As an entrepreneur myself, and the son of small business owners, I know how important small businesses are for our communities and economy, but also how hard it is to succeed as a small business. Even after you come up with the idea, assess the market opportunity and finalize your business plan, there are many challenges entrepreneurs and small business owners will face as they work to grow and scale.
In honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week, we sat down with some of the most inspiring small businesses we work with across the globe to hear how they got started, what obstacles they’ve had to overcome and what advice they have for other aspiring entrepreneurs.
For the second in our series celebrating entrepreneurs and small businesses, we spoke with Irene Baranova, the founder, CEO and designer of Milamira, a small business based in St. Petersburg, Russia, focused on designing wedding gowns.
Bill Ready: Can you share a bit about your business?
Irene Baranova: We’re a bridal boutique based in St. Petersburg that sells bridal attire all around the world. Seventy-five percent of our sales are online and 80 percent of our sales are international. Our seven person team does everything from designing to sewing to tailoring bridal dresses. Our dresses can be found in wedding salons in Saint Petersburg, Vienna and London, but our main sales channel is our online store.
BR: How did you come up with the idea for your business? And how did you decide to move forward and start your own business?
IB: Before I started my business in 2010, I spent seven years working in the bridal industry, showing brides-to-be wedding gowns created by other designers. So I had a lot of experience working in the industry.
The sale of foreign wedding gowns was a successful business until the economic crisis hit Russia in 2014 and changed the rules of the game. In just a month, the prices for our dresses doubled, while the purchasing ability of our brides fell. We needed to take immediate and radical measures to save the store.
After the economic crisis, I noticed a major market opportunity for more affordable, but still beautiful, high quality and design-forward bridal attire. I decided to design and create gowns locally to be able to offer more affordable prices and react faster to the changes in demand. This new side of the business, which evolved into Milamira, became a natural extension and complementary branch to the bridal shop where I had been working. It was a huge success. So much so that in less than one year, Milamira significantly outgrew the original bridal shop business.
BR: When did you start selling abroad?
IB: We started selling abroad immediately. Our first customer came from Canada, and our second customer came from Cyprus. Selling abroad is really important to our business, especially since wedding season is seasonal based on each country. But since we sell internationally, we are able to sell year round. When it is winter in Russia, it is summer in Australia for example. Many brides from the U.S. prefer to start preparations 18 months before the wedding, in winter. So for us, it is peak season every day.
PayPal has really helped in this aspect. Apart from being a very fast, convenient and easy to use payment system, PayPal helps our customers feel secure and confident when buying such an intimate product like a wedding dress from a business overseas.
BR: Did you ever imagine, when you were growing up, that you would be an entrepreneur and own your own business?
IB: I come from an entrepreneurial family. My father was an entrepreneur and I grew up watching him build and run his own business. But still, I never dreamed that I would own my own business. But I did seize the opportunity when it came up and I’m glad I did.
BR: What surprised you most about starting and running your own business?
IB: I was very surprised by the international acclaim and success Milamira received. It still blows my mind that everyday girls from all over the world get married wearing my designs.
BR: What advice do you have for other people who are thinking about starting their own business?
IB: Plan your business very carefully and strategically, but at the same time be open when opportunities arise and allow yourself to go with the flow – don’t be afraid to see where it will take you.
You can read more entrepreneur stories this Global Entrepreneurship Week from PayPal Stories here.