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Entrepreneurs show they’ve got mojo

  • 2012-12-20
  • By Steven G. Traylor

FUN FOR ALL: MoJo’s shelves are full of challenging products.

What a funky business this is, with growth going from selling only Cheata toys five years ago, to now including 4,000 products in the line-up. The names Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are synonymous with individual entrepreneurial spirit, drive and ambition when starting out from an idea, seeing it through to fruition. And many throughout the world are doing just this on a daily basis, striving for that “little something,” which will separate them from the crowd and provide personal and economic reward in business at the same time.

Here in Riga, similar drive and ambition exists, along with entrepreneurial commitment with the likes of Polina Klimenko and Arsens Morins - two lifelong friends who have cultivated their creative spirit in a funky, “we’ll never grow up” attitude. They’ve created a thriving business, from a “we started with nothing” beginning. They both have big plans, and their attitude is primed for lifelong business development, and success.

These late 20-somethings have been business partners for all intent and purposes for some two-thirds of their lives; when as teen  agers, they would get together with their friends at parties, and play computer games and “think about a business to start someday,” says Klimenko with a smile. At the early age of eight, both were ‘computeraholics.’  
As teenagers, school was still their top priority, but the pair did experiment with different business ideas. These two kicked around a lot of ideas before coming up with something they thought would work, in 2005. But, “everyone needs money” to start a business, says Morins. “So, I sold my guitar to come up with some money,” he adds. Money is always in short supply. Ideas are not. The idea that the two put forward was simple, direct, and to the point.  

The idea?  

The pair approached a local property management firm that once a month sent out billings for the normal utilities: sewer, water, and gas statements. To be more exact, “200,000 statements a month,” says Klimenko. This was the basis of their first business venture. They used the back side of the billing statement (which is normally blank) to provide a marketing message and product that they thought would sell. The product was simply a funky little statuette of several different animals. Remember, you have to start somewhere.  

They did all the work and management on behalf of the property management company; the firm simply mailed out the statements as their normal business practice. In turn, the property management firm would receive a small cut of the revenue for the products sold, and the two were in business. Still, they kept their full-time job – as students. Klimenko had her studies in journalism and Morins in economics, thus covering the basis for any successful business model: communications and business management.

Despite the successful idea of using something already available – the back side of the property management statement – success did not come instinctually for these two aspiring future chief executives. But, for the few years they worked with the property management firm, billings, and alternating various consumer products, they learned through trial and error “what will work” for us, says Morins.

Today as college graduates, they command a bubbling empire of three retail stores in Riga, and an Internet portal with thousands of consumer items to select from – a ‘toy land’ for adults. December is very busy for the company, which has 12 full-time sales associates.

Says Klimenko about their company MoJo, “Our product range is a living organism. In 2007 we started with designer toys, in 2008 we offered naughty products, and in 2009 we had too much Chinese stuff,” on the shelves.
If first impressions count, MoJo’s original location was not necessarily customer friendly, but certainly cost effective. They set up shop in a Riga warehouse, sales center, receiving/distribution center and office, all rolled into one. The young, funky customer base they were targeting would walk up several flights of stairs to enter the world of MoJo’s first retail shop, on the third floor. Nothing impressive about location, but once inside, it was adult toy land!
Says Morins, “As university students, both of us had different jobs. Most were part-time, anything we could do while studying at the university. When we decided to work together, we were motivated to start something on our own. In our hearts, we will always be students – we were not going to wear suits, whether we are selling petroleum oil or dealing with the real estate business. We’re selling toys and games, all those things that bring joy to people.”

Success comes from within

Professor Juris Ulmanis at Riga Business School supports the notion that success is a personal thing. “Students tend to experiment right from the start to try things and to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. Technology has played a key role in shaping the attitude of young people today. The vast resources and possibilities of the Internet shapes their attitude, their approach to life, and how they solve problems.”  

Business development continues for MoJo’s, with the opening of store number three in Old Town during October. A major financial investment for the two, with no bank financing involved, MoJo’s Old Town location better represents the image that both principles would like to convey to their endless young customer base. Easy to find, customer friendly, and a ‘welcome’ from sales associates awaits any potential customer entering the front door.

Success breeds competition

The likes of the shop Tiger, from Latvia, with a similar product line of low cost knick-knacks, trinkets and other items for the household, at low prices, and franchised stores in several countries offer competition for shops like MoJo’s. Next year MoJo’s will have a refined Internet portal, more store expansion with franchising reflective of the Old Town store, constant fine tuning of the product offering to better meet the needs of their customer, say the owners. This should keep them on the road to continued success.