Michael Akselrod

No matter what happens if you have a problem you should think this way: if you have a problem and you are still alive you have an opportunity. The problem means opportunity.

Michael Akselrod is a co-founder and CEO of Windy.App – the professional weather app and social network for kitesurfers, yachtsmen, anglers and all those preferring outdoor activities. In the app, you can find the precise forecast, where and when the wind blows, what type of snow is going to be and other useful information about weather. Also, you can find the like-minded fellows in local chats.

Prior to entering the startup as a co-founder, Michael worked in a big corporation which he had left as the Head of Oracle CRM department in 2006 and started his own business in consulting. Today the company which develops Oracle products in banking and telecom spheres is an up-and-coming successful business. In 2015 Michael and Anton Frolov, the second co-founder, two friends who met in the early 2000s when they worked together in a big company, entered startup Windy.App.

Today Windy.App is A-top professional weather app and has 6.5 million users from all over the world.

Where did the idea for Windy.App come from?

The idea came when my friend Anton and I were looking theme to build a community on. We even thought to make some screens in the cafes so that people could see who came in and ask for a piece of advice there and then. However, we did know where to find the theme. Right at that time 4 years ago we met a guy who had started developing a weather app. Moreover, we realized that the weather is a great theme to build a community.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My day usually starts and ends with reading all the chats on Telegram. Even when I was a payroll employee in a big company I didn’t have as many emails a day as I have chats nowadays as a founder. Besides reading the chats, the day also starts with a call to the co-founder Anton. Or sometimes he wakes me up with a call. During these phone calls, we go through some current tasks or discuss a plan of how to take over the world. Usually, we make from 2 to 10 calls every morning on different themes. Of course, sometimes it happens that with the first call we think that we are super cool and after 10 minutes, we realize that everything is bad and we will end up as deadbeats.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We always try to connect the ideas we have with the ideas that our users have. The best thing you can do is to test the reality, just ask if someone needs the thing you do. Moreover, if the people say yes, your idea from a skeleton has become something alive – it resembles the outline, has muscles and skin on it. But even if we have tried to do things differently, nothing has happened. Everything we have managed to achieve we did because of the connection with users requests, or accidentally.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The thing I like most nowadays is the social network overload. No matter how Facebook filters the content, the quantity of connections grows and our news feed becomes trash. You just cannot find the necessary information. To find the necessary information in Google in a specific location and connected with specific conditions is also very hard. All forums are offline. And what I like is that people are going to vertical social networks that may help them to find the solution to their own task that they are trying to solve here and now. They may find the person they need on Facebook. Nevertheless, the point is that their question – where to ride, how to go fishing, where to try the best beer in the specific location – can only be answered by the local community. Therefore, this social network overload makes me confident in doing the right thing. We do the concrete business – the vertically oriented social network for all those who like outdoor activities. I think this business has a future.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think that almost every moment when we do something I think about money. No matter what the question is – how much money are we going to earn any money, the sum of money for which we are going to sell the company, how much more can we earn if we increase the value of the product. There are always numbers in my head, everything we do I try to somehow visualize with numbers. Maybe this helps in keeping our company above the breakeven point.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would say you should not shy away from voicing your lack of knowledge and should question more people about more issues.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The thing that almost nobody of my acquaintance agrees with me on is that you should not own property. Life with rental is more comfortable. Moreover, this does not depend on whether you have family or not, big or not. I think that you should live where you are, here and now, use a taxi, do not own big houses, and change the place for a vacation. Not being connected with anything is a big value. And this is the idea that my acquaintances often do not accept.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

No matter what happens if you have a problem you should think this way: if you have a problem and you are still alive you have an opportunity. The problem means opportunity.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We are not afraid of making a mistake and our strategy is to make something. We are somehow an anti-startup because we do not make customer development by the rules. We just ask someone something, then we just make something and if we think it is useful we watch to see if it works. Therefore, we strive to try as much as possible but we do not check it using the classical method. So our strategy, our plan is not to have any plan. The chaos strategy works in our case. As I said before everything we have managed to achieve is often achieved accidentally.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We think our biggest failure still lies ahead. By now I think we are completely off the base where our monetization is. We conceived this project as B2B. We had not started the monetization because we thought we were going to receive money from businesses. But we have not received any yet. We did not receive the money from the investors in time, so we got in a financial hole and realized that the only way out of it was monetization through B2C.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Recently I took a taxi in Moscow and the driver was from Cameroon. And I gave him a business idea that I would like to share with the readers. I think it could be cool to have lessons with native speakers during your taxi riding. Native speakers could earn money by giving language practice to passengers. You just call a taxi and have a one hour lesson with a teacher without spending time driving to him.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

In a professional way, Anton and I, the co-founder, had a beer together and discussed many cool business ideas by the way. And in a personal way, I took mountain ski lessons for my 5-year old child and he managed to go skiing by himself.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I think that for now, it is Telegram. It is the only messenger channel with which I use to communicate with other people.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I do not read professional business books. Thus, I can recommend non-professional one but it is fully connected with business – The Black Obelisk, the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. This guy knows how to sell things.

What is your favorite quote?

A drunk can sleep it off, but a fool cannot. (Russian proverb)

Key Learnings:

Always ask the audience whether they need what you do.
Make many tests: some will give you a good result, some will be a failure. But you should always try to do something.
Always keep in mind the numbers and the result in money that you are expecting to receive. This will help you keep the company above the breakeven point.
Not only business literature can teach you how to lead run your business. “Black Obelisk”, the novel by French author Erich Maria Remark, is good for those who want to know more about selling goods.


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