Fifteen years after arriving in New Zealand from his native Russia with little other than a background in logistics, Alex Gukalo is director of successful international freight forwarding and customs brokerage company EasyFreight.
It’s taken years of hard work and Alex credits his business studies with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa as providing the base from which the company has grown.
“I learned everything about business from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa,” he says.
“Ninety percent of the foundations of our business were laid in that year we studied.”
In 2010, Alex and business partner Max Sherstobitov - a customs broker - launched EasyFeight, despite both having little knowledge of how to go about it.
"We were advertising through Google ads, going to different events and became members of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, but we were lacking in managerial experience,” says Alex.
“Then we saw Te Wānanga o Aotearoa offering great courses that were exactly what we needed."
They completed the Certificate in Applied Small Business Growth and Development in 2011 and the certificate in Money Management in 2012 and Alex says they provided the knowledge they required.
“I never knew anything about business and I’d only been in New Zealand for five years. I didn’t know anything about marketing or management or hiring staff, I only knew how to do my job.
Within six months of doing the courses we had everything about how to develop a company vision and mission, how to set goals, write a business plan, market ourselves, everything. The best part was it was absolutely free.”
Nearly ten years later, and Alex says he still uses the practical skills he learned.
“It was really hands-on, that’s what we liked. Not just a textbook. We had a few projects we had to implement such as researching our competitors, comparing their quotes with ours, those things really help.”
And the inclusive whānau-friendly environment that Te Wānanga o Aotearoa fosters is now mirrored in the workplace at EasyFreight.
“That’s how we like to be in the company, to have that family feeling. We give movie vouchers or flowers to staff, let them work from home whenever they want. As long as the work gets done we’re happy.”
That’s not something that would happen in his homeland, he says.
“I come from Russia and there it’s very formal, if you compare the cultures, there is a huge difference.”
And now Alex and EasyFreight are doing their bit to help others.
“We have started a few initiatives to educate our customers about the industry. We have a youtube channel with regular videos about how to import or export goods smarter. I share stories on LinkedIn and we have a weekly newsletter to about 6000 customers. We are the only company that educates our customers about the industry.”
And the hard work is paying off, with the youtube channel attracting new customers and the company now New Zealand’s highest rated customs broker on search engine Google.
“I’m really proud of what we have achieved and we plan to keep educating people in New Zealand.”
While the business was impacted by COVID-19, Alex says they managed to retain all 10 staff and there were signs the economy was beginning to pick up again.
“We had a couple of months of decline but we aim to keep growing.”
“Thirty percent of our business is helping people export items to the Pacific Islands, most of it is families helping families in the islands, so we were unable to do that during lockdown with borders closed but we are optimistic, although you can’t predict the economy.”
What he can predict, though, are the benefits to be gained from studying business with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
“Ever since the course, every time I see a person wanting to start a business or on that journey I recommend Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. The foundations Te Wānanga o Aotearoa built for me and my business partner still stand.”
See Alex’s video series: NZ Business Tips with EasyFreight at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChpXSIpTmB6ZqZIarBT6BvA