Dec. 22, 2022

Beauty Startup is translating science with Aleksandrina Ikonomova

Beauty Startup is translating science with Aleksandrina Ikonomova

Can you imagine your dad giving you a spreadsheet at the age of 8?

Telling you to fill out all the chores you completed and penalizing you if you didn't include 'playing with friends'?

Why penalize?

Because her father wanted her to know that just working and hustling won't improve your mental or physical health.

Check out my conversation with Aleksandrina Ikonomova from Balli Go.

Show highlights:

 

​​0:52 – where did you grow up and how has that changed your view of the world?

2:53 – as a kid, did you want to be an entrepreneur?

***shares her dad’s unique approach to teaching her responsibility

7:01 – what was your early journey like as an entrepreneur?

**shares unique journey as a ‘circus artist’ from age 13 - 17

10:55 – what kind of income were you pulling in as a dancer at the age of 13?

11:46 – what are you working on lately? (Segway into

14:55 – was the first financing from an angel investor?

15:25 – did you take any workshops or accelerators for startups?

15:55 – where are you at now, how many customers do you have?

20:14 – was there a specific hire that really changed the company in a good way?

21:22 – what channel has been the biggest driver in terms of customers?

22:20 – how are you working with influencers?

22:50 – what is a habit you do that has served you well?

23:40 – what is the highest stakes negotiation that you have been in?

25:35 – what is a word that rhymes with date, heart, or kiss?

 

Do you wish to connect with our special guest?

Visit her LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aleksandrina-ikonomova-0675541b2/

Tune in to every conversation about exciting European Startups and Innovators on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon! Leave a rating and review so we can keep making amazing interviews!

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Connect with Eric:

Visit his website: https://innovatorscanlaugh.com

For the Innovators Can Laugh newsletter in your inbox every week, subscribe at https://

Tune in to every conversation about exciting European Startups and Innovators on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon! Leave a rating and review so we can keep making amazing interviews!

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Innovators Can Laugh in your favorite podcast player.

Connect with Eric:
Visit his website: https://innovatorscanlaugh.com


For the Innovators Can Laugh newsletter in your inbox every week, subscribe at https://innovatorscanlaugh.substack.com

Past Guests:
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Past guests on Innovators Can Laugh include Yannik Veys, Ovi Negrean, Arnaud Belinga, Csaba Zajdó, Dagobert Renouf, Andrei Zinkevich, Viktorija Cijunskyte, Lukas Kaminskis, Pija Indriunaite, Monika Paule, PhD, Vytautas Zabulis, Leon van der Laan, Ieva Vaitkevičiūtė.
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Additional episodes you might enjoy:
#55 Yannik Veys - From creating the Uber for service professionals to growing Hypefury
#53 Tzvete Doncheva - Overcoming barriers to get into a VC with Tzvete Doncheva
#50 V...

Transcript

Hi everyone. In this episode I chat with lovely Bulgarian entrepreneur, Alexandrina Econo Mova. She is founder of Balli Go, a beauty startup, which aims to deliver high quality supplements for women. In this chat, we talk about her father's strict upbringing, which paid off the bazaar yet lucrative job she had as a dancer during her teens.

And how she's growing her beauty and wellness startup. I got a lot of good parenting ideas from this fun conversation, and I think you'll like it. Let's dive in. Hey, you're listening to Innovators Can Laugh, the Fun Startup Podcast. I'm your host, Eric Notcher. On I C O. We interview an innovative entrepreneur in the European tech startup scene every week.

My goal is to have my guests share their wisdom or having a little fun in the process. Now, let's. Alexina, welcome to Innovators Canola. How you doing today? Hi Eric. Thanks for having me. Pretty good. Thank you very much. How are you, ? Hey, I'm pretty good. I've got a little coat, so my voice sounds a little, a little strange, but I'm feeling good.

It's like summer here in Bucharest, just like it is over there in Varna, right? Yeah, it's over 20 degrees per the best. Few days and it's been amazing to be honest. Yeah, yeah. For those in the states, that's like above 75, which is really strange for November. So Alex Anina, where did you grow up and how has that shaped your view of the world?

So I grew up in Varna, which is set to be the Sea Capital, Bulgaria, because of the port. So we have a lot of commerce exchange here and it's also. Touristy city. So growing up I've been meeting people from all over the world because, well, it's pretty nice weather. The quality of the resorts are very nice for the price.

So we've had people from uk, Germany, Scandinavians from Russia, from Ukraine, and that of course gives you a more broad view on the world. And it also, you know, the sea gives you some kind of feeling of freedom when you see the, the vast horizon. Kind of feel like nothing is is impossible. There's no end point.

Yeah. So I would say that is something that gave me a lot, it gave me opportunity to. , you know, it's your dream if you would like to say so. And also I've been always very interested watching the ships coming and unloading the load and seeing how things are in the commercial world are going on. So that was pretty interesting for me.

So if it was a very dynamic city, although a very small one, it's not very small one, it's three, 300,000 people. Yeah. But it's very dynamic city. So. It kind of shaped me as the person I am today by, you know, me wanting to explore the world and being interested in commerce as well. Yeah, no, I can definitely agree with you because the resorts, we've gone back there for the past two years, and I did see a lot of other tourists, you know, from Sweden and I think from Spain as well.

It was really surprising because if you think Spain, there's beautiful beaches around Spain, but over there Ivana and along the sea coast of Bulgaria, the water's quite nice. The beaches are quite nice and, and just like you said, the resorts are sort of spectacular. I mean, I think they're. Almost better than anything I saw in Cancun.

be quite honest. Wow. . Now the partying is a different story, I think in Cancun. They're, yeah, they're on another level in terms of partying. But anyway, so as a kid, who did you wanna be? When you grew up, did you know that you were gonna be an entrepreneur? I would say so I didn't know that I wanted to have something on my own to make money on my own.

Uhhuh . And the reason for that was because when I was eight or nine years old, my father, who is a businessman and who is an engineer, so he's a very structured person, he gave me an Excel file, which I have to fill on a regular basis at eight years. He's giving you the Excel file. Okay? Yes. Okay. Yes. So I, I started school earlier, so I, I started school at six, so he gave me two years.

Yes. . Okay. So I had to fill this Excel file every week for a month, which was all my grades. I used to go to a lot of different sports and, you know, let's say piano, guitar languages. So I was very active child. and then I had to feel whether I help with the chores at home, meaning like, did I clean my room or did I help my mom?

Did I clean the yard, et cetera. And based on that, he would give me money, which I understand why he did and I'm very thankful for them. But I hated that here of authentic, clean myself to someone to get my morning. So one of the things I did was things that were more easier. I would pay some amount of the money to the kids around the block to clean the yard, for example, or something like that.

The younger ones , so you report on your Excel file that you cleaned the yard, but you would pay some other kids to do it. Well clean at the end of the day. So it doesn't really matter. I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah. So, yeah. Okay, so this gave me the, the understanding that I would not want to rely on anyone else or my money.

Yeah. This is why I actually started working at 30. So I, I started even earlier because I was started selling my old, my old toys or clothes or things like that, just to, you know, to, to, to feel that kind of independence. They're like, I don't need your surgery , and I can do my thing on my own. . I don't eat, drink Excel sheet.

That's funny. That's funny. Okay. Oh yeah. So I, I wanna step back because I'm a dad. My son's five and this is very interesting and so I don't know if I'll give him an Excel file when he turns eight, but I just wanna know every month you guys would sit down and you would kind of show him your file and all the things that he would evaluate it and decide what your allowance would be based on everything you accomplished that month.

Is that correct? Well, kind of like that. So I would. Him. So I was at the beginning, he would show me how to feel it, of course, because I was eight and I didn't know how Excel operated. So he would explain me and then every last Sunday of the month I would give it. I would present him to him, and then he would tell me, okay, like based on this and that.

And I have to mention that it included also how much I went out with my friends, which was important because he wanted to teach me that it's. All hard work. You have to, you know, go out with, for example, if there was a month that I didn't go out a lot or I didn't socialize, he would give me less money because he wanted to teach me the only working.

And, you know, hustling won't, won't help a lot to your mental and physical health, which was very important for me. So this, when they excel, this is very strange. A lot of people are shocked when I tell them. But it shaped me as a human to, to keep accountable about the things I do, and I would probably do that to my children, to be honest with you, because it really helped me a lot.

Okay. I am so fascinated by this. Is your father still alive? Yes, he is happy. Okay. . , because I, I want him to hear this story and I want him to realize that what he did, he obviously knows already, but it's just great that now that you're an. And his parenting may have been a little strange at that time.

I've never heard this myself, but it paid off and I think it's just a very remarkable story. So my hat's off to him as a father. Okay. So you had this Excel file. It seems like you get 13. You're like, wait a minute, dad, I can sell my own goods. I can make my own money. And so, so you, you became an entrepreneur at a very young age.

What was your early, early journey like as an entrepreneur starting from selling your own goods into how did, what did it transgress? So I was selling my goods from basically at the beginning with the Excel file because I knew things were not going very well for me. So I was, so I was doing sports from six, I was doing gymnastics and I was doing modern ballet and classical ballet.

So at the age of 13 there was this girls that I knew they were working, they, we were in the same ballet rou, so they were working at another ballet. Which was a professional ballet where they would dance at events or things like that. So I wanted to join them. They were much older than me. They were 18 or something, and by, so it's illegal to work at 13.

So I decided I'll give it a try. So I went there they had a training and I went to the. To the trainer, which is a Russian woman, ex Al, I don't know how it's in English. The most famous theater in Russia. Okay. I don't know how it's in English, to be honest. Shame on me. . Well, I don't know either, so shame on me either, but go ahead.

Yeah, but she, she was an ex trainer there, which is. A very high quality of a trainer. And I went to her and I told her, I wanna work for you. I wanna work with the other girls. And it was not only girls, dancing with boys and was very, very, very interesting. Very, very, very difficult as well, because they did very difficult moves.

Yeah. So I told her that I wanna work with her, and she was like, you are 13, I cannot hire you. And plus their people here are older and they're more professionals. So no . And then I was super, you know, like disappointed because I really wanted to, to try off, and I love dancing, so I just stopped everyone and started dancing in the middle of the room just to make her at least consider that.

And she was like, okay, you have the balls, so let's figure out how we can actually make that work. So she, she said that she cannot do that without the permission of my parents, of course. So next step was talking to my parents. And then I went to my father with kind of, I was ready that he would like say, no, no way.

I'm not letting my dollar at 13 dance at, you know, different events and you know, because sometimes it was in clubs and things like that. But he said, okay, so if you wanna make money out of sports, and you wanna make money on your own, I'm fine with that. But we have to go through, through the, you know, legal requirements, which at that time was that I had to register as a circus artist, , which is very interesting as well.

So, yeah, and I was doing that until I was 18. So that was pretty awesome because I went to most of the big events in the country and in va. I danced most of the, the, the flashiest nightclubs and clubs and whatever there, there was. So we traveled even abroad and it was pretty fascinating. I mean, I'll, because of course it doesn't always, doesn't always see something that a 13 year old child should see.

You know, it's nighttime. But it was very, it helped me to shape as a person and to, to work even harder than the professional artist. I was 13 and I was like very eager to prove myself and to show that I can dance and I can work and I can make my money. So that was pretty interesting and that was my first job.

Not exactly venture I would say, but it was my first job. But it was like, Like freelancing. I would like to see . That, that's crazy. So you're out and some of these events are like late at night, right? You're probably working like to pass midnight on many occasions and, and on the I have to go to school.

Yeah. Oh, wow. Basically, yeah. What kind of income were you pulling in? Like, I don't know, on an average week or month? On the monthly basis, I could easily do around 1.5 K Euro at an age of 14 that. That was 14 years ago. I'm 28 now. Yes. So I was doing pretty good, I would say yes. And at 16 and 17, at one point, I gained some popularity, especially in varna.

So clubs and events would call me. So I just could be at their event or a party just to be there. with friends, if I won, they would cover my drinking expenses, my eating expenses, wherever. Yeah. And they would pay me for that . So yeah, that, which was very interesting. Of course, my, my dad didn't let me when I was 16, but when I turned 17, kind of loosen up.

And at the age of 18 it was already legal, so it didn't really matter. Okay, so I, I think you're doing pretty. Okay. All right. So , what are you interested lately? And lately? What are you working on lately? , after telling all that? Well, , I was working, so my last job before Covid 19 was general manager at Cara Club and Beach Bar Sofia.

Which one of the biggest nightclubs And Sofia. Okay. Just give some, you know, context to people because right now I'm in supplements and Hills . Yeah. Yeah. And of course Covid 19 came, and by that time I already decided that I have to move from this lifestyle because as it's fun and lucrative and fancy, it could be it.

It also takes its toll. Okay. And it's usually quite expensive toll. So I decided I wanna move from that. I was 26 by that time, and I had to, so I had to, my team was over 70 people. I had to do a lot of, Tons of obligations. It was just a lot on my plate and I decided that I wanna take some time off during Covid and decide what I actually wanna do with my life.

And during this time I started doing my, you know, some, some self-care, doing face masks and hair masks and things like that. And at some point I started reading more about how to actually make something, which is not. Sore milk and mix, which are the homemade, usually products. And I started purchasing homemade or cosmetics ingredients from UK and Germany.

I started mixing actual products and, and putting them on Instagram stories. And at some point my friends started like, can you make me one? Can you make me one? Can you make me one? And at some point they were like 200 orders. in like two months or so. . Well, yeah. I was like, okay, I might actually have a business here.

And this is for a face mask that you were, you were using and showing on Instagram? Exactly. I was doing it with, so this is quite dangerous. Don't do at home, home like homemade products. There's a reason that they're done in special laboratory. Yeah. But how are you describing the product? Why was there a demand for it?

Because of your popularity or because you were saying that this feels better than other things out there in the market. Because people are crazy about homemade stuff because they think it's more natural. Yeah. So there's this huge misconception that the big brands, they just wanna poison you and they put all kinds of stuff in their products and things like that.

Yeah. Which is not at all true. I mean, so people like kind of very at and, and they kinda, without me saying the things are natural, they kind of thought, oh, it's homemade. It means it's natural and it's organic. And then she picks up the step from her garden and she just makes it, which was not the, the. and I had actually a very difficult time explaining to people that this is, I don't have a certificate.

I make, I make it in my kitchen. And I even filmed like Roses, , some people don't get confused, but how people wanted to get confused about it. So I sat down and read a lot about how to, to build the business around it. Did a financial, Okay. Applied for a program and get my first financing, which is a very small financing, was 10,000 Euros, something like that.

But it was enough to start with cosmetics and we were actually the first Bulgarian company that produced CBD cosmetics. Okay. Okay. Let, okay, let's take, take a step back here. Was the financing from like an accelerator or was it somebody who had reached out to you and said, I wanna be like an angel investor?

Like, can you describe that experience? No, no. It was, so it was a middleman institution from the European bank. So the European bank, you know, they, they give money through other institution and I just applied with my business plan, with my financial plan and it was a credit credit. It wasn't like, you know, equity finance or something.

Okay. Have you taken any, are around that time, did you take any workshops like for startups or accelerators or anything like that later on? No, at the beginning, no. I actually did it all myself because like, like I like to say, I Google my way through life, like basically we have all the information needed and as I mentioned, I'm pretty good with structures, , so I found it all on my own and later.

I, I joined an accelerator because of the contacts and the networking rather than the knowledge itself. Yeah. Okay. Oh, this is, this is just so crazy. Okay, so where are you at now? Like, like how many customers do you have? Are you just sort of delivering your product just in Bulgaria? Like what's the stake?

Curly? So with our civic company, we, with Exhibit Cosmetics, we started selling CBD oils, which are categorized as the supplements. Mm-hmm. and for the past. Two years, we had over 2000 customers and we're only operating in Bulgaria. And we do plan to expand around Romania, but there's a lot of work to do in Bulgaria still because people still are asking us questions about would it get me high, or things like that about the c b product.

So we do have a lot of work here. Before going, we wanted to enter Romania, but then like we talked to a few venture capitalists and there are. First, do this, this, and this, and then figure out how to enter Romania, which was very, how to say, awakening about our plants and where we at and what what, what I found really fascinating is the misinformation.

So if you're thinking the cosmetic industry, the misinformation is bad. In the supplement industry, things are worse. Like much worse. The regulation is very bad, and especially in the CBD B field because CBD B is a new ingredient, fairly new ingredient, and there's a lot of speculation going on about what it actually does and how it doesn't.

And people are very confused and most brands and influencers take advantage of that. And this is something. Makes me very angry and when I, what we do good at Ballet Go is that we actually extract information from clinical trials. The one that, the ones that are available now when synthesize them and inform people in more understandable ways.

We have a doctor on our team, she's a doctor in Germany, so she helps with that part and. People are trusting us that that's why they're coming back and back and back. And one thing I found very interesting is people started asking us about other type of supplements, for example, they, they, they, like, they send us, not to me personally, but to the, to the page of the brand they send us like, Should I drink this vitamin C or this vitamin C?

Know like we are not authorized to. Yeah. You know, to give you advice on this, but if you want to find reliable resources, you can read here, here, here. Yeah. And this happened over and over again, which showed me that there's a hunger for. For understandable, synthesized information and for the past few weeks I've been talking to people from all over the world and I interviewed around, I dunno, 300 and some people, and everyone has the same issue.

And it's with the ongoing misinformation that brands put out their marketing misinformation Yeah. With the claims they make and. A lot of label inaccuracies, and I'm not talking about only cbd, I'm talking about all kinds of supplements. Yeah. So we are talking about products that are top rated on Amazon that actually contain things in the product that are not mentioned on the label.

And this just. This is huge. This is very bad. And so we were talking with my co-founders and we decided that we want to find, to find out another company that, not to find out, but to establish a new company that would somehow set the standard in the industry. And we decided we would do that by working with.

only brands that first they, they do third lab tests on their products. Meaning that, you know that they test in, in labs, that they have nothing common with. Yeah. About the quality of their ingredients, which is very important. Mm-hmm. , they have the certificates that they claim that they have. Meaning if you say that you are vegan, Natural bio.

You, you, you can like provide the actual certificate and they don't use unethical marketing approaches. and there, there's some out there that are very good. They're not all in the eu. Most of them are in the United States or in Australia. So we decided we wanna go for that and we're now building that venture

So together with the CBD company. Yeah, we're building a new one right now, so yeah. That's what we are on right now. Awesome. Awesome. That is great to hear, Alexandria. Okay, a few other questions sort of about you, your personality, but also about your business here. So what was a specific hire that you made that really changed the company for you in a great way?

You mentioned that you have a doctor on the team now, but has there been another hire that has been really impactful? Well, the doctor, she's a co-founder. She's not a hire. It's to mention I would say a marketing expert who also. Technical expertise, meaning that she knows how to set up, let's say, WooCommerce and Cindy, and things that need technical understanding of what is possible, what if not, because sometimes as a founder you can get crazy.

You want this and that, and this and that. And if you don't have the technical big background, which I don't, yeah, you need someone who. Mar both marketing and technical needs to explain this to you. So this was a game changer. I learned with her a lot, like a lot, a lot, and it, it was definitely a, a game changer.

Okay. So you're on WooCommerce. Are you also in other platforms like Shopify? I do, yeah. Shopify is pretty, pretty good. I'm actually thinking about changing to shop. Right, okay. What's been the biggest driver? Like what channel in terms of customers, is it still Instagram or something else for CB. One interesting thing, meta doesn't allow ads for cbd, b d because it, it forbids it because it it says it's a drug.

This is because different countries have different regulations on CBDs too. And just, it's easier for them just to ban that. So for us, what was working a lot, and it still is, is influencer marketing. Okay. But I do, I take my time to do the due diligence with the influencers. So I dig very deep on their, like what they, what, what they've advertised, how they talk to their followers.

I very, very frequently observe how. They respond to the information that I'm giving them because as I said, it's very important not to share misleading information. It's easy to do that, and they're used to do that, so. It's a long process and it's an expensive one. So yes. Fls. How are you connecting with them?

Are you using an agency or is there a platform that you're using? No, I'm just looking for them. So, well, working in the clubs for so long help me knowing a lot of people that's so, some of them I know, some of them that I don't know. I ask someone that I know knows them to make me a warm intro so I can talk and understand better the values of the influencer.

I probably take too much time in that, but I very much pride myself in what we do and the way we do it. So I really am very specific about the people I want to work with. So, yeah. So warm interests. Okay. What's a habit that you, that has really contributed to a lot of your success? A habit that you consistently do?

Making my bed first thing in the morning. Okay. Absolutely. Yeah. Now I've heard there was a commencement speech or, or something where somebody mentioned, I cuz it kind of gives you your sense of accomplishment very early in the day. That is more that, that is my father again, like he , I mean, he would not let me leave my my room in the mornings until I will make my bed.

For this. Again, I'm very thankful for him to him because like the discipline, the, you know, you just know you have this one thing and there, there, even if I'm staying at a hotel, I've never like left my bed messy. Like I don't do that. I don't like that. And so, yeah, that's. That's one thing. Okay. All right.

What was the highest stakes negotiation that you have been in? Oh wow. . I would like to say my first job when I asked my dad if I can work for, for the globe. But no, that's a difficult one. Hmm. I'm not sure, to be honest. Oh, probably when I was talking to, to the main expert of the country for food and cosmetics, regulat.

When it came to the C B D, so I had to kind of negotiate with him the terms on for us on registrating, the product because, so, Right before we registrated the product, bef like the EU commission w didn't still have this regulation where it said like we, we forbid all the European countries to forbid civil commerce.

Mm-hmm. . . So it was right before that when we started. So I had to talk to him to allow us to test and make our product because we knew this, this legislation will come. It was just a matter of time. So I had to talk to him and to negotiate with him so that he could allow us okay, to do that. It wasn't illegal, but it wasn't legal either.

So we it was in the gray area. Yeah. Probably if I didn't talk to him, it wouldn't much matter. But it, it was just, you know, it, it gave us the, the, the, the sense of, you know, of really established brand. It was security established brand. We, we very much pride ourselves in the way we work in our principles.

Yeah. So, and. He was okay with that. It took some time, but at the end of the day he gave us a huge support and he was Advi advised us on some things, which was very important for us. Yeah. Okay. Last question for you. This is just really a fun question. What is a word that rhymes with date or heart or kiss, date?

Skate heart, like one word or different words. One word you could pick from those three. So, date, heart, or kiss? We on date? Skate . Okay. Skate. Okay. Alex Anina, thank you so much for being on Innovators to Laugh. I will include links to Alexina's dent Profile as well as her website. And for everybody listening, feel free to share elevators, to laugh with your friends.

That's how we grow. And until next week, goodbye and continue hustling out there. Cheers.

Thanks for listening to the show. If you enjoyed it, I'd really appreciate it if you could give us a review and star rating. Also, don't forget to sign up for the ICO newsletter@innovatorskalaugh.com where you can get the bio and details of each guest. Thanks.