Lauren: Hi I am Lauren Cohen, Lawyer real estate expert and cross border specialist. I’m here today with my friend, Vladimir, Vladimir pronounce your last name, so I don’t mess it up, please.
Lauren: I should have gotten that, so I apologize. Vladimir and I met through a book that we both collaborated on. It’s called The Immigrant Hustle. It’s a story about 50 entrepreneurs who have built success stories in the US, that are from other countries. That’s the key, that’s why it’s called Immigrant Hustle. There was a chat that was created, when the book was finalized and Vladimir and I connected, I actually thought he lived in Florida, because when he wrote on the chat, he said I’m in Hollywood, Florida, so I thought that’s where he lived. And so, we started chatting and getting to know each other and you know he’s a fellow member of the tribe, and for those of you that don’t know what that means you can ask me after, but we connected, and we are both very entrepreneurial. And then on top of that, I made a connection. I made a connection between Vlad, and one of my dear friends, Jeff Greenberg, who’s also been on the show, and sure enough, they’re both in the same Promotional Products coaching program, which is kind of ironic. So here I am trying to do good and yet they’re already connected, but you can’t help yourself when you’re a connector. So, in any event, Vlad and I started chatting and I invited him to join my show to share a little bit about his story. Vlad is one of those lucky guys, that was airlifted, I assume airlifted out of the Ukraine, or brought into America from the Ukraine, through a Jewish Agency. Which was how long, 20 to 30 years ago right?
Vlad: 30 years.
Lauren: Yeah, 30. I’m aging myself. The Jewish agencies were airlifting people and families out of the Ukraine and other parts of Russia into Israel, into Canada and into the US like Vladimir’s family and like my good friend at Donna Klein, was brought into the US and Vladimir made his way to Michigan, Is that where you originally started Vlad?
Lauren: Wow. I mean, going from cold to cold just doesn’t make sense. I have a new colleague that just joined my real estate team, she’s Mexican. Listen to this. Okay, I met her in an Israeli based networking group about two weeks ago. She’s in Mexico and she went to my college in Toronto.
Lauren: Is that not a crazy story. Okay. It is a crazy story! She just joined my team and she’s going to be assisting me because I needed a Spanish speaker, so she’s going to be assisting me with all kinds of stuff so it’s extremely exciting. Vlad, please introduce yourself. You have such an amazing bio I’d love for you to share that with my guests.
Vlad: Well first of all, Lauren thank you for having me on your show. As you mentioned, my name is Vladimir Gendelman. I have started a company called Company Folders back in 2003. And we actually sell presentation folders, the actual paper presentation folders.
Lauren: Show us. I know it’s a podcast, I thought that it was one of those, you know, tabbed marketing pieces, but what it is, and it’s brilliant because it’s just the simplest of products, and it he’s focused on it and that’s the beauty. It’s a company folder. So, for those of you that are, he’s like Vanna White right now. For those of you that are listening to this podcast, it basically those folders if you are going into Office Depot to purchase, but it’s branded to the company. So, with EXP for example, you know, EXP realtors get, I think 50 presentation folders when they join, Vladimir would be the guy that would create those folders, hopefully.
Vlad: Yes, that’s right. Yeah. So, this right here is that dark blue linen, with a silver foil stamp on it. And when you open it in this particular folder, it happens to have two pockets. Yeah, and there is a back to it. And of course, if anybody’s interested, and would like to request a sample packet, you would get something like this in the mail, which is a folder that we created for our company that we send out to people to see. And the beauty of this folder is it has a soft touch lamination.
Lauren: Oh yeah, there’s like, it has a whole bunch of logos that are .
Vlad: It has UV coating applied to it, to show different logos. And then on the inside this particular folder has one vertical pocket.
Lauren: Oh, I love that. I need some samples with my logo on it.
Vlad: We can absolutely discuss that, of course.
Lauren: I would love that and also, I wanted to ask you a question, because I’ve been thinking, you know, business cards are kind of passe especially during COVID. How has business been impacted by COVID?
Has it not been negatively impacted, because people aren’t going and physically presenting, or now do they use this presentation folder and labels to send them by mail to separate themselves from the competition?
Vlad: Yeah, so that’s actually an interesting question because obviously there is a whole segment of businesses out there who not only not use folders right now, but they do also not use anything right now. I think of all the restaurants and venues, trade shows that they’re all shut down so obviously they’re not using anything. At the same time, a lot of other companies that usually have face to face sales meetings or they go for presentations, they’re not doing that, either. So, they’re not using printed products for that, but they change how they do things. So now those companies, as you mentioned, they would get a folder, but then they would get like I mentioned, a larger envelope to go with it, so they can mail it to you. So, we want some business from restaurants and stuff, but then on the other hand, we’re gaining more business because when you buy a folder, now you want to get an envelope that the folder goes in to. So, the folder matches and nice and beautiful, and on top of their promotional products. As important as they always are right now, they’re even more important, because people are, and this is how this plays out right, so every company has brand and marketing budget. They have budgets for lunches for the office right. They have budgets for taking customers out. This and that, now those budgets are not being used because people are not in the office. So, they still want to spend that money, they still want to engage employees, they still want to engage their clients. So, right. So, we get creative and we send packets out to people right on behalf of others, whether it’s to employees or customers or keep in touch, whatever else. Yeah. And you know, you win some you lose some and overall, it’s, it is what it is.
Lauren: So, tell me when you first came to America, obviously a long time ago. But you moved to Michigan, Were you already speaking English at the time?
Vlad: No, no, there was no English.
Lauren: So how did your parents survive, like look at how you thrive, you’ve built up a company, you’re in Forbes magazine, as one of the fastest growing companies, I mean there’s just so many amazing things that you’ve done a child of immigrants and an immigrant himself, you know, I think that these, like, the immigrant hustle and being an immigrant entrepreneur, it’s a drive that you can’t you can’t get from somewhere else and I’ll tell you what, and I’m sorry to mention this, but after the Holocaust, right, our people especially those that were completely debilitated their families were destroyed look at the difference the impact that these immigrants have made in this country. That’s part of what I do because I am an Immigration Concierge, Immigration Lawyer right, but at the end of the day, immigrants have this drive about them to succeed and, you know, your parents came with the Jewish Agency who helped, probably they struggled, especially without speaking English for a long time. How does that all look, do you remember, what is your most interesting story you can share with us about that time?
Oh boy, this is going to be good.
Vlad: So, it’s a simple overnight success. Just like with anybody else in this case, took 30 years of you know a lot of, I guess there was a lot of struggle, I just never looked at it that way. Right.
Lauren: It’s just what it was right you didn’t have any choice if you were here and you had to do it right.
Vlad: We had weekend here, we didn’t have money, other than, you know, we have friends here, who came …
Lauren: They put you in a place to stay, the agency.
Vlad: Not right away no. But we have friends here who were here. Two months, who came here two months before we did.
Lauren: Wow, so they only two months.
Vlad: Yeah, they had two-bedroom apartment. There was three of them. And we stayed with them. For the first week until they found their own two-bedroom apartment.
Lauren: There were three of them and how many of you?
Vlad: Three, so six.
Lauren: So, three of you, three children or three people, you were the only child.
Vlad: I’m the only child, and they only had one.
Lauren: Okay, so all right and was it a girl or a boy?
Vlad: It was a boy.
Lauren: Okay, so it’s a little easier because your sixteen you don’t want to be sharing a room with a girl, well you probably do but whatever, we won’t go down that road. So, the point is that you were in this tiny little, you know, typical immigrant story, much different than mine. And sometimes people don’t take mine seriously. Okay, I was speaking with a woman the other day. She’s Canadian and I insulted her because she was obviously from another country and I said to her I had just gotten off the phone with somebody that was one from a country, it so happens this lady’s home country, and I said hey are you from? She almost bit my head off. Because she said, “well I’m an immigrant and you’re insulting me”, and I said well I’m an immigrant too. She looks at me for whatever, like you know, I’m not interested in your story you’re not an immigrant, because I speak English, it’s my first language but I am an immigrant, I came from Canada, I went through the same crap. That’s what like you don’t know this Vlad I don’t think, but the reason that I started what I do, is because my ex-husband, then husband, was deported. February 2nd, 2007, on the way back from our honeymoon. So, coming on the way back from our honeymoon he was removed at the Chicago O’Hare Airport expeditiously removed, put in immigration jail and subsequently deported. So, I am an immigrant. I went through everything that everybody else goes through, maybe not the same I wasn’t brought from a war-torn country, I wasn’t a refugee, you know Canada is a good country and I kind of wish I were there, especially this week, but at the end of the day, you just do it. You know, I think, as a single mom and dad an immigrant, you got to do it, and you said it is what it is, you came here. You lived in this tiny little apartment, and then you made it. I mean, look what you’ve built for yourself, how did your parents do and when did this all start for you?
Vlad: So, our plane landed at night. And you know, our friends because they picked us up, brought us to their apartment where we can eat. I don’t remember if we can eat now but we can do our thing and then went to bed. All three of them left. Yeah, he went. He went to school, whatever it was.
Lauren: and he didn’t speak a word of English?
Vlad: We did not. Oh, and we needed to eat breakfast. And I guess the woman said, oh just have a cereal. And she left it on the table it was Froot Loops. So, in Soviet Union, we didn’t have cereal.
Vlad: Uh huh. And the only kind of cereal, like things we did here were the ones you have to cook like oatmeal, like, Oh, well, actually we didn’t have oatmeal itself, but we had this other cream of wheat, I think it’s called. Yeah, that you cook and so my mom assumed it’s similar thing, and she cooked Froot Loops. I mean she boiled the milk, and she put Froot Loops in it. And she boiled the Froot Loops. So, my first experience with American cereal was disgusting.
Lauren: It’s hysterical, what color was it, it must have been like purple or green or something?
Vlad: I don’t remember. We were laughing about it, because then after the people came back that night, they told us well you’re not supposed to do that you just put a cold milk over it. At first my mom couldn’t grasp that concept. And then once we understood it, tried the cold cereal which was tasty. We were laughing for a long, long time.
Lauren: I like that story, but you know it’s funny because it happens even when you’re traveling, in the normal world, and you go to another country and you don’t know their foods, and you don’t, you know, it’s like, I know going to Thailand, and, you know, I have a kosher home and when I was there was a lot of where people eating bugs and it was normal. I mean it’s normal. Now Froot Loops a little different, although I’ll tell you, it’s probably not that different because it’s full of sugar but it’s just interesting how cultural differences, define us so much. And that brings us to our discussion today about cultural differences across borders, and you have a specific targeted business, and you have clients coming to you because what you offer is, a range of promotional products but your main product is this one product that you have focused on and that has driven, your success. What made you start this, what was your brainchild around this and how do you think you started bringing in clients from other countries? So, let’s start with, when did it start, you went to college I assume right?
Vlad: No, there was no college, no college, I was working a lot, I have every kind of job you can think of. And then at some point, I started a Computer Repair Company. It was a nine to nine. I started with a friend and, you know, we had full time jobs but that was something we did on the weekend. Party money to go out. And a few years later, my friend he went. And so, he didn’t have time to do the computers and I was left by myself.
Lauren: And he also comes from the Ukraine or from another country, or was he American?
Vlad: Just from Ukraine.
Lauren: Okay. And then we naturally gravitate toward our own people.
Vlad: Right. Well, that’s how I started that I didn’t speak English, I could not be friends with anybody who was not Russian, because we couldn’t speak. So, he went to law school and I went all by myself and a little time later, probably four months later, one of my customers who I get computers for, he said, “hey you’re a computer guy. Can you help me get a really nice presentation folder”? However, he didn’t say presentation folder he said company folder. He said, “help me find company folders”. I said, “sure!”. How hard could that be right? Internet is booming and everything is there and so I walked out said yes, the problem is, I didn’t know what company folder was. So, I had to go friends they had to figure it out and I understood what it was. So, then I started looking for it and I noticed that there really are no good options for presentation folders. If you look online, your typical company they sell four to six to eight different folding styles, right, we got letter size, legal size, two packets, one pocket on the right, or one pocket on the left but that’s pretty much all you get. And then, of course, they are usually all white paper. And they print a four-color process and that’s it. But he was looking for something more interesting, right. Now I just said boring, very boring. And, you know, I found whatever the best option was at the time and I helped them do that, but then a light went off. Yeah. And this is what happened back in Soviet Union. We did not have options, because everything was government owned. It’s just it is what it is …
Lauren: Like you said the people did not own anything. Therefore, there was no reason to compete right, no?
Vlad: Right. Exactly right. If you don’t compete, then, you don’t innovate. If you have for example, silverware. The ones we had at home. all the people in Soviet Union have the same silverware. And the other half had the other type that was available. You talked about wallpaper, there would be three four different kinds of wallpaper, and some are not good at all, some are better. And everybody has, you know, give or take the same wallpaper. Same thing goes for furniture, for clothing, for this for that. And then when I came here, originally, and I see the variety of things that you go to the store and you have overwhelming dozens of cheeses, dozens of credit cards, you have yogurts, we didn’t even have yogurts, we had white bread in Russia, we have white bread, and black bread. Here you have all these different things I didn’t know what to do with myself. And that’s how I was living the American life right, like everything comes in options and varieties
Lauren: And too many options and variety and kinds.
Vlad: Here I am faced with a product that is similar. It’s the same. There is no variety and I’m like, that was not American to me. And it just those memories of, you know, communism and, and there’s no way
Lauren: I would never know. I mean, you came up with this idea for variety in a very boring product, an otherwise boring product because you saw that it’s wanted here.
Vlad: Right. And I remember thinking to myself you know somebody’s got to change this, like they got to come up and as I was doing that, I’m like well, am I going to wait for that, or am I going to make it happen? So, I set out and I started the company, and because I didn’t know anybody, and the guy referred to ‘company folders’ I called the Company Folders. The whole idea was to build out a brand that offers the largest variety of presentation folder styles, largest amount of paper. Print matters that we use, coatings and on and on and on. And that’s where we are today.
Lauren: Now you have 18, which is a great number. Employees.
Vlad: Great number. Exactly, so amazing. We do 67 different papers of all colors, textures, anything you want. We do four color process printing, we do PMS printing with the foil stamp, and all these different things. We do all sorts of coatings, such as gloss matte set, and we do soft edge coating, we do all sorts of lamination, we do spot UV, we do spot matte, whatever people require right, and we get fun. We do a lot of fun with it too because …
Lauren: Show me a fun one. Do you have a fun one there? Well, my guests on the podcasts won’t see it but like I would love to. I mean it’s a shame the one that that Vlad showed me. It’s, what do you call that when it’s under the light you can see all the logos? Yeah, yeah, that that is iridescent light, that purple light, its brilliant, I love it. Yeah. So, what do you call that that method?
Vlad: That’s called spot UV.
Lauren: So those are all your clients’, right?
Vlad: Yeah, those are some of the clients we would do Century 21, you should know that Nordstrom, or
Lauren: Coldwell Banker PG and, brilliant.
Vlad: Yeah, so, so there are all sorts of ways to, to make it more memorable, more fun, more anything really. And that was always the goal so that’s where we are and to take it a step further, we had a remarkably interesting situation where I can’t say that problems never come up right. We have a really good way of testing everything. We have a really good quality assurance outside of just printing and making stuff. And once in a while things slip through the cracks. And it happens everywhere right. That is not what’s really important, but I think what’s really important is what do you do with that. Yeah, so, some years back we had, just like anybody else, we offered people two weeks to inspect their products, right, because on the one side some other companies only offer you five days or seven days. When you claim whatever you got to claim and passed that you’re on your own. So, this one time we had a woman. It was some years ago, who got a folder, similar to this, in the sense that the logo was foil stamped, and out of 500 folders that she got 12 or 15 of them, the logo was slightly crooked. And the press when it goes through, this doesn’t get printed it gets stamped on. And apparently, few sheets of paper were at an angle. So, she contacts, us, it was probably three to four months since she bought them. And she’s like, well I know it’s outside of the time, but we had 13 or 15 of them crooked, is there something you can do to help me? So, of course, so we printed 100, maybe another 100 folders and sent it to her right, and she was extremely happy, but that’s when we started thinking, hold on a second. If there is one there must be another. And if we make people go through all the folders in the first week or two, I wouldn’t want to do that. So, we created a one-year warranty. You have a whole year to go through your folders. And then as we were doing that, we are like hold on a second what what’s one year, what if they don’t use the folders this fast right, what if it takes two years to go through the folders? And the whole point was to give people time as they use the folders, right, to have a plan, if there is something off, just put it to the side and then at some point, call me and tell me I had 10 or 11 faulty folders and we’ll figure it out. So, we decided to go lifetime.
Vlad: Yeah, that’s your folders and you have nothing to worry about. Because if you discovered, any kind of defect, six months from now, a year from now five years from now.
Lauren: Great, the truth is that it also engages them in future conversations and keeps them loyal.
Vlad: Yeah, absolutely.
Lauren: I wouldn’t mind, we could talk for hours and you have a brilliant business model. We have a hard stop in about five minutes and I just wanted to mention the fact that my company, because it’s so unique, has organically expanded into all of North America, Canada for obvious reasons, he’s in Michigan that’s an easy one, Mexico and South of the Border, probably not. If you do, I mean doesn’t really matter you can imprint Spanish easily because it’s no difference to change the direction.
Vlad: I mean, we do a lot of Spanish designs.
Lauren: Yeah, I mean it makes sense. So, I would love to give everybody an opportunity to reach out to you and perhaps get a sample of your work and see exactly what you’re offering that’s on the podcast and isn’t able to see it. How do they reach you; how do people reach you?
Vlad: Well, first of all our website is www.companyfolders.com.
Lauren: That’s pretty easy companyfolders.com. You can’t really miss that mess that up.
Vlad: And my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren: email@example.com. He is very proficient on LinkedIn and very much a go giver, a very amazing entrepreneur who has built and built a business, literally from nothing in America, just from an idea that came to him because he really has lived the American dream. And in a lot of ways has set the trajectory for others to follow.
Vlad: Another thing I do is, I offer people a free design consultation. And of course, you know it originally came up as an idea to help people feel more comfortable with what they’re thinking of getting right, and in the hopes that as they’re communicating with me, we would get an order out of inventory for future orders. But it turned into, I just had a consultation I think on Friday. The girl was from South Africa. She’s a designer, working for a company, and they asked her to redesign their logo. So when we started the conversation I asked her, I said, What’s your budget for this? She said well, I don’t have a budget because I’m the one doing it, but I don’t know where to go, I need ideas, I’m like, Great, let’s work on it, and I asked her questions that she needs to understand what they’re getting right, and navigated her through the whole process of how to think of the logo design, which direction to take it. She was super grateful. And she promised to actually send me whenever she comes up with one, since she actually said that she’ll be communicating with me through the whole process so that I can help guide her, and I’m happy to do those things because at the end of the day. I believe that the more I share my gift, the more everybody, other people will share their gifts with me .
Lauren: That is a go getter.
Vlad: and with each other. And as long as, as long as we can improve everybody then, by default we improve ourselves,
Lauren: 100%, I just, you just reminded me of something, a good friend of mine, Bob Berg, I’m going to reach out to him to be interviewed on this on this podcast.
Vlad: And I will also share a link to only where people can schedule a consultation with me. So, if you can include that link and people sign up and I’ll be happy to walk them through everything I know.
Lauren: Absolutely. It would be my pleasure. Vladimir Thank you. I look forward to working with you, I look forward to getting some company folders, myself, and I thank you for your time. It’s a pleasure to know you. It’s a pleasure to share the book with you. And we’ll be in touch very soon. Thanks everybody. This is Lauren Cohen, with Investing Across Borders, thanking you for learning a little bit about this wonderful immigrant story from the Ukraine, who has made a mark in the US and across borders as well. Thank you so much. Have a great day, happy reading. Bye for now.