There is an opinion that to succeed in business, one needs to focus on one idea, and draw up a detailed business plan before launching a startup. Semyon Kibalo, a young businessman from St. Petersburg, challenges this stereotype. His first business, printed hoodies, was started spontaneously and even without any investment. Now he has several active projects that are not interconnected, and his clients include Sberbank, Alfa-Bank, Tele2, Auchan and other major companies. The young man travels a lot and enjoys skydiving – he has made 100 jumps from 4000 m. He also managed to turn his hobby into a business.
UniFashion, a tribute to his alma mater
The young businessman’s first project was a printed hoodies supply business. Even though Semyon Kibalo considered starting a business in college, he hit on this particular idea almost by accident. After graduation, he began working in the metallurgical equipment trade, which was not what he had majored in. Six months later, bored by the routine, he turned to reminiscences of his student years and began to look for something that would remind him of college.
Semyon wanted to wear a university hoodie like the ones he saw in American films of the 1990s and was surprised nothing of the kind was available in stores – the only option was to order a custom-printed one.
“If I want this hoodie, then surely there must be someone else who would like to buy one,” he thought.
He began to ask students he knew, and within two weeks he collected prepayment for the first batch. Semyon ordered it from the company he used in college to order printed T-shirts from; that was in 2011. A year and a half later, the UniFashion brand went into its own production with a turnover of RUR 10 mio ($153K) a year. Semyon won the Young Entrepreneur of Russia nationwide competition. In 2018, the proceeds from UniFashion sweatshirts sales topped RUR 20 mio ($300K).
The fast-growing business brought not only satisfaction but also problems. Kibalo admits that he was spending almost 24 hours a day working on the hoodies. In order to avoid burning out and reboot his thinking, Semyon decided to look for new ideas in the States. He also launched a blog, Ideaz Hunter, to share his US experience. Eventually, the travel diary also covered his trips to Japan and Australia. In 2018, Mann, Ivanov and Ferber published Ideaz Hunter as a book, with the first edition of 2,500 copies.
Now Semyon is blogging about anything he is interested in. He is reviewing books, writing about business, motivation and language learning.
Before going to Japan, Semyon started a crowdfunding campaign that raised RUR 200K ($3,056) over 40 days. He promised his donors bonuses and gifts, from acknowledging them in his blog to free hoodies. The larger the donation the more generous the bonus. About half of the funds were provided by the people who personally knew Semyon and the rest of the donations were made by his blog subscribers and their friends.
Semyon also came up with several rules that help to raise the necessary amount. First of all, the sum must be realistic and potential sponsors need to understand what they will gain from participating in the project. Team work increases your chances of success. For example, Semyon contacted some well-known travel bloggers and posted the opinion of one of them about the project and why it should be supported on his main page. The endorsements helped.
Prepare thoroughly for your project. Before announcing a crowdfunding campaign you should make a quality video that will clearly and honestly explain the purpose of the project and why people should fund it. You also need to be prepared for negativity. Another rule is don’t give up. It often happens that required donations come in in the last minute.
Silent Eve: Party headphones
During the launch of his second startup, Semyon saw for himself that if something you want to sell is not being sold anywhere it means that nobody needs it. Silent party headphones have long been known in Europe, and he decided to sell them in Russia. However, it did not go past a presentation with his friends. The first batch was gathering dust in the hoodie storage until Semyon decided to change the direction of his proposal. He used to think that the target audience for his headphones were ordinary people who like to party. Then he asked himself: who else might find them useful? He came up with an interesting answer: companies that hold seminars and conferences. The headphones were fitted with transmitters and microphones so that a speaker could talk to the audience. In addition, three separate communication channels allowed several lectors to speak simultaneously: listeners could pick a lector by switching the channel.
A no-nonsense business approach
The life is moving way too fast now and we don’t even always have time to read the books we are supposed to. This is why audiobooks are so popular now, including relatively new formats of online podcasts. Thanks to the Mann, Ivanov & Ferber Publishing House, which issued Semyon’s book, as well as Alpina Publisher and Eksmo, he regularly receives new issues of business publications. He writes reviews on the most interesting books and invites their authors to his studio to talk about business and life.
“The main aim is an opportunity to meet people who are hard to approach or invite for a cup of coffee in ordinary life,” Semyon says.
Currently, the Business Library podcast includes over 60 episodes; it is in the top of Yandex search results for podcasts and among top ones in the Business section on iTunes.
Creator of brands
Semyon graduated from the faculty of engineering cybernetics. Although he has never worked in this field, his love for programming has never faded. Promoting his own brands helped him develop design skills. Semyon put together a team of creative people and set up the Make My Brand web studio, which offers clients a broad scope of web services, including creation of the brand name, logo, introduction video, and build the website.
Jumping from height
Another way of turning a hobby into a business was organizing skydiving courses. Skydiving has been Semyon’s hobby for many years, and he thought it would be exciting for other businessmen and top managers, as well as for those seeking new experiences. The young man started organizing tours to the United States for people to learn skydiving with an experienced instructor.
Semyon believes that one should not fear to enter a highly competitive market. The promotion strategies can be different: you can build hype by advertising your startup everywhere, or you can keep a low profile to prevent your competitors from taking your projects seriously until it gets highly successful. There is no universal key to success: it is important to search for your own path.
By Christina Firsova