two men inside a warehouse

Failure is an option: How Europe’s entrepreneurs bounce back from mistakes stronger than ever

For Russian entrepreneur Fyodor Ovchinnikov, the failure of his first business, a chain of bookshops he owned for four years, fueled him to reexamine how he implemented technology within his businesses.

In his previous bookstore business, Ovchinnikov tried to implement various technological solutions to no avail, but he used that experience to learn from his mistakes. He developed his next business, “a tech-driven pizza chain” that addressed inefficiencies in the food service sector that could be improved with technological solutions and an innovative business model.

“I reevaluated my approach and employed an agile philosophy to get things done — by cutting the platform in blocks and launching updates in small batches. And it worked.”

Placing technology at the heart of businesses leads to success

Fyodor Ovchinnikov

Based on this tech-driven approach to move forward, in 2011 he founded Dodo Pizza, which is currently the leader in Russia’s pizza delivery market. It has developed from a makeshift basement operation to more than 700 stores in 13 countries across Europe and beyond.

Ovchinnikov says the secret to Dodo Pizza’s success can be largely attributed to a tech-first approach, which has helped with the business operation side and inspired confidence from team members and customers. Ovchinnikov’s approach addressed inefficiencies in the food service sector that could be improved with cutting-edge technology.

From the beginning, Ovchinnikov developed and incorporated Dodo IS across all levels of the business. Dodo IS is a cloud-based platform and Dodo’s unique digital system, which connects everything together, from tablets in the kitchen for processing food orders to the customer-facing tools for online ordering. Using technological solutions is transforming the Dodo Pizza franchise, but also the overall market which Ovchinnikov believes helps expand businesses in a more manageable way.

“The future lies with digitized franchises,” he says. “When your processes are digitized, it’s much easier to control them, especially on a scale when you have hundreds of units and millions of small operations. And with the rise of IoT and artificial intelligence (AI), this trend is slated to get even more critical.”

For Ovchinnikov, staying up to date with technological developments is vital and a way to stay ahead of the competition. The entrepreneur’s digital-first mindset is not only securing the business’s ongoing success, but it is also ensuring Dodo Pizza continues to innovate and adapt to market needs. For example, in 2014 the company made the first commercial pizza delivery by drone. While many stores and restaurants were forced to close its doors during the pandemic, Ovchinnikov saw this period as an opportunity to expand and transform Dodo Pizza from a pizza company to a food service group, launching Doner 42, a doner kebab concept, and Drinkit, a new coffee shop brand. Both ventures leverage mobile technology. For example, orders placed in the app generate more than 50% of Drinkit sales.

Modern technologies used in the kitchen.

“Having great digital products for customers is a must now,” he says. “We’re constantly experimenting with every new technology. We’ve been a digital company from the very beginning. That’s our advantage over the market incumbents who sometimes have a hard time trying to adapt to this new reality.”

Embracing tech-driven solutions helps businesses stay ahead of the game

Technology played an equally important role in allowing Czech CEO Simona Kijonková to innovate and rejuvenate in business. In 2008 Kijonková’s media company went bankrupt following the global financial crisis. Rather than letting this setback derail her, Kijonková used the opportunity in 2010 to migrate to the retail market, launching Zásilkovna, a digital service that helps build a bridge between IT and logistics. The company has grown steadily, with 40.5 million shipments made in 2020 supporting over 30,000 e-shops in more than 30 countries across Europe, Russia, the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates.

Simona Kijonková

“When I think about projects or products, I always start in IT – how to develop it, include more automation,” says Kijonková, who during the past year, began using solar-powered robotic dispensing points, cashless payments and Microsoft Teams to provide her employees and customers better service during the pandemic. For her, technology became not only about success, but about survival.  Zásilkovna uses Microsoft Azure to process in real time the vast quantities of data the company works with and enables the business to have agile responses to market demands and changes.

Technology helps businesses navigate tough times

What makes Kijonková’s approach unique is Zásilkovna’s innovative business model. Kijonková implemented a data-driven approach and by working with smaller and local shops and services, such as travel agents or hairdressers, used them as pick-up locations for local residents. Similar to Ovchinnikov, Kijonková’s digital and original approach to business enabled Zásilkovna to expand during the pandemic.

Her business model helped many local shops to continue operating as collection points even during lockdown. This process has mutual benefits for the businesses and for the customers, who can choose a convenient location close to their home and simultaneously discover new shops and stores. Data also played a vital key role, while placing technology at the heart of the customer experience and contributing substantially to the successful expansion of Zásilkovna.

Kijonková is always looking for new ways to automate systems and use technology such as AI in her business.

“We already have some experience in AI, through our chatbots, voice bots and webpage but this is still not enough,” she says. “So, we built an innovation hub in the company and told colleagues to treat it like a game and have fun – there are no rules, and we should try to play with ideas. I believe that the best ideas come through when you try to make things fun.”

Kijonková hopes that her approach can be an example for other entrepreneurs – particularly when it comes to adopting a digital as well as ecological approach. She hopes to show the way and inspire others to place these two areas at the core of their businesses, while also positively influencing customer behavior along the way.

Looking back at her previous business venture, Kijonková says that it’s important “not to collapse, but to try to adapt to it,” and placing technology at the heart of her business has helped her bounce back.

Z-BOX self-service pick up point of Zásilkovna.

On one hand, various lockdown measures and quarantine requirements proved challenging, and on the other, these obstacles encouraged businesses like Zásilkovna to innovate. Kijonková believes that the most successful business strategies involve optimizing customer service and operations through technology.

“I believe the fastest-growing companies worldwide think digital and ecological, as part of their values,” she says. “If you try to show the way and be a role model, explaining to customers why you use these ecological and digital systems, you can really change their minds and behaviors – maybe even the mindset of other entrepreneurs. My advice would be: Don’t be discouraged. Invent. Do business. Be brave.”

Top photo: Zásilkovna depot.