Alexander Kazakov started Master of International Management program in September 2012 and already in December joined a young but very promising startup Glownet. In one more month, he became its co-owner and currently has 5 employees under his leadership and boasts more than 20 large-scale projects in 8 countries. Alexander is sharing his experience founding and developing a startup and is discussing how his study at IE Business School contributed to his success.
Alexander, after graduating from IE Business School, you co-founded Glownet, an events technology start up. Tell us more about the company and about your experience with the startup so far?
Glownet is the creator of the world’s most innovative RFID solutions for large-scaleevents in Europe, Asia and Oceania. We bring the power of RFID-enabled wristbands and digital tools tailor made for live event environments that allow cashless payments, access control, sponsor connect and other services with the main idea in mind: to guarantee unique experience to the audience and hassle-free event management to festival organizers.
Glownet has been around for more than two years now and in this time we have delivered more than 20 successful events in UK, Netherlands, Spain, Taiwan, New Zealand, Ireland, Turkey and Malaysia. Our biggest success so far was servicing a huge music festival in New Zealand with 26000+ audience and $2 million-worth transactions over 7 days non-stop. In next steps, we are planning to enter the US market and already had negotiations with the biggest music festival group in the world.
My experience so far has been great! Of course, it is usually rather hard to work in a startup, especially in such a dynamic industry. However, my partners are I are committed to the continuous development of the company so we never stop improving ourselves. Also, we are driven by our mission: to help festival organizers focus all their time and energy on creating unique experience for festival goers. We know by ourselves how difficult it is to organize such large-scale events: managing temporary staff, dealing with contingencies on a permanent basis etc., so having a reliable partner who can manage the technological side of the festival and ensure the smooth process is of great help.
Tell us a little more how you got into the startup.
Here I have to start from the very beginning: In September 2012, I started Master in International Management (specialization Digital Business) program at IE. Already in November same year I met the Glownet’s founder and visionary, who infected me with the idea of RFID solutions for festivals and invited me to go with him to New Zealand. There I would see by myself how it worked while at the same time would manage the technological side and ensure vendor support at the event. This was during my winter break, and so I thought “Why not?”. I went to New Zealand knowing just the name of the airport and the name of the person meeting me there. It was an unforgettable experience! We were working non stop at the festival, facing many difficulties but also learning so much. It was very intensive! After that festival, I really could see myself becoming the crucial member of the amazing team while following this risky but very engaging opportunity. And so in one month I have joined Glownet as a co-founder.
By the way, IE played a fateful role in it, because it was IE campus where I met Scott, the founder, and, besides, several more members of Glownet’s executive team are IE graduates.
That’s interesting! And it terms of knowledge and skills, what role did your study at IE play so far?
I was very lucky to study exactly what I am doing at the moment. At IE, I completed the Master in International Management program with specialization Digital Business. It is an absolutely unique program in Europe and is structured in such a way that students get as much exposure to the real digital business world as possible and acquire skills and knowledge, which they can use in strategic roles on the job from day one.
For example, our program director Ricardo Perez arranged a trip to the Silicon Valley for us where we visited Google, Facebook, Oracle and several startup incubators. There, we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak with people who develop some of the world’s most successful digital businesses. And these were not simple introductory meetings. These were tough strategy discussions of the very high standard. It was such a valuable experience!
In general, the whole program was very relevant. Let me give you an example. In my position of co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, I have to play a lot of roles at Glownet: building the super strong engineering practice, managing teams of volunteers, defining the future of the product, supporting client relationship during the delivery etc. So I need to understand all sides of the business and be able to lead people. And this is where our digital business, negotiations and organizational behaviour classes proved most useful.
In addition, at IE you communicate with people who have completely different backgrounds, experiences, goals and attitudes; you work in groups that have no formal leadership and no strict hierarchy, and this is exactly what you are dealing with in a global start up like Glownet with team members from UK, Spain, USA, Venezuela, Russia, New Zealand, Germany, Holland and beyond working on tight schedules on the uncharted territory of new network independent technology.
Another important takeaway from the program was the IE mindset – Go for it! Take the chance! Thanks to this attitude, I seized the opportunity and helped develop it further into a successful business while enjoying some most memorable moments travelling the world.
And of course, the famous IE network proved so useful! At IE, I got so many contacts, and now, when I have a project, let’s say, in Germany, I can fly anytime to Munich or Berlin, meet my former classmates and get an insight about how business works in their country. And this applies to almost the whole world!
Great to hear that your study at IE has been so useful, but why did you choose the School in the first place? What was it that helped you make the decision?
I studied applied mathematics & computer science at the Moscow State University and during my university years I tried myself in a variety of industries and positions. I was IT developer, teacher, auditor and management consultant, and all problems that I saw in various companies had nothing to do with technology, but rather with “people talking to people.” So I decided I needed to get a broader picture of the business world and started thinking about continuing my education.
At the same time, I participated in the leading Russian business case competition “Changellenge Cup 2011” and took second place out of 400 teams. This allowed me to receive a scholarship from IE, because the school is the educational partner of the competition, and once I started communicating with the school, I knew I had to search no further. It was exactly what I needed – a school that praises diversity and a practical approach to the learning process.
And finally … your piece of wisdom to people who are dreaming about startups.
It is not easy to found a startup. And there are not many people out there who can move a company though all the incredibly tough stages, moments of despair and confusion to the stably growing business. And just a few of them who would also truly enjoy the process. For this, you need an extremely high level of determination, commitment and responsibility.
However, if you don’t have ambitions of founding the company on your own, but still want to be part of a successful startup, I would very much advise to get into a new start up in order to be one of the first 10 team members there or to join an already big and successful startup. If I can give a specific recommendation, then I would suggest to check out www.tyba.com. It is a new generation recruiting platform where you can meet some of the world’s coolest startups and is, by the way, also founded by IE graduates.