Meet the man who makes Tranio work: Mikhail Bulanov, executive director
Mikhail Bulanov, executive director at Tranio, has been here since the beginning. It may have started with the email system and the balance sheet, but now it’s his job to make sure the company and the office run smoothly every day, month and year. In this interview, he explains how the company was forged, who the ideal employee is, and how to reconcile family and job perfectly.
In the beginning…
— Mikhail, how did you end up at Tranio?
— That’s a long story… Actually I’ve known George since I was a student. During my first year at university, I began working at Optimism, an advertising agency, together with George Kachmazov, Tranio’s managing partner. Back then I was a simple optimiser and there were about five of us working at the company. By the time I was senior, there were almost a hundred employees and we were leaders on the market — that’s when I got promoted to technical director and head of contextual advertising department. But George and I had this feeling that we would rather work on our own project rather than advertising others, and it was about then that George's parents decided to buy a flat abroad. That’s how the idea took shape: create a project that would connect foreign real estate agents with Russian clients who have no clue about overseas property markets. Little by little, I moved away from Optimism and began working on Tranio.
— So when did you get Tranio off the ground?
— In 2010, Vladimir Zakharov, our senior information architect, and I spent a marathon month in Sochi, devising how our new company would look and work. I was on the business plan, product description, while Vladimir was designing the website interface and user interaction logic. The result of 30 days of total social isolation was an elaborate vision for the company. Armed with our project, we hired a design team and started to create our product. The first step: launching a website that aggregated foreign property news, that “taught” search engines our existence and “showed” that our website was operating. While we added content, we were also defining the core of our product, finding real estate agents for our property catalogue to introduce to our clients who were interested in buying real estate. Initially sellers could advertise for free, enabling us to have the largest overseas property catalogue on the Russian web. That’s when we shifted our focus from quantity to the quality of listings and started eliminating the incomplete, the unintelligible and what was just plain spam.
— But now Tranio has a different strategy...
— Yes, over time we realised that this business model could not generate enough profit over a reasonable time so we changed our approach and opened a Sales Department to advise potential buyers and help them find the right property.
Meet the woman behind the Sales Department, Marina Filichkina.
— There are rumours suggesting you also found the name “Tranio”
— Those aren’t rumours, it’s all true. When we were building the project's brand, in one of our discussions (we tried to take all the decisions together), we were reminded of my nickname at uni: “Tranio” — a story that includes me waiting for a girl at the library and reading a play by Plautus — Tranio was a character in the play, both a servant and an advisor of protagonist. The nickname stuck with me for a while and later, fit our project’s philosophy perfectly...
— How has your role changed at Tranio?
— Before, I was in charge of technical design and financial planning, but our team was small and everybody was in charge of everything. There wasn’t really such a thing as the segregation of duties. Apart from the technical and financial things, I was also doing advertising, for example.
— Tranio is now much bigger, are you still in charge of everything?
— No, it's impossible now. There are almost fifty of us already and even more if we count our freelancers. I'm still responsible for the website design, financial planning and accounting but I also spend a lot of time on the automation of our Sales Department. That’s where our competitive advantage lies: we have a management system that standardises and automates most of the simple tasks, so the team can immediately access information on what clients want, so these actions like client histories, contact details, desired properties could be done in a click. It’s saved us time and effort so our team can work with maximum efficiency and spend more time with the clients instead of copying, pasting and wasting time on things our system can handle. I also do advertising, update Tranio website and brand and automate our other departments too.
— How many people depend on you?
— There are five in our design office in Novokuznetsk (a city in Siberia), I also have an assistant in Moscow who helps me with the accounting records, though we outsource most accountancy work. But these are just estimates because all internal processes go through George (mostly) and myself.
— Is it efficient to have just one person directing so much of the activity?
— Good question. I’ve been a part of all this work since the beginning so I have a good idea of everything that has ever happened, is happening now or will happen in the company. That makes it quicker and more effective for me to resolve some issues than to describe how and what to do to somebody else. But on the other hand, it’s not very efficient, because it makes some people indispensable, which is something we are trying to change now by handing over more responsibility to our team. Organising, automating, describing the processes to create a smooth system without a nerve centre is our current goal. Among other things we make guidelines and procedures so people know what to do and what will get results.
— And how do you manage?
— Fine, otherwise, we wouldn't sleep a wink.
— Have there been any tough moments in the five years you work at Tranio?
— I wouldn’t say that. We have always had a clear vision of where we are going to and what we need to do to get there. The answer is to work hard in several directions. If you work hard and fair, you'll achieve the results that motivate you to go on. Even the crises weren’t an obstacle for us: we have always been developing and moving forward. The most important is to do whatever we can, do it well, and just this already guarantees results.
— What is the most unpleasant for you in your job? And the most interesting?
— The most unpleasant thing is probably untangling someone else’s mess or a problem that you can't make head or tail of it. And the most interesting is organising processes: when you look on what is going on, elaborate the whole sequence of actions, figure out how to optimise it and put your process into action. Then, the most pleasant thing is watching it succeed. I also like analysing the company's performance in the following way: where are the hotspots and how does the money we invest in our team turn into profit? It lets us, among other things, find out who does best and works competently, and who cuts corners or works with no heart in it.
— What are the most important qualities for Tranio employees to have in your opinion?
— First, the ability and desire to progress. They matter because the world, technology and the market are constantly changing and we need to adapt. The second is the ability to understand, admit and not make the same mistakes twice. A mistake in itself is not a crime, if the conclusions have been made and it doesn’t happen again. The third, attentiveness, is linked to this: inattentive people make mistakes, repeat them and that trait is difficult to fix. And one more: employees should care. They should care about how and why they do something but also how their work will impact the work of others. These traits always pay off and our team have these qualities.
Home, family and hobby
— Mikhail, you work at the company that sells overseas property. Where is your dream home?
— Our family has a flat in Bulgaria where we go to at times, but for me personally I don’t need a second home abroad now. I'm energetic and don't want to restrict myself to one location. Where I am doesn’t matter much — all I need is a laptop, a mobile and an Internet connection and I'm happy. I would rather rent a property somewhere I want to go.
— Where is that?
— I have two favourite destinations: Asia, particularly Thailand, and Barcelona. I like the climate and schedule in Asia: in the morning I have breakfast, a swim, work with a fresh mind and then Moscow wakes up. And Barcelona is just a very bright and beautiful city. I went there on my honeymoon.
— Oh, you mean you didn't marry Tranio?
— No, no. Not exactly but my wife is lead real estate sales manager for Germany at Tranio, Sofia Latypova. We met at work and have been together for a year already. We celebrated our wedding six months ago.
— Do you have any
— No. On the contrary: in my opinion, it's very convenient: there is no need to make arrangements about where and when to meet after work, no time to miss your beloved. We can have lunch together during the break and go to the theatre in the evening, for example.
— What do you do in your free time?
— My mother taught me the love of theatre since childhood, that's why I try to never miss interesting premieres and performances. I also have to admit I do love food, so we go out to eat a lot. And I do sports of course: boxing, wakeboarding and now I’m learning to snowboard.
Artyom Milovanov, Tranio