As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vladimir Gendelman.
Born and raised in the Soviet Union, Vladimir Gendelman is the Founder and CEO of Company Folders, Inc. He is a thought leader in the print and design industries, publishing numerous articles in major publications, including Forbes and Time.
Jason Crowley: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Vladimir Gendelman: I immigrated to the United States in 1990 with my parents and less than $500. I worked as a web developer before opening my own computer repair shop. After a client of the repair shop was having trouble finding high-quality presentation folders for his company, I realized there was an untapped market in dire need of more selection and started Company Folders in 2003. I use my upbringing in the Soviet Union as inspiration and motivation for everything I do by making it my mission to provide people with a variety of choices and great customer service — things I didn’t have growing up.
Crowley: Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
Gendelman: My near-failure came nine years after I started my business. As an online business, our success largely depended on our search engine rankings. We relied on building links to as many websites as possible, which was a popular and cost-effective SEO tactic at the time. Our rankings skyrocketed to first for many industry-related keywords until Google changed its algorithms in 2012 to examine link quality. We were penalized for our over-optimized links, which caused our website traffic to nosedive by 65% within weeks! This nearly bankrupted my business.
Crowley: What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
Gendelman: I was full of fear. Fear that I’m going to lose my business, with which I lose that identity as a business owner and entrepreneur; and the fear of the shame and embarrassment that comes with going belly up from letting down my employees to telling my family.
However, at the same time, I realized that it’s times like these that if you get through them and do the right thing, you’ll come out better on the other side. It’s like being in a tunnel. When you enter the tunnel, all of the light is behind you. As you go through, it’s dark and you have no idea where you are going, but you know there’s light at the end and you’ll be better for going through it. My belief in that was very important.
There was nothing, in particular, that gave me the drive to keep going. It was just the feeling of these were the things I had to do. I’m fortunate enough to have an amazing team who rallied behind me. We pulled through it together, learned valuable lessons and came out better on the other side.
Crowley: Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
Gendelman: We overhauled our marketing strategy by focusing on content marketing and social media. We created a blog as well as other educational resources for our industry. Since then, we have established ourselves as industry thought leaders, recovered financially and gained a large online following. More than 100,000 people read our blog each month, and our social media posts typically receive hundreds of engagements. Our Google traffic also increased again, but this time it was based on the quality content we produced. We also landed a spot on Inc.’s list of 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in America
for the last three years.
Crowley: Based on your experience, can you share 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity?
Gendelman: First, all entrepreneurs should have a growth mindset. It’s the mindset that there is no failure, it’s that from every experience you’ll either learn or succeed. This makes you keep trying to make things better and allows you to grow as a person as well as a business owner.
Second, believe in yourself, your own convictions and your ideas because, in a moment of adversity, we naturally look for external approval and confirmation. However, everybody has their own opinion, and it doesn’t mean they will be helpful to you.
Third, when adversity happens, it’s extremely important to stick with and reinforce your own personal values and act ethically in order to get through it and achieve long-term success.
Crowley: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Gendelman: My mom was always convinced that in our family, we aren’t business people. It was because of that, I couldn’t tell her when I started my company. Instead, for the first seven months, I was in business, I called her each evening to speak to her on my “drive home from work,” but I wasn’t driving home from work. When I finally did tell her I started a business, she wanted to know how long I was going to do that before I looked for a real job. That fueled me to go forward and get to the point to show her success.
The goal was to get my parents to understand this was my career. I didn’t tell them when my business was at the point of near failure but used that energy to turn things around. They didn’t find out what happened until years later.
Crowley: Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Gendelman: We are currently working on a new concept for our website that will change the way people buy presentation folders online. It will help people by taking the mystery out of folder buying and enabling anyone to create high-quality marketing materials.
Crowley: You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Gendelman: I would like to start the Power of Intent movement so that people can lead better lives. I would work with people to get in the right mindset of where they want to be and achieve it, not just make decisions for short-term results. It’s about doing things with long-term success in mind.
Crowley: Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
Gendelman: Listen to your gut and trust it. If you get in tune with yourself and trust your feelings, you’ll never go wrong.