Whether you love or loathe his outspoken nature, you can’t deny Ruslan Kogan’s business smarts.
Coming in at number 34 on the BRW Young Rich List just last week, his online-only electronics business Kogan Technologies has netted him an estimated $62 million in personal wealth in the five years since founding the company in his parent’s garage.
The driven 28-year old entrepreneur might not have made friends among Gerry Harvey and other electronics industry heavyweights in recent months, but his online business continues to see strong growth in the number of products purchased, rising 264 percent this financial year, and is now worth over $200 million.
Given all this success, what advice does the young starter have for other entrepreneurs? And does he really see any publicity, as good publicity?
Q. You were young when you set out as an entrepreneur, did you struggle to get people to take you seriously at first? How did you overcome this?
I’ve run about 20 businesses since the age of 10, so being young and getting people to take you seriously has always been an issue. For instance, all throughout high school I ran a web design business with a close friend, helping companies get online. We had some big significant clients, who we tried to deal with mostly on the phone and through emails. Every now and then they would demand a face-to-face meeting, and we had to put on a suit and go see them. There’d be a huge shock on their face when they saw it was two 15-year old kids wearing their dad’s suits, running their whole web infrastructure. Luckily by that point they had seen the quality of our work and had trust in what we were doing.
With Kogan it hasn’t been as much of an issue. The great thing about the Internet is that you are as good as your website. People don’t judge you based on age, but rather on how good your product and service is. For instance, one of the biggest websites in the world was started and run by a 23 year old. Most people wouldn’t take a 23 year old too seriously but we all use Facebook.com!
The same thing happened with Kogan. I had to ensure the website was very good, had the right features, and ultimately provided what the customers were after. On the Internet, there’s complete transparency – you can’t afford to have an upset customer because they go on blogs and forums and write about it. Even though I was 23, I just had to ensure we provided first class service and it wouldn’t matter how old I was.
Q. How important do you think press coverage and PR is for an entrepreneur? What’s the best way to generate press?
Statistics show that a lot of start-up businesses fail within their first year. What this means is that any business that’s in business has a story to tell, and it’s important to tell that story. The way that the media is at the moment means that there’s so little truth out there. The moment you’re willing to speak the truth and say it how it is, it instantly becomes newsworthy. At Kogan we just go about our business, running one of the world’s most innovative companies that’s shaking up the toughest industry in the world. By being at the forefront of that industry, everything we do is newsworthy.
Q. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt whilst setting up & growing your business?
I couldn’t pinpoint a single lesson. On a daily basis I make thousands of decisions and while I get most of them right, I do also get some wrong. Business, like life, is just one continuous learning curve. If anything, the most important thing I’ve learnt about business is that you should always make decisions based on facts and evidence, rather than emotion. One of the best marketing lessons I’ve learnt is that there’s no better marketing than the World’s best price.
Q. What are some of the qualities you think an entrepreneur needs to possess to be successful?
I think that an entrepreneur is an inventor and an athlete. They are an inventor in the sense that they need to possess the ability to look at the marketplace, and create something new that does things better than was previously being done. They need to invent new ways of transacting with customers, or new products, or services. If they can do this, they’re half way there. On the athlete side of things, an entrepreneur is someone who is very hard working and dedicated. They will work whatever hours it takes to ensure their invention succeeds.
Q. Is there a successful business person you look up to? Why?
Is there someone Thomas Edison could have looked up to in order to invent the light globe? I think it’s hard for real entrepreneurs to have a mentor, because they need to have the ability to think differently and invent new ways of doing things. For instance, when I was starting Kogan, I spoke to some very successful business leaders and shared my idea with them. Nearly all of them laughed at me for thinking that people would buy big screen TVs online.
All that said, there are lots of incredible entrepreneurs out there that I have utmost respect for and look to for inspiration. These include the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late and great Kerry Packer.
Q. What one piece of advice would you give to a young entrepreneur who’s just starting out?
I get a lot of people approach me with different business ideas all the time, and I always ask them 3 questions to test their idea:
- What is your competitive advantage? This is what separates you from your competition.
- What is your value add to the customer? This defines why someone would want to transact with you.
- And finally, do other people you’ve shared your idea with think you’re crazy? This ensures your idea is unique and hasn’t been done already.
If you meet these three criteria all there is left is the athlete side of being an entrepreneur. For this, the best business advice I’ve ever had is printed on Nike t-shirts: ‘Just Do It’.
Want to chat to Ruslan on Twitter? Find him at @ruslankogan