About the project
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
Coming up with a good idea for your own business is sometimes as easy as just looking at the experience you already have. After working in New York, model and businesswoman Anna Barsukova understood that any urban beauty who is always on the go desperately needs fresh-squeezed juices. This is how the Organic Religion detox bars came about. In the latest edition of Success Builder, Anna discusses why the university is more appealing than the runway and how the detox industry is growing and changing in Russia.
How did you end up at HSE?
I was born in Tomsk and graduated high school with honours. When I was asked to work as a model in New York, I had to choose between a higher education and work. I ultimately decided to combine the two and found a distance-learning programme at a university in Moscow that is supported by the Russian Justice Ministry. I got into the faculty of law and set off to work in New York. I worked as a model until I was 20, and then it was time to think about graduation, so I returned to Moscow to write my thesis and defend it. I didn’t think one diploma was enough, and I wanted to continue my studies; after all, I had devoted so many years to working. I started researching universities and decided on HSE. A career aptitude test showed that I’d be a good fit for a profession in marketing, and the Faculty of Economics [now the Faculty of Economic Sciences] has a good marketing division.
Why didn’t you stay in the modelling industry?
The problem with the modelling industry is that you reach a dead end at a certain point, and I wanted to develop further. Becoming a top model didn’t interest me as much as studying, developing a profession, and growing independently of the circumstances and vicissitudes of that particular industry. And after I finished my undergrad, I simply didn’t want to return to the modelling world. Education itself was what triggered me to become an entrepreneur.
When you factor in buying, cleaning, peeling, and squeezing, it takes more than three hours a day to produce juices under a health and wellness programme
At what point did you realize you wanted to go into business? And why did you start with music classes?
I wanted to put theory into practice, and together with my partner and friend, we came up with the idea of creating a music school for adults. We tried out the idea first; we advertised and tried to figure out if there were a lot of adults out there who wanted to learn music. There were, and we realised it was time to start the business. So we rented out a space, hired instructors, and had a very successful launch. But when the project grew to a certain size, the question of scale arose. We had to invest and develop the business since we’d already gotten from point A to point B for the most part. I didn’t want to repeat what I’d done before, and I skipped this stage.
The thought of making money didn’t motivate you to continue?
I can’t say that it was a super prosperous business, though we did recoup initial investments rather quickly. The truth of the matter is, it was interesting because of the subject matter and because of our approach towards work. For me, business is synonymous with drive, and it is a constant way of motivating yourself. Then I started looking for new ways to express myself, and this is when the Organic Religion project came amount. This is the project I’m currently working on, and I’m learning so much along the way.
About healthy lifestyle trends – can you talk about the boom that’s currently taking place in New York?
For the last 20 years or so, this has been a ubiquitous trend in New York. Everyone drinks juice press in order to be healthy and look good in the Big Apple. This is the normal way of life there unlike in Russia, where no one even thinks about this. New York is full of organic bars, many of which deliver drinks and food right to your office. I myself drank a lot of these juices there, and I loved them. I talked with people who had built super successful businesses around this healthy lifestyle. I even tried buying a franchise of an American organic bar, but they weren’t interested in the Russian market. Whether that’s for better or worse I cannot say. What do they need the Russian market for? Things are going great for them in New York. So I had to develop my own brand from the ground up – come up with formulas, acquire the necessary technology, find a nutritionist, hire a team, etc. Since Russia didn’t have the market, expertise, knowledge, or understanding of this market, I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel here; all I had to do was follow the American example.
How did you study the product?
As concerns technology, I simply went around and talked to the people currently working in the business. The Organic Religion team also hired American nutritionist Tara Ostrowе, MS, RD, who is a registered dietician and sports nutritionist. She is also an expert in the field of detox. Simply put, these kinds of specialists don’t exist in Russia. But in the U.S., the health industry is a well-developed field, so it’s fairly easy to find knowledgeable people from various academic and professional backgrounds.
Just do it right, even if it’s small
Are these people’s professionalism defined by education alone?
By experience also. Tara is a good example of this. She creates our juices, works for several famous sports teams and clubs in New York, and is a nutritionist for a lot of well-known athletes. Tara also graduated from Columbia University and has worked in the field of sports nutrition for the last 10 years. She knows how certain foods impact how your body works, as well as which foods – and in what proportions – can be mixed to increase performance. Combining ingredients is a rather complex thing to do – you can make a juice from celery and cucumber, sure, but you can also make a juice that energizes you and allows you to run at full speed. Certain juices can even be bad for you.
In what ways have you ‘planted’ this idea in Russian soil, so to speak? How have you grabbed consumers’ attention?
We were the first to launch a business in this market segment, and we chose to do so in Moscow, a city that is vastly different from the rest of the country. Moscow is more advanced – people travel abroad and are willing to experiment more. All magazine editors know what detox and cold-pressed juice is, and for that reason there was enough of a foundation for us to start with the press. The magazines were immediately interested in learning more about us. A lot was published about us, which definitely helped us become a recognizable brand not only in Moscow, but in Russia as well. The words ‘detox,’ ‘juicing,’ and ‘cold-press’ became part of people’s vocabulary, and word spread about the culture of juicing. After only a month, a lot of similar startups began popping up, which is a good thing – it means that there’s demand and the industry has started growing and educating consumers.
The only thing that worries us is the questionable quality of competitors’ products. We don’t want this to undermine the industry’s reputation as a whole. Unfortunately, the cost of goods sold (COGS) is very high for top-quality juices, and a lot of producers have tricks that allow them to cut costs, which we don’t try to do. The result is that people think everyone else does the same thing. I ask everyone who’s entering a new market to be conscientious and offer a good-quality product.