How MAI graduate's company became the world IT marketing leader
Dmitry Stepanenko, MAI Institute No. 4 "Radioelectronics, Infocommunications and Information Security" graduate, is the founder of the Russian startup Hot-Wi-Fi, the software developer for marketing business automation. The idea to create his own hi-tech business came to him when he was on the fifth course of the university. The newborn startup grew rapidly, transforming into a giant of the technological advertising market. Now the company's partner network counts 16 countries: Russia, England, Canada, Spain, Turkey, Thailand, and others. On the 10th of February America also joined this list, making the company the world leader among international competitors in terms of the number of regions of presence.
Dmitry told MAI press service about his professional path and how MAI helped him fulfill his potential as an entrepreneur, and also gave some advice to students who dream of starting their own business.
Why did you decide to study at MAI?
I was fond of everything related to IT. Two years before admission, I was interested in the "Integrated protection digital objects" specialization at Moscow Aviation Institute. I went to Doors Open Day, listened to the teachers, felt the atmosphere of the institute, and made my choice.
How did you discover your interest in entrepreneurship?
I have always answered the question "Who do you want to become when you grow up?" - "The entrepreneur!" very confidently. I am not sure what has exactly ignited this desire; I don’t remember my exact thoughts on this matter. Rather, it is thanks to my creativity. I like to solve new problems every day and invent something new. I like freedom of decision making, I like communicating with interesting people. Entrepreneurship combines it all.
What role did MAI play in your development as a professional and how did it contribute to your success? Did the knowledge gained at the university help you then and how does it help you now?
The specialization that I chose has definitely helped me in entrepreneurship. Comprehensive protection of digital objects gives the experts to see how different areas of business activities of companies are arranged. I understand what developers, lawyers, engineers, and designers are talking about. It helps a lot to organize work processes efficiently.
Was your team originally from MAI? How did you create the team?
The first team consisted of half of the students of Moscow Aviation Institute – the experts from different courses and specializations. I needed a team with engineering knowledge, and through the social networks of the university, I quickly found the right people. Now there are several MAI graduates in my team. One of them has been working with us for 5 years already.
Our doors are open to students and graduates of Moscow Aviation Institute. We are actively growing and we always have a lot of vacancies.
Can you tell us more about how Hot-Wi-Fi is helping business today?
In 8 years, the market has changed a lot, many different technologies data processing, and tools for business have appeared. More and more companies depend on online customer acquisition. For many, this is the only sales channel. The narrow niche for online sales is data. It helps to find out whom to show ads to, how often, who the client is, what his interests are, and so on.
We help to solve the problem of collecting the right customer data. Guest Wi-Fi networks collect information about connected people. There is no need to have a big base, look-alike tools work well now. After collecting only 1000 contacts, it is possible to launch ads to a similar audience on social networks.
WiFi Radars collect information within the radius of 70 meters about mobile devices that are on. Thanks to the integration with advertising platforms, we give our clients the ability to customize advertising for the audiences. Everything is done according to the legislation; we do not collect personal data. However, we often face ambiguous attitudes towards our technologies.
Recently I watched the “the Bell” interview with the famous entrepreneur Yuri Miller. His point of view was very close to mine. Targeted advertising is one of the achievements of mankind. If, when accessing the Internet, we would see inappropriate ads for us, we would be much less comfortable being online. And we help both businesses and clients. The user sees only what responds to his request. And the business can reach the right audience, save on the advertising budget and not include huge marketing funds in the cost of goods.
What was the reason for the rapid growth of Hot-Wi-Fi?
We entered the commodity market, made a slight shift in it, and got the blue ocean. Let me explain it to those who do not know the term. The blue ocean strategy involves abandoning the struggle for demand in the existing market and means the creation of a new one.
In general, this strategy is used to "create blue oceans." There is something familiar to everyone here. For example, let's take circus. We remove the animals from there, change the concept and get Cirque du Soleil - a completely new format, the one that is unlike anything we saw before. At the same time, with confirmed demand in the market, and there are many such examples. Now we work in 14 countries through distribution partners, and in the UAE and the USA, we go out on our own now.
In February, you announced your entry into the US market. What difficulties do you see there?
The main difficulty is to find a local “partner guide” who, together with us, will develop the product in the new market. Any niche needs an entrepreneur who will be inside the processes. This allows minimizing tactical mistakes, building the right marketing strategy and working with the local team. We thought about entering the United States for a long time, as we could not find a partner. But now we are at the stage of technical launch of the product, we will soon be moving to active sales. By the end of the year, we plan to sign our 100th client on the US market.
What advice would you give to MAI students who see themselves in entrepreneurship?
If I were advising myself as a student, I would say:
Go and get hired as an assistant to the entrepreneur who inspires you. I would gain tremendous experience working with him, and the entrepreneur would have the most motivated assistant.
Spend more time doing various sports, music, constantly learn something new, broaden your horizons and learn useful skills.
Think not about what you need to do, but think about what you need to stop doing to achieve the desired goal.