+ stores in
Nov 2016—Nov 2017
update in 30 seconds
One of Oxford’s newest pizza restaurants, Dodo Pizza, quickly became one of the community’s most loved places to grab a slice. Now the owner says the brand is pursuing an opportunity of a lifetime by expanding to California.
Alena Tikhova, owner and CEO of Dodo Pizza, began the Russian-based pizza company in Oxford in the summer of 2015. She then led the charge to expand into Southaven and Memphis shortly after. The store uses a unique approach to the regional marketplace by only serving high-grade ingredients like meats and cheeses flown in from New York, dough made from scratch in-store, and fresh herbs that top each slice of their premium pizza.
“The opportunity was a coincidence,” Tikhova said about moving the brand across the country. “We believe the Los Angeles area is a good market for us to be in.”
In 2018, our whole chain’s sales revenue amounted to 214 million dollars (13.6 billion rubles). That’s more than we had planned. Russian pizzerias have brought us 12.33 billion rubles, all other countries combined, 1.271 billion rubles. There was a time when we celebrated the first billion rubles in overall revenue, and now just the pizzerias outside Russia bring us more than that. For seven years, our pizza chain has doubled each year (+118% in 2018). And our question is, will we be able to repeat that again in this new year?
In the very last days of December, the first Dodo Pizza in Los Angeles suddenly appeared :-)
Our American partner Alena Tikhova has reached an agreement with a local pizza delivery service, and now it takes the Dodo Pizza brand and passes under control of our team. Those who live in California will have a chance to try our American pizza in an LA suburb. Stay tuned!
By the end of 2018, we’ve had 440 pizzerias in our chain, though we had planned to reach 450. The figures are as follows:
In Russia, there are 383 pizzerias (20 of them are our own corporate pizzerias, not franchisees).
In Kazakhstan, 28.
In Belarus, 9.
In Romania, 6.
In the USA, 3.
In Lithuania, 3.
In Estonia, 2.
In Kyrgyzstan, 2.
In China, 2.
In the United Kingdom, 1.
And in Uzbekistan, 1.
Our first Belarusian pizzerias opened in October 2018, and by the end of the year Belarus has come out third in this rating. Now that’s what we call a good start :-)
A Russian blogger named Oleg AsSa did an interview with me recently, and judging by all the comments on the stream, the most sensational detail of it turned out to be my salary, which is now a little more than $4,500 (300,000 rubles) a month. Many people are surprised to know that the CEO of the largest Russian pizza chain with an annual revenue of more than $200M makes such a modest sum. So why is that?
I’ve been building my business for 15 years now in wildly diverse circumstances. At some point, I was on the brink of bankruptcy. I was up to my neck in debt. There were times when I was paying a salary to my team with the last of the money from my credit cards, and I had nothing to pay for gas with. I borrowed from underground money-lenders at 3% interest a month just to let my company keep going. There were times when I couldn’t pay myself a salary at all. If I didn’t have enough, I moonlighted as a paid consultant. I had a family, and I had a business, and that business had to survive. About a year ago, I sold some of my shares, and that money is lying out at interest so that I have additional income without having to increase my salary.
Life has taught me that business is a very dangerous affair, and it’s twice as dangerous to fulfill a big dream. Success is fleeting. You should be very careful. Spend less, think of the future more. Look sharp or you’re out of business in the blink of an eye. The company’s safety was always the first priority for me, as the company is the future; the company is an opportunity to make something new, to build and create, and that’s much more important to me than an opportunity to spend lavishly here and now.
I’ve never built a business just to buy myself a Ferrari—not that I blame those who dream of it. To each his or her own path and his or her own dream. My dream is to do something worth doing, something impossible: to create cool products, build an open and honest global consumer products company, inspire millions of people and show them that all of it is possible. It’s possible to build a global business in a small town without the initial capital or useful connections, create something that’s going to outlive you or even just play this exciting game for the sake of it. That’s what’s really breathtaking, not a luxury car. Anyway, I’ve never understood luxury. A person needs little to be happy, and you can’t buy those things.
We’ve been building Dodo Pizza, our big dream, for seven years now, and only this year has our parent company reached profitability. We took risks. We’ve invested a lot in the future, in our own IT system, in our team and our development. We needed investments. And professional investors did not believe in us; well, no surprise there. Who would believe that a small Syktyvkar company would suddenly become Russian pizza chain no. 1? But a lot of ordinary people did believe in us. Programmers, businessmen, managers, and engineers have invested their money earned through their own hard work, and thanks to their help, Dodo Pizza has been created. A lot of businessmen from all over the country have believed in us and become our franchisees. They mortgaged their apartments, borrowed money from banks, friends, or relatives, accepted responsibility and opened pizzerias in their cities. So they are those who have built Dodo Pizza.
Business is not just about money. The founder and director of a large pizza chain is not just about salary. It’s about big responsibility for the company, our franchisees, investors, those working at pizzerias and at the parent company. I’m responsible for our dream that inspires thousands of people who believe in me. This is what’s important to me, not the money I currently make personally.
And one more thing. Dodo Pizza is not Fyodor Ovchinnikov. Dodo Pizza is a big team. We’ve all embarked on this expedition together, and I’m just one of many: one of us.
Meet Mr. Xie. Mr. Xie is a real estate agent. He works with retail property. And he believes in us. We wouldn’t be able to meet the managers of a big shopping mall in Hangzhou and interest them in collaboration with Dodo Pizza if it wasn’t for him. Personal relationships and contacts are very important in China. Why did Mr. Xie help us? He saw the long-term opportunities and felt that he could trust us. He has yet to make money from our collaboration, but he’s already done a lot. A few days ago, he invited managers of shopping malls all over Hangzhou to WeWork so we could do a presentation of our company and the concept of our pizzeria here. As per usual in China, a lot of precise and straightforward questions were asked. And after that, we invited everybody to dinner. In China, a good business meeting always ends with a meal. Business, relationships, and food are inseparable here. I’m certain that everybody who was there will come to our “pizzeria of the future” grand opening, and this will be a new beginning and a new step forward for us. Today we plant the seeds with open hearts, and tomorrow some of them are bound to grow. Thank you, Mr. Xie. We will not let you down. We highly appreciate our partnership and your trust.
It so happens that Dodo Pizza has become one of the first residents of WeWork, an international coworking space in Hangzhou, China. WeWork opened here just recently, so half of it is still empty. I’ve been at WeWork for three days, and now I have first-hand knowledge of what they’re trying to create here. Most importantly, it’s a specific atmosphere that charges you with energy, and even three beer taps with unlimited refills don’t hamper your motivation. And, of course, WeWork creates community. Over the last three days, I’ve met a lot of interesting people here.
The scale and thoroughness of their work are astounding. Everything is made to be durable and American-style; they didn’t save money on anything, and you see it in every square inch of the interior finish. Ten thousand square meters of offices on two floors encircle a huge courtyard under a skylight—that’s where the communal area is located. There are kitchens, conference rooms large and small, and phone booths.
A few days ago, there was a great party at WeWork for the Hangzhou coworking space grand opening. The party budget was staggering. There was professional lighting, live music, various recreational activities, actors, entertainers, a whole team of chefs, and unlimited alcohol—cocktails, wine, and also oysters and hors d’oeuvres. Whatever guests wanted.
Christian Lee, the managing director of WeWork Asia, attended the opening. A Chinese ballet company appeared on stage, as well as an illusionist and a Chinese blues band. The director of the first Hangzhou coworking space said that WeWork never begrudged money on repairs and refurbishment, and one square meter of interior finish cost about $1000. So, WeWork has spent 10 million dollars on the refurbishment of rented premises, save furniture and the opening ceremony costs. I walked around and wondered how and when they were going to cover all these expenses.
The thoroughness and the scope of everything, from the coworking space interior to the party itself, were amazing indeed. And keep in mind that currently, WeWork is not profitable. They invest a lot of money in the future. No, I’m not a conspiracy theorist always looking for a catch. I believe in WeWork, and WeWork believes that offices and the approach to work itself will change dramatically, and then they will become the new Facebook and the investment will pay off, because they’ll be on top. No, they don’t want to make money off rent. It will never cover such investments. They want to create a new global business community.
Sometimes we believe in an idea that needs testing. We try to persuade investors. Sometimes we spend years and millions of dollars to prove that the idea will work.
This is our future Hangzhou commissary; here we’re going to produce special dough for our new pizzeria in China. What’s different about our new dough? I’ll tell you soon.
Interestingly, builders in China prefer thin brick walls to plasterboard—they say it’s simpler, stronger, and cheaper.
Our construction managers are Eric and Ali. They’ve been with us for two years and have come to Hangzhou from Yantai, where our first Chinese pizzeria is located. We couldn’t embark on such a high-risk project, a new kind of pizzeria in one of the largest cities in China, without our team and our partners. The team is the key.
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