I’ve calculated that with my current salary and even any possible promotion, subtracting the costs of renting my apartment and paying all the bills, my chances of saving enough money to buy my own home in the nearest foreseeable future are incredibly slim. So I come up with a plan…
It’s January 2014. I’ve just moved from Moscow to the UK to start a new job as a Data Architect at the company that effectively invented the 9-to-5 job, the Ford Motor Company.
I am now working in Brentwood, a quiet, little, very green city to the east of London. I feel incredibly excited! It’s the first time I am in a country where the grass and trees are green in winter! Of course, I’ve heard about Africa and tropical countries, but having got used to a status quo, I couldn’t even imagine that life could be different. Having spent my childhood in Estonia, my memories are filled with walking to school through the knee-deep snow at this time of year.
I rent a cosy little apartment, just a 30-minute walk from the Ford office. A month later, I get my very first car, a race red Ford Fiesta. I take it for a ride every weekend to explore England, the country I used to read so much about in children’s books! Those woods, the Cheddar Gorge, the White Cliffs of Dover, the Durdle Door and the Lulworth Cove — all these places evoke images from the tales about Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart. The charm of London brings back stories about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Poppins.
I am living what I have always been told is the ideal life. Having a good job at a respectable old company, with a rich heritage and fantastic products. However, the web of bureaucracy and politics that runs through it is slowing both the company and me down.
I dream of starting a relationship with a girl, starting a family, getting a Golden Retriever, a Newfoundland dog, a horse — I love horses — and live happily ever after. These dreams seem endlessly far away. I feel stuck at Step One. Filled with self-doubt, I don’t dare to start a relationship because I’m not able to afford my own home. Is it stupid of me to think that I can’t start a relationship without owning a home? — Maybe, but who doesn’t have questionable beliefs? For me, owning a home would provide security for raising a family.
Between the rate of my salary and steadily rising house prices, saving up for a mortgage seems practically unreachable. Besides, the mere idea of taking a loan for a period of 20–30 years, in a world that is becoming so unpredictable and so fast-changing, seems ridiculous to me.
As I walk around Ford’s office, I see family photographs on employees desks. Even if I manage to save up for a deposit, the idea of looking at photos of my loved ones instead of being with them as much as I’d like doesn’t appeal to me at all.
One year later, it’s February 2015, and I realise that I’m stuck between a mediocre salary at Ford and high cost of rent and living expenses that keep me from getting anywhere. I discover an idea in one of the books I’ve been reading. There’s always a limit on how much I can earn in a job. Owning my own business, however, would remove all limitations on the amount of money I make. I need to build a company of my own to get where I want to be.
A few years earlier, while studying at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, I discovered a toothpaste brand called SPLAT. It was not only their products that I loved, but also that every box of toothpaste came with a letter written by their director. I realised how much I missed the stories shared in those letters here in the UK.
I notice a Shopify advert on Facebook, so I quickly set up a web store, get in touch with SPLAT and ask them to be their distributor in the UK. After a funny email exchange (which is another story), to my surprise, they agree and offer me to purchase their minimum order.
It’s first when that minimum order — one cubic meter of toothpaste — has arrived at the doorstep of my tiny apartment, that I start to wonder, “Was this really such a great idea?”
I’ve been running my toothpaste business for two years, doing everything entirely by myself: from Facebook and Google marketing to sales letters, from the website design, development and maintenance to order packaging and dispatching to the nearest post office.
Little by little, the number of orders starts to increase, and I begin to run out of toothpaste and time to deal with everything by myself. I’ve brought an amazing new product to the UK market. I love what I’m doing, and I’m proud of my achievement.
However, calculating my finances, I face the harsh truth. I realise that my little venture isn’t getting me any closer to my dream of owning a home. Not even making it possible for me to expand the business beyond an at-home side project.
Though I’m incredibly happy having achieved my primary goal of being able to purchase SPLAT toothpaste here in the UK! It’s with some sadness that I sell my web store to SPLAT, who’ve finally decided to open their office in the UK.
Fast forward to 2016. The world starts to talk louder about artificial intelligence and machine learning. I jump into the new opportunity and start studying this branch of computer science, reading all the books I could get my hands on, and signing up for courses on Coursera and Udacity. My brain hasn’t experienced such a workload since I graduated, but I keep ploughing through because I know what I am after. This time, I am committed to quitting Ford and starting my own consulting business!
We’re now in July 2017. After a few months of failing to find consulting clients, I read about a FinTech startup Revolut founded by my co-alumni. I decide to make this startup a ramp to launching my own business, to prepare myself for the uncertainty and unpredictability following a seemingly safe harbour represented by Ford.
Why do I call a secure 9–5 job seemingly safe? The world is changing. We are at the beginning of a new Industrial Revolution led by automation enabled by artificial intelligence. The nature of jobs and required skills are changing demanding people to be capable of solving complex problems — problems that machines alone cannot deal with. Today, a steady paycheck, while being so attractive, gives one a false sense of security while making one complacent.
Fast forward to today, I am incredibly happy and proud of what I’ve achieved at Revolut as a Data Scientist. My Machine Learning Based Fraud Detection System, which I call Sherlock, protects Revolut users from fraudsters. Having once been a victim of card fraud myself, I wanted to show fraudsters that we can defend ourselves. Remembering how I felt, I feel the pain of people who suddenly find their money stolen. Such empathy has been driving me throughout all the tough periods, long days and nights of building Sherlock.
However, I know that what got me where I am, won’t get me where I want to be. Over the past five years, I’ve been studying what rich people do. I’ve been reading biographies, books on marketing and sales, psychology and behavioural economics, business, finance, philosophy and self-help books. I’ve spent thousands of pounds on self-development courses and training programs to the point where I eventually found myself £40,000 in debt.
I came to realise that all those years I had been a selfish guy trying to fit in, trying to find a way to be like everybody else. Graduate, find a good job, settle down, start a family. We seek mediocrity, and we applaud mediocrity in our society. We are afraid to express our thoughts and ideas freely because we don’t like to be judged. Only by setting goals greater than ourselves we can achieve true happiness, contentment, and a sense of purpose.
One of my mentors, Stephen Larsen, told me,
“Business will be the best self-development course you’ll have ever taken. Because it’s tailored to you, it exposes your character flaws directly to your face.
Did you know you suck at talking to people? Did you know that despite all your computer science degrees you cannot build a profitable website?
Where I am, who I am, who I am not, whom I can become because of the pressure cooker of creating a business. What I’ve become because of doing the thing, when I’ve become self-aware, willing to experience discomfort for the sake of becoming someone new, not just having something — a product, a business.”
Based on my achievements and failures, and everything I have learned along the way, in addition to building my own business and documenting my journey, I now give aspiring entrepreneurs the push they need to become the best version of themselves.
It all starts with the realisation that a typical job isn’t as safe as we think and then daring to set goals and take action. There is potential within all of us, the gifts given to us. We multiply them by using these gifts and sharing them with others. That’s how we earn our money and keep going.
I invite you to join our tribe of Smart&Nimble entrepreneurs. Shed the false sense of security of the 9-to-5 and find a new sense of stability in the fact that your work leads toward a meaningful life, a life filled with purpose, delivering value. Realise your dreams of changing your world for the better, becoming financially free, whatever it means to you, or just getting out of the limiting employment circle.
We never “make it.” We are infinite learners. We need to keep climbing the learning curve and get faster at it than others. We need to adapt to a continuously changing world and emerging problems, embrace the uncertainty, break the rules. At the same time, we have permanent values that offer us stability and help us stay calm in the middle of the storm.
We aim to create a culture where physical exercise — being nimble — ignites mental performance — being smart — leading to a life of reaching our goals while having fun at the same time!
At Smart&Nimble, we solve tough world and business problems to fulfil our purpose. We exercise to keep our mental skills at peak. We are entrepreneurs. We are smart and nimble.