Most of us think of heroes as outsized human beings, people inflated by religion, legend, or history—or characters from comic books.
Years ago, the great scholar of comparative mythology, Joseph Campbell, defined a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” In The Hero with A Thousand Faces, his 1949 classic, Campbell summarizes the epic journey taken by extraordinary people across all cultures: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
But, of course, heroes don’t belong just to the supernatural. They exist in sports and military history—and not just for their conspicuously daring exploits. Think of the impact of Francysk Skaryna of Polotsk, who first printed the Psalter into Old Belarusian in 1517. Or how the political alliance of Nikolay Radziwil Black with his cousin (“the Red”) cemented the independence of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania against Russia and Poland.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. And, in the last few decades, they have emerged in legion numbers from the business world. The standouts, determined to change the world, are now almost as well-known for their tragic flaws as for their extraordinary accomplishments. These days we celebrate Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Sergei Brin and Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and others for their extraordinary accomplishments—but we also recognize the unintended harm and havoc that these great innovators have brought us.
Entrepreneurs are intriguing, valuable, and flawed human beings like the rest of us mortals. And we can learn as much from their mistakes as we can from their successes.
That is the focus of The Heroes, a new media, education, and networking startup based in Minsk but, like many Belarusian startups, aiming to reach the world.
Entrepreneurs have so much to learn from and teach one another. And while there are well-articulated networks of outreach and mentorship in the U.S., where I live, there are none in Belarus. The Heroes intends to play a critical mentorship role by discovering, studying, and connecting mainly IT startups with their peers, more advanced entrepreneurs, and with investors.
Belarus already has a rich tradition of entrepreneurship from which to draw—including companies that predate the creation of High-Tech Park back in 2005.
Founded in 1992, Regula Forensics — one of the leaders in the authentication of documents, banknotes, and securities. “Our unique value proposition is that we have combined the knowledge of forensics, automation, and modern digital technologies in our products, ” says CEO and co-founder Ivan Shumsky. For the 2018 year turnover at the company has grown by more than 25%. It is now doing business with law enforcement agencies in 135 countries, including North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand.
At the opposite end of the tech spectrum is Studio Sutoria, a maker of designer shoes, founded in 1995 by Marina Shalimo. Sutoria is hardly focused on hyper-speed growth. Today it produces only 150 pairs of shoes each month, pulling in about $360,000 a year. But it has compiled an enviable client list not just from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia but from the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, the Gulf States, and China. It collaborates with Hollywood and costume designers. Its shoes can be seen on luminaries like Nadezhda Babkina, Anna Sharkunova, and Irina Afanasyeva, as well as on models along the catwalks of Milan, Paris, London, Minsk, Kiev, and Moscow.
What lessons can other entrepreneurs learn from such different veteran companies? That’s the aim of The Heroes: to unpack the meaningful stories of entrepreneurs.
The Heroes will also dwell on the experiences of fast-growing startups like PandaDoc, Teslasuit, and WANNABY—among the hottest new companies out of Belarus.
How did PandaDoc, which automates all stages of working with documents, increase turnover by more than 600% over the last three years? What growing pains has it sustained?
What technical milestones — and minor setbacks — has Teslasuit achieved in producing the first full-body interface with a digital environment? What are the biggest opportunities and dangers for a haptic, VR company?
And what sorts of lessons does an experienced entrepreneur like Yury Melnicheck bring to his augmented reality startup WANNABY, after founding two companies he sold to Google and Mail.ru?
Look for compelling, detailed answers to such challenges in the coming months. And welcome to The Heroes.