Hello-hello-hello and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast – the weekly English show where we speak about everything under the sun. The major goal of this show is to help you improve your English and of course learn something new. My name’s Katya, I’m your host and today with me…
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Alright, Gary, I haven’t seen you for a week. I’m not even gonna ask you what’s up, cause you always hate this question. Unless, there’s something interesting that’s been going on.
No, not particularly, I’ve been busy but I’ve been dealing with the weather. Have you noticed the weather?
It’s hard not to notice the weather.
Yes, it’s been wet and cold. But.
It’s gonna change. Alyona, I haven’t seen for a very long time now. It’s been more than a month now, so what’s up?
May holidays first, and then work, work, work a lot. Yeah. So.
Tell me something I don’t know about teacher’s life. So how did you spend your May holidays?
That’s surprisingly, but working. Yeah.
Really. I didn’t have the opportunity to go anywhere, I don’t know why. Probably the dacha’s season hasn’t been opened yet in my family and among my friends.
What are you waiting for?
The warm weather I guess.
Well, could be a long wait.
Didn’t stop my family, you know, from preparing everything, dealing with, you know, old grass. Ugh. Hate it.
No, my mom and dad, they went to dacha, but no brothers, sister so other relatives, so they just stand by.
So you have only been working, working, working since we last saw each other.
I think yes, yeah. And a little entertaining I guess.
Well I guess our topic today is right up your alley cause we’re gonna talk about business. You know, work and work and work.
And wait, if I’m not mistaken, you actually are a business woman.
So Gary, did you know that we…
Actually I’ve been running an English school for I think 4 years now, but the quarantine and all that pandemic situation influenced my business quite a lot, so we decided to go online first and then we actually didn’t close down. But we are, I don’t know, we are waiting for the better times or whatever now. So, now we are working only with the… a few students and not the corporate clients.
So now you work at two schools then, cause you are here and…
Does that make you a spy?
I don’t think so, because first, I think we have different fields where we work and the clients are different, the maybe atmosphere is different inside the school. So we are different, but it’s interesting. It’s not my first experience working for the other school.
I’ve been working for… I’m still working actually in one more school and I’m teaching mostly pronunciation lessons there and some speaking clubs or taking over other teachers when I have some time.
So it’s more like a side job.
Yes, and you know, because after the quarantine and after starting to run my own business I was a little out of that teaching community, yeah, and you know how important it is to be up to date, to actually to talk to teachers and to share whatever you have on your mind about your students and so on.
So I decided to go into another school and actually I liked that experience and why not? I have something to share, and to share my experience and maybe to learn something new.
it’s like an exchange then.
If I may ask what made you go into business?
Oh, that really was a strange situation, because I was kind of the teacher in the school which I inherited I must, kind of. My friend who was the school director, she… Because of some family reasons, she decided to either close down the school or to sell it and then she had another idea, just popped up in her mind and she was like oh, I can give it away to you. Like, take it, almost for nothing.
What was your reaction then?
I was shocked, I was shocked, I was thinking about that, if I need that school, if I need that responsibility for a month I guess or something. I was talking to my family, my friends, getting some consultations. And so we all, we all I must say, not only I but we all decided that it was worth trying and so I took the responsibility on my narrow shoulders. So. Yeah.
Can I ask? So that meant that you had a rented space, is that right? You had a physical location?
Yes, I had a physical location.
Other teachers? Were there other teachers?
Other teachers, we had a license and we had clients like big clients, like IKEA company. We’d worked with them for 7-8 years altogether, with me and the previous experience.
That’s a long time, yeah.
So yes, and that was really interesting and we specialized I think mostly on working with corporate clients. We had, I guess, 4 or 5 companies that we kind of serviced, yeah. And they needed English teachers to make their staff speak English on different reasons, so that was nice.
And the second thing – we worked with kids. Mostly individually, in small groups, but with kids who had mostly the necessity to start speaking English and we helped them. So the kids who had dyslexia as well.
So that’ why with BigAppleSchool we are not competitors I think because we were different.
Well that’s smart, yeah. Alright, and Gary, if I’m not mistaken, you have some knowledge of business cause your family owned a business. So can you tell us a little bit more about that?
That’s right, yeah. My family went into business, meaning my parents, I’m an only child, so this was, anyway… So they went into business when I was 7 years old and my dad… I think I’ve said something about this on a podcast, but my dad was an office manager in a manufacturing company, which was a pretty good job at the time.
But he was also a musician and just as a hobby or as a, just, passion if you might say now. I don’t know if that was exactly a passion, but it was a part of his life and he for all of the reasons that people want to go into business, he and my mother decided to go into business together, so he put the corporate…
That wasn’t exactly a corporate… Well, that was a corporate, it was a big company, but it was not a giant corporation. Anyway, he put that behind him and went into business selling musical instruments - electronic organs, brand of organ called Hammond Organ, it’s… You would know it from recordings, it’s a standard part of a lot of rock music and everything and it’s own instrument and its own writing.
It was having a moment or a period of time in the 60s-70s where it was sort of something that people desired. It had sort of aura of culture about it and music and sort of the finer things, sort of, for people that just had enough money to buy these things which were quite expensive.
And so this involved them becoming a dealer for this manufacturer of these instruments, Hammond Organs. And renting a big rather large space, cause these are big things, these are like organs that you see maybe at church except they’re smaller, for a home.
But still they take a lot of space.
Yeah, they still have 2- or 25 of these on display, so it was a fairly big business and you had to have salesmen and people that, you know, sold these to people. You had to have people that serviced them, you had… They had people who delivered them cause they’re extremely heavy and it was just a whole big business.
And my dad had been involved as, you know, playing the instrument as a hobbyist and then he also played some concerts cause he’d been meaning… In the world of organ, it was world of people who appreciated this kind of music and it was sort of a thing at the time.
And so he was acquainted with the business and so he went into business in 1961 and it was good timing and the business was successful and it became less successful as tine went on. But it was still remained a good business, then he started selling pianos as well which was also a big thing including grand pianos and just all kinds of piano.
He went into piano business as well. It just naturally went together. And so he had to have rather large stores and he sold sheet music, everything that went along with them. He had a lot of personnel. So it was a full blown retail business, I don’t know what the equivalent would be now that would be even a parallel.
I don’t know what the parallel would be. But anyway, so that’s what they did and so that was part of my life. It affected a lot of decisions that they were… When you go into business, it was a big commitment, it’s a gigantic commitment. And I was a 7-year-old little kid. And so I needed to go to school and so that was a problem because it was like 10 in the morning to 10 at night. I mean, the store.
No, the store. The store was open 10 in the morning to 10 at night. Five, you know, weekdays. And then 10 to 6 on Saturday. I mean, they were there and it. So, I ended up having to go to, I went away to a boarding school for 2 years. Third and fourth grades.
So I was a pretty little kid for that, and it was a hard decision for my parents to make. But they had to do something sort of with me shall we say. And so anyway, that’s how I, that was my introduction to a better course, it was just part of my life. And later, once I’d graduated from college, I went back and I worked in the business for another 12 years.
But I wasn’t interested in taking it over myself, it was… This is the kind of thing, it’s a family business traditionally. And you would pass it to your kid, your child if they’re interested. I was not interested, I had other, developed other interests, so in any case.
But so, I was in it from the beginning, but sort of… As a spectator, but an interested party, affected party by what it is to start a business. Because it’s a serious thing, you know.
So were there many employees?
They had a lot of, yeah, they had a lot of employees, cause they had multiple stores. And so…
Oh multiple stores? That means like all over the states or in different…
It was just within… In the Cleveland area and then there’s another city that’s to the south of Cleveland called Akron, also a city about 200 000 people. Anyway, so they had a store there for sort of strategic reasons which my dad was a pretty good businessman, so he understood that he didn’t wanna have a competitor very close.
And so he got the Hammond franchise right to sell these instruments in the nearest big market, so there wouldn’t be a competitor. Yeah, it was a good, a very good decision. And it was tactical. But it meant that right one year into the business he had to open a second store, you know, 100km away and you know, and had to do all the personnel thing and had to, you know, find a place, and start to actually…
I think they bought that building right away. And so he’s got a mortgage on that and, you know, his first he rented but within 5 years they were buying it, a building that they redid. It was a separate retail store, like a shoe store. Shoe store of a brand that is kind of disappeared, but…
Just not renting, buying, yeah?
Bought it, yeah, which was a really good business decision because you’re… When you go out of business what you end up with is the property.
And you can sell the property.
You can sell the property. Because the business is buying the building all the time out of its profits and you end up with the value, the equity of that building. And so that was actually because… But anyway, that was what they actually had because you then sell your inventory at the end and then you have that, but that’s it.
So anyway, so they had stores on the east side, on the west side of Cleveland, which is just what you had to do to be represented there. They went little farther east and they made deals with… My dad made deals with department stores, big stores that had musical instruments departments. And he bought them out.
They rented them for them. And he would pay them a commission, pay them a percentage. And so he ended up with a lot of locations and all those needed to have at least salespeople. Yeah, so he had… It was like 40 or 50 people maybe at peak.
And he also had teachers because that was part of the thing, is you had, yeah he had studios. It was called… As part of the mystique of it it wasn’t called a store, they were called studios. You know, like artist studios.
Yeah, that was part of it. Well and then came Hammond. Hammond was this big manufacturing company that again, it was having a moment in the culture. And they, this was their pitch cause the things were really expensive. Buying one of these would be like the price of an automobile.
Yeah that’s why it’s surprising to hear that there were two stores in Cleveland. Cause it doesn’t sound…
Yeah yeah, no, Cleveland is big enough city to do that. And because the product was having a moment, right, if there was at another time, it would still have to do to be in a city of that size. But anyhow, it became a big, you know, it was a big thing. And you know, it’s very consuming. And you know, but it was pretty successful because of the time.
I mean my dad was a good businessman and you know, it was good. Not great, and you know, it sort of peaked early, mid 60s. And then it was kind of a slow decline just because the product itself was changing and there were electronics coming in and then digital by the end, by the 1990s there were already digital technology.
And just the beginnings of it. And you know, these are analogue things. You are selling pianos that, you know, weigh a ton and full of, you know, just… You know, they are very heavy manufacture product. And all of this. Anyhow, so that was… It was the kind of business that would be good to be in then.
It would not be great to be in now. Which my dad was also… When I went out of that and it was part of it, maybe a business was super great, easy to operate, you know some kind of an automatic thing. But in business there’s nothing automatic, right? Business people here? I mean, yeah, that’s the problem. There’s not anything automatic in anything, in almost anything.
And so much the less, so much the more in a retail business like that, where the product itself changes and then you get competitors, making other versions of the same thing with more features. And then you are competing with them. And so business is competitive. So.
So you have mentioned so many things about, you know, some struggles of being in business. So you’ve just mentioned competition. So what else can we name as a struggle? Especially a struggle for a small business, not a corporation.
Here especially. Or more here than there.
Here. And actually so that’s the thing that I faced when I started to run a school and I was shocked. I can’t say that I haven’t dealt with any documents and accountancy or whatever before, because I worked for many companies, I used to be an event manager.
And that is to organize quite huge events sometimes. And starting the business, yeah, you see that no, actually, there are so many things that you need to consider. First, it’s about taxes, sure. So it’s about personnel. But that part I think that was the most pleasant part of all the business.
To hire people, yes, to build relationship, to build that warm atmosphere. Yeah. Like corporate atmosphere. So that’s fun. And exciting and really entertaining and interesting altogether, as for me. Maybe just because I like it, I like people, I’m a teacher. So maybe that. And the accountancy, still freaks me out.
So are you saying that then bureaucracy-wise it’s more difficult to have a business, to set up a business here in Russia than in the US?
Oh my goodness, yes. Doing it here scares me. I mean, I would never go into business here ever, ever, ever. But I mean, just comparatively, yeah. It depends, sure, in the US it’s probably more complicated than it was.
But one thing my dad had going for him was he had accounting background, that was part of his somehow. So he actually knew how to do double entry bookkeeping, so he understood the books. And that wasn’t his job to do that, he had to run his business.
But still, he understood it. But all they did they hired a part-time accountant person who came in for, I don’t know, X number of hours per week and did the whole thing.
Me myself I had an accountant when the school was open and so on. But still, accountancy, it’s not really interesting, but except that there is finance and planning. So finance and planning, the income, all the buyings of the company, all the things that we need, so that’s really… I can’t say that it is difficult, but it’s routine. It’s routine and I found it pretty heavy.
Really exhausting, you need to write down everything you’ve bought and you need to share the report with your accountant to say why you needed that and so on. And if we talk about school, all of the stationery things, yeah, you buy and lose every day. Almost.
Yeah I mean, just, you know, white board markers, they disappear. It’s like a black hole, you buy a pack of ten and then the next day you’ve got…
And what about pens? You have children who come into school and…
You turn back and they disappear. Children and pens.
Little criminals, little tiny criminals. That’s what they are.
Yeah, oh my goodness I have never thought about that, you know, that very often the school buys the pencils, the pens. I mean I’ve always struggled with the whiteboard markers cause I used to buy them myself, you know.
Cause once at school they could dry or something else cause a lot of teachers use them, there are a lot of classes going on. So I would usually buy a pack of mine and just keep them in my bag. So. Oh wow. And you have to, oh god, I cannot even imagine that.
By the way there is one more interesting thing to actually communicate with people who do not… To communicate with parents, yeah. And sometimes that is even more difficult than communicating with corporate clients, because they are businessmen and businesswoman, they know what they need.
They understand the processes, yeah.
They, yes, they really understand the processes. And the parents sometimes, they want something and they see their goal and they can’t see their, I don’t know, any things that cannot let them get it. Something like that.
Well that’s good if they see the goal. You know, that’s already a good start if they have a goal. Sometimes it’s just I want something. I want my kid to know English. That’s too vague of a goal.
Yeah, my child does not know English yet, what are you doing there?
You call this an English school? My kid, it’s been already 5 weeks and my child is not speaking English. What is this?
Have you ever struggled with, let’s say, keeping up with the demand? Was that ever a struggle?
I can’t say so because actually what we did we taught Business English and we taught kids English for kids. So and to be up to date you have pretty nice community who actually help, like, Oxford books or Magellan books.
And you always have kind of mentors who can help you if you don’t understand something, if you have some problems with even finding any kind of course, yeah, for special child. You can always take, I don’t know, consultation there. And that’s what I love about our English school communities in general in Novosibirsk. That’s lovely, really.
Oh that’s great. So it’s not like, you know, people are aimed at each other’s throats.
Like you’re a competitor, I’m not gonna help you.
Well that’s good to know.
Collegial, collegial atmosphere.
When all the pandemic thing started, I still worked for another school back then, like a year ago or something. And the first thing, one of the first things I did was I called to a school director, that school director and we had a chat, like, what things he’d been doing.
And what actually things can happen, what we need to do if we want to open up again in summer. Yeah. And so we, I think he was a little more into it, into that bureaucracy again. So I had a consultation actually with my colleague. That was nice, that was lovely and really.
And have you found marketing as a challenge? As a struggle?
Oh yes. Really. I can’t. I used to try, nowadays what do we have to actually… It’s about I think social nets mostly, yeah, that help you provide your product clients, to find your client. And I had real trouble with that.
I changed I think three people, I tried, first, I tried it myself. I realized that I’m not into marketing. And I was looking for people who can, who could help me back then and I had my ups and downs with that.
Sure. Yeah. Different experiences about, at least, for example, running an Instagram page, yeah. How to find a client on Instagram and so on. So I had nice experiences and really not nice experiences with that.
Well I think with marketing, yeah, it’s… You have to take so many things into account. If it’s social media – what social media should you focus on? Instagram? Vk? TikTok? I mean…
Targeting, again, targeting. I still don’t understand how it works.
Oh I think only professionals fully understand what’s going on with all these things and everything.
I was supposed to understand it just a little as a director. As a director you need to be into the processes. You need to at least a little understand them. I had economical education when I was at school, I was visiting an economical school for 2 years.
So I understand a little about marketing, a little about economy and actually accountancy. Just a little. Up to the level I can direct school. But still, that my knowledge wasn’t enough for me, especially in marketing field. Cause it’s really fluent. It changes just in a blink of the eyes.
Especially now. I actually have a question to Gary then – what was marketing like back in the day?
Well in those days of course it was much simpler. It was expensive, but it was simpler. We would advertise, my dad would advertise in the newspaper. This was newspaper days. And so this was one thing that they would do in form of promotion.
Just standard sale ad. I mean, they were expensive, but if you sort of wanted to be in the first section and then there’s positioning on the page, the big newspaper, the old newspaper. Which people read them. And again there were two newspapers in Cleveland at that time, a morning newspaper and evening newspaper.
And you sort of had to make a decision which one you’re gonna be in or both which then doubled your expenses. And you know, but you would promote by price or something new. The thing that might…
The thing that the business did was had concerts which were public events. It ran in big high school auditorium and it had good musicians playing Hammond organs. And come and give a full blown concert. And that was something that you could then advertise and.
In a newspaper. And then my dad, he also did a bunch of things. There was a local entertainment program, it was like a talent program. This was, you know, back when… In television, early television.
No, it was for adults, it was an adult thing. It was on Sunday, Sunday’s at noon for an hour and my dad somehow rather he… They would have a contest at the end of the year and the grand prize would be either a piano or an organ that my dad would provide.
Yeah. What he did was he got the opportunity to have the recorded thing of his advertising the grand prize, you know, every week. And people watched this program and so that was very familiar. And he also bought radio time and they had a radio program with, you know, organ music and himself playing and such like this.
So those were the old days when there was few media, you know, it was just a matter of expense, right. But you were trying to get people involved in actually making music. See, that was in a day… This was not consuming music like now.
But making music. Gigantic difference between those two. It would be like listening to English versus speaking English, you know.
And so… But it was something that people at that time, you wanted your kids to get music lessons, so the classic thing was your child would get piano lessons or maybe organ instead of piano. So this was just part of what you wanted your…
It’s like now it would be karate or, you know, whatever else the other 6-10 things that you’re supposed to want. But then it was fewer things and simpler and music was one of them which it probably is not anymore.
No, I think it is. I know, like, almost all friends of my age or even younger, so they used to have music lessons or they used to go to musical school as kids.
They did. Do their kids go?
Yeah, so it hasn’t shifted. I don’t think, you know.
Quite a lot I know that go to school. Even play a flute.
Well I guess it’s because it’s very convenient, it doesn’t take much space, you know unlike a piano.
We used to have a piano at home cause my sister went to a school for 11 years and she even thought… When she was 17 she had a choice whether to, you know, connect her life with music or math. She made the right choice and she went into math.
I mean I don’t think music would’ve provided her the same way that math has. But anyway, we had this old-fashioned piano, you know, all squares basically. And corners. And my mom used to call it a coffin. She’s like it’s so ugly.
So the two-tone model, yes.
So and we didn’t have a big apartment, so. And the thing is that when we moved to that apartment, we lived on the second floor.
Was that there when you moved in?
No no no, we had to move it. So and the thing is that when my dad and his friends were moving it up the stairs to the second floor, but the thing is that there was something wrong with the building, so there were no, how do you call it, handrails or something? So one wrong step and you would fall down the stairs. So they were really scared and nervous. They hated it.
No, it was an old wooden building.
You know the one that only has two floors, 12 apartments.
Well, something close to that, yeah. So and the piano. Now my sister has her own apartment, different city, different region. But she realized that she doesn’t want to… Well, she got this piano before she moved into her own apartment, so she was renting.
And her landlord didn’t let her get a normal piano so she got an electronic one, so now she can plug in the headphones, nobody can hear what she’s playing. So that’s convenient, takes way less space than those huge ones.
Alright. You know, you telling how you kinda advertised through different events reminded me of a lesson I had with a student of mine who’s a marketer. So and she was telling me how now there are two types of marketing, which is ATL which is Above The Line, meaning obvious.
ATL. Above The Line. It stands for Above The Line. Something that is an advertisement as we know it, you know, on tv, on radio, when it’s like buy our produce or do this. And then there’s BTL which is Below The Line when it’s ad but you don’t really take it as ad.
You don’t understand it’s ad. When you sponsor some events, when you provide a prize for something. So cause people see this name over and over and over again, they will remember it.
That was the first thing I did taken the school. There was the city day, yeah, and my fiends who were organizers on one of the platforms, on one of the spots in Royal Park, so they actually allowed me for no fee to have a place. Yes.
It’s good, you know, to have such friends.
So they allowed me to actually organize kind of a photo zone. And with some, I don’t know, some nice background and beautiful… It was a Harry Potter…
It was a Harry Potter photo zone with the sorting hat which was speaking. Yes. And nice books which opened and closed, just because there were some kind of mechanism inside. Yeah, it was really beautiful, it was lovely. We had pamphlets to give away with some kind of discount. We were wearing costumes.
But there was no, absolutely no result.
So people would just come and take a picture and say oh wow, great photograph.
Yeah, take a picture, take a pamphlet because it looked like the ticket to that Hogwarts train.
It’s so much time and effort and probably money too out into all that.
Not much money because I have friends who…
Because I just have a sorting hat and all the costumes, like, come on. You know how they say like property of the model…
Oh Katya, I used to be an event manager. I know people who can, who are really excited and interested in such, like, affairs.
Yeah, that makes sense, that makes sense.
They were eager to help just to see what can happen and if it can give the nice result, yeah. It didn’t but still.
It was fun. We enjoyed the organizational process, we enjoyed actually the city day. And there wasn’t result, but that was a result as well so I saw that actually we don’t need to put effort in that BTL, in that kind of advertisement that won’t give us result, bring clients, yeah. So we started the Instagram and…
And then it went downhill from there. Right. Out in the darkness of the internet. Never to be seen again.
That’s what Internet is for.
We’re doing something out here, but we can’t tell what’s happening.
What’s happening? What’s going on?
So and what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of setting up your own business?
The hugest advantage is that you’re free to decide what you want. So you have an idea and they way you organize the company inside, that’s your own, that’s your own child we can call it. So that’s really valuable. But all the other things, all the things with the bureaucracy, with the taxes, with… Sometimes the organizational processing, yeah, it makes you unhappy a little. Sometimes not a little.
When I’m thinking about, you know, in general, people setting up businesses, I cannot stop thinking that they are responsible for everything. How is it possible to deal with this level of responsibility? And it’s not just taxes and bureaucracy.
It’s true. And you’re also responsible for somebody else’s payment. They rely on you, so you can’t really let them down. I cannot…
Sometimes you don’t even pay yourself the salary, just because you are responsible for the other people and you have to give them their own money so that they earned and that is more important for you.
And you put as much money as you have all into the business then you realize oh my, I don’t have any money left. And so on. So, many things happened during those old 4 years. Yeah. And that was experience that I can’t say that I would love to…
That I’d love to repeat that.
Let’s do that again and again. Let’s do that every month for the rest of our lives. How does that sound?
But that was interesting, really.
Yeah, it’s very creative. I think one reason people go into business is that they want to do it, they want a classic, where we say that somebody wants to be their own boss. Right, you wanna be your own boss, instead of working for somebody.
And but it is, it means you take the whole thing yourself. Promotion and organization and renting space and, you know. Responsibility, the government, the taxes, responsibility for other people and personnel decisions. And just, you know, just everything. Everything. But that’s creative.
Well some people who go into business not only to be their own boss, but to live their passion maybe if they have some.
Yeah, if they have to that… Now we say passion and, but yeah, sure.
As my friend who started the school, so actually that was her passion, so she really was into teaching, she really wanted to start up the school. And that was not only for teaching, but also for training programs, so she really liked, I don’t know, helping people with whatever training program it was.
And she was, I don’t know even, burning with those ideas and the people who helped her to start up… I think she was really grateful. And I myself can say that I’m really grateful to my friends who all helped me.
Sometimes they took the positions of administrators, yeah, because I needed some inside the company to see what teachers do, to see how the clients communicate with the teachers as well. And not with myself. And really, friends and family in such affairs if I can call it, really huge background that can help you. Really grateful to them.
I also when I was thinking about advantages and disadvantages of owning a business, I realized that basically as a business owner, you shoulder all the risks, so when there’s something wrong, when the business goes south, you can’t just quit a job and be like okay, I’m just gonna quit a job and find another one. No!
You have no choice but to keep going or, well, I do not know, fire everybody and close the business down. So it’s ugh!
Yeah, it’s definitely something you… It takes a total commitment, especially at the beginning. Hopefully there is a point where it sort of has its own momentum and you have the right people and place. So you don’t have to do everything or feel like you have to do everything. But still, as we say the buck stops here.
I don’t know if you know that statement. We had a president of the United States the name Harry Truman after World War II and he had a little sign on his desk that says The Buck Stops Here. Because we have a phrase, to pass the buck, means that you don’t have to make the decision, you give it to somebody else to make the decision.
Well he is the president of the United States. So the buck stops here. So everybody else passes the buck and says well, I don’t know, which is, you know, bureaucratic and even more so in a more bureaucratic situation, even more bureaucratic situation. But anyway, so the buck stops here at your desk, on your shoulders here to make the decision and, you know, what do you do.
There’s no… You don’t have enough money you can have. You can pay everybody else maybe, but not yourself like you’re describing. Or whatever the others, all those decisions are on you. Which again, if it’s a creative position to be in, right, it’s your thing, right. You make it or you break it or it breaks you. Yeah.
That’s why I admire all people who have successful businesses. And I’m not talking about corporations right now, but even those small businesses that are still functioning after 2-3-5 years of being in business. Just…
Yes, it is an achievement, I mean, it is for sure.
Yeah, that’s why we should support local businesses, you know. They’re struggling, they are trying to survive.
So don’t buy it on Ozon people. Go to your local store. Yeah. And don’t buy it at DNS either, buy it at a smaller store.
Are there any other smaller stores?
Do you think then that now it’s more difficult to become successful? So we have such a great competition, we have these conglomerates, corporations. We have online shops. So is it possible to be successful now?
I think it is. It’s just catching the wave. If you can really, I don’t know, understand or see the situation or foresee the situation, so you can really grab something, I don’t know, find your field and really become successful. It’s like feeling the time.
Yeah, it’s a matter of timing and understanding what’s going on. Which is not easy to do. I don’t know that’s very easy now. Something like teaching, there’s something unchanging about that in a sense that you have students, you have teachers, right, and you can’t really substitute that to remote.
You can substitute that to some degree and there’s experiment with that that’s going on how well you can substitute remote for in-person. But finally in-person is pretty more established for teaching anything. So that’s a fixed thing. But if you’re selling a product or certain kinds of service, I’m sure… I would think it would be very difficult, you know.
So what should then be the key elements of success? So let’s say when people have their start-ups, so what can help them to become successful? So what would be something that they have to keep in mind?
Feel the needs I think of your audience.
Okay, so analyze the needs.
Not sometimes analyzing even, I don’t know, it’s just inner feeling. Yes, yes. Maybe analyze, yes. But sometimes you just know that you need to do it that way and you need to do even that product, to produce that product. And provide that service. And the best timing.
Right. I mean, you have to, you have to have… You have to provide a service or make something, right. Who makes something. But you have to provide it and just be able to do it in a quality way, like, that’s basic.
Basic element is quality. It’s going to distinguish, you know, between success and insuccess, you know, failure. But it’s a matter of feeling, it’s a matter of analyzing. And you know, but you have to catch it right, you have to…
I would also say it’s… I think it would help a lot if you have a strong team. Cause you can’t do everything on your own, you can’t do everything alone.
Right, you have to develop a team or, yeah… It’s part of it, it’s.. Yeah, personnel becomes part of it. Certain kinds of businesses location becomes part of it, and promotion and all of these complicated kinds of things.
And reasonable prices I think. If they are a little higher that the medium price.
I would say it’s not about only reasonable price, but being able to justify the price. Cause I have an example. So there is bakery that I really love. My favorite. They opened two years ago and their prices are way higher than the average in the city.
They are noticeably higher. But they can explain why it is like that. So they say you can ask us about any single ingredient, we will tell you how much it was, where we got it from. We can provide certificates for everything. And they show that this is quality.
So and with that, even though their prices are so high, they never, you know, have shortage of customers. So they always have a lot of people there, they always sell every single thing. Just because they provide quality. And you know, and I can see that.
There are places that are, you know, have way higher prices in any field. Let’s say, clinics, dental care, English schools. So but sometimes the price is because of the quality.
Right, if you can justify. You know, people don’t object to spending more money if you get what you’re paying for, you don’t mind.
People are ready to pay for quality and…
The problem is to provide it, you know, at scale. Like if you’re running a language school, you have to have, you know, and you’ve got 10 teachers, you have to have a quality thing happening. I mean, in an ideal situation. In every one of those classrooms.
Yeah, I have a lot of examples where I am ready to pay for the quality or I know what the price consists of. So let’s say when I go to a clinic, to a certain doctor, I know that I have to pay a lot. But I also know, you know, the credentials, I know that she helped these people, what she does or he.
Right, you don’t think of cost when it’s your health, you know.
Exactly. Or let’s say the same I last year I was looking for an English teacher to help me with academic writing. Cause I realized that I know nothing about the structure of articles, you know, scientific articles.
The price was so high, but I also understood that this is the person who is teaching academic English at Oxford university. Of course. The same thing when people come to our school for example. We have cases to prove that this is why we have such a price for example. Because we can have, you know, can help people reach their goals, we have results. So we can justify all that. So yeah. Quality!
Quality and not quantity. So and what about people who want to start a business but don’t have enough money? They don’t have any kind of initial capital. How can they solve this problem when they want to start a business?
Well that’s a classic problem and that’s a reason that a lot of businesses fail. And is that, right, there is simply, I don’t know if I can say this. It’s true everywhere I’m sure, but here especially there is a real problem with just everything. Not everything, but a lot of things seems to underfinanced.
But there just isn’t enough capital, it just has to do with the economy and working or not working. There just is not enough money flying around to, you know, to finance anything except for, I mean, it’s just really hard.
I don’t think that we have this institution of investments if we can call it…
I was just about to say that.
Yeah. And you know, when my dad went into business, that’s how you did it then, much simpler time. And you know, but there were certain expenses going in which he had to buy a franchise from the Hammond organ company. Just the right to… It’s like buying a McDonalds franchise.
You have the right to do everything McDonalds in a particular area and so that cost, I don’t know, it cost a pile of money then. But he borrowed it from my grandparents who were particularly his, my dad’s parents. I think they must’ve given their life savings, put their life savings into this.
But my mother’s dad had bought and sold houses so he was, you know, he had some money. But I think they wanted to keep it equal so that it wasn’t, you know… Everybody felt equally involved and not preferred or something. Anyway.
So that’s how they got started and then of course the inventory, you know, these were very expensive products, you know. And so you had to, they just… My dad just went to the bank and you got, it was called floor plan which was kind of a standing amount of a loan which would be enough to buy the products to, you know, X number of…
It would’ve been hundreds of thousands of dollars then, probably tens of thousands at least. And it just, you worked off of that. But than you’re paying that back constantly, but our of sales. So that’s how they did it, was it didn’t take a massive amount of capital.
But it again, it was timing. If it had been, all of a sudden there was some kind of a bad economic situation or something and they didn’t have the sales, you know, it could’ve sunk them at the beginning. Because it wasn’t like they had a lot of money.
Anyhow, so they sort of self-financed that, form family which is a classic way to do it. Because your family is gonna be more tolerant of your, what’s going on, as opposed to somebody who’s coming in, an investor. So it’s really a problem now to have enough money, because it’s not like you’re gonna figure out every problem right away.
The business is not going to be there immediately, it has to develop all of those things, so. But yeah.
Well yeah. I know that nowadays there are also a lot of fundraising, you know, websites, platforms.
Now there are. Brand new. That’s what? The last five years maybe. Yeah.
So but you have to make the investors interested in your start-up.
Right, so you have to market that to them, right. You have to…
But still it’s a huge opportunity for those who don’t have money but have great ideas. Why not?
Do you know that there’s… Oh god, I wish I remembered the name. But there is a show now where potential investors they are given, let’s say, five start-up ideas and they, you know…
Yeah! And they decide which one will be financed.
Yeah, and this is real big time television show type, reality show kind of thing.
So yeah. Some people try to find investors through social media, through different events. So they go to let’s say different presentations, different events and they try to meet as many people there as possible.
Networking and before the quarantine actually friends of mine were doing… were organizing such meetings for people who can make new friends let it be, see other people, exchange business cards and see where they can be kind of useful to each other. And give a hand if it was necessary. So that’s a huge thing actually.
Alright. And tell me, is there any kind of a business story maybe, I mean, a company, a certain company, a certain business that inspires you? Or whose story of success inspires you?
I don’t know about inspiring, but there’s, I certainly appreciate what a lot of great businesses have done.
I mean, we’re talking about business, it would… It’s inevitable that…
It’s like we discussed before the podcast, yeah, like Apple, Microsoft.
Cause we actually… Alyona and I we talked about what would be the top 3 most successful businesses in the world. But then we came to a conclusion that that would depend on how we define successful. Does that depend on sales per year like annual sales or the value of the company?
Cause then the results would be different. What companies would you think would make, you know, this top 3 most successful companies in the world?
I don’t know the first companies that come into my mind it’s like first Apple.
Microsoft, because they did and they’ve been doing a huge thing actually. And I don’t know, I’ve already told you before the podcast – I think Uber. Why not? That’s…
So that’s insane, they just created something out of nothing and…
You know how before we used to be told like never chat to people you do not know, never get into a car with a person you do not know. Now we do exactly that. And pay money for it.
That’s a tremendous innovation. But Google, Google anybody?
That it became a verb, yeah?
It’s so big! I read that one of the biggest companies and one of the most successful companies now in terms of value and not the sales is Alibaba which is, you know, the head of Aliexpress. And it’s not only Aliexpress now, it has some more companies right now. Cause apparently their value now is about 700 billion.
And they’re following Amazon in the United States and…
My little brain cannot, you know, imagine such numbers.
Well they’re… I don’t know how big Amazon is. Probably…
Yeah they’re getting, those companies, since I left… They’re almost 2 trillion. They were 1 trillion.
Yeah in market value, market value. But yeah, and that’s because they developed, they introduced like Uber did. They introduced some new way of doing something.
IKEA yeah, in its own way. It’s not as big as the others, but just as…
The idea of the selling like things that you can assemble at home by yourself.
Have you noticed that all of these companies, Apple, Google, IKEA, they started… when did they start?
Well Google started in late 90s, Apples started in…
60s if I’m not mistaken. So.
So all of that was before 2000 which maybe this is why they became, you know, so successful. Not only, I mean, that one of the…
There’s also Facebook, if you want to call that a high proposition, it was after 2000. But Uber also is, you know, recent.
Uber’s recent, but it’s also not as big as, let’s say, all of these, as Microsoft or as Google.
And actually do we know that it’s not the part of Google or Microsoft? It might be one of their products.
Cause I remember when I was reading about food and food companies, I was shocked that 95% of everything that’s sold in an average American supermarket is one company. It’s Kraft. And then because Kraft and Heinz is one company now, but we think like, oh it’s different, no it’s not, not anymore.
And then Coca Cola and then everything – it’s just two or three big companies, that’s it. So that’s why now when there’s a new company I’m like is it a separate company, an independent one? Or is it…?
yeah, those, all those really really big ones are independent, they’re buying other businesses.
What was it? Ugh, I don’t remember the name of the company, but at some point. Let’s say McDonalds, as an example, cause I don’t remember what company that was. So and there people who were pro-X company and then people who were against it. Oh maybe it was Starbucks. Yeah, it was Starbucks!
So Starbucks, when they got popular, they had a lot of merchandise, people loved them. But then there were people who hated them. So and Starbucks started some companies whose policy was anti-Starbucks. Like oh don’t let this corporate company, you know, ruin our coffee culture. But that was them. So they made money off both people who love them and people who hated them.
Those bad Starbucks people. They’re bad.
That was nasty. I never even heard that. I’m never gonna buy Starbucks again. Cause I live in Novosibirsk.
And I’m never gonna leave because I can’t leave.
Of course you’re never gonna buy…
That’s the reason. But it’s a matter of principle for me. I won’t even leave if I can leave. No.
01:07:57 K: So but yeah, but that was smart.
Yeah. If that’s really the case, sure. Yeah, you buy up your competitors. Well, it’s like Facebook, classic example. Facebook bought Instagram and they bought WhatsApp.
I’m sorry, I live in a cave, I don’t know what’s happening in the world sometimes.
If you got any questions. No, but they did. And they bought them… I think they paid a billion dollars for Instagram which at the time people were going oh my goodness, a billion dollars for this start-up company.
And of course it’s now gigantic itself. Same thing with WhatsApp, they bought it. What they’re doing is it’s part of how they become a monopoly is they buy competitors. And you know, which is why you got Facebook and Facebook and Facebook. So you’re gonna have Instagram – Facebook. Or WhatsApp – Facebook. Or Facebook – Facebook, your choice.
They’re huge. And it’s very, it’s monopolistic and US shouldn’t’ve let them do that. Now they’re too big. They’re too big. And that had certain other consequences. But anyway, yeah. So that’s, you know, smart. It’s smart, very smart business.
Alright. And tell me what do you think about the current tendency, cause nowadays a lot of people they quit their jobs in an office, and they either go freelance or they want to start their own business or they set up individual proprietorship which is also a type of business, so why do you think is that? What is your opinion of that?
Kind of I did when I started teaching. I used to work for Megafon first and then for an event company. I was working for a boss. And then I realized that I’d had enough and I came, of course, I came to a school. And that was part-time job back then. But I had my own students.
And actually that was a huge, huge difference when you need to work for yourself and when you can organize your schedule yourself. And when you need to work for a boss. So that’s tremendous difference between those two things.
Yeah it’s the same reason that a person would start a business, right, you know, a business with a location and all of those things that you want to be your own boss, you want to have creative control. You wanna control your own time instead of having somebody control your time.
Me… I’ve realized that I would never like to set up a business meaning, you know, find a location, employees, all this bureaucracy. No, that’s not my thing. I’m not a leader, absolutely.
Absolutely, I don’t want to be s leader, I don’t want to have employees. Last year when the pandemic hit, I had to… Well not that I had to, but I decided to switch to freelance. So and I realized that… Well that was connected with my values and goals at the time. Cause let’s say when I was working 100% offline at a school I would come to school at, let’s say, 8 or 9 am, leave at 9 pm.
Cause, you know, that was convenient for me at the time. So then in 2020 my time became more precious, so I needed a way higher level of flexibility cause I had to be able to switch my classes, you know, to reschedule a lot of things cause I had to be really flexible in terms of, you know, dropping everything and going to see my family immediately.
So that was what the conditions demanded at the time. So and I switched to freelance. And now I realize that was one of the best decisions of my life. You know, cause now let’s say when we get a new student here at school so we just decide which time would work best for me, so I don’t have to come to school anymore.
I just, you know, check the timetable and see what’s convenient for myself. And then very often I can move the lessons, you know, I can rearrange them if I want to go to, let’s say, a theater or somewhere, cause or 2 years I didn’t have a chance to go to a theatre cause all of the group lessons were in the evening.
The first time I went to the theatre was this February. Yes, I mean, in a couple of years.
I can relate, I can relate, yeah. Of course that also means inconsistency in payment cause sometimes, you know, students cancel and with freelance you don’t have some kind of a cancelation policy. But well, you know, this is something I can handle.
Why? Sometimes you can organize such kind of cancelation policy with students. Of course it all depends on the situation that they have, that you have sometimes. Sometimes you have, you can be the person who cancels.
Exactly. So that’s why I’m like ah, is it really worth it? If I had the groups maybe I would. Cause then you know, if you have 5 people and then 3 of them do not show up, it’s not really a group lesson anymore.
But now that I work 1-2-1, I don’t’ see the need of, you know, having really strict cancelation policy. So, you know, all of my students they are understanding, we just chat and communicate and they just reschedule or something like…
But that is you who organized that community around you.
That’s true. And I know that they wouldn’t cancel if it wasn’t for something, you know, serious, or work issues or health issues. So, yeah. So and apparently I think that’s the reason. So people want more freedom, more flexibility which is really valuable nowadays.
Although I do have to say I sometimes miss, you know, coming to school and having lessons offline. But, we’ll see. Alright. Oh, thank you so much, it was so interesting to talk about businesses back then and now. I’ve just once again have come to a conclusion that I will never in my life set up a business. Ever.
Okay. That’s the sign of a successful business podcast is when the participants…
I am a representative of a person who’s just not a businessman. That’s okay. Not everybody has to be a leader, you know.
I’m just… Wait, are you…? Not being a businessman does not mean I’m not a successful teacher.
Okay. And I mean I would never say anything unkind.
I know! I know, I value my life. And my good health and my handsome appearance which could be easily damaged by something…
But if Gary never appears on our podcast again, you know what happened.
Right, right, right. He crossed the line and didn’t come back.
Alright. So tell me, after this episode do you have anything to advise to our listeners maybe? A piece of advice? Some wisdom? Gary, some wisdom?
Well, it’s great if you can do it, I mean, to have your own business. It’s not easy, but it would certainly… There’s every reason to do it. Right?
I can agree. I can only agree that it is really valuable for you, for your family. And it is hard, nobody says that it is easy. But it’s really interesting and exciting to see how things pay off. So.
And I have a question to our listeners – so, do you have some kind of business? And if so, what is it? What made you go into it? And what is it like? Oh, maybe we can have, you know, some kind of a networking thing in the comments. Why not?
Alright. Well that was the BigAppleSchool podcast and today we discussed businesses and struggles of having a business, pros and cons. Some successful businesses. Thank you for listening and remember if you struggle to understand our conversation you are always to our website which is…
Yeah, that’s about the podcast. Yes, the school is… Anyway.
But actually if you go to bigappleschool.com, just the main website, you can also find a lot of interesting things over there. Cause we have videos, we have podcasts, we have articles, grammar books, so a lot of useful content.
And if you want to get even more content which will help you learn English, you can follow us on social media. We are on Instagram, Vk, Youtube, Telegram. So just search our name, which is…
Thank you Gary. So that was Katya.
I did it. How did I did it? Did I do good?
So that was Katy and my guests for today were…
Stay tuned and we’ll see you around.