Alexander Shmakov registered his own children's literature publishing house “Goodwin” when he was studying at the GSOM SPbU master's program. The business is now four years old. In an interview, Alexander talks about the difficulties, the first successes and achievements, as well as the intricate path to the purpose and work of life.
Alexander, you are a petroleum engineer by the first training, did you have time to work by profession and why did you decide to change your career track?
The path was thorny. I wanted to get a highly paid serious specialty, so I decided to study as a petroleum engineer. I quickly realized that I was bored with drawing and I wanted to work with people. From the second year of my bachelor's degree, I began traveling to the USA in summer under the Work & Travel program, and for the entire fourth year I thought only that after graduation I would fly to America. I bought a one-way ticket and ... returned a year and a half later — I did not assimilate. In Russia, it was difficult to find a job right away: not in the specialty, without work experience, albeit with a good level of English, there was only nonsense. Therefore, father offered him to sell printing. Two years later, I wanted more, and I started to prepare for the exam for admission to the GSOM SPbU master's program Gmat, and six months later I entered the budget for the program "International Management" of GSOM SPbU.
How did you see yourself after graduating from GSOM SPbU, what came true?
When I entered, I thought that I could take a place in a large corporation, solve global problems, manage millions ... It turned out that corporate life was not for me, I like to work in an irregular schedule and not report to anyone. The last attempts to get a job were made in the spring of the first year after the conferences Management of the Future and MCW-2019.
Then, I began to hatch a plan for my publishing house. It was necessary for creativity to appear in everyday printing work, its own field of activity, independent of the father. On May 23, 2019, I registered the “Goodwin” publishing house and the tasks flew: marketing, personnel, strategy, taxes — the fun began. Maybe the matter is not very global, but 100% mine.
Could you tell us about the publishing house, how did you come to the fact that you want to deal with children's literature?
In my first year as a print salesman, I was involved in cold calls and managed to hook up one children's publishing house, where I printed books for three years with great interest. I was fascinated by children's literature, the world of picture books that was opened up before me - I clearly knew that I liked this business. It's great to share in someone's happy childhood with your beautiful cute books and push book culture further in years. Maybe, one day it will be possible to influence the world as a whole through my work!
In addition to the social mission, having your own publishing house is useful for a printing house, because it gives a controlled load and allows you to level out seasonality in business. Production always has guaranteed orders, not to mention a less scary field for experimenting with design/printing. I liked the potential of this good neighborhood — a printing house and a children's publishing house.
What were your first steps towards creating this business?
The most fun was the stage of choosing a name. After three weeks of desperate thinking and talking with everyone, I was ready to hire an agency for naming (including considering GSOM SPbU students for this task, but somehow we didn’t agree on a price). But one day I was driving in a traffic jam from my dacha along the Murmansk Highway when a friend called and asked how my “Goodwin” publishing house was doing. "Where did he get the Goodwin from?" And he just confused this name with “Robin” (a friend of Winnie the Pooh): I thought to choose this name, there was already such a publishing house.
“Goodwin” is a charlatan and a magician: I really liked this concept. Then — registration, first employee (editor-in-chief), first rights, first international exhibitions to search for rights, first freelancers, troubles, delays, sales, access to marketplaces, office, increase in the number of employees, first fair, pandemic, more books, more fairs and here we are.
What results are you proud of now?
I'm proud that I didn't quit and that books are still very exciting. This year we have released a lot of interesting novelties: we have released textbooks for the first time for middle school age, the first joint project with a major player in the market, and the first author's non-fiction drawn almost from scratch and much more. After seven years in the industry, surprising yourself with your work is a worthy result, in my opinion.
I am extremely proud of the people who work with me: I have an SMM specialist who came almost at the very beginning, and she still manages our social networks, but she also works as an editor. We are growing and our team is growing with us. I am proud that the number of children is growing, for whom our publications have become the main books of childhood among other things.
I am proud of our work when we are recognized by colleagues from larger organizations, when those who follow us and those who had worked before us begin to imitate us.
Why did you initially choose another profession and did not start to study publishing, since it was a family business?
From childhood, my father said — God forbid you ever become a businessman. I never understood this phrase, and, as a teenager, I tried to decipher it for myself but I could not. Therefore, I went to a place where they potentially had to pay more initially but at the same time it would be possible to think less compared to entrepreneurship. But nature still takes its course.
What advice would you give to the young people who want to start their own business?
Think thrice, multiply (or divide) your business plan into four, understand in your mind what you will do if everything does not go according to the plan. How much are you willing to endure?
I thought I would get my investment back two years ago from the start, and now it has been four years, we've just started operating near the breakeven zone. There were enough mistakes, many people took their word for it, but it was necessary to question everything and multiply all calculations into four. It is important to understand: how long are you willing to endure the lack of profit?
I had my father's print shop to feed me (I still sell book printing) while I fed and nurtured my publishing house. But the satisfaction from the work done is worth it. When you do something that other professionals pick up and say it's the most beautiful thing they've ever seen, it's hard not to be happy. So,in my opinion, the main thing is to moderate ambitions, to ground desires and patiently enjoy what you are doing. The road will be mastered by the walking one. So, don't listen to the skeptics, but doubt all calculations and models.
What knowledge, skills, or maybe even some philosophical things learned at the Business School were really useful in your work?
Oddly enough, almost everything. The ability to count, think about user experience, positioning, marketing, business communications and tone of voice — I learned a lot of useful things from GSOM SPbU, although, at some point, I laughed to myself that it was possible for my career path to leave school after the ninth grade and go for an internship in the printing industry: the result would be the same. But, really no.
GSOM SPbU has shown that it is possible and necessary to stick to one's own line, have a glib tongue, perseverance and work hard — it will help many processes to make the best out of difficult situations. Networking, which is progressing so much at GSOM SPbU, helped me on the basis of my publishing house to gather a pool of customers for the printing house, who helped us to double the number of books produced during the past difficult year. It’s like — bang, and twice as many orders, as if I had not communicated with them three years before at exhibitions. In general, during my studies at the Business School I felt the importance of communication. I remember that at some point it began to seem that GSOM SPbU had no other god than success, it began to annoy someone (including me). But, in fact networking serves to simplify and saturate life, not to complicate it.
What practices and methods do you use? What would you recommend to read?
I am one of the adherents of those who run around with a burning “fifth point” and solve all the issues that come to hand. Some people respect it, but in fact I understand that there are problems with delegation. I have been practicing it more often lately, but it was necessary to reach some level of turnover, income and understanding of processes in order to explain to smart people what they need to do without diving into micromanagement every time.
Speaking about books I was impressed by the book Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt, which lays out on the shelves why work always takes up all the time that is allotted for it. “Take or Give” by Adam Grant is a book that tells about the fact that it is normal to give more than you receive at the moment, and not think about it: if you make the desire to help a goal, people will follow you. And, we were presented with “Riding the blue train” for the victory in the case — I still use it as a daily dose of inspiration for marketers and managers.
When you remember this path now, what do you think was the most difficult?
Probably, the most difficult thing was and will always be to negotiate with my father, because he came into business much earlier than me and "knows everything himself." Over the years, he began to ask for my advice, and a couple of months ago he even admitted that my qualifications are the highest in the printing house (and we have salespeople and technologists who have been working with us for 20 years) — it was life-affirming.
It's always hard to admit your mistakes. Every time I have to ask one of the employees to leave, I think that I am a bad manager and could not occupy a person, reveal his potential, and so on. But, it is life. As the years go by, all the layoffs seem like the right decisions, but at the moment it's very hard not to regret.
What was your most vivid memory of learning?
The past two years have been great! There was love, friendship, struggle, stress and discovery. Three moments, probably, I remember the brightest of all. It included education in Poland — it greatly expanded my horizons because I am 1/8 Pole and I was able to live and learn with my distant family, see how people work, how projects live in a smaller and more comfortable country… A conference “Management of the Future” — It was after a lecture by a top manager of a well-known company when I finally realized that I did not want to go to work in a corporation. Victory in some small case championship (stronger colleagues spent all their resources on another case championship, and we looked better compared to their background) and an invitation for a short track to the IX IBM department. I did not participate, but I believed in my strength much more.
If you had the opportunity to give advice to yourself in the past, and at the same time to everyone who is at the very beginning of their career, what would you advise?
For myself and for everyone — I don’t mind, I would say according to the precepts of Max Fry that everything will be fine. Oddly enough, one way or another everything will work out and be fine. I wish you to worry less and work more systematically. Because the things done are graciously accumulated behind your back, but the experienced stress does not give anything.
I would advise students to participate in large selections, as they were in MARS and P & G. Even if you don’t pass, look at your potential from the outside. It is also worth participating in the big events of GSOM SPbU — the Future Management conference, the Drucker Awards and case championships. They are all great to pump unexpected skills.
And, whenever it is possible, always remain bold and optimistic.Fortune favours the brave, and the “easy-going” smile opens amazing doors.