Ours in Silicon Valley: how to become a millionaire in the US
Russian Alexander Debelov - the head of Virool startup promoting online video - said TASS how he became friends with the co-founder of Apple, “stole” a party from Microsoft and became a millionaire in a few years.
Alexander Debelov arrived in Silicon Valley with the most ambitious plans: to create a company more than Google. He crossed the United States from the East Coast to the West behind the wheel of a car and stopped for the night at a medium-sized hotel that offered the best discount - the night was quite budget-friendly at $ 100.
In the hallway, he noticed a large man with a beard, who seemed familiar to him. He googled on his smartphone and was amazed: “This is Steve Wozniak!”. The cult personality of computer geeks all over the world, the garage ally of Steve Jobs, the creator of the first versions of computers Apple and the co-founder of the company of the same name slowly left the hotel, where he spoke at a scientific conference. Debelov came up and simply said: “Thank you, Steve, for everything you've done!”. "You are Russian?" Wozniak asked. “How did you know ?!”, the blue-eyed 22-year-old guy from Rostov-on-Don was surprised so sincerely that he caused the “great Woz” to laugh.
They talked for another two hours and finally the inventor invited him to play segway polo. Alexander did not know how to play, but he agreed: how can you refuse the person who gave the valley this fun of aristocrats, replacing the horses with democratic wheels? "Don't worry, I'll give you my stick," Steve Wozniak encouraged the newcomer.
“This is how my life in Silicon Valley began. There are no closed castes of billionaires here, you meet and make friends with cult characters familiar from books and films. Looking at them, you begin to believe that you yourself can make your dreams come true, ”Debelov recalls.
The valley lives with dreams
We are sitting in his transparent glass office in San Francisco’s financial district, where there is no one but a boss on Saturday. From the height of the 21-th floor, there is a dizzying panorama of the white-blue city, on the inner wall of the conference room behind the general director the word is written in almost meter letters dream - a dream.
“The valley lives with dreams,” the businessman explains. “Here you can create companies worth a billion in three years. For example, Apurva Mehta huddled on my sofa, and now he is the owner of a "unicorn" Instacart (at the rate Fortune, startup is worth $ 2 billion). We're starting from scratch here. ”
The beginning, in spite of a landmark meeting with Vos, was not simple: a startup Virool went through the traditional tables of enthusiasts with empty pockets and bright ideas. The company was started together with a St. Petersburg resident Vladimir Gurgov in a rented apartment, because having a garage that was also classical for local inventive culture seemed to be a luxury.
“When I went to the valley, I naively thought: I’ll put together a presentation, show the product to investors, they will believe that I can change the world, and they will start writing checks. Energy was boiling in me, I pitched twenty investors, they clapped on the shoulder - "well done, keep me informed!" Nobody said no, but nobody gave any money either, ”Debelov recalls.
The day has come when all savings have melted away and there was nothing to pay for housing. Alexander turned to his parents for help. The family gave him a loan of $ 3 thousand, but on condition: he must abandon the idea of his own business and find a "normal job." Relatives gave him a month for this.
“It was the time when I called myself an idiot and cursed the day I was going to Silicon Valley. Even those closest to me did not believe in me. And yet I did not give up. Not knowing how to sell the product, I just phoned marketing companies, offered the managers who were responsible for the video our services, sent a presentation ... After 25 rejected deals, one person responded and placed an order for $ 20. We were saved, ”the guy says.
How much does it cost to “blow up the internet”?
The pursuit of clicks and likes, which became the measure of popularity in society due to the development of social networks, has created an extensive shadow business. Clicks and likes today are sold by many - this is a gray, and even criminal sale of traffic using imitating humans of robots, creating the illusion of success. But bots are not people, they will not pick up advertising for the promoted service or product.
“You can buy a million clicks and not get a single customer. Large advertisers have lost 34–40% of their traffic over the past year due to pirate schemes - programs using bots, ”explains the creator Virool the wrong side of clickability.
His company, among others, once came under spam filters Googletightened sanctions against those who wind views on YouTube.
“Emotionally, it was very difficult, and our sales also dropped. But we did not despair, but began to act: we found ways out to Google and explained who we are and what we do. The problem was solved successfully, ”the developer and seller of high technologies assures.
“Do you want me to make you a million views?” - in a T-shirt with such an inscription, Alexander Debelov arrived at a major marketing conference in New York five years ago. He could not afford an entrance ticket to the Forum of Professionals, but he managed to get a free student pass. He only unwound Virool, realizing that the T-shirt with its own logo will not catch anyone’s eye.
“I understood that a slogan that reflects the essence of my startup is a chance to attract attention. And it worked - the professionals read, stopped and said: yes, this is interesting to me. That was my cheapest promotion, ”says Debelov.
Get out to promote the brand in a more than a modest budget had differently, but always with humor. To the party Microsoft productsFor example, a start-up came in pre-made penny carnival glasses with backlighting - they love them in nightclubs. Only on the glasses was written I love virool... The evening's guests loved the free-to-play flashy glasses, and soon hundreds of people were dancing and clapping with a glowing advertisement for the humble startup. “The party was ours!” - laughs, recalling the very recent past, the boss of a respectable office, showing those glasses.
Debelov started selling the service with just $ 10 so that any video creator could try how it works, then switched to large packages, for example for City Bank or Bank of America. For $ 100, the platform ensures that the video is seen by a thousand people, a demonstration in front of an audience Forbes or CNN will cost more. Thousands of 75 videos have already passed through a startup, one of the most successful videos - Turkish Airlines - has been viewed 136 million times. So, wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Do you want me to make you a million views?" to the New York conference, Alexander hadn't lied.
Investors queued up
The first business angel (private investor) Virool became a noodle seller. Accidentally met with Ryan Tu, Debelov interested in promoting video ads in YouTube.
“I didn’t hang noodles on my ears. Ryan called that evening. We met on Thursday, sent him information on Friday, to be honest, not really hoping for success. On Sunday, he came to my house with all the signed documents and a check for $ 50 thousand. I felt as if I had drawn a lucky lottery ticket! ”, - he recalls.
The noodle seller became a real rescuing angel. Then the second and third investors appeared, and then the project got into the business accelerator. And Combinator - sales from month to month increased two to three times. At the graduation presentation Virool in the accelerator to Alexander Debelov lined up, without exaggeration, the queue of investors.
“It seems to me that our business angels invest in people - in a sense, we are changing the world, making it a better place,” says Debelov.
Now he is the owner of a large company with branches in New York, London, St. Petersburg, and rotates staff once a year: sends Americans for a month or two to St. Petersburg, and causes Russians to Silicon Valley to refresh perceptions and destroy stereotypes.
Debelov admits that he loves rituals. Every morning, when he wakes up, he says thank you to fate for living in Silicon Valley, for having a company, and for the fact that his team is working with him. “I selected the first hundred very carefully, because no matter how many staff I have in the future, the first hundred will preserve and extend our corporate culture to thousands,” he is sure.
Debelov loves his office - with a gong for announcing a big deal and a seating area with soft toys, with a rocking chair on the balcony, from where you can look at the San Francisco financial district from a bird's eye view. There is a sleeping compartment here, it has a similarity of a rocket with sound and light insulation, where the earned IT specialist can lie down until the morning. Most often, this earned is the owner himself. Here he spent the night before our Saturday meeting.
“Recently, a family friend invited over, his wife set the table and set the dishes she had cooked. I was shocked like an electric shock - how long have I not eaten a normal meal ?! I spend little on material things, the main expense column is travel, ”says Debelov.
And of course, the travel of a startup creator is not a swimming pool at a five-star hotel. Now Alexander is preparing for an unusual marathon - to overcome a distance of 250 km in seven days in the sparse jungle of the Amazon. Extreme does not scare him: “I want to test myself. In the jungle, it’s almost like working: you squeeze out sweat, you don’t know many things, you learn on the go and push yourself up a step ”.
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