Yura Lazebnikov of TECHIIA Holding: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before Became A Founder

Yura Lazebnikov of TECHIIA Holding: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before Became A Founder

TECHIIA’s co-founder gave an interview to Authority Magazine. Yura Lazebnikov spoke about what pushed him to become an entrepreneur, sad mistakes, and important people. The icing on the cake of this conversation is the business lessons that many company founders would like to learn in advance.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

hank you for having me. If we go to the very beginning, when I was six years old, my parents gave me my first computer. It was 1989 when computer games entered my life.

That was almost the collapse of the USSR and right before the difficult 90s in independent Ukraine. The usual professions disintegrated, salaries dropped down. Many parents tried to predict how to help their children learn some new sustainable profession that could help make more money. For example, programming.

I believe my parents expected me to learn to program when buying a computer. But I preferred to play games rather than study :) From early childhood, I liked to read, to empathize with everything that was happening on the pages of the book. And computer games gave me yet another level of immersion.

However, studying was also part of the process. Today we have discs, set-top boxes, Steam, everything works smoothly. But back then you had to put yourself to the limit to install and run the game. I usually joke that I received my secondary specialized education as a programmer and system administrator by installing and running games. This definitely influenced the choice of profession.

After school, I entered the “Kyiv Polytechnic” to learn computer science. By that time the games were getting much better. When I had to choose between practical work and fresh releases it was always in favor of games. Because of this, I missed the deadlines for passing tests and exams a couple of times. There is nothing to be proud of, but no university will teach negotiation as much as such situations, and they were quite regular for me.

My friends and I had to find an individual approach to each teacher and some of them were quite trendy. We even had a test in the form of the Heroes of Might and Magic game from one of such teachers. And it was also the time when I learned my lesson about responsibility: it is easy to get yourself into troubles due to negligence, but solving them is not always easy, and you always need to solve them.

Of course, not all game lovers have been able to monetize their hobby. My business partner Oleg Krot and I were able to make it. Today we manage the TECHIIA holding, which unites more than 10 business projects. One of them, WePlay Esports media holding, organizes, and conducts top-level esports tournaments. Several companies have also emerged from the love for new technology and esports.

My business interests have long gone far beyond games, but it was because of them I started it in the first place.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Probably, anyone who is into business to any extent will easily answer your question. The main problem for an aspiring entrepreneur is this: you need a lot of money to make a lot of money.

It is most acute when you are 18. You have ideas, but you understand that any project that strives to make good money needs scaling. But scaling also requires money. Where can you get them? You need to have a large project to attract investments. But it takes a lot of money to start a large project! This is the “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg” puzzle.

If this problem can be solved, the chances of success multiply. I started by lending money under my own responsibility. Due to my age, I believed that I could move mountains, but to prove it to others, I had to try very hard — and I could only prove it with my enthusiasm and talent.

A close circle of parents, relatives, and friends helped me. I told anyone I could reach — my uncles, aunts, mom, dad, friends, and acquaintances — about my ideas — and explained exactly how I would use their money and when I would pay them back. It’s a long process and not always successful. It was my tenth try when it worked out. But I attracted 10 times less the investment I wanted. So I had to work 20 times harder.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

If we talk about driving factors in general, then I was somehow lucky with natural self-motivation and curiosity. I believed in my ideas, I believed that it would work out. But I was ready to fail and try again. Of course, the support from my family helped me a lot. Just like they supported my thirst for the computer, they always support my ambitions.

I still face difficulties today. Projects scale and require more investments. Not a single normal entrepreneur lacks his own funds. He always dreams of creating projects that are 20–30 times larger than the current infrastructure. This is the essence of growth and expansion.

Therefore, you are always in constant search of partners who are ready to support you. At the age of 18–20, it’s hard to find the first $50,000 that someone is willing to give for the development of your ideas. But the more you work on it, the easier it is to take responsibility — because there is something to justify it.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

It seems to me that over the years of work, in addition to grit and resilience, I, Oleg, and the whole team have developed excellent trainability in ourselves. The ability to learn from our own and others’ mistakes, quickly draw conclusions, and move on.

We have been making mistakes when choosing people for the team — that’s why we introduced a new selection system. When hiring, we must take into account whether the person shares the same values we do, it is as important as hard skills.

We were always occupied with a lot of operational work within each of our companies, therefore we united our companies into the international holding TECHIIA. It has many areas and competencies: IT products, IT services, esports, construction, merchandise production, e-commerce, production of drones, and related services, as well as a venture studio. Every year we add several projects. Each company has its own CEO while Oleg and I are mostly focused on investments and strategic functions.

We searched hard for investors, but could not find engaging offers from people with trustworthy backgrounds and understanding the new digital industry rules. Therefore, we focused on reinvestment and reputation. Compliance and corporate ethics are a must for modern-day business. We are open to investments, but it’s not just money that we are looking for, but a strong and reliable partnership.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My own mistakes are no fun, especially once they are carved in my memory for decades :)

My main mistake at a young age was the belief that everything will go according to plan. There was a lack of awareness of all the risks and pitfalls. Inexperience makes it easy to miscalculate time and money. Negotiations can take four months instead of two weeks. Signing a contract may take six months instead of two days. An invoice is usually paid not on the day it’s in the inbox but two to four weeks at best.

And this is not an exception, but a regular situation. All over the world, counterparties never pay on time. In the meantime, you need to fulfill your obligations: to pay rent for all the offices, make wage payments, pay for utilities, buy equipment …

The lesson I’ve learned from this is simple but important. Business is not the Wild West, where you jump on a horse, find treasure on the prairie, and become rich. This is rarely the case. Business is a rather adventurous but routine job. It is based on planning, tolerances, and hypotheses. The less experienced you are, the more likely you are to make mistakes.

If the delay is not planned, if the future income and expenses are incorrectly calculated, it can be very frustrating. We have to do something extra, take on additional obligations, attract more external funds, and give a share of the business. This is clearly not for someone who wants a stable job in a company with a salary once a month, but for those who want to earn money on their own and make as much as they strive for.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

That’s a good question. In my opinion, holding companies are very similar to people or cars. They have a similar set of teams, tasks, and competencies. Distinctiveness appears when it comes to conquering a specific segment. This is where the experience, skills, ability to solve problems in a non-trivial and quick manner make TECHIIA a distinctive market player. We are always in a look out for a balance between business consistency, the principles of sustainable development, and the startup spirit — and we find it.

We have a unique portfolio of companies, investments, and backgrounds that others do not have. We focus on organic growth when some of the holding companies become a bridge to the creation of new ones. But at the same time, we concentrate on diversification. We do not have “traditional” competencies, we need to cover very different areas. I believe all this helps us stand out from other companies.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

It is important to keep the balance. On the one hand, you need to improve your skills, quickly and creatively respond to changes, not be afraid to generate something new, and find the right words to convey your ideas to partners and the team.

On the other hand, you need to be able to turn off your computer and other gadgets in time, be with your family, go for a walk, go to the gym, or simply get some good sleep. A tired body does not generate engaging, revolutionary solutions. These are the things about burnout.

In terms of thriving, I think communication has been and remains the main skill for a top-level manager. The Head of a huge IT company will never be the best programmer. A Boeing executive doesn’t have to know how to build an airplane in his garage. The task of these people is to understand and feel the team, partners, competitors, the market, to be able to extract as much profit as possible from a specific situation.

Therefore, I would strongly recommend developing your emotional intelligence.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There is such a person, and this is my significant one. She is always there for me, I can rely on her, her very presence gives me confidence in life. This is if we are not talking about direct business partners, like Oleg.

They say that in life there is always a place for a heroic act. But it’s just a one-time achievement. I believe that the most important achievement is when you can do cool things daily, giving others the motivation to create and move forward.

Many people in my life did amazing things, even impossible things, but a week later these things were sinking into oblivion. But for the most part, I was influenced by those who were always there for me, unconditionally, at any time I needed support or I was making success.

I do not diminish my gratitude to people who perform heroic acts. But their global influence on my life is much less than the influence of those people who are there for me every day.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I would say that it works both ways — the good deeds of a business affect its success :) Both reputation and income depend on how accurately we define the client’s needs and what we cover them.

Yet, of course, we do not dwell only on the direct business goals. There is a social responsibility as well. We use part of our earnings to improve the people’s lives in the territories where our businesses operate.

We cover very traditional and fundamental sectors — health and education. On the subject of the health part — we help fight childhood cancer through the regional medical centers by providing them with the latest medical equipment. As for education — we support STEM directions in higher-educational institutions, our colleagues regularly become mentors and lecturers of educational programs. And by the way, this fall, a Computer Graphics Film Director bachelor’s course, which was created together with WePlay Esports, will be launched in one of the Kyiv universities, and the practice will take place in our studios.

These projects scale up gradually. This is our contribution to the present and the future. Business and society should always have healthy interdependent relations, and this should always be remembered.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

There are much more than just five :) But here is the list of the main ones.

1. Ideas should never be overestimated.

This is what I learned in my youth. I have the skill to see weak points of systems and, accordingly, business niches. Back in those days, I was sharing my ideas with businessmen I knew, truly expecting that they would implement my ideas, and make me their partner. But they never come back to me with an offer.

After a while, it turned out that many of my ideas were implemented and some of them turned out to be quite profitable. And I, of course, was not rewarded whatsoever. It was quite frustrating. So I’ve learned this lesson and I realized two things.

The first one is — never regret your ideas. Yes, it was not me who implemented them, but someone else still considered them reasonable, implemented them for the benefit of people, and made money on them.

The second — you can have the most brilliant idea, but without at least a Proof of Concept, it is worth nothing. The main task is to implement it, test it in practice. Do not try to guess the strong and weak sides, but observe them.

Today we ask for a Proof of Concept from everyone who comes to TECHIIA with a business idea. To begin with, the initiator should invest in his/her idea in the first place. He/she should spend time, energy, and money on that. Make his/her own mistakes. The slightest working living mechanism is way more attractive and definitely worth more than just words.

2. To see new horizons, you need to “look up at the stars and not down at your feet”

Literally speaking, a leader who constantly delves into small tasks is unlikely to build an international company. At some point, you will have to move away from operational management, entrust your business to someone else. With each scaling, you will have to delegate more and more tasks.

I remember those turning points when I was gradually transformed from a multi-armed Shiva into a “just managing partner”, and one by one appointed CEOs became the Heads of the companies. That’s quite intimidating. You always ask yourself whether this is the right person, and will he/she lead the company the right way, will the business be ok? You will inevitably face all possible and impossible hiring and managing mistakes.

But delegation is extremely useful. If you selected and trained the team properly, and then gave it responsibility in time and expediently, you did the job. This frees up a lot of time and energy for the further growth of the entire business. The crises show that my partner and I pulled it off.

By the way, we often test new leaders exactly for their ability to distribute responsibility. How strong is the team if the boss leaves the process for a while? If hesitation begins almost immediately, and the results are poor, it means that the manager is doing something very wrong.

3. A diversified business is a sustainable business.

It took me a while to learn this lesson, despite me saying that event at a young age I wanted to build a company operating on different continents. But only a few crises in a row — economic and political — finally carved the idea that you cannot build a business that depends on one country, currency, consumer group, any one factor. Once this factor is ruined — that’s it, you’re out of the game.

Therefore, once we decided to engage only in those businesses that can be run globally, we started entering foreign markets. And this of course was not an easy thing to do from the very beginning. Indeed, in each new country, thousands of factors must be taken into account. There are always a lot of requirements: a local representation, compliance, a well-trained top manager that will become a link between the new country and your business. Local consultants and a core team of local employees — otherwise cross-cultural differences will become a significant barrier.

For example, the Enestech company developed its own product SENET, a software for managing LAN gaming centers and cyber arenas. When the company was entering the Turkish market, no one wanted to take the software even for a test. It soon became clear that “senet” in Turkish means “promissory note”. Sounds suspicious, isn’t it? So we changed the name for a local market to ENES-T.

And this is just one of many cross-cultural features. However, when going out on a global market, we reduce the risks: if there is a crisis in one country, we can concentrate on our performance in another one, where there is no crisis or the situation is better.

Diversification also applies to business lines. For example, in 2020, the income of a couple of our companies dropped due to a lockdown. But esports took off, and IT service company JMind attracted more B2B orders. We were able to rebalance — and TECHIIA grew in projects, people and money.

4. Flexibility and reputation are more important than the principles carved in stone.

Entrepreneurs are often asked about their core principles and beliefs. In my opinion, almost any principle that looks beautiful today and looks like a recipe for success turns into a limitation tomorrow. And the strength of a business leader is in internal freedom and the ability to switch between modes.

I remember how one of my acquaintances, who does not drink alcohol on principle, had a drink because of a deal worth millions. It might seem that he gave up his principles. Yet it was only his liver who suffered from this a little, but it was his business who benefited many times more. And this is about entrepreneurship.

The same goes for management principles. It makes no sense to focus on one of them only — each of them is great for a particular business at a particular time. It is impossible to manage a company in crisis and in calm times the same way. As well as it is impossible managing an esports talent team, finance department, and a toy factory, the same way too. The best leadership style is the style of instant reaction to what is happening in the world. But it does not have a clear pattern for obvious reasons.

And what matters is a flawless reputation. This is something that needs to be built no less diligently than capitalization.

5. Sometimes you need to take a step back to take two steps forward.

This is also a matter of flexibility. At the beginning of my business journey, I was pretty straightforward about how to get things done. For example, once we needed a particular client or sponsor for an event, we stubbornly were going for it, not looking for additional options. This approach still somehow works for tactical tasks, but rarely for large-scale projects.

2020 made this especially clear for us. When the whole world was quarantined, we could also freeze and wait for offline events to be allowed again. But we decided to use everything we had at that time. For example, we instantly shifted WePlay Esports tournaments online, while retaining our creative approach to esports shows. And due to this solution, we grew in revenue, viewing hours, and raised our status in the industry.

We had a different situation with Enestech. When LAN gaming centers were closed, they didn’t require any software. Therefore, we replanned the work: the company improved the development, created new features, added new monetization models, and entered new markets. This would have been impossible if we had only one operating model.

We have global investment projects at the state level, which have been resuming and then put on hold for a while — and this has been the case for several years now. It is clear why — there are a lot of links between laws, decisions of governments, potential partners, and so on. And that’s okay. Today I am ready to play the long game.

I would not believe it if I assumed all this at the very beginning. But that is why it is so important to try it for yourself, and not just in theory.

Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder?

Entrepreneurship is associated with a certain sequence of success and failure. If you take this path, you must be ready for ups and downs. One day you’re on top of the world. The next day your success breaks down at the last moment, and you feel emptiness and resentment at what is happening, a grudge against yourself and people.

I have no saving idea other than remembering that ups can lead to downs, and downs can lead to ups. Because of this, failure has never been a reason for me to quit the project, stop and not make the next attempt to move forward. It is foolish to be offended by the clouds because they make it rain. The same with business failures. If you work hard and always strive to reach your goal — you shall succeed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. : — )

Probably the most useful thing I can do — and we at TECHIIA already do this — is to fund interesting projects. There is a kind of social ideology behind almost every one of our projects.

In simple terms, the best thing an entrepreneur can do is to invest in people who make the planet and society better. That’s what entrepreneurs are good at, just like scientists who are good at making discoveries, surgeons at performing complex operations, and artists at creating stunning pictures.

I’ve already tried a lot of things in my life. And there’s more I want to try. This is probably my main driving force. I try to follow science, art, and interesting technological developments. I would like more high technology projects within TECHIIA. The same can be said about medicine, content creation, social projects, helping talented people with whom you can run amazing business projects based on their talents, and helping them multiply and develop these talents.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Everyone is welcome to visit the TECHIIA holding website, don’t hesitate to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Oleg and I also share insights and news on investments and technologies on our social media. Here are Oleg’s Linkedin and Twitter accounts, and here are my Linkedin and Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Original article on medium.com

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