Alexander is the owner of Smart IT, a company he founded with a group of close friends while still at university.
Smart IT builds custom software and web applications for small-medium business and supplies the development and support teams for prominent enterprises internationally.
With the team behind Smart IT, Alex co-founded the first online ticket sales service in his home country. He also took a key role in planning and building the software for the service. The business quickly scaled and became profitable. No other competitor has come close to replicating its success. To this day it remains the biggest and most popular online and vending-machine-based ticket sales service in the country.
When not on the road, Alexander spends his time between Minsk and San Francisco. He takes an active interest in the quality of work on client projects, as well as managing several partner businesses focused on telemedicine in the US.
Having started programming in his teens, Alex remains a code-cruncher to this day. He favors building a community of like-minded and keen programmers with a background in competitive programming, who can think outside the box and use lateral thinking to solve client’s problems in the most efficient and elegant way possible.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
At school I used to be part of an IT club, where we participated in competitive programming competitions. At age 15, I realized that what we were doing in the competitions was very similar to commercial programming. This was when I discovered freelance. I created a profile, added technologies I had hardly heard of at the time, added +10 years to my actual age and went out looking for work. I spent the first six months applying to every project that had anything similar to what I could understand in its description. This bore no fruit. Another half year later I won my first project. In two days I earned my first 60 dollars, a positive review and a partner, with whom we worked together for the next 3 years. I accepted all job requests and figured things out on the go.
By the time I was a freshman, I had a maxed out profile, a stable income, and I secured third place in the freelancers list for web development services. I also kept a blog with 1.5k+ visitors daily. Roughly, this brought me 3-4 work offers every day, but by then I couldn’t handle that many by myself.
It was my dream from childhood to run my own business. I didn’t know what kind of business it would be, but I knew for sure I didn’t want to work for somebody else. Living in a dormitory during university I had the logical thought to distribute my work offers among friends and keep a commission. My first three attempts did not work out. I had to finish up two of the projects myself and refund the money to the client on the third.
This did not stop the assignments from coming in though. My desire to build my own company endured and I thought that, by giving assignments our joined attention, my friends and I could do a better job. By that moment in time I had some savings – enough to cover two months of office space rent, three computers and two months of salaries for two employees. That’s how Smart IT was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As with any other entrepreneur, I have a lot on my plate during the day. Everything deserves equal attention and seriousness, and has to be done yesterday (smiles). A lot of work means you can easily forget about your needs, your health, rest, sports, friends, and that one’s energy is finite after all.
Planning for any period of time starts with getting enough rest, including physical exercise in my routine, making time for friends and other non-work-related things. In 2020 I plan to take 5 travel trips. Tomorrow will start with a surfing lesson, meditation and a walk. However strange it may sound, giving priority to non-work-related, but no less equally important things, helps me prioritize time for work and lets me stay productive over long stretches of time. If not for this, I would burn out rather quickly.
My typical day starts with sports. Around 11 AM I have my first meeting. On average, I have 2-4 meetings a day and spend four to five hours doing work on the computer. I spend it going over reports, analyzing employee performance, reading articles and looking for new ideas to expedite growth. When launching a new project, I can work 12-15 hours a day, but I always try to promptly return to my prior schedule.
How do you bring ideas to life?
First and foremost, I do my best to study the domains, to which the idea relates. I look over industries and companies, where similar ideas have been realized, read founders interviews and press-releases.
Next up I look at the most well funded companies in this or that industry and try to understand why they received financing. These days most venture capital investment funds have already analyzed and singled out specific companies. To me this singles out companies that you can look upon as role models in the field.
As a next step I put my ideas on the table to discuss with other entrepreneurs and people from the industry, as well as potential end users. This is a quick way to get quality feedback and to spot things you might otherwise have overlooked.
If and when possible, I run quick experiments to test out the idea. Most of the time though, being too immersed by it, I can skip this step altogether, and that’s not always great. Despite that, if the will and desire to carry on with the idea persists, that’s when I know it’s time to put together a team and get to work.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am truly blown away by how quickly automation is taking over the world. It is transforming jobs and entire industries. The role of AI is huge in that and I am eager to see the world a few years from now. Considering the pace of this transformation the way we do things is going to change drastically, but for the better of everyone. Being in tech and IT, it feels great to be part of that change and knowing you can play your part in it.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
There’s isn’t a single life-defining habit that makes me productive, but there are definitely more things that influence it like sports, yoga, meditation, vacation, working remotely in a different country (Smart IT annually spends a month working abroad somewhere sunny) and generally staying curious about all things new.
What advice would you give your younger self?
It would have to be three pieces of advice:
1 – Working a lot doesn’t make work more effective. A well-organized group of people is more effective than any one person. If you have to spend a lot of time working by yourself, then something is going wrong. You need to stop and reflect on things.
2 – Never do anything half-way. If you start something, see it through till the end. We only live once. There is no point in spending time on something you aren’t going to finish or do poorly.
3 – Never delay with making tough decisions, be it parting with an under-performing employee or breaking ties with a partner.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I have always been a strong believer in opportunities to extend the lifetime of my generation. It might happen through a breakthrough in medicine, or through technology, when a person’s consciousness can be uploaded onto a computer system. While I know how it sounds, I still think it will be possible in the next 30 years or so. Before, few people had faith in this concept, but more and more news is appearing on the subject all the time.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be a mentor to other entrepreneurs. It builds up motivation, it helps you both grow, and activates a million new neurons by looking at the world from another person’s perspective.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
When you start a business, you often take on any and all orders that come your way to stay afloat. It’s crucial to learn to stop and give up short-term gains in favor of more “strategic” projects. At some point while running our business we introduced a minimum contract value, raised prices and stopped agreeing to onboard projects that didn’t meet these criteria. At first it was hard and it definitely left an impact, but in the long-term it brought us to stable growth.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We were working on a project with one of our clients. Internal issues on the client’s side and the resulting delays on our side didn’t exactly create a great impression. Eventually, we had to part ways, but we saw our part of the work through till the end anyway, even if it didn’t bring us any profit. It wasn’t until a year later, that the same person came back to us, having seen our diligent approach, but now with a proposition to partner on their own individual project. Despite the odds, we stuck to it and gained a partner we work closely with to this day.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
It’s becoming more and more obvious that the world of tomorrow will be distributed, with more people working from home. “Classic” office jobs such as sales, support, development and marketing are becoming remote. I’m certain that creating the right tools for satellite team management, upskilling and talent hire is more relevant than ever.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently had my raincoat mended. It was cheaper than getting a new one and it can still be handy for a few more years. It’s my small input into protecting the environment.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Reminders for iOS helps me remember and track all the interesting things I have planned for the day.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins. The book is for practicing entrepreneurs and helps to look at your business from a different angle, highlight key metrics, key products and build a solid foundation for a great company from the start.
What is your favorite quote?
“If there’s anyone responsible for solving your problems, it’s you”.
It’s about accountability and about never writing off your successes or failures on someone else. It reminds me to have a sober image of myself, to make the necessary conclusions and, if you I to, to adapt, instead of waiting for the world to change around me first. That might never happen, if we’re being honest.
- If you’ve got too much work on your hands, something definitely isn’t right. You’re either losing time or not prioritizing well enough. Always stop to reflect on what you are doing and how you could be doing it better.
- No person is an island. Rely on others. Without you will burn out quickly. Everyone needs rest, your body’s health is just as important as that of your mind
- Always be diligent and honest in everything you do, and always finish what you start.