Russia’s Richest Woman

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Good morning! It's Friday, August 25th- Today we’re breaking down how Tatyana Bakalchuk became the wealthiest woman in Russia by dominating the online retail market!


Russia’s Richest Woman

When Tatyana Bakalchuk was on maternity leave from her teaching job, she found it immensely difficult to leave the house and go shopping for herself and her family.

This frustration spurred her to create Wildberries, which is now the largest online retailer in Russia with a $17.5B valuation!

So, What’s the Business?

Tatyana’s husband was an IT technician and helped her set up the original Wildberries e-commerce store. But other than that, all the day-to-day business operations fell on this solo female entrepreneur.

Tatyana made an early gamble, purchasing a bulk order with a German mail order catalog called Otto through a line of credit. Early on, she was the call agent, courier, administrator, and owner of Wildberries. However, this one-person operation was a success in its first year and sold the entire bulk order from Otto.

There are two key reasons for Wildberries’ initial success.

  1. A full-fledged online market did not exist in Russia at the time other than the sale of some small electrical items and home appliances being sold on the Internet.

  2. She didn’t use the prepayment system used by the vast majority of online businesses then and today.

Instead of paying online, customers would only pay upon delivery after having a chance to try on their purchase. This system was easy to operate when Tatyana was making the deliveries on her own, and she found an innovative way to continue the payment process as the company grew.

Wildberries has 20,000 pickup stations across Russia, and each one has dressing rooms attached for customers to check if they are satisfied with their purchase.

With free delivery and collection points accompanied by fitting rooms, Wildberries quickly became the largest player in Russia’s online retail industry. By 2015, the company brought in $450M in annual revenue and grew that figure to $1.5B by 2019.

Today, Wildberries processes around 7M orders a day, and in 2022, reached a total of 1.5B orders.

Despite the impressive growth of her company, Tatyana refuses to take it public and still holds a majority stake in her creation– resulting in her net worth of $8.8B.

Tatyana’s success is only more amazing when considering she’s one of the only billion-dollar companies in Russia that didn’t receive state support or investments from powerful oligarchs.

How She Wins: Every Crisis is an Opportunity

Wildberries’ rise to the top wasn’t only because it was the first online clothing retailer in Russia. Tatyana was a keen entrepreneur who looked for any way to leverage an advantage for her company, even in global disasters.

During the 2008 financial crisis, the businesswoman signed her first big direct contract with Adidas, which at the time had large amounts of unsold stock in its warehouses due to a drop in demand. This set the precedent for the company’s business strategy moving forward, focusing on making clearance purchases from manufacturers failing to sell due to faulty goods or weak demand.

The second global crisis that led to explosive growth for the company was the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, Wildberries hired 15,000 extra employees and expanded into other European countries. The company experienced an 89% increase in export turnover and Tatyana’s personal wealth grew by 1,200%!

Key Observation

Pessimists may view Tatyana as taking advantage of bad situations for her own personal benefit– but this view is mistaken. Her ability to profit in times of global crisis only shows that she provided unique solutions to both manufacturers and consumers struggling during periods of financial collapse and international distress.