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Anna Barsukova

Graduated from the Faculty of Economic Sciences in 2013 with a degree in enterprise management economics.

After making her debut during London Fashion Week in 2005, Barsukova was a model for Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Dolce&Gabbana, and other famous brands. In 2012, she founded the Forte music school for adults, thus beginning her career in business. In 2015, Anna launched her second business – Organic Religion, which produces cold-pressed juices and features a special line of detox programmes. She continued studying business at the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management.

«I wouldn't have grown into the person and businesswoman I am today had I not gone back to school»

Success Builder

About the project
«Success Builder»

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.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev

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.

Photo: Mikhail Dmitriev

What is special about your line of juices?

People can buy juicers for their homes, but preparing the fruits and vegetables, as well washing the juicer afterwards, can take time that a lot of people don’t have. The most important things, though, are ingredients and their compatibility. Our expertise in developing formulas and recipes lies at the heart of our product, and it’s something that we only share with our franchises. No less important is the quality of the fruits and vegetables, and we always ensure that they have the appropriate certifications. Additionally, the actual process of producing the juices looks a lot like a laboratory. We carefully weigh the ingredients in a sterile environment, so this process and the added quality is what separates us from our competitors and from homemade juices. I even made a video about how much time it takes to make the juices at home – more than three hours when you count buying, cleaning, peeling, and actually juicing. Naturally, no one is going to go through all of that at home.

Can you tell us about the programmes you’ve developed?

These are our main product. Based on a client’s goals, we make recommendations for certain programmes irrespective of whether or not the client ate healthy prior to the programme or if this is the first time they’ve even heard of juicing. The client chooses the number of days for the cleanse, and we look at the client’s habits and overall wellbeing to determine which juices and ingredients are right for the client. If the client has specific health issues or is uncertain of what’s good or bad for them, we have a service that pairs them up with a nutritionist to come up with an individual programme. All in all, we have several standardized programmes ranging from one to three days, as well as programmes that focus on fasting, detoxing, and vitamin boosts and programmes that fight cellulite and aging.

Personally, I do yoga and surf, but I also do strength training twice a week. I like core strengthening as well

Why did you go with more of a bar style, as opposed to a beauty salon or detox clinic?

Beauty salons are somewhat foreign for me. I wanted to create a large detox centre, but this is a fairly ambitious idea that I’ve put off for now. Our detox bars are very small. We don’t even offer food there – only nutritious snacks. Just do it right, even if it’s small. To go with our juices, we sell Bite bars, which my classmate from Skolkova, Elena Shifrina, thought up. We tend to think alike for the most part.

At what point did you decide to move to the franchise model?

We started with a comparatively smaller budget, but costs were still quite high due to expensive foreign exports. Now we’re reinvesting. We decided to take the conservative route and grow using a tried and tested business model. Maybe this is safe and not the right thing to do, but we didn’t have the opportunity to try to take over the world right away, so to speak. We’ve now launched two franchises – one in St. Petersburg and one in Almaty – and we’re hoping that more will open up soon.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev

You brought in your HSE classmate Vladimir Orlov as the head of Organic Religion. Was education an important factor here?

I liked his business approach. I know him well, and I’ve seen him both in the classroom and in the office. Plus, I knew he was ready for a change. He had experience in the health food delivery industry, and I believed his personal characteristics were right for the job. Everyone is pleased so far.

Where you do find qualified employees given the fact that there’s not much of a detox industry in Russia?

People come to us who just want to take part in the project. As one example, we have been working with a marketing specialist for quite some time now – she’s also from HSE by the way – and she has been super involved in our project and idea from the very start. Our team consists of six people, and everyone is a fan of the product.

I might go back to school in the future, possibly abroad, but I don’t want to leave Russia forever. It’s my home, and I like the idea of doing something good here

A question from the carb-lovers club: how do you deal with a lack of protein and carbohydrates during a detox?

People come to our programme consciously; that it, the client comes ready to undergo a detox and push through. In addition, we also make juices that have a sufficient amount of vegetable protein so people don’t feel tired. The spinach that we all know and love is rich in protein, and we can add it to almond milk, which has different fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. We also have smoothies with organic protein. All in all, your body is getting everything it needs in our programmes. But for our cleansing programmes, we still recommend selecting days where you don’t have to be very active or do cardio training. Yoga is fine though, and it’s really beneficial. Personally, I do yoga and surf, but I also do strength training twice a week. I like core strengthening as well.

How do you plan to develop further as a businesswoman and as a person?

We want the company to grow and spread to different regions of Russia and to other countries as well. In other words, we want to create a chain. On a more personal level, I’m still fully devoted to the Organic Religion project, but I might go back to school in the future, possibly abroad. But I don’t want to leave Russia forever. It’s my home, and I like the idea of doing something good here. All of the projects I’d like to work with have to be aimed at doing something good for society. I don’t want to just resell something; I want to create something useful and interesting.

If education helps in business, then how would you say it affects your thinking?

An education is necessary if for no other reason than to broaden your outlook on life. It is also a way of communicating, socializing, and developing an atmosphere in order to move forward. I wouldn't have grown into the person and businesswoman I am today had I not gone back to school. Work is important, but without an education, it would be like walking with your eyes closed. You’ll undoubtedly make a lot of mistakes, and you won’t have the ‘shield’ you need in order to find your way in the real world.

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