For some reason, I’ve always been secretive and haven’t shared my life or work, but things changed.
Today, I want to share my journey as is, like what I did, what led me to quit school, and why I chose marketing and not any other field.
Don’t like to read? Watch the video!
In short, I started freelancing in high school, wanting to get into business and then the corporate world, then startups, then I decided to do things on my own.
Since I dropped out, I’ve worked on over 550 marketing projects, for over 120 clients from all around the world, including Canada, the USA, Europe, and CIS markets.
Now, I am 25; I live a comfortable, happy, and independent life but without Lamborghinis. I am more of your everyday guy who is still a work in progress.
Also, I am one of the millions of immigrants who work hard and find their way in a foreign country.
So to tell the whole story and to tell it properly, lets skip back to my childhood/youth for a moment.
Back in Russia, when I was about 12, I was heavily influenced by the old-school American hip-hop culture. Oversized clothes, rap music, graffiti, breakdance were much more exciting than biology, math, and history, so I wasn’t the best student.
I was barely passing, but my resourcefulness and sweet personality made sure I didn’t get expelled from school.
Anyways, I got obsessed with drawing, so graffiti and street art became an outlet for expressing creativity.
I admired the work of old-school, New York Artists like obey, cope2, T-Kid 170, and so on.
A year into drawing on the walls, I’ve become friends with one of the most known graffiti crews in my city and they invited me to join them. Things became more serious.
We started planning what we do and how. We even dressed up as conductors and other station staff to graffiti on trains.
To this date, I still recall this time with a lot of warmth. Besides the crew, we had a huge group of amazing and creative people. We partied, created art together, some made music. It was a lot of fun.
Anyways, after a while, I got caught by the police. Only then I realized that graffiti isn’t only art but is also vandalism.
I was a kid, so I didn’t understand what damage we were making, I thought it’s just fun things you do as a young teenager.
So I stopped, my parents paid fines and I painted many of the walls I damaged.
So how are graffiti and my childhood are connected to dropping out and opening a marketing agency?
First, through graffiti, I learned the basics of composition, color, shapes, balance, lettering, which all built the foundation for graphic design, creative work, and advertising.
Also, I think, graffiti and street arts are essentially traditional branding and advertising.
You do your best for your “brand” to be seen by as many people as possible; in most public places in the most unique and noticeable ways, like billboards and guerrilla marketing.
And lastly, regarding dropping out. I think then you could already seу that I loved freedom and doing things I loved, not the things I “should’ve” done.
Shortly after, I moved to Canada for high school, and things turned by 180.
Though I stopped doing graffiti, my passion for art never died. I found an outlet in the digital arts. I began learning graphic design, filmmaking, and photography.
When I was 16, my teacher saw that I was into videos. She recommended me to one of her friends to edit a training video for a local business.
Though I failed tremendously, I got so excited about business and entrepreneurship.
First, I saw how my skills could help businesses, and I could make money without being an employee. That’s when I started freelancing here and there to make extra pocket money.
That’s when my friend and I started dreaming about opening businesses in the future.
During breaks at school, we came up with business ideas, like apps and internet companies. We never did anything, but we were dreaming a lot.
I took every business class at my high school, like accounting, marketing, and entrepreneurship. For school projects, I created logos, creative animated presentations, and graphics.
Since I got interested in business and entrepreneurship, I took my academics more seriously.
I even managed to become a student council president and a valedictorian at my graduation and got university grants for my outstanding extra-curricular and co-curricular activities.
So I got into Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto.
Though, at that time, I continued learning digital arts and freelancing, I didn’t see it as a serious career. It was just a way to get some extra money.
Also, I thought of it just as good addition to my entrepreneurial skillset.
Anyways, in my first semester at the business school, I was the most excited student there was. It was a new place, with lots of new people and new opportunities.
Everyone was talking about working at Deloitte, KPMG, and banks. It all sounded exciting, so I also bought into the idea of working in a large corporation, wearing a suit and a tie.
Until I got a job at a bank. 2 weeks in, I realized the corporate world isn’t for me.
I love freedom, creativity, enthusiasm, which the corporate world lacks completely, even in the marketing department.
At that moment, I already knew that I am not getting what I want from school and the corporate world isn’t right for me.
And if the corporate world isn’t for me, then why do I need a degree at all?
The only thing that kept me from quitting was Enactus.
Enactus is an international student-run organization where students create projects to address social issues and help the environment through entrepreneurship.
With an active team of about 50 people, we taught financial literacy, organized different events, created our projects, tested ideas, and so much more.
I felt like we are doing something, not just sit in class. We were working together, partying with our professors. It was a lot of fun, education, and real-world practice.
We have even won a couple of competitions and awards on the regional and national levels.
The coolest thing was that Enactus was in partnership with DMZ, a world-famous tech incubator.
This connection let me dip my toes into the startup world, where things are much more creative and energetic than corporate.
Though I was an outsider and I couldn’t get fully involved at DMZ, I took every opportunity I could to get involved; to talk, and to learn from the founders of different startups.
So, again, Enactus and the startup world seemed so much more fun than school.
I was learning more; I saw how people built companies and created something from nothing. I didn’t see how what we learn in class is even remotely connected to the real world.
My biggest problem with the school was that it took away the time from things that mattered to me.
Besides, that I was learning more, I was happier and worked harder outside of school.
I wasn’t getting any value from school; I felt like I was wasting money and time just to get a piece of paper I most likely would never use.
I wanted to drop out many times, but I felt like I couldn’t because “you can’t survive without a degree”.
Then, dropping out from school wasn’t a popular thing that people did. It wasn’t that long ago, but then I hadn’t heard about anyone successful, except for Steve Jobs, who dropped out of school.
Now many people talk about it, media people scream left and right that education isn’t everything. So then it was a tough decision to make.
When I shared with people that I want to quit school and pursue entrepreneurship, they said: “You can’t open a business unless you worked in one”.
I thought to myself:
“I learned basic business concepts, I’ve worked on different projects, and for a few businesses, I’ve helped my friends and family with their businesses, I have some ideas about how businesses work. So I should be good.”
I didn’t see any reason to wait to open a business, as everyone suggested, so I decided to quit school and dive deep into entrepreneurship.
My parents were furious and confused. They couldn’t accept the fact that their son will be “uneducated”.
A quick note, my family values education a lot. Everyone has either multiple undergrads, MBAs, and even PhDs.
So my parents said: “if you make an adult decision to quit school, you have to be an adult”, meaning they will not financially support me if I quit. Being a hardcore maximalist, I still dropped out.
My family kept their word, but thankfully, they didn’t disown me and still had my back in critical situations.
I planned to open a business, and in a year, I would become a millionaire with a huge house, yachts, and Rolls Royces.
In reality, it was more like jumping from a skyscraper face down. Things appeared much more complicated than I ever imagined. Reality hit me pretty hard and sobered me up.
Mainly because I didn’t have the transition from being a teenager to being an adult. Also, being alone, in a country where I don’t know anyone didn’t help.
With that said, I haven’t regreted this decision even once. I knew it’s gonna be tough, but I knew it was right for me.
It toughened me up and taught me that I am the only one responsible for my life, my failures, and my successes.
Since then, I’ve known – “there is no one to blame but myself for good or bad and that no one cares anyway.”
Quickly after dropping out, I got an idea to create a learning platform similar to what Udemy or Skills share now.
In 2014 they weren’t that popular. I guess the online learning space was just getting online.
Since I didn’t have much savings, I knew I needed a source of income. So I was freelancing more to make the ends meet.
Though the money situation was tough, I did a lot of exciting things, met so many different people and I was learning fast. I was in a happy but broke place.
In a year, I had invested a lot of effort, time, and money, but I realized this project was too ambitious for me.
I had reached multiple walls, which I couldn’t overcome. And even if I could, I knew this project would not bring me income for another few years.
It was tough, but I had to give up.
At that point, I started working on different projects and business ideas with friends and people I met.
In every project we’ve started, I was responsible for marketing and technology, because that what I loved most. I was doing strategy, visual identity, websites, and so on.
We had worked on mobile apps, e-commerce stores, online media publications, even a cleaning company, and a restaurant.
Some of these ideas were complete failures, some didn’t make it to launch, and with some, we had short-term success.
Then, I realized that I was jumping from one project to another too fast and didn’t create anything.
It was a great practice, but I didn’t want to continue this way. I wanted to create something real that people need or use.
Something, I didn’t mention is that since I dropped out I had a lot of internal issues that not many people around had seen.
I was borderline depressed, anxious, self-conscious, which was built up from dropout stigma, failures, and understanding that reality isn’t as easy as I thought.
For the millionth time, I started thinking about what I should do, what I am good at. and it hit me.
I am good at marketing.
“Why can’t I continue doing it? just more seriously? Why can’t I register a company, build a team and create a business out of it? I have quite a few marketable skills, I understand what businesses need and what they struggle with. Why can’t I just do that?!”
The answer was in front of me this whole time, but I didn’t want to see it.
I was already building websites, designing, collaborating with people, creating strategies, and executing them.
So, I started to freelance full time, offering more and more services, with an idea that one day, it will grow into a world-class marketing agency.
Though a lot of things were still tough, only when I committed to one thing and put 200% into it, things started to get better; both in material and emotional ways.
I was as happy as a kid, doing what I love, my life started getting better, I started meeting more exciting people, and got my first car.
Since then, things have been up and down, but with a positive trend. There are always new challenges, but also new achievements.
The most important thing to me is the freedom and happiness, which I am so proud to have and is all that matters.
I love what I do, I work with people that I like and respect, I am independent, live by my own rules and the best part is I am only 25.
It’s crazy to think that, how much has happened and I only lived a quarter of my life.
Though I am still far from where I want to be and I am still a tiny particle in the huge world, I feel pretty accomplished by my age. My marketing agency is still small but very mighty. We grow slowly, but surely.
So here you have it. That’s my story up until this moment.
If you want to know how my story unfolds in the future, I invite you to join me on my journey.
That’s it for today, till next time!