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How To Make It In America

This is the final part of our series about our father, Samuel Revzin, who built one of the most successful schools in Soviet Belarus, only to have to start all over in a new career at the age of 54. Listen to Part I, and Part II if you’d like to hear the whole story.

In this episode we tell the story of how our mother and father made the difficult decision to pack their bags and move halfway around the world to make a better life for their children here in the United States. With few employment prospects for recent immigrants, they had to do menial work for years to support the family.

Listen to find out how our father was able to use the same entrepreneurial instincts he developed in Belarus to start a business in a shopping mall that he grew to three locations and multiple employees. This small business was effectively our real world MBA, where at the age of 12 we were thrust into the day to day of the business to learn what it takes to run a company.

Show Notes

  • 1:00 This episode can be listened to stand alone if you haven’t heard the other 2 parts
  • 1:23 At the height of his career at 54 years old, he had to start over in the US speaking no English
  • 2:35 Story starts in 1994, when you could still smoke in transatlantic flights
  • 4:10 Getting invited to sit in the cockpit when landing in Ireland because the pilots knew our dad
  • 4:56 Coming to America left a big impression on us. Just seeing all the SUVs coming out of the airport was really cool
  • 6:10 We were lucky that we had support from the community, even had donated clothes and furniture
  • 6:23 We were relatively well off in Belarus, but the rubels didn't last very long after coming to the States
  • 7:20 Our mom and older brother who were the only ones who spoke fluent English knew the burden was on them to get jobs ASAP
  • 7:50 Why we were amazed that you could buy any fruit all year round in America
  • 8:47 After coming here, since our mom didn't have a teaching license she had to get a job at a nursing home
  • 9:14 Our dad had American educators tell him previously he would get a job in the states, but when he came here he realized he would need to learn English fluently, which would take years. As a 54 year old, he realized he had to get to work
  • 10:01 One of the first jobs he had was pumping gas at a gas station - former PhD who’s used to giving lectures and has books written about him, had to take this job
  • 11:00 Both of our parents had one goal in mind - support their young children
  • 11:37 Within 6 years of moving to America, our dad was running a business with 3 locations, and we were moving into a 4,000 square foot house
  • 12:31 Our dad worked at the gas station for a year, and heard through a family friend about a job working at a kiosk at a new mall that was opening in MA, for another Russian guy
  • 13:00 Getting hired at the mall as cheap labor
  • 13:48 Our dad saw the opportunity to potentially buy the business after 6 months when he saw that he could manage the business better
  • 14:04 He saved up about $8,000 and offered his boss cash. He got a counter offer of $12,000 so our dad offered to work for free for a few months
  • 15:00 Our dad wanted to skip some steps and own a business as quickly as possible, and this was the opportunity in front of him
  • 15:40 By purchasing the business he had immediate access to equipment, software, supplier relationships etc. Would have taken a while to build himself.
  • 16:50 How our dad ran the business very differently than anyone else would
  • 17:04 Most kiosk owners sat waiting for customers. Our father was constantly thinking of ways to attract more customers.
  • 17:50 Since our dad didn’t speak great English, at 11-12 years old we were the ones having the uncomfortable conversations while negotiating with vendors, customers etc.
  • 18:16 Instead of waiting for customers to come, he would come up to customers, take pictures of people so a parent could see their kid on a TV screen to get them excited
  • 18:38 On the weekends he would travel to other malls so he could see how they sold their products and what other products did well. AKA secret shopping.
  • 19:50 He was also building relationships with the management of the mall so that when a kiosk was being vacated, he would jump on it and negotiate a lower rent to test new products in the mall
  • 20:33 Holidays we would spend every winter break working 12 hour days with our father. Our older brother met his wife to be there
  • 21:27 Our father only hired people through word of mouth so he knew he could trust people. Including our high school friends
  • 21:47 One time he stayed late to check on his employee and caught one of his employees stealing. No-one will care as much about your business as you do.
  • 22:33 In times like this, support from your immediate family really helped. Our mom as a teacher provided the steady pay check.
  • 22:52 Around christmas time we could make $5,000 in a day, but in a normal day it’s a good day if you made $200
  • 23:40 Our mom at one point was teaching 3 subjects in one day in a school 1 hour away
  • 24:03 Vadim is teaching an Entrepreneurship course now, teaching 6-7 hours a day, and it’s showing us how hard it is to be a teacher
  • 24:40 How our dad eventually expanded the business, putting us through college
  • 25:05 The key reasons were - support from family, ability to take risks, and willingness to do the work that others don't
  • 25:30 Intellectual curiosity also helps. In Belarus he did what he loved because of his curiosity. In the US he was working on a business that was intrinsically boring, but he found a way to stimulate his curiosity by trying new things.
  • 26:25 Any successful entrepreneur needs to be innately curious about life and how to get things done
  • 26:40 Some people wait for passion, but our father never waited. he saw opportunities and took them.
  • 27:22 If you feel stuck, try forcing yourself to take more interest and get better at what you’re doing
  • 28:19 Don’t let inexperience stop you. Our dad didn’t even know how credit worked when he came to the US because that didn’t exist in the Soviet Union.
  • 29:11 You can’t plan for everything in life. Sometimes even if you’re at the top of your game, things can come crashing down. It's more about just trying to be better every day.
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