Andrey Sever is the CEO of Sumsub, a company he co-founded with his twin brothers, Jacob and Peter, in 2015. Leading Sumsub’s strategy and operations, Andrey strives to create a world free of money laundering and digital fraud. He specializes in operational management, talent acquisition, and business development. Before Sumsub, Andrey earned a degree in theoretical physics and later worked as a top manager at different IT companies. Having Israeli citizenship, he currently lives in Limassol, Cyprus.
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Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Andrey Sever: Thanks for your invitation. I am the co-founder and CEO at Sumsub, a tech company providing anti-fraud and KYC/AML compliance solutions for companies around the globe. For all my life I’ve been engaged in the tech industry and entrepreneurship, though I have a degree in theoretical physics. At Sumsub, I am currently responsible for business development and operational management.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Andrey Sever: Well, when it comes to the desire to create something new and constantly improve upon what already exists, you either have it or you don’t. In a way, you need to have this sort of ‘entrepreneur’ mindset in order to be successful in business—where creativity and innovation are part of your natural way of thinking.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Andrey Sever: Frankly, I wouldn’t try to describe myself or my qualities as an entrepreneur. It’s always better to look from the outside. So you’d better ask my brothers instead.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Andrey Sever: I founded Sumsub in 2015 together with my twin brothers, Peter and Jacob. Later on, our Technical Director, Vyacheslav Zholudev, joined the team. In the beginning, we developed software that recognized traces of graphic editing, which helped prevent car insurance fraud—a popular scam that involves submitting a doctored photo of an allegedly damaged vehicle to get an insurance payment. In 2017, we shifted our focus to ID verification, know-your-customer (KYC), and compliance. This pivot worked out well, as we now have 150 people on our team and more than 1000 clients, such as BlaBlaCar, Hyundai, Exness, DiDi, and Flippa.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Andrey Sever: I need to point out that we started our business in the UK, not the US. But when we entered the US market, we already had a client base to support our growth. As I see it, there’s tough competition in the states, however, the size of the market is enormous. If you want to develop a successful company in the US, you need to keep in mind that having a domestic presence is extremely important. Experience in Asian or European markets is not as valued there.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Andrey Sever: We made thousands of mistakes! For instance, Sumsub started out as a local business. But it didn’t take long for us to realize that we should’ve entered the global market right away, as it was always our goal to expand internationally. This is one of the common assumptions that startups make—that you should first test your product on the local market before expanding any further. The problem is: you need a totally different approach when you go global. So, if you’re building a business with global ambitions, the global market is exactly where you should start.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
Andrey Sever: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. At Sumsub, we are constantly experimenting with new ideas, from marketing and performance campaigns to product updates and features. I firmly believe that it’s better to try and fail early than be stagnant and risk falling behind.
When you start your business, you might think there’s only one correct path—and that there might be someone who can guide you along. But the world is changing fast, and you can’t just copy other people’s success stories. I know quite a few entrepreneurs who came from an industry where they had been successful before but couldn’t make their business work in a different sector. So when you launch a new project, you’d better employ new business strategies. You’re likely to make mistakes, that’s for sure, but they will ultimately show you how to change your approach and reach your goals.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Andrey Sever: As I said before, Sumsub aimed to become a player in the global market. In the beginning, we had a lot of discussions about where to start. Our investors recommended that we start out at a local scale—and we followed the advice. But, soon enough, we saw international demand for our solution coming from the blockchain industry. And, luckily, we were able to re-orient our business strategy and pivot successfully. But we could’ve saved much time and effort if we had initially started with an international focus. Now I know for sure that this is the best strategy.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Andrey Sever: There has been a lot of talk about the consequences of COVID, both interesting and weird. If you ask me, the biggest change is that it’s now much easier to build your business team. You don’t need to find your employees in London or Berlin anymore, because you can hire specialists from all over the world. It’s a great advantage because you can find people who best suit you in terms of their work experience and overall spirit.
I would assume that there are more possibilities now than before the pandemic, as business leaders are no longer attached to their offices. Of course, team-building skills are still essential, especially when your team is spread across different cultures, locations, and languages. At Sumsub, we already had an international team before the pandemic. So, in a way, COVID helped us ensure that we were doing things right.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Andrey Sever: There is a common myth that, in order to win the market, you need to come up with a revolutionary business idea—and that you shouldn’t start a business unless you invent something life-changing and extraordinary, like Facebook or the iPhone. Don’t believe this! Instead, just ask yourself: is there any space for improvement in my area of business? A thoughtful answer could give you some interesting ideas to start from.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Andrey Sever: Make sure you have co-founders who are empathetic, good at sales, and able to inspire and keep your team together. It’s also crucial to have a co-founder who’s responsible for creating the product and controlling the technical aspects of your business. From my experience, it’s very difficult to manage tech-related issues when there’s no technical experts among the founders. It’s also crucial to know how to manage conflict situations and to make decisions during crisis periods.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Andrey Sever: You can read as many business books as you like, but the greatest teacher is your direct experience. Each day, your business will put you in challenging situations. Rather than avoiding these difficulties, use them as a resource in your real-life business education. Books and movies are also helpful, but there are plenty of different sources and I wouldn’t pick out anything specific.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Andrey Sever: I wouldn’t choose any path other than starting my own business. But I do have some experience working in the sales department of a big automobile dealer. Working in this sphere helped me develop the soft skills that have been absolutely critical to building my business. Apart from that, I never took any jobs in a company other than my own.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Andrey Sever: That would be Steve Jobs, of course! I know it may sound cliche, but he still created an outstanding business with remarkable products and marketing. And that’s a unique story worth putting on display for the whole world to see.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Andrey Sever for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Andrey Sever or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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