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'I came with nothing': how a Ukrainian immigrated to the USA and made millions selling on Amazon

Ukrainian Mikhail Koshatko came to the USA from Sumy and co-founded Arteza, the # 1 startup in Florida, ranked 32nd fastest growing companies Inc. 5000. He told his story to Evgeny Chernyak in the Big Money issue. MC Today shares Mikhail's story about how an immigrant can open his own business on Amazon and become a multimillionaire.

Photo: Shutterstock

"I thought that I would cook pizza in the USA"

Mikhail lived in Sumy, a small town in Ukraine. In 2008, he first came to the United States and realized that it was possible to earn money in this country. A year later he finally moved to America. He worked on a farm in North Dakota, where there was a field around the house and the nearest gas station was 11 miles away. Moved a lot: New York, Key West, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Jersey again. Was a waiter, store manager, courier, cook.

Together with his immigrant wife, whom he met in the United States, Mikhail worked in New Jersey: they worked seven days a week from 9 am to midnight to earn money to move to California. The family first came to San Diego, but they were confused by the number of homeless people. So we moved to Miami.

Mikhail confesses: he thought that he would cook pizza in the USA. But I met a Russian-speaking real estate agent and decided to try myself in this business. Within a week I got a license and got a job for one investor. Three weeks later he left because he hadn't earned anything. I didn't understand how everything works in this business. Then I went to work at Renters Paradise: there I had to deal with people who are trying to find an apartment 40% below the market. He worked there for two years, gained experience and after leaving there he created his own small company.

Mikhail had acquaintances who were selling on Amazon and growing rapidly. He had nothing to do with IT, but he wanted to do it and saw opportunities in working with the Internet: after all, this is a place where there is access to millions of people.

First product on Amazon

Mikhail launched his first product on Amazon in 2014, and a year later he was already selling ten. In the process, he met future partner Lurgis. He sold coconut water on Amazon, but things were not going well for him. A joint analysis of the case showed that the story is a failure and he needs a new brand.

On the subject: Two Ukrainian startups entered the ranking of the best US employers: the history of their creation

Partners began to research the market, studied products in different niches. The idea was to release not one product, but many different ones. And so that people need this product all the time - that is, so that they buy it, and after a while they come back for a new purchase.

This is how Arteza appeared - products for creativity (paints, pencils, brushes, drawing pads, etc. - Ed.). In the United States, the market for such products is estimated at $ 60 billion; 63% of households buy them.

How to launch a product on Amazon

Mikhail explains: there are brands on the market that sell quality products for a lot of money, and brands that sell low-quality products for cheap. He and his partner decided to take the middle market: target all people.

For the affiliates, it didn't matter where they bought the product: they were promoting the brand, not a specific platform. Yes, it was more profitable if orders come from the site, but I wanted to cover all possible places of sale. According to Mikhail, there is no pressure from Amazon. The only thing is that for sales there you need to buy more advertising, and it is harder to break into the first positions there. Advertising prices are constantly on the rise, but this is not just on Amazon, but everywhere.

They have a small business called Seller Insiders. They train people in the CIS to start businesses on Amazon. The most important tip: there must be a good margin in the product, then you can spend enough money on advertising.

The margin should be assessed not in percentage, but in money, Mikhail recommends. It hardly makes sense to launch a $ 10 product if your entire 150% margin is eaten up by the $ 3 spent on an ad click. But if you launch a product for $ 40 with a margin of 70%, and spend $ 10-15 on advertising, then it makes sense. Therefore, he always sold goods from $ 25.

According to Mikhail, the main thing is the quality of the product and how to communicate with customers. If the product is of poor quality, no amount of advertising will help.

The customer support is very important. Mikhail and his companion tried to recruit people who had previously dealt with creativity. When you talk to someone who has a similar hobby, you will find a common language. Mikhail told how one day a woman of 60–70 years old found his personal phone and sent him photographs of how she draws and shared her impressions of the products. When partners conducted customer surveys on how satisfied they were with the product, they received a consumer loyalty index of 90–92%. This is a very high figure!

Persia instead of China

The startup has two offices: one in Minsk, where about 150 people work, and one in Florida, but no more than 10 employees work there. Customer support and copywriting are located in America, because, according to Mikhail, mentality plays an important role.

They also changed the country of production. Instead of "Made in China" they write "Made in Persia". It doesn't scare people off that much.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York

Business with China is very difficult, Mikhail explains. In his opinion, the Chinese are peculiar people. First, they spend a whole month in February for the holidays. And because of this, businesses have a fairly strong seasonality: you need to have time to order before the holidays. You need to check and discuss everything with them a thousand times. And ask again. If the Chinese are silent and don't say anything, most likely something is going wrong.

Now, as an alternative to China, there is still Taiwan. We tried Italy, Spain, but it didn't work.

Success comes at a price

This year, Mikhail and his partner went completely out of business - they sold their shares in it and became multimillionaires. But the partnership was preserved and now they have found a new niche for business - they will launch an organic coffee brand. The new idea came as quickly as Arteza. According to Mikhail, in business one cannot think for a long time: it can become irrelevant, therefore it is important to move quickly and change.

Mikhail is convinced that in the USA it is possible to achieve everything you want if you work on it. But the price of success is health. He believes that he worked wrong: a lot, without days off, without vacations and holidays. I came home in the evening, left two hours for personal and at night sat down to work - talked with China. He regrets that he did not see his wife, did not see how his son grew up - in the evening he caught him for 15 minutes, after which he went to bed. During this time, Mikhail drove himself very much.

According to him, he would have walked this path again, but would have run a simpler business. Now he wants to move on, but at a pace that is comfortable for him. Lately, she misses her homeland and often travels home.

“It’s a pity that I didn’t know before that you can live in Ukraine and work remotely,” Mikhail admits.

Read also on ForumDaily:

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What skills do programmers from post-Soviet countries lack in employment in the USA?

How to get a job in the USA and what is wrong at Google: the experience of a Ukrainian developer

Three high-paying IT jobs you can master from scratch

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