also open for men.
We launched in Russia in May last year and just recently did a soft launch in the U.S. The U.S. market is 20 times larger than the Russian one and for us it was important to build a global company. Hence – two markets. We know both countries very well, so it was not that difficult to make a decision. It was much more difficult to make sure that we keep the right focus and to not miss anything in one country or the other.
2. Did you experience any difficulties in setting up your business? What did you learn from them?
I think the major issues every entrepreneur faces in Russia are state regulations and access to capital. Although you can hardly do anything about the regulations, you can still find the ways to get funding for the company. However, you can’t really compare the U.S. and the Russian markets in terms of financing available to startup businesses. It is very clear that many investors are focused on copying the successful American business models rather than creating something unique from the start. After launching Lamoda, we didn’t want to do a copycat and instead developed a unique concept which now brings significant value to the users, stylists and stores. However, it took some time to explain the model and to make sure that the company got funded. I guess the major lesson here is the following. You have two options: first, if you are thinking of attracting venture capital, start talking to investors as early as you can so that you at least get on their radar screens. It will take at least a few months to get funding. Second, try not to attract financing at all if you can afford it. Make it your own company, be independent. Unfortunately, very few people actually have the luxury of the second option.
One more important thing to realize is that if you really want to do your own business, start immediately. The opportunity cost of launching a venture will increase over time, so don’t waste it. The earlier you start, the more you learn. Corporate careers are good but they don’t give you even a fraction of knowledge you receive by building something on your own.
3. Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? What does a startup mean to you?
My passion for entrepreneurship began three years ago when I met my husband. We were discussing a business model for a startup student community when it suddenly struck me that building my own business was in reality what I wanted to do in life. I left my work in the New York beauty industry and left for Germany where we joined Rocket Internet.
Running a startup takes the ultimate devotion of yourself to building a socially meaningful business. It is the passion. It is the sparkling eyes and the ability to move forward when something goes not as expected. It is the sustainability of motivation when people are telling you that what you are doing is wrong. You have to be strong and lead people. Moreover, to me it is obvious that the company should bring real consumers and it is the only way to get both moral and material satisfaction from what you do. Luckily, we are doing the right thing for the right reasons.
4. What has been your experience of being a female entrepreneur in Russia?
Very positive. I don’t see any differences for male or female entrepreneurs in the business environment. We are in styling and many more women are there than men, so I don’t really face any gender preferences or difficulties. In startups in general I am also seeing many passionate young girls and women who really want to make a difference. So I would say that the gender is definitely not something that makes it more difficult to build a business in Russia. Likewise in the U.S.: it is not the gender that helps you or keeps you behind but rather the team you can get together, your ability to launch, grow and manage a company, and here men and women have equal opportunities. Success has nothing to do with gender and Russia is a very interesting market in which to build a business. The online fashion market is growing by 50% year on year and there are so many opportunities to make it worthwhile to be a startup, especially if it is done by a woman!
5. What advice would you give people trying to start a business in Russia?
It’s not about the country or the place. It’s about you. And the advice I would give is the same as I would give to anyone: think positively and do what you love but before, really make sure you know what it is that you love. Don’t assume or fake it – know it by heart and then go and do it! There is no doubt you will be successful because you will have the power, the vision, the motivation and the ability to execute. It’s not about the country where you start the business, it’s all about you and what you want to build, how you can help people around you and what you can bring to the table. One of the most important qualities of a leader for me is to see where you are going and to stay passionate and motivated to move in that direction, no matter what.