It’d be fair to say that every day, people set challenges, directed both at themselves, and, at the world around them. Of the enormous number of tests that befall us, there are a few that meet us at the crossroads of life —  how we respond to them determines our future. Then, for a long time to come, we look back and try to understand whether we had faced up to the challenge, and what path we’d ended up going down. The fear of wrong turns, the fear of the abyss, hangs over our daily existence, sucking more than a few into a condition where their actions are stupefied, somehow all coming out muted. But not Alexei Lokontsev, the founder of TOPGUN, Russia’s largest and fastest-growing network of upscale barbershops.

I think that many entrepreneurs have stories about a difficult peri-od, when everything collapsed, and they felt like they had neither the strength, nor the desire, for a comeback. I was in debt. My wedding business was dead, and of course, I had to rebuild, because in these situations, you understand that it’s either kill or be killed. At one point, something clicked in my head, like a perfect tool in the hands of a skilled coiffeur — I found the solution.

Then I took part in Synergy Business School’s forum, and, if you take a look now at the pictures from that day, you’ll see some pretty big changes. I’ve lost a lot of hair, but more importantly, I’ve completed changed it. Despite having thor-oughly prepared for that photo shoot, I hadn’t trimmed or combed it, and I looked like a weirdo. In the moment I realized this, another idea struck me: in Russia, no one is seriously engaged with styling men’s hair — it’s an empty niche. I told my friends about my new idea to create an elite barbershop, but they just laughed, saying: "You already sold dresses — we know what your relationship with busi-ness is." They argued that no one would pay such "exorbitant" sums to have their head groomed. But you should never listen to people who aren’t professionals — it’s fool-ish to be guided by the doubts of people who simply have no idea what they’re talking about. Yeah, they get their hair cut for pennies, but are they capable of ensuring the quality of the devices they’re being shaved by, or that they won’t have their hair pulled out by dull scissors?

Having gotten my feet wet in Tula, which hadn’t believed it was in need of upscale men’s hair salons, I then looked to the Moscow franchises, at how the market there worked, and noticed that when sitting inside the salon of one of my potential competitors, I was uncomfortable and bored. I wanted to do things differently. I had total confidence that I would succeed, because I proceeded from a place of having love for my client: I wanted to buy the best chairs for him; I want to sell him the best products. I wanted to create a small shop for men, and give the clients what I’d want for myself, only even better. My competitors didn’t even have a TV playing commercials, which could at least offer a bit of distraction while you’re waiting in line — I went beyond this, and bought a Playstation for the guests with kids. This wasn’t a loss, because, as it turns out, it’s not only children who like to play it while waiting — adults do as well. Never say the word "expensive" when starting up a business. Ask yourself this: would you want to patronise a place that’s pinching pennies with you? You need to get rid of your greed. I took a risk, I put a lot into my business, and I don’t regret it at all.
Today, I look back with a smile on how difficult it was starting out, because I’ve overcome it. Where I am now, who I am and what I do, is the result of that difficult place life had put me in. And my starting point was the moment when I put my fists up and embraced the challenge. What is it that stimulates growth in me? Setting for myself new, ambitious goals, and taking up new challenges. At first, all my thoughts were focused on TOPGUN, but now, we’ve come up with something new — COSMOS, black water. Usually, the first thing people associate it with is Coca-Cola. Our product does have a black color, but it tastes no different from regular water, and this drink, developed in Canada, is enriched with humic complex, which, we could say, is the complete opposite of the famous soft drink, and is the best option for the athlete. I also have other projects that I’m working on, not for money, but just because it’s something we all need. I always thought that every niche was occupied, and it does seem that way to almost everyone. But the world is actually an open thing; you just have to inspect it very carefully, find what you love, turn on your imagination, and find a way to make it better.

Making something that’s close to the ideal product, you pose a serious challenge to the entire market. A lot of people come along who want to collaborate with us, but who then shrug their shoulders: "Your proposal’s cool, but … we don’t buy it." They’re just afraid of such nearly perfect products being sold. They say that somewhere in the details, I must be lying, and they’re afraid that their money will be invested in the wrong place. And that fear’s just in their head. Opening my first barbershop, I had to think: Should I do it again? Should I get back in business? Moreover, into a niche that doesn’t even exist yet?
I’ve identified three defects, which, if you just rid yourself of them, you can succeed in everything. They are: fear, greed, and stupidity. The main thing is have love for your client, as for yourself. Then, there will be no greed, because to love, you have to truly be strong. Fear will disappear with the confidence that the product is perfect. And if you manage to tune out the input of incompetent people, becoming yourself an expert in your field, then any stupidity will disappear. I think the above applies not only to business: these defects will prevent any success in life. Having laid these out for myself, I’ve been able to progress along my path.

Overcoming obstacles will propel you further, with even greater zeal. Due to the fact that I don’t drink, have never smoked or even tried it, I’m sometimes asked: "So how is it that you’re always buzzing?" I get buzzed off the morning! I open my eyes and I know that there are so many things to be done today! Before me, every day, there are a lot of tasks, and getting them done, by the evening I feel an incredible sense of euphoria, of the sort that some people, apparently, only manage with the use of alcohol and other plea-surable stimulants. And if your favorite business is a bit small, find a few more — challenge yourself. And if you accept those challenges, you will be happy.