Three principles of
my success
as an entrepreneur

People often ask me how I went from starting my company BioFoodLab to becoming a major player in Russia’s healthy snack segment in just five years.
09 August #Elena Shifrina

They are particularly curious because entrepreneurship is still developing in Russia, and because Russian women are still blazing trails in business — although our role is growing rapidly.

Different entrepreneurs will give you different answers about how to become successful, of course.

But here are three lessons I have learned:

Keep your eyes open for underdeveloped markets

I got the idea for starting a healthy snack company in Russia while I was on a student exchange program to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011.

At the time I was getting an MBA at the Skolkovo School of Management in the Moscow area.

My schedule at MIT was intense, with little time to prepare meals, so a number of my classmates and I would grab health food bars from vending machines. They were tasty, and as I looked at their nutritional value, realized they were good for you, too. My gut told me that this market was underdeveloped in Russia, so right then and there I decided I had found the first business that I would start.

Six years later, BioFoodLab has 13 percent of Russia’s healthy snack market, is selling 150,000 of our Bite snack bars a month, and is doing business in 14 countries.

Be your company’s biggest salesperson

I am always out there pitching our products. An entrepreneur has to play a key role in the creative process to ensure that new products are always in the pipeline, of course — in our case, additional kinds of snack bars. An entrepreneur also has to keep on top of product quality, play a key role in hiring to build a top-flight team, pay attention to financials so the company can not just pay its bills but grow, and assume myriad other entrepreneurial and managerial roles.

One job that is important — and fun — is pitching your product whenever and wherever you can. Look at the role that Richard Branson and Elon Musk’s salesmanship has played in their companies’ success. Both are tireless promoters of their products and services. And they are good at it, and have fun when they are at it.

As a former model, I am used to being in the public eye, and I genuinely like people. So I enjoy pitching our Bite products. It helps, of course, that it is a true health food, made up only of fruit, nuts and spices, with no preservatives.

Being successful at pitching has led to some cool things happening. For example, the London Marathon chose Bite as its official snack bar in 2017. Who would have thought that a world-class sports event in Britain would have chosen a Russian snack product for the goodie bag it presented to participants?

Be willing to do the less glamorous nuts-and-bolts work to keep your company moving ahead

For me, the most enjoyable part of being an entrepreneur is the creative work — coming up with a new kind of snack bar, a new package design, a new ad, a new kind of store sales display, and so on. My guess is that the vast majority of entrepreneurs get psyched up by the creative process far more than they do nuts-and-bolts tasks.

Business success requires a commitment that goes far beyond the creative process, however.

Take a new Bite package, for example. After you have had the fun of working with your team to design it, you have to make it work. That means ensuring that package-materials suppliers meet your requirements and deliver the materials on time. And it means smoothly integrating the package into your production operation.

Other tasks that are not nearly as much fun as the creative process include keeping tabs on your company’s financials — earnings and profit, for example — and legal matters.

We all know what spin is: PR peoples’ effort to put the best face on a situation.

When it comes to tasks I would rather not be doing, I create a spin aimed solely at me.

I tell myself that no matter how unglamorous a task, I will be learning something new when I carry it out. I love learning. And when you are running a business, a good part of what you are doing IS learning. So when you would rather not be doing a particular task, tell yourself that it is part of the learning game. And the more you learn, the better you will run your company.

I hope the three principles that I have outlined can help you in your quest to become an entrepreneur. Or, if you have already become one, help you build a successful business.

My own entrepreneur’s journey is just five years old, and I am learning something new every day. So if you ask me five years from now what are some secrets to my success, I am apt to give you a different list. That is as it should be. As your business grows, and your entrepreneurial and management skills increase, the underlying principles of your success are likely to evolve as well.

Good luck with your own entrepreneurial quest!