Sramana: It sounds like you started a series of smaller companies across the IT space, a lot of them at the same time or very close to each other. It also sounds like a lot of these companies were established as a matter of circumstance rather than detailed planning. Is that a fair assessment?
Serguei Beloussov: I did start a lot of companies very early on. I also started a telecommunications company that offered pager service in several Russian cities. I ended up selling that business. I also started an Asian computer company, primarily in Malaysia and Singapore, which we ended up selling.
Sramana: When you were starting all of these different companies, did you provide the capital and let other people run the companies?
Serguei Beloussov: I provided the capital, I hired people, and I was very involved in the operations of each company at the same time. I had management teams, but I was the CEO of all the companies at the same time.
Sramana: At the peak, how many companies were you the CEO of at the same time?
Serguei Beloussov: I was CEO of five companies at the same time. They were all similar companies. It was all about purchasing, logistics, and retail. They were all different brands, but you can think of it as a single company with different products.
There is another reason for all of this. I was young and was inexperienced with business. I was 20 when I started my first company. Even in Asian countries there are mentors and people who are experienced with business. In the Soviet Union there really was nobody who had experience with business. Back in 1992 when I started my first company, I thought that doing business was bad. I was brainwashed by the Soviet Union propaganda machine. I had nobody around me to support me. I was like a little kid. It would be like a 12-year-old in the U.S. starting his own business. I ran the five companies from 1995 to 1997. I was still very young and very stupid. We made money on those companies, tens of millions of dollars. We could have made more.
I also started a company called Solomon Software Southeast Asia. It was a franchising distributor of Solomon Software, which was a U.S. company based in Ohio that was later acquired by Microsoft. The Asian company would do everything related to sales, marketing, customization in the accounting software markets throughout Asia. We had penetration into almost every Asian company. When I started that company I thought it would be like selling TVs. I quickly found out that ERP software for a U.S. company is completely different than ERP software for a Vietnamese company.
Sramana: How is it different?
Serguei Beloussov: The language and accounting methods are different. The accounting rules themselves are different. Cessna is a plane, but if you want to carry passengers from San Francisco to Singapore [it] would require you to build your own planes. A Boeing 747 is also a plane, but it is a different plane from a Cessna.