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Mr Turlov spoke to in an exclusive interview recently, where he shared his secret to entrepreneurial resilience and small business success during a times of crisis. Becoming a billionaire was not the end goal for Mr Turlov when he started his own business at the age of 21: “I never had a dream to be an entrepreneur.”

During the 2008 financial crisis, Mr Turlov and his team were fired due to financial issues at the large bank they were employed by.

“We made the decision to try open our own to continue doing the same things we were doing inside the relatively big bank,” he explained.

“We made a lot of wrong assumptions in the beginning, and I understood the difference between being in a big bank and a small start-up.

“In difficult times it’s really very difficult to raise money.

“A lot of customers who promised to join our firm did not join at all. So we had a preliminary agreement to raise millions and in fact raised tens of thousands.

“In good times it’s very profitable to take risks, borrow money and take a lot of liabilities.

“Sometimes you have no choice, because your industry is consolidating and digitising very fast so you have to grow or you will die.”

Mr Turlov noted that if one intends to be a successful entrepreneur by simply continuing what they were doing inside a large corporation, they may be in for a shock.

Timur Turlov

Mr Turlov began his business, Freedom Holding, at the age of 21 (Image: Timur Turlov)

“If you thought you were great because you could sell a lot of products inside of a big bank, it’s maybe not just because of you it’s just because of the big bank.

“When you start to do exactly the same with the same products it doesn’t work anymore and you have to think how to sell it a different way.”

He also added that being an entrepreneur means facing a lot of challenges.

“In terms of customer confidence, in terms of being able to hire nice people, in terms of your responsibility to pay cheques in the very beginning.

“You don’t have a salary but you have a liability to pay salaries each month.

“You’re living in stress each month, how are you going to pay all the bills, for communications, for rent, people’s salaries. Trying to talk to customers, work with banks, meeting a difficult level of confidence and difficult level trust everywhere because you are no longer a part of a large institution.”

Mr Turlov commented that the key to surviving as an entrepreneur is learning how to cope with these heavy and constant liabilities to everyone around and within the business.

“The founder and CEO of company is the guy that has the most freedom to hire and fire people, to spend money but it’s also the person with the maximum responsibility and maximum liabilities.”


He added: “Your real freedom is much less than many people realise.

“You’re always living in deficit: deficit of people, deficit of money, deficit of supply and money.

“The key is not to avoid these liabilities, you have to take ambitious goals to survive.

“Whether in times of crisis or not, the key to having a successful medium-sized business is having a good team, one that can’t be hired just with money.

“Your team should trust you, they should share your vision and be ready to work with you for much less money than they would make elsewhere. If you’re unable to inspire these people it will be very difficult to start business at all.

“In the beginning it’s very difficult to compete with anybody, small, medium, large. The only way to compete is to build a great team.

“My advice is your employees should be loyal to your project not just because you’re paying higher than anyone else.

“In the beginning it’s very important to have feedback, because if they don’t like the way you are going, they will come to you and say that. It’s much more important than customers feedback.

Timur Turlov

Mr Turlov noted that the key to thriving in crisis is communication and transparency (Image: Timur Turlov)

“Every year you have an ability to make a bigger project, to manage more people, manage more people. You are finding solutions to previous problems and meeting new problems.

“Most people like to have some confidence, confidence in their paycheque and their career but entrepreneurs have no confidence.”

It is this unique aspect of entrepreneurship that people most overlook, but in a time of crisis it is vital that one is able to provide confidence, even if they have none, to others.

“In stressful times you should give some confidence to your people.

“You should demonstrate to your executive team and they demonstrate to their employees who demonstrate to the customers that you have a vision on how to solve this crisis and you have confidence in this process.

“All of your team and customers want to have a leader who has the confidence to manage this process and have this vision of the future,” he said.

Mr Turlov went on to mention that his lacking confidence at the start of his organisation may have led to some bad decisions, as he had no confidence in the process of raising capital he avoided it entirely.

“In a very tough time like the financial crisis it’s very difficult to raise money, and even more difficult because there was almost no culture of venture investments in Moscow at that time.

“I was much more focused on making money and attracting customers,” he said.

Mr Turlov also noted that communication and transparency with people both inside and outside of the business is key to surviving a crisis.

“In crisis you should communicate a lot more frequently than usual, in good times you can take to your team monthly, in crisis time you should talk each week or as frequently as possible.”

While Mr Turlov was able to start his firm with a little more than $100,000 (currently around £72,000), he says that in today’s financial services market it is a lot more difficult to do so on such a budget.

“It seems like an impossible mission because each year capital requirements get higher so starting expenses are much higher.

“When we just started, we were able to raise money by ourselves by having no salaries; we were able to cover our internet bill, rent and administrative expenses.

“It’s a big challenge to transform a small business to medium or big.”

One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face when growing their business is that of hiring their first group of employees.

“It will also be a management challenge to hire people who are much more qualified and professional than you.

“If people are working not for money but for your vision and strategy to be a part of your team and product, then they will work much more efficiently.

“If you don’t have money and you don’t have loyalty, it’s a bad idea to raise any kind of investments because it looks like you’re not ready to do business.

“If you have all the rest done, money will find you if you’re really ready,” he concluded.

William Murphy

William Murphy

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