Sramana: What year did you leave school to start your first business?
Ratmir Timashev: I left in 1995.
Sramana: In 1995 the Internet was starting to take off. What kind of business did you start?
Ratmir Timashev: It was the early days of the Internet. I started that business with Andrei Baronov who has been a business partner for several businesses. We also had a third partner in our first business. I remember in 1994 when he had his email address on his business card, I thought that was crazy and that nobody would want to do business with him. Only students had email addresses back then. We were doing an offline business and I told him I wanted him to remove his email address from his business card, because everybody would think that he was just a student.
We read in local magazines that the Internet was coming. We set out to build an online store. We were students from Russia with little business experience and no money. We had a very small apartment on campus and we built our online store from that apartment. I invited my college roommate Andrei Baranov to help. He had just finished his PhD in Russia. I knew that he could build anything, because he was a technology genius. Within six months, we built our first online store.
Sramana: What were you trying to sell?
Ratmir Timashev: We were selling computer parts to our friends in Moscow. We were a reseller for Tech Data. Every month we would have a CD from Tech Data that listed all 35,000 items that they had for sale. It had keyboards, mouse, memory and everything else. We had access to the best database on the market.
Our idea was similar to Amazon, only we did not know about them. They were on the West Coast and were very sophisticated. We were just poor students on campus. We built a front-end shopping cart that listed the items for sale on the CD. The order went directly to Tech Data electronically and they shipped it directly to the customer. Back then, there were a lot of small shops assembling computers. Today, we have IBM, Dell, and HP do that for us. Our primary customers were the small shops that would buy different computer parts because our mark-up was very low. We just added 10% onto the price we received from Tech Data.
The idea was the exact same thing that Amazon did. They did not have inventory or warehouses for the first several years. They never touched the books; they just had agreements with the publishers.
Sramana: How much revenue were you generating your first year?
Ratmir Timashev: We were making $500 a month, which was good money for students. Our online store would have grown into a nice business, but my partner Andrei got bored. Additionally, I was managing the marketing and sales and I was still a student. Our marketing was very simple. We would just spam newsgroups on the Internet.