Stanford MBA alumnus profile: Maxim Faldin | TopMBA.com

Stanford MBA alumnus profile: Maxim Faldin

By Pavel Kantorek

Updated Updated

Maxim Faldin is the cofounder of online marketplace Wikimart – an industry leader in the field of e-commerce in the Russian-speaking world. He is a graduate of the Stanford MBA program, graduating in 2009. He had real-life entrepreneurial experience prior to enrolling at business school, having run a couple of small-medium enterprises – so why did he decide to do an MBA?

“Why is the wrong question,” he replies. “It was a necessity!” For Faldin, it was not about gaining business skills – he was happy with his ability to run a business – but more a question of vision. “I wanted to be able to think big, to take higher risks, and be able to communicate and connect with people on this level – I knew I wanted to do something significant.”

A Stanford MBA, it goes without saying, is a good choice for those looking to gain such a mindset, known as it is for its culture of entrepreneurship. Accordingly, Faldin, who was also accepted into Berkeley Haas and London Business School, opted for Stanford, as he felt it would help him raise his game: “Stanford motivated me – I just knew that that is where I needed to go.”

The Stanford MBA difference

Part of this came from rubbing shoulders with the elite businesspeople that make up the Stanford MBA cohort. “Most things you learn, you learn from your classmates, rather than textbooks or even professors and speakers.  At Stanford, the people are among the best in their field. I’ve never come across people who had such incredible business skills when it came to investment, for example – I’d never be able to do what they can…though then I can do a lot of things they can’t too!”

In respect to latter point, Faldin was able to offer a unique perspective as a result of his experience of dealing with all aspects of running his own business, particularly being accountable to no one but his investors. “I knew what it is to be ultimately in charge. There is a huge gap between those with a CEO or VP above them and an entrepreneur who has nobody. That was something that many people didn’t even know they didn’t know.”

The tightness of the cohort also meant that he gained a great deal from his classmates’ personal experiences. “Once or twice a day you would hear a great and very profound story about someone’s life or experiences. Things you might never be exposed to in your typical life. Those stories gave you so much context and perspective.” This really completed the experience for Faldin.

So, what did he feel were the key business skills he took away from his MBA? He reiterates his confidence in his technical skills, before explaining that it was those all-important soft-skills which this MBA really allowed him to build upon. “This was a weak spot of mine, interpersonal skills, how to manage a small group of people, how to manage yourself in a small group of people – a very psychological level of things.” He also believes his communication skills improved significantly, and that his level of English became a good deal more sophisticated.

Wikimart – capturing the e-commerce zeitgeist 

The Stanford MBA also introduced him to the idea that was to provide the germ for Wikimart, when one of the founders of Latin American online marketplace Mercado Libre – who were also Stanford alumni – spoke about the challenges of making the company public. The talk focused on finance, but it was the entrepreneurial undercurrent that really captured Faldin’s imagination. “It was so interesting to hear how 10 years ago people were working on this idea, despite the limitations of the time and place. I remember thinking we were in much better shape in Russia in terms of infrastructure. That’s what I told my partner (also a Stanford MBA), and we worked through the idea further and further. And now we’re one of the leading companies in the e-commerce space!”

Of course, there were numerous challenges to be overcome from this ‘name and a presentation’ stage of proceedings. “Difficulties? You need to identify the most important…and ignore the rest,” Faldin half jokes. “This being 2008-09, the biggest challenge was to raise money.” Clearly though, Wikimart captured the e-commerce zeitgeist. Their idea of a Russia-focused online marketplace captured the imaginations of those with the money to back such a vision, to the extent that they managed to attract 20 high-profile angel investors – only one of whom was from Russia. At the time, the entrepreneur explains, this was unprecedented.

Today, Faldin considers himself to be one of the most knowledgeable players in the e-commerce field, and in possession of one the strongest sets of business skills. The success of Wikimart would confirm this. Four and half years on, the online marketplace goes from strength-to-strength; the job, however, remains unfinished. “We knew it would take seven years to get to where we wanted to be, to complete the mission.” Indeed, he advises any would-be entrepreneurs to use seven years as a projected timescale if they aim to achieve anything meaningful. “The main value doesn’t come in the first three years, it comes later.” This is particularly important in relation to his final piece of advice: think big. “Do something significant – think big. This is a mistake I used to make. Aim to create a company worth at least US$100 million.”

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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