Becoming an Entrepreneur: My Journey to Starting a Business

By Olga Kingsbury, CPDC Career Coach

Where I come from, entrepreneurs were violently prosecuted by the government for any commercial activity for 70 years. A person involved in business of any kind was called a “spekulyant”, a disgraceful term, and was thrown in jail.

I was born the year the Soviet Union collapsed. Entrepreneurship bans were lifted and people were free to do business. Even though I personally never experienced prosecution of any kind, my parents’ outlook on life was very much affected by the communist regime. I was raised in an environment where financial affluence, entrepreneurship activity, or any other sign of commercially-driven behavior was associated with fear and anxiety, and ultimately frowned upon.

I was raised to pursue a “noble” profession like teaching at a university, being a lawyer, or being a doctor. Business was a non-existent option…until summer 2012. That summer, I came to the United States as an exchange student to work a sales job at a beachfront kite store in Ocean City, Maryland. What was supposed to be just a fun summer gig, changed my life forever.

I won all sales competitions that season, with limited English and no background in sales. Getting to know my customers and making their vacation a lifetime memory was the most rewarding experience. I realized I really loved connecting with people then. The store owner, Jay Knerr, encouraged me to pursue business. I chuckled. I had a highly respected academic career planned ahead.

I returned to Russia and graduated with a degree in Linguistics. I could not, however, forget how fulfilled I felt working in sales. I spent the next 5 years chasing that sense of fulfillment – I did research, I taught at a university, I worked as an interpreter, I did a Master’s in teaching, and immigrated to the US.

Life became more complex with my immigration struggles, and when I discovered new career interests. I found Career Coaching and fell in love. While I enjoyed teaching students how to build and “sell” their professional brand to employers, I was still missing the fulfillment from direct sales.

In 2018, I started sharing insights from my academic, career, and immigration journey on my personal Instagram account. I started helping friends and acquaintances get into top European and US schools and grew my audience to 3.8K. I realized I had a unique combination of knowledge, experiences and talents, for which there is a demand in the market. I started building my brand and selling my services.

As an immigrant living and working full-time in the United States, I feel that I left a big part of my identity back home. My Instagram business is a way to preserve my culture, professionally engage in my native language, maintain a community, and fully live my identity.

My business embodies everything that I am – a career coach, a business owner, a sales person, a content creator, a proud Russian American… I can be it all!

What can you be?

  • To discuss your career journey, including entrepreneurship options, schedule an appointment with a career coach here
  • Join us for an Entrepreneurship Panel: Lessons Learned Building a Social Media Business on February 11th at 3.30 pm. Our speakers will share their journey of turning their passion into successful careers.