Ana Bibikova: An academic at heart built an agency, a retail chain, and now tech

Ana Bibikova is a certified expert in Indian history. She has started and sold two highly successful businesses in marketing and retail, and has now moved on to technology.

Ana Bibikova is a native Russian, but she spent a large part of her younger years in India, where her parent’s work took their family. She fell in love with the culture and earned a degree in oriental studies. Ana went on to become a certified expert in ancient Indian history. 

In 2000, Ana returned to Russia, where she worked in academia. The wages were low, though - roughly $100 per month - and she knew she wanted more. She knew that her skills could take her further than just academics. After founding and selling a pair of unrelated companies and now working on a third, it’s fair to say that she exceeded expectations in the best way.

A Leap of Faith

A few years into working her low-paying job, Ana decided to ditch the academic life and her love of Indian history, and strike out on a new path.

Ana’s first job outside of academia was as a copywriter. She soon became an office favorite, and a few months into the job her boss had an idea. He asked her to quit there to start an agency with him. Content marketing was trending up. Ana couldn’t refuse an opportunity like that!

They paired Ana’s copywriting skill set with a designer, let the old boss do the management level tasks, and off they went. They were at the forefront of content marketing in Russia, and started landing customers very quickly. At the time, there was no Facebook or Twitter, and they printed ads in magazines and newspapers.

Much of what Ana worked on was similar to what marketers do today. They provided educational and entertaining information to customers to increase loyalty and perceived expertise. Beyond that though, she worked a lot on internal company communications. They honed in on the best ways to improve employee onboarding, teach and share the company mission, and general best practices.

Ana’s agency grew to be one of the biggest players in Russia, working for big telecommunication companies, retail, magazines, and newspapers. 

In 2009 though, Ana realized that the market was poised for rapid change. Competition was growing. It was going to be hard to remain the top dog. When her partners didn’t agree that they needed to evolve to learn and offer new expertise, Ana decided to sell her shares and start her own agency.

Those plans were quickly put on hold. Ana was offered a job as the editor in chief of the leading industry-specific retail magazine. She found herself in charge of not only the print publication, but also the budding internet site. Ana was tasked with growing their internet presence.

She worked there for a year and really enjoyed the work. Ana wanted more, though. She left the magazine world for good and set off once again to build her own company.

A Major Shift

In 2011, Ana realized that there were new opportunities in Russia yet again. She watched the markets begin to show more interest in Asian foods, tying neatly into her interests as a college student.

She decided to start the first of many retail shops, where they sold Thai, Indian and Chinese groceries.

Ana’s marketing expertise came into focus with the next step. She began to build out a free online cooking school, aiming to create an online presence for her stores. It grew rapidly, becoming a major driver for in-person shopping.

In five years, Ana grew her grocery stores and their eCommerce counterparts to $10 million each month in revenue.

Unfortunately, those millions came at a major cost to Ana. She was constantly stressed about growing the business and about money. Revenue is great, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Cash flow became such an issue that Ana was maxing out credit cards just to pay employee salaries.

Eventually, sleep deprivation and two children at home convinced Ana to sell off her properties. The stores are still around today, under new management.

This Time, Technology First

Ana decided that she would steer clear of offline businesses. She and her family moved to Cyprus, and she got to work on a tech startup.

In 2017, Ana failed. She became so focused on the technology side that she forgot to do what she knew best: marketing. Her fascination led to building the product without asking for customer input. 

“When I got into this tech environment, it was so overwhelming. I totally focused on the tech part of the business, and forgot about the things that I knew.”

Soon after that failure, Ana learned not only the no-code tool Bubble but also JavaScript. While she was working on her own projects, she met a group of founders who wanted to work together as a distributed team.

Ana covers no-code design work, and they have a data analyst and a UX (user experience) designer. They build out the first versions of apps for customers, serving primarily new startups. They offer consulting services to prove out the product’s viability and offer marketing assistance as well. It’s still small, but it is growing.

When there aren’t big jobs in the pipeline, the team builds as freelancers or work on side projects. Ana still believes in her failed experiment from 2017, and plans to continue chasing that down.

Ana’s Advice

  • When you find something you’re interested in, dive deep into that niche!

  • Evaluate projects not only on their possible value, but also on the cost to produce that value. Ana’s grocery took her time and mental peace - consider the commitment your project will take too.

You can connect with Ana on Twitter or find her at anaspiringfounder.com

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Procrastineur’s Take

Ana’s story is incredible. She’s been highly successful in not just multiple businesses, but multiple industries. She spoke of having doubts that bouncing around to different types of business might not have been the “right” path, but has proven that you don’t have to focus solely on one thing to be successful. When you see an opportunity, go for it. She was willing to take the leap.

As with many of the recent issues, I saw how Ana’s past influenced her success in new endeavors. With her content marketing agency, she had a leg up over competitors because she knew English from her time in India. With her grocery stores, she knew marketing methods to get more customer interest. And with her all-in-one startup consulting business, she’s bundling together all of her skills to help out others wanting to follow her path. I can’t imagine she’ll do anything but excel in this venture too.

Build on.

Will

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