A marketplace for exchanging business contacts
Tags: Web, Exchange, Verification, Sales leads
Stage: Launched in 2011
Co-founders: Nikita Rosenberg
Location: Palo Alto, CA
I’ve learned the hard way to hold on to valuable domain names. I once owned dk.ru which could now be worth half a million dollars!
I.T. came into my life all by itself. The first time I ever saw a computer was at school in 1988 — the same time my teacher first saw one! As soon as computers started arriving into the USSR, there was a lot of interest in what could be done with these pieces of plastic. My peers and I started exploring, and we got all the computing books we could possibly lay our hands on, in Bulgarian, German, English — it didn’t matter! Soon we knew more than our teachers. I was spending 50 hours a week in the computer lab at school when I was aged 17, 18. And then while still at university studying English, I got my first clients as a programmer, including a Russian bank.
Early years as an entrepreneur
My first business was in 1995, publishing books. I later turned that venture into an online bookstore called dk.ru. 1998 saw the start of an economic crisis in Russia, and the end of my business. So then I created a studio with a couple of friends, designing websites.
In 2000, when the bubble burst in the U.S., the knock-on effects of that around the world also touched Russia. For a while I joined a large corporation, Reksoft, to weather the storm.
Russian economy founders
In 2003, I started a small investment bank which grew to 50 employees with offices in 8 cities. But by 2008, and the start of more economic turmoil, we were losing $200,000 a day. I couldn’t keep it going, but that experience taught me a lot about relationships, dealing with people, and loyalty in business.
It took 5 years to bring SAEX from the original idea to launch. We understood that a lead generation service was needed by Russian marketers — the question was how to fill the gap. The Russian market was growing really fast when we started out in 2006, then it shrank during a period of crisis and only after it rebounded could we launch.
Entrepreneurship vs. cooking
I see building a company like cooking a recipe — you use a lot of ingredients. We have a bit of technology, a bit of marketing. We built some pretty intellectual software to verify contacts and work out whether a human eye was needed to check them. That’s been essential for SAEX — not to rely too much on human labor.
5 years ago, I realized I needed to come to the U.S. I had friends working for Sun Microsystems and when I visited them, I thought — this is the right place to be. The Russian community here is very supportive.
Whitewater slalom champ
I haven’t only been inspired in my professional life. At the age of 32, I suddenly decided to do whitewater slalom (canoe/kayak slalom). In 6 years, I got a certification in the sport and became a champion in St. Petersburg. Whitewater slalom is sometimes called the most extreme Olympic sport but it doesn’t feel dangerous when you’re doing it. I’m thinking about building a course in the U.S.