Sergey Fage, CEO of Ostrovok.ru, on chaos, morning marathons and corporate culture

    Today we invite you to read an interview with the CEO of one of the leading Russian startups. Sergey Fage, co-founder of Ostrovok.ru, told us his story, gave advice to novice entrepreneurs and explained why he is not like everyone else.



    // About education and first experience

    I studied in England and in America. In England - at the School, in America - at the University: at Cornell (approx. Ed. Cornell University), and then at the business school at Stanford. Very early and rather accidentally became interested in Internet business. Even when I was 14 years old, it seems. Since then, it has been brewing for a long, long time. When he was in business school, he founded the company TokBox, which was eventually bought by a large mobile operator Telefonica. This was my first big experience. For some reason, the story is silent about the fact that before that there were a lot of attempts to start something, which fails at the stage that cannot even be called shameful, because nothing was done at all.

    I was 20 years old then and this was my first management experience. There were a lot of mistakes in it, including basic ones: my co-founder and I constantly argued and once even fought in front of all the employees.


    // About “why Russia”

    After I finished with my previous company in the USA, it was interesting to either stay and do something there, or go to Russia. I was attracted to Russia: an open developing market, where there is little competition, many talented developers, and, of course, adventure - I was interested.
    By the time I arrived here, I already had some experience, in fact it was not so big: in my previous company there were a maximum of 10-15 people. Now 100-150 people work in Ostrovka, I even sometimes forget how many exactly.


    // What the story is silent about

    There were many mistakes. One can say about my previous company: when we started it, we had ambitions to build something global. At that moment Skype became quite successful - the company that created the telecommunications product, which costs tens of billions of dollars. When we did TokBox, we tried to build a large-scale product, but in reality we did not succeed.

    I’m not like everyone else, because I believe that only one thing can be done well in life. One.

    I was 20 years old then and this was my first management experience. There were a lot of mistakes in it, including basic ones: my co-founder and I constantly argued and once even fought in front of all the employees. When you are an employee of the company, and its founders are fighting before your eyes, this, to put it mildly, does not inspire positive and trust.

    History is always silent about what people did not succeed. In most cases, people have tried a lot of things before they succeeded. And one of the things that I don’t like in our open world of social networks is that everyone represents the exclusively positive side of their own history, personality. And often this provokes thoughts from other people in the category “Damn, what a loser I am! And here at the person on all photos everything is cool! ” Everyone has this feeling. I sometimes open some kind of Instagram and think why everyone is having fun all the time, and I haven’t done anything like this for a long time. You need to understand that people are always trying to present themselves on the positive side, but in fact everything is more complicated than it seems.


    // About my work day

    I wake up somewhere at 5.30 in the morning, I go to one of the five favorite cafes in Moscow. I work there from six to eleven in the morning. Then I finish the work that I planned for myself, plus I get tired of sitting alone, and I'm going to the office.

    We do not tolerate a relationship: "it does not work, well, I’ve gone." We just do not want to work with such people. We want a person to have a soul ache for what he does.

    I have several meetings in the office. Once a week, for example, I meet with a senior project manager to discuss what his priorities are, what difficulties he is facing, and how I can help him.
    Then I have lunch, then I sleep for half an hour or meditate, because otherwise I cease to function normally. Then I continue to work a couple more hours, after doing sports. We have a gym in our office. I run or train with a trainer. And by 10 I'm trying to go to bed already.
    By the way, here you asked me about the working day, and I tell you about such things as sports / eating / sleeping and so on. There is no working or non-working day for me. I believe that dividing life into work / non-work is wrong. Because a non-working life, that is, how you eat or sleep, obviously increases or decreases your working capacity. There is no such separation in the modern world, especially if you like what you do. And I like what I do.


    // Oh not like everyone else

    I’m not like everyone else, because I believe that only one thing can be done well in life. One. And even if you do only two, then you will do one of them mediocre with respect to the person who deals with only one. In my life, I choose to practice almost exclusively the Islet, I think that this is clear from my work day. By the way, this schedule also applies to weekends. I like it and I don’t want to do anything special.

    But I constantly face the fact that I try to apply the same standard to other people and get angry when someone is not ready to go for it. And at such moments, I understand that in some sense I am irrational - you can’t demand this from other people. But on the other hand, we have a lot of people in the company who are ready to give all the best.

    People are no longer motivated by money. People are motivated by the opportunity to do something significant, to develop within it.

    And here we are already moving on to the question of the culture of the company, which, it seems to me, is largely built up by its leaders and how they behave. Not by what they say, but by the way they really behave. Those who are exclusively committed to their work come to Islet and become successful. If a person shows up some idea that he does not want to do something, because the weekend, then he does not take root here. If you love your job and are interested, there is no division for you. A weekend is just that day when you don’t come to the office, but still think about what you are interested in.
    It is impossible to pretend. All the time pretending that you like something, when you are really bored - this is wrong. We love and attract those people who are committed to their work on the verge of abnormality. This is one of the key points.


    // About corporate culture

    “About the result” - we don’t spend time at all on pieces of paper, on filling out office memos and other nonsense. Thank you very much to the accounting team and lawyers who are trying to protect everyone else from the harsh realities of Russian reality.
    “About the result” - it makes no difference to me when a person works, it is important for me that he succeeds, and if he does not succeed, then his soul hurts for it. And he walked and actively tried to do better. We do not tolerate a relationship: "it does not work, well, I’ve gone." We just do not want to work with such people. We want a person to have a soul ache for what he does.
    “About data” - we have a strong focus on information within the company, almost everywhere. We have a huge number of monitors around the office, they usually have statistical and analytical data. About sales, about expenses, about customers, about complaints. A monitor hangs in the kitchen, from which a large piece is allocated to customer complaints. We want everyone to see that due to the fact that we did not finish something, the client had a bad experience with us. We want everyone to see that they burn their eyes, because then people will want to fix everything.



    // About motivation

    People are no longer motivated by money. People are motivated by the opportunity to do something significant, to develop within it. There is a video Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (TED) - people need autonomy, they need to develop, they need a goal. We are trying to give people the opportunity to improve the product: if something does not work right, then people bring information, and we try to quickly fix it. This does not always work out: often there are other priorities, and sometimes the problem is complex. But we strongly encourage this among employees.

    One of the tips for starting a career: do not concentrate on how much money you will earn by cache tomorrow. It is important that it will be in 10-15 years.


    // About large-scale

    I believe that in almost any business, if you try hard and hard for a long time, you can defeat industry leaders. And from time to time, people prove it. One of my favorite Xiaomi companies in a few years defeated Apple in China. They produce smartphones, and now Xiaomi is the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, despite the fact that they started from scratch 4-5 years ago. I sincerely believe that by focusing on the same industry with the right people for a long time, you can do better than anyone else. Full of examples: Tesla, Google, Xiaomi.
    When choosing what to do, choose something large-scale. For example, the hotel industry: people spend $ 500 billion a year on hotels. This is a very large amount, 5-10% of the global economy falls on the tourism sector. In a developed industry, it’s easier to build something big. It’s better to travel when the wind blows in your sails, on a big wave.


    // About tips

    One of the tips for starting a career: do not concentrate on how much money you will earn by cache tomorrow. It is important that it will be in 10-15 years.
    I would say that it is better to become a professional in what you love. You have to try different things. Most companies are now becoming more and more complex. What I mean? The entire global economy is based on the fact that companies perform rather specialized functions in the structure of partnerships. It will come as a surprise to someone, but Apple does not manufacture an iPhone; it does not even collect them. She is their designer, producing specifications. There is a company in China, here it collects them. They have thousands of contractors who assemble individual components, there are those who conduct only glass for the iPhone
    .
    At a university like Stanford - there are billionaires, Zuckerbergs, Gates revolving around you. It’s obvious to you: I can too. They are here. They are not from the covers of magazines. They are ordinary people.

    The global economy is highly specialized, and as a result, specialists are very valuable. It seems to me that everyone needs to try to be a specialist. At the same time, it is also important to have a certain outlook. If you are a super-specialist, but at the same time do not know anything at all outside your sphere, this will make work in your sphere less quality. Because, for example, if you know the statistics perfectly, but don’t know anything about psychology, you may not be able to interpret the results of your analysis. We have analyzed the behavior of people and are trying to understand why this is so. But you can’t.


    // How to find yourself

    Most of my friends, even at the age of 30, do not necessarily know what exactly they want to do in life. I was lucky, I understood this at an early age and was not mistaken. It seems to me that this is a difficult question. I would recommend taking time out for a regular retrospective. Suppose you can write for yourself on paper, at what moments you felt good and at what bad times and tried to highlight what led to it. Did you communicate with people at this moment? If you talked and you liked it - this is a hint. If you were thinking at that time, too. I am happier when I think than when I communicate with people. I am an introvert.

    I would not say that success is something tangible. Success is when you are the coolest person in something. And in what - this is your choice.

    You need to understand what may be of interest to you. And then communicate with people in an area that becomes potentially interesting to you. If you surround yourself with specialists in a certain field, then they pull you up. If you surround yourself with people of your level, then this, of course, is pleasant to you, but it pulls you down.
    At a university like Stanford - there are billionaires, Zuckerbergs, Gates revolving around you. It’s obvious to you: I can too. They are here. They are not from the covers of magazines. They are ordinary people. Not ordinary in fact, but they are understandable. It increases your ambition and self-confidence. The key to this is to communicate with talented people in an area that is interesting to you. The Internet makes this easy.


    // About success

    I would not say that success is something tangible. Success is when you are the coolest person in something. And in what - this is your choice. This is the goal that you set. Success is when you have a realized talent for something. It could be anything. A certain type of design, a policy direction, organizational management - anything. It could even be something bad. Success is when something is obtained at a level at which almost no one can. This is my personal understanding of success.

    Hooray to everyone who read to the end! We hope you were interested. And now you can read the story from the life of CEO Boomstarter, Ruslan Tugushev.

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