We talked to Aleksandr Galkin, CEO & Co-Founder of Competera, AI-powered pricing software for brick & click enterprise retailers globally and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Aleksandr Galkin: Fortunately, these uncertain times have not taken much from my family and me.
At the very beginning, staying so much time indoors was challenging. All in all, lockdown turned out to be a brilliant opportunity to spend more time with loved ones, slow down and stay safe, of course. We got used to living under the stay-at-home orders and now do our best to keep our nearest and dearest healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Competera.
Aleksandr Galkin: First of all, it’s worth saying that I’ve come a long path before starting Competera.
After graduating from university, I found a well-paid job at a consulting company to combine with my own outsourcing business. I sold this business in my early twenties. Everything seemed fine, I was making pretty good money, but I wasn’t happy. Why? I was helping others to build their businesses but wasn’t releasing my own entrepreneurial potential.
Together with a friend of mine, we launched a copycat of American Woot, a website offering daily product discounts (Amazon bought this startup several years ago). The project didn’t succeed, but it made me realize that I desired to build a deep tech product instead of merely buying and selling traffic.
Besides, while working for the consultancy, I noticed that retailers rarely made data-driven pricing decisions. They mostly used long 200-page reports with the market forecast and pricing strategies recommendations from the Big Four. But these reports took months to prepare, were pretty pricey and high-level. Thus, pricing analysts, the end-users of these reports, had yet to turn these strategies into tactical steps — and they simply had no tools to do that.
That’s how the idea of Competera was born in 2014. We wanted machine learning algorithms to do all the necessary calculations and suggest the most efficient pricing strategies, which could be easily broken down into specific steps.
How does Competera innovate?
Aleksandr Galkin: For every Сompetera team member, innovation is a process. That is why inspired by Intercom, we stick to the 666 framework. Its essence lies in strategizing the vectors of business development over three timelines: the next 6 weeks, next 6 months and next 6 years. This allows us to keep track of every market to tweak and align our business accordingly. We do not invest in complex, long-term, and time-consuming projects for development, choosing to invest our time in delivering measurable results over short periods of time.
We are also very serious about listening to our clients and leading market analytics in order to keep up with our potential prospects’ wants and needs. Following this principle, we bring our utmost efforts into being responsive and flexible for the clients’ needs. At the end of the day, it’s the scope of diverse problems and our tailored solutions we solve that matter for our prospects.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Aleksandr Galkin: No doubt, retail is the industry that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic the most. When it all started, everyone was in some shock: imagine, you are an offline retailer who has to close all stores in a day. Then after a few months, everyone started adapting to the new realities. At the same time, online retailers experienced a real boom and managed to scale their eCommerce business dramatically.
Since our product portfolio contains solutions for retailers of any type, we only had to reorganize a little to meet their needs those days. We approached some businesses with a better understanding of the changing customer demand and ways to keep up with it and helped other brands shift towards more advanced pricing.
As I look back at that period, I still focus on the impact the pandemics produced on retailers by showcasing the importance of their online presence, smart price optimization and technology adoption. So now, the second wave we’re witnessing is a completely different story. We’ve learned to set priorities and focus on what truly matters, rethink our approaches to financial planning, and now deliver quality solutions on a steadily increasing demand from clients around the world.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Aleksandr Galkin: One of the most difficult choices I faced when starting a business is to be courageous enough to say “no” to working for someone else and earning a high salary. You need to be ready to put your time and money, basically everything, at stake to turn your idea into something real. In a way, it is like gambling.
The first and probably the most important lesson is that any company is primarily about people. It should go like this: “people,” “process,” and “product.” That’s why knowing how to choose people is a key skill for any founder and CEO. People build products. People, not products, drive your success.
The second takeaway is that you need to test your hypotheses before you act. It can be anything from a new product feature to a new approach to sales, to entering a new market. Test first, get some data, and then you are free to make it happen. We’ve done many things by taking a leap of faith, and it wasn’t a good idea. Luckily, we don’t anymore.
The third lesson is that you should hire people and build operations according to the current growth stage of your company. In our case, after borrowing many practices from other companies that were bigger than us, we ended up overprocessing.
But I’d like to emphasize that you shouldn’t negate the value of such innovations per se. Your business may be premature to use them now, but tomorrow it’ll need them.
What specific tools, software and management skills are helping you navigate the crisis?
Aleksandr Galkin: Just like most of the teams that had no choice but to adjust to the new work realities, we are actively exploiting video conferencing, task management, and collaboration software, yet that is not what I find the most helpful on this journey. Our agility and proactiveness are our greatest and most valuable assets.
Back to February 2020, we knew the crisis was there to stay. The executive team rethought Competera’s strategy for the whole year ahead and approached our work principles and flows from another angle. We went completely online after terminating a contract for our physical office, which was also a painful decision to make. We acknowledged we could close high-value deals online and retain high service levels.
So after taking all the steps and reactive management, I now believe that it’s a flexible, well-organized team that takes a business through crisis and hardships.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Aleksandr Galkin: I believe that any product should be built based on its creator’s vision regardless of what potential competitors are offering. Looking around comes after your idea is fully formed. At Competera, we’ve never built our product roadmap based on what our competitors have or don’t have.
As we are reinventing retail pricing, the whole idea behind it is to do it the way no one has ever done before. If you like, we can say that our competitors are the past and we are the future. They can’t copy us because our uniqueness is not feature-driven. We are just something completely different.
Your final thoughts?
Aleksandr Galkin: Never stop learning, always make your own decisions and be close to real-life — sometimes, an MBA is not enough. Even if it’s your second or third business, being open to theoretical and practical knowledge and learning at first-hand is essential.
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