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Tatyana Bakalchuk: the woman creating a Russian Amazon

Wildberries, the business Tatyana Bakalchuk founded in her Moscow apartment while on maternity leave in 2004, has become Russia’s leading ecommerce site.

Entrepreneur Tatyana Bakalchuk is “an anomaly”, says Max Seddon in the Financial Times. In Russia’s male-dominated business world, success often depends on ties to the Kremlin. Bakalchuk (pictured), though, is a self-made billionaire, the first such woman in the country. Wildberries, the business she founded in her Moscow apartment while on maternity leave in 2004, has “fought off venture capitalists and state-backed rivals” to become Russia’s leading ecommerce site.

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Bakalchuk, 44, now has a $1.1bn fortune, and became rich by “reaching deep into everyday Russian life”. Her firm began as an online clothes retailer for women and took time to emerge as a serious business because ecommerce lacked an infrastructure – the long distances in Russia, poor roads and sclerotic postal service held up development. But she ploughed on regardless. “If I’d read business textbooks, I probably wouldn’t have done anything. I’d have worked out the business model and realised it was impossible. But if you don’t know, then it can’t scare you.” Today, the company offers four million different products from 35,000 brands and 26,000 suppliers. 

Wildberries’ turnover grew 88% in 2019 to Rbs223.5bn ($3bn), with net profit rising from Rbs1.88bn to Rbs7bn, making Wildberries the leader in Russia’s fast-growing ecommerce market. Bakalchuk, who processed her first orders herself at home, now runs a business with no external investors and 48,000 employees, including 12,000 extra staff hired to cope with surging business as a result of Covid-19. In the first quarter of 2020, Wildberries doubled both turnover and sales year on year.

The secret to success, she says, is to start small and move slowly. “Russian entrepreneurs who go to schools such as Harvard are all obsessed with the idea that you come up with a business idea, raise money and grow as fast as you can.” But when you do that “your business model will have feet of clay. It has to be done right”.

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