Aaron Block is the CEO of Bay.ru, the first cross-border e-commerce business in Russia and the fastest growing shopping site in Russia. Bay.ru’s growth has been powered by affiliate partnerships with eBay and Amazon which provides Bay.ru an integrated product catalog in a wide range of categories. Prior to Bay.ru he worked in management positions at the commercial real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield. He graduated from the University of Illinois after studying urban and regional planning.
Sramana: Aaron, let’s start with your personal story. Where are you from? What kind of background leads up to the Bay.ru story?
Aaron Block: I was born and raised in Chicago. I studied urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois. I started my career in commercial real estate with Cushman and Wakefield, the third largest global real estate firm in the world. I was a commercial real estate broker in Chicago and New York City. I had an opportunity to go to Moscow to grow and manage the largest division of Cushman and Wakefield’s newly acquired Russian business in Moscow in 2005.
From 2005 to 2008 I was living in Moscow with my fiancée and now wife. We built that business from a couple hundred thousand to $10 million a year. That was quite an event and a lot of fun. At the end of 2008 my wife was pregnant with our first child, so we moved back to the United States. I was recruited to run the Chicago and Midwest division of Cushman and Wakefield. I stayed there until 2010, which is when I joined Bay.ru via a mutual friend. He was an investor in the company and asked me to join the board and invest. I was originally an investor in the business, but at the end of 2010 I decided to take a deeper, operational role in the business.
Sramana: What is the genesis of Bay.ru?
Aaron Block: It was founded five years ago by two brothers who emigrated from Russia when they were young. Their mission when driving this business was to solve the problem of cross-border shopping for their friends and family. It was somewhat altruistic. They wanted their friends and family in the former Soviet Union to be able to shop the same way that they shopped online in the United States. Their goals were to provide the same convenience, safety, reliability, and price that they themselves experienced in America. As a lot of people who are not from the United States know, when people go back to their home countries they are often asked to bring toys, electronics, and other goods to their friends and families. They end up being mules! These men had a great idea and were able to build an incredible operation surrounded by technology. They met great investors and were able to scale in a way that many others have not been able to do.