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Introverted, daring, and very rich Meet Tatyana Bakalchuk, half of Russia's woman-billionaire population

Meduza
Anton Novoderezhkin / TASS

Tatyana and Vyacheslav Bakalchuk got into online trading to earn money for their infant son. Within three years, they were industry leaders.

In the spring of 2004, school teacher Tatyana Bakalchuk and her husband Vyacheslav, a radiophysicist, realized they weren’t earning enough money to provide for their infant son. So they decided to launch an online clothing store. In the beginning, they ordered and resold Otto and Quelle catalog products from the German retailer Otto Group. A few years prior, the German company had tried and failed to enter the Russian market, finding that the country simply lacked an online purchasing culture. Russia’s postal service also lagged far behind Western systems.

Fond of brightly colored clothes, Tatyana Bakalchuk named her business “Wildberries.” She was the company’s first customer, and she used public transit to bring the shipment home to her apartment, which simultaneously became her warehouse. Later in the year, the couple started getting help from Sergey Anufriev, a friend from Vyacheslav’s gym. The three continue to manage Wildberries to this day, but 100 percent of the company belongs to Tatyana Bakalchuk.

By early 2005, Wildberries already had a small office, a proper warehouse, and its first hired staff: website developers and call-center operators. Tatyana Bakalchuk placed the company’s first advertisements on the website Passions.ru. The promotions cost 1,500 rubles a month and they instantly brought in new business. According to Forbes, Wildberries made its first leap forward in 2008, when the global financial crisis left Adidas with unsold clothes and sneakers worth more than 1 million euros. Bakalchuk bought the whole supply on credit and sold the goods over the next two years.

Wildberries became Russia’s first online superstore. Today, it’s one of the four most valuable companies on the Russian Internet.

Wildberries introduced several standards that made it a market leader. Customers can buy any product priced at more than 1,000 rubles ($15) in installments. The company first instituted single-rate nationwide courier deliveries and then introduced free deliveries across the country.

Bakalchuk’s company devised a way to work with customers who were worried that clothing purchased online might not fit: clients can choose several different sizes of the same item, receive the clothes by courier, and make their purchase after trying on the different options.

Wildberries gradually expanded its selection, and the website now sells household appliances, books, various accessories, and sporting goods, offering more than 10,000 different kinds of products.

According to Forbes, Wildberries processed 1.1 million orders on “Black Friday” in November 2017. The store’s revenues have grown 20–70 percent annually, jumping from 69 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) to 120 billion rubles ($1.8 billion) in 2018. Over the course of the year, the website processed roughly 80 million orders. In February 2019, Forbes estimated that Wildberries is worth $1.2 billion, making it the fourth most valuable Internet company in Russia (after Yandex, Mail.ru Group, and Avito).

Tatyana Bakalchuk is now a billionaire, putting her in a club that has only 105 members in Russia. She is one of only two women in the country to amass so much wealth. The other woman on this list is Elena Baturina, the wife of former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Thanks to her construction and hotel business “Inteco,” Baturina is worth an estimated $1.2 billion.

Tatyana Bakalchuk is a deeply private person. She attributes her success to her ability to make risky decisions.

Wildberries’ founders avoid the public eye. Sources who spoke to Forbes described them as “introverts.” The Bakalchuks don’t attend industry conferences or other public events, and the company has always turned away outsiders eager to invest, including offers from major players like Sistema and the investment firm Baring Vostok.

“Bakalchuk is inclined to guard her private life. She says it’s necessary because of her large workload: once you start talking to the press, you start getting problems at work, and there’s no time to be distracted,” says the financial blog My Ruble.

In all her time as an industry titan, Tatyana Bakalchuk has granted an interview only once: a short conversation in 2016 that appeared in the trade publication Shopolog (“Shopologist”). She has also spoken twice (once in writing) to Forbes magazine. Asked to explain her success, she said, “Maybe it was based on my ability to make risky decisions when everyone else was looking at me like I was crazy, insisting that it was impossible and that nobody does things like that. I trusted my instincts, understanding what customers need.”

Andrey Kozenko

Translation by Kevin Rothrock