Sramana: When you finished your education, what were your next steps? Did you stay in Russia?
Serguei Beloussov: I actually did not finish that program in a normal way. I completed four years and was on my summer break when, in June and July of 1992, I went through some serious events that resulted in my starting my first company without even realizing it. I got married that summer, and I passed all of my exams to complete my four-year program.
I was prepared to leave for the U.S. or Europe for my Ph.D. studies, but since I was on my summer break there was not a lot to do. I decided to start a venture to help people enter good schools. At that time in the Soviet Union, there were not exam programs like the SAT in the U.S. Each school had its own exams. This company still exists and does around $10 million in revenue and has 10,000 students now, but I don’t own it anymore. It teaches math, physics, biology, English, French, and so on. It prepares students to pass their major exams.
After the school exam season was done, I started my second venture. I purchased a lot of goods and then drove to remote parts of Russia to try and sell them. That included the goods for the company which sponsored me, which was a shoe and apparel company. I also had the price list of a company that was essentially doing the same thing as the Yellow Pages. At that time the Yellow Pages did not exist in the Soviet Union. They were selling advertising, so I did that for them at the same time.
I also had the price list for a company that was selling computer equipment. At that time the Soviet Union produced its own computers. In some instances they were IBM compatible, and in other cases they were not; however, all of the computers were different. In 1991 the total number of computers from abroad was 10,000. In 1994 it was 1.5 million. The market for computers exploded, but not because people were using computers. Government manufacturing of proprietary computers stopped, and they were all replaced by computers powered by x86 processors.
I took the price list of a company that was importing computers. In 1992 IBM computers were still somewhat of a rarity, and I took them along with everything else to some of the more remote regions of the Soviet Union. It was a bit of a rough region, with street gangs. Coal miners are not typically nice people. I did not sell a lot, but I did make a lot contacts in that region. It may be a rough region, but those folks were also very wealthy.