Pavel Osokin, co-founder & CEO at AMAI. An entrepreneur with 15 years who founded and bootstrapped five startups. He is a mentor at Founder Institute, an investment scout for several venture funds, and an advisor to two startups. Was named one of the top entrepreneurs to watch in 2018. Pavel started his business with $100 and reached a $3.3M turnover in 3 years in the construction industry. As a tech innovator, in 2017 he founded Como Capital, a full-service provider of high-loaded blockchain projects, and has worked with clients such as Coursera. In five months, the startup grew its team to 27 people. Aimed to help entrepreneurs automate the selling process, in 2019 founded AMAI – a San Francisco-based startup that produces ultra-realistic AI Voice Engines. Pavel is leading the operation and strategy of Amai with a professional ambition to install its voice technology into every phone in the world.
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Table of Contents
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.
Pavel Osokin: From an early age, I was looking for opportunities to earn extra money and I tried my hand at everything that presented itself. I did my first transactions when I was at school, buying and selling scooters, phones, and more. Entrepreneurship opened up many opportunities for me when I was young. Later, I founded my first company. With an investment of $100, I reached a turnover of $3.3M in three years. Later, I became interested in blockchain and founded Como Capital in 2017. And when I needed synthetic voices, I realized that there was no single option on the market that would satisfy my business needs both in quality and price. Thus, in 2019, my partner and I began to develop our code and founded AMAI – an AI voice engine startup. Now I’m leading a team of 24 people and we develop revolutionary voice technologies. Today, I have a passion for new technologies and helping startups around the globe. Besides, I am an investment scout for several venture funds and an advisor to two startups.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your viewpoint, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Pavel Osokin: I am asked this question very often, and I’d love to know the definitive answer myself. I think that it’s a combination of factors: genes, examples to follow, entrepreneurial drive and desire, and performance. There is no clear indication of which of these factors has more weight. In other words, if your parents and grandparents are entrepreneurs, they have passed you the genes and serve as an example for you. Finding yourself in an environment where people do business would also affect you – just like it would happen if you started hanging out with the fans of fishing or motorcycle racing. Desire and aspiration appear a little later when behavioral patterns are triggered – you see entrepreneurs driving expensive cars or you make your first attempts to make money without being hired. Error tolerance, I believe, is probably the most important innate or acquired skill in separating those who try, but do not succeed, from those who try more than once before achieving success.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Pavel Osokin: An entrepreneur who went through several bankruptcies and simply moves forward with no more fears.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Pavel Osokin: About two years ago, we founded our company. Since a startup is several hypotheses you test before you find a product-market fit, you could say that during this time we have tested and are still testing many hypotheses. From a company that only built text robots, we shifted our focus to voice technology. Over time, we realized that we should work for Enterprise companies and now we have made another pivot. Currently, we are becoming a pluralistic brand that is not only involved with voice solutions but also other AI solutions. We focus on technology and seek out big players who are already leaders in their markets. Our partnership with them provides access to the already developed market, and they have access to technologies and our brains. опыту. Our business is built on a WIN-WIN theory, where 1 + 1 = 11 for us and our partners and the market as well. Through this tandem, we speed them up, they help us, and the market benefits.
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?
Pavel Osokin: Business is all about solving consumer pains and problems. Y Combinator says: “Make something people want.” I am sure that if a business thinks in these categories, it will find its customers. There are more than 50 million businesses launched in a year around the world, 12 thousand in the United States per day, and this market is highly segmented. Each business must find its target audience as best as possible and solve its problems to avoid becoming one of the 90% of companies that close within the first couple of years.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Pavel Osokin: Not before starting a business, since my rule is “hypothesis testing in 2 weeks and $100.” So, the only thing I was wrong about many times before starting a business was finding the right partners. Speaking of building a business, the most important mistake I and thousands of other startups have made was to create a product and invest in it before confirming that people want it. Nine out of 10 first-time entrepreneurs make this mistake, but it’s a sort of “mandatory” experience that everyone needs to acquire.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Pavel Osokin: Be sure to test hypotheses and validate market needs before investing. And also remember about time. I saw many examples when founders would spend two years making a product, come out to the market and find no demand for it, so the companies had to close. Even worse, people don’t listen to advice from more experienced entrepreneurs. I was the same. I regret that.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Pavel Osokin: I was told to work on customer development before working on my product. Well, everybody gets told to work on cust dev. The lesson I learned from that experience is: Don’t waste your time on customer development! The way I see it, cust dev is your fantasies about the product bundled with the fantasies of the person you are interviewing. Then, based on this and other interviews, you write a work specification, to which your employees, designers, programmers add their fantasies, and all this results in a long process that is verified by nothing but some communication you had. I believe in developing a product and making a sale. When people confirm their need for my product with a hard-earned dollar, that’s more important than any cust dev.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Pavel Osokin: The project’s online viability is an important point to consider during the pandemic. Bill Gates said, “If your business is not on the Internet, you are not in business.” He was a prophet long before COVID-19. If a new wave of coronavirus can bankrupt states, what would it do to businesses? Internet users will not stop using the Internet at home, even amid a plague. What has not changed are peoples’ needs when it comes to food, clothing, and communication. In the coming years, there will be a trend for projects verging on people’s needs and online accessibility.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Pavel Osokin: An important problem for beginners is fear. I think this is something we should work on. If we are talking about the main myth, then I would say that “it takes a lot of money to open a business.” I have never invested more than $100 in a business I started. This investment was my start-up capital for both the current company as well as the company that generated $3.3m in revenue two years after it was founded. Back to that advice, I would say, just start selling your product, these words run like a red thread through all the answers. Entrepreneurship and business are about sales, so it’s strange to start by investing money if you can earn your first profit even without creating any products.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Pavel Osokin: The top three of my list
- Ability to sell.
- Tolerance for errors.
When I talk about the ability to sell, I mean that you should be able to sell not just your product, but also your opportunity to earn money to investors, sell your idea to your first employees, and sell interviews to journalists with you as an expert…
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Pavel Osokin: It’s a pity that no movie, no book, not even Tony Robinson himself, will help you. Entrepreneurship is like boxing: would you try learning the right hook or straight jab from a book, or from watching a few Muhammad Ali matches? I wouldn’t bet on you in the ring after such “training.” What movies and books can do is inspire ingenuity. Thus, you can develop this skill both by reading books and watching movies, and it doesn’t always have to be business literature. Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe can give you plenty of food for thought. In other words, the experience cannot be replaced by anything, but you need to develop creativity with all the opportunities available to you. Make sure you consume more content!
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?
Pavel Osokin: There is a practice known as “$20 million.” There is a question that asks “What would you do if you had 20 million dollars on your account and no longer had to worry about finances?” My answer to this question is as follows. I would start teaching entrepreneurship because that is what I do in my spare time. I would also start a rock band (in some unpopular genre, of course).
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?
Pavel Osokin: If you could choose a contemporary, I would say that Elon Musk would be our “president” among this century’s entrepreneurs.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Pavel Osokin 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 Pavel Osokin or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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