"Homo Startupiens": Meet "Pentakan", Russky Technopark resident
Russky Technopark released its first Podcast series - "Homo Startupiens". The Podcast will be useful for everyone interested in innovations and will cover different topics including startups, high-tech development in the Russian Far East, as well as experience of Russky Technopark residents.

The first guest of "Homo Startupiens" Podcast series is Ms. Olga Trofimova, the CEO at Primkosmetika and a producer of Pentakan brand which uses an innovative method of extracting holothurians for production of medical cosmetics. In the present extract from the interview, Olga told about her work in the industry, shared her experience of participation in the first RU Tech Park Accelerator, and gave recommendations on business promotion.

Aired 16 March 2020. Original: Russian. Extract translated & released 10 April 2020
Hosts: Elena Ovsyannikova (Lena), Daniela Musina (Dana). Guest: Olga Trofimova (Olya)
Translation: Vsevolod Cheresov

Lena: Hello everyone, today we're having an opening episode of our Podcast series by Russky Technopark headlined as Homo Startupiens, as our startup leaders are, so to say, a new kind of homo sapiens, having a heightened sense of tolerance to uncertainty and seeking opportunities wherever possible. My name is Elena Ovsyannikova, I am the Chief Communications Officer at Russky Technopark, a tracker, and a student project mentor.

Dana: And here's me, Dana, I arrived here from Moscow in 2019, and ever since then I've been doing practically everything from media-strategy to student mentorship.

Lena: And here goes our first guest, Olga Trofimova, the CEO at Primkosmetika and a producer of the first-ever Far Eastern cosmetics brand Pentakan.

Olya: Hey there!

Lena: Olya, you're our first guest, what's your attitude to uncertainty, or even obscurity? Please, give us examples.

Olya: I guess this is the main pillar of life and the only thing that motivates and inspires us to be creative in finding solutions and upgrading our business and the world.

Lena: That is to say, you really are a Homo Startupiens, right?

Olya: Perhaps, yes.

Lena: Ladies, today is Friday the 13th, and there should be something to it. Olya, do you believe in omens? Does the startup community have any superstitions?

Olya: It's not only Friday the 13th, by the way, today is also the last but one business day when you can manage the payroll taxes. I'll tell you for sure that even the shortest delay is a very bad omen when you're at risk of fines and inspections by the Federal Tax Service.

Lena: Well, yeah, definitely not the best sign. Look, as I know, at the New Year's Eve you had some kind of uncertainty, a problem with the holothuria extract, how did you find a way out?

Olya: Right, before the New Year, all of a sudden, we'd run out of the key ingredient, so we had to deal with the shipments and our partners to whom we promised to supply the final products. We were also forced to seek the way of quickly restoring our stocks.

Dana: So what did you do?

Olya: We produced a new portion of the extract, which allowed us to continue the regular production.

Lena: Now let's discuss how ladies and women develop their startups. Olya, please share with us, how did it all begin? Where does the idea come from?

Olya: Just like most of the startups, they originate from a problem of the founder. Personally, I had skin-care issues and I found a way out, some scientific developments that actually helped me, so I thought maybe I should tell others. If I needed it and it wasn't there in the market, perhaps I should produce it myself, and then it turned out that others considered it useful, too.

Lena: Everyone's eager to know, who is in your team? How do you distribute the responsibilities?

Olya: At the beginning, it was just me and my team of developers as we decided not to build our factory but instead to use the opportunities of the sharing economy. We found a factory that deals with small orders like ours, takes innovations, and produces the final products. At first, it was just me, developers, and a partner factory. Gradually, we grew networks and wholesale customers, and then we got our first production director, accountant, people who assisted in marketing, advertising, and so on.

Dana: How did you inspire your team to start bringing the idea into life?

Olya: Alright, here's how it was. I came there and said, «Hey guys, we've got a perfect idea, let's scale it up and sell it, tell the whole world about us».

Lena: Olya, all of the Instagram pages are overloaded with offers for women to make money while on maternity leave, I guess from time to time you see those as well. You've got a serious project and 2 children. How do you keep balance here?

Olya: There's no such a thing as balance, it's just a myth.

Lena: So, you're just taking it easy and enjoying life?

Olya: Yeah, everyone should enjoy their lives, why should you care about some stereotypes?

Dana: Right. Now, please, tell us, what's a regular day of a «startup mom»?

Olya: In the morning, I try to make some time for myself, get up a bit earlier, and plan my day. Anyway, there's no regular day as we live in uncertainty when 2 cups of coffee a day is perhaps the most regular thing you might have, but everything else is usually different. And it doesn't matter whether you've got a business or just children, you always need a helping hand - be it a nanny housekeeper or a relative.

Lena: Isn't your husband a good helping hand?

Olya: A helping hand is an unsuitable description here, it's our children and he's just as a regular parent as I am, it is our joint project. So, it would be wrong to speak of him as a helping hand, he's also working and he has his own job responsibilities.

Dana: I'll start with the question that we're all interested in, what about the money? Where did you start from?

Olya: OK, here is what about the money. I borrowed it. We borrowed from friends, from relatives, including at interest. We were motivated by this idea and wanted to make it happen, and though it usually takes time to draw investments, we knew we could make money at that moment already.

Dana: So you obviously approached your own acquaintances for it, right?

Olya: Yeah, but I didn't ask for huge sums, it was less than a million rubles. Then we paid it all back, we took a bank loan, and now the debt is almost repaid.
Lena: Let's come back to the holothuria.

Dana: Why cosmetics industry? Didn't it scare you that this sort of business is super competitive already?

Olya: Yes, the market is saturated, even over-saturated, and there's competition, but it's not just cosmetics that we're talking about. We don't have this word cosmeceuticals in the Russian language, but we are essentially making medical products.

Dana: Cosmeceuticals are being actively promoted, including the big brand names. But how do you end up with the holothuria?

Olya: I cannot but tell you that if you cut a holothuria into 2 pieces, it will recreate itself. This unique feature is the basis of our cosmetics. Why do we call it Pentakan? It is from the word penta, meaning five. Our developers have studied 5 different pathogenic organisms and discovered that when exposed to the holothuria extract, they recover and become normal. Here's why Pentakan is about the story where we tackle 5 different problems.

Dana: Still, why the holothuria?

Olya: Because if you consider its composition, the holothuria is better than plant extracts, its components are much richer in useful substances than the ingredients grown land-based.

Lena: It was developed by the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, wasn't it?

Olya: Yes, that is correct.

Lena: Olya, you have released a new product and it's amazing, and I was lucky to test it, so please tell us, is it the ideal product?

Olya: I like it, and I'm glad that you like it, too. I feel happy when I receive positive feedback and when someone likes my product. And at the same time I can get really upset, but I think we have a lot work on, I watch the trends in the beauty industry, and especially concerning cosmetic products. I think we should strive for more, improve the package and design, components, and the way we appeal to our customers.

Dana: Well, as far as we've got to the trends, let's come back to the position of women in business. Please, tell us, were there cases when you felt insecure because you're young and beautiful, having 2 children? Or on the contrary, when could you benefit from this fact?

Olya: Well, there was no overt discrimination, but it is really annoying when you open up to people, tell them about your project that took so much of your soul, time, money, and everything, but at the end all you hear is, "Oh where's that lovely dress you were wearing yesterday"?

Lena:Look, that would be strange if the kind of cosmetics made of some holothuria would be sold by a man.

Olya: Well, there is one popular Russian brand that is being sold and was founded by a very nasty man, but now it doesn't surprise anyone. (NaturaSiberica)

Dana: Now, I guess a personal brand is when you hear a name of the founder way before the name of the product itself. Would you like to have your name at the forefront of Pentakan?

Olya: I'd say that my personal brand is not so important to me that I would place it higher than the product. But truth be told, I don't think you should hide yourself from the media and the public if you can use it to your advantage.

Lena: You have a great experience in PR, did it help at the beginning? What would you recommend to those who don't have such experience?

Olya: I believe everyone needs good advertising. I worked in big companies which helped me to have a look at their structure, the way they should look like, and that's how this experience helped – I want the same for my own business. On the other hand, if I didn't have this experience, I would've simply hired someone who had.

Dana: What about your connections from the corporations, did they help?

Olya: Of course, they did.

Lena: There's a thought I have on my mind, "Life after corporations exists". Do you agree?

Olya: Quite so, and it does exist in corporations, there's obviously more of it there, for someone it's a bit boring, but it's a great environment for others.

Dana: Have you ever been burnt out?

Olya: It always happens, even if you're just on your maternity leave, you cannot run away from yourself, and your inner conflicts will stay with you unless you solve them.

Dana: What has become your most effective way of promoting your brand for these 5 years?

Olya: If we're speaking of the traffic, then for sure it's recommendations made by opinion leaders.

Dana: Anyway, is Pentakan just popular in the Far Eastern market, or have you also entered the Central Russian market?

Olya: The biggest volumes are sold here because the trepangs are more known here, and people know that they have curing characteristics, while beyond our province we have to explain their benefits.

Dana: I know that Pentakan is sold at large pharmacy chain stores, how did you manage to make a deal with them?

Olya: My product got on their shelves because a chain store gave me a call and asked, "Supply us with Pentakan", - so perhaps I was lucky, and the recommendations work.

Dana: When has your brand become recognizable since its launching?

Olya: We became more or less known maybe 1.5 years later, but even now not everyone has heard of us. Still, after 1.5 years when I came to the bank for a loan to further develop the business and named our brand, they told us they know it and use it.

Lena: Cool, have you conquered the AliExpress? How are things there?

Olya: All in all, it's not a problem to get your own online selling window, but we're still struggling with the traffic, so no results here yet.

Dana: Alright, here's the main question, what's with your competitors? Who do you think is your competitor?

Olya: Our competitors are any cosmetics companies producing goods for skin care.

Lena: You've gone through the RU Tech Park Accelerator. What do you think is important in this experience for you? What have you learnt there?

Olya: For me, the most significant are my newly built connections, who got to know about my product, became clients, or told their friends. From the perspective of the acceleration, it was definitely important to get someone else's different perspective on our project

Dana: Does the Far Eastern market differ a lot from the one behind the Urals?

Olya: It seems that the only difference is in brands' representation. If we're speaking of the European brand names, they have reached the stores in the capital, though some of them might not be here yet. Another thing is the price. Everything is more expensive here, some of the Russian brands are twice as much more expensive here than they would cost in Moscow. There's another subjective point that we are all spoilt by the Korean cosmetics, although we are well up in it. As a rule, we understand that the Japanese cosmetics is made in the Republic of Korea, but in the European part of Russia they don't. Even some experts believe that the Korean cosmetics is like WOW, something truly awesome.

Lena: We've heard this positive WOW, and let's finish on this note. Olya, we wish you more of such WOW feelings, clients, partners, and the WOW in everything! We've just seen that a female-led startup is uneasy, delicate, but real. Olya agrees that she's a Homo Startupiens, living her life in times of uncertainty and even obscurity. Thank you for joining us today!

Olya: Thank you for the invitation. Good luck to you!

13 April 2020