Sergey Fomkin, CEO and Art-director in SFG: “Everyone has his own way and time to follow it”
A small story of one company, or The past, the present and the future of SFG by its founder’s eyes and words.
— Sergey, tell us please, how SFG was founded? Was it the plan to make it a design-studio, or when there appeared a thought that this is the business of your life?
— There never has been such a goal as to create a studio. I’ve always followed and watched the big famous studios and thought: it’s soooo cool to be a part of such teams. It would be great to create… invent something like that… the team where people are overwhelmed with the creative team spirit. But it has never been a goal, like literally (or may be it was but it seemed somewhere far ahead in the future). I was asked to create website design or a logo… It was a kind of freelancing, nothing more. If there happened to be more orders than I could cope with, I asked my fellow-designers for help. Probably this kind of cooperation can be considered to be the first prototypes of SFG. When I started to be more interested in photography, or to be more exact — photo manipulations, I had an idea to come up with something extraordinary in this direction. Some of my friend were attracted to this idea and these were the first big team works (projects), which were actually another steps on the way to create the team as it is today. Those were years 2009-2010. But many waters have passed and changed before SFG became what it is today.
So actually I can say that everything was living its life, and the team was partially forming itself. And I don’t want to say that it is the business of my life. Or may be it’s not the right time to speak for all my life. Doubtless, it is a very VERY important part of my life! But I can’t tag SFG with “my life sense” or something like that. May be because it is not that big in terms of my life, or maybe just because I hate clichés.
— What and who helped you? Were there any stoppers and how did you cope with them?
— As I’ve mentioned above, the team was to some extend forming itself. “Can you do that? Welcome!” We didn’t have long job-interviews (well we actually didn’t have such a phenomenon as job-interview or not that I could remember at least one).
What I remember is telling almost everyone about the Company: to my friends, acquaintances, to my Mom after all :) I was always sharing my thought and ideas. Sometimes to hear some advice, sometimes just to say it out and see people’s reaction. Those who were getting involved, expressed his or her opinion or advice on improving the Company and its progress were becoming a part of the team. Those who didn’t get involved were simply listening, this is also very important, to be listened to. People nodded or even said “no, this doesn’t sound good, it won’t work”, but that was also very motivating and gave us a challenge: to develop, to get better.
The stoppers? I can’t say that there were some big obstacles. Perhaps, something didn’t go as fast as it could be, or as we wanted it to be. But everyone and everything has its own path and time to follow it.
design Ukraine, business development in Ukraine, graphic design Ukraine, SFG studio, complex design services, business support, develop a start-up in ukraine
© Photo by Ed Gapich / Gapich.com.ua
— What day or event can be called SFG’s birthday, the point from which it started to develop intensively?
— I guess that the birthday date is the day when the name SFG was actually invented. And the day we understood that things must change and it can’t be the way it used to be. The thought that we need to go to the next level. Before February 1, 2014 the website and company image lied somewhere between my own portfolio and the team’s website. And we decided that the time has come to form ourselves from the inside even before presenting ourselves to to the society and clients. We started to carve our image from the formless at that times monolith, and only after there has come the time to show the Company to the world. We didn’t follow the path like ‘ok, we have 5 people in our staff, let’s rent a room, call it our office and dwell to creating cliché websites’. I think that we have created ourselves as a team inside (and we keep improving it every single second) and only after we presented the Company to the world.
— What were the biggest problems you faced creating your business in Ukraine? Has such a thought as ‘forget about it and leave the idea alone’ ever crossed your mind?
— Problems were pretty predictable, I would say. At least for those who start their own business. For example, the trademark or LTD registration are always very interesting for those who want to challenge themselves or check on how strong or tough he or she is.
And yea, a few times there was a thought to give it up. But not because something was bad in the country, or we couldn’t do something we wanted. Such thoughts were appearing only when the people, who I literally entrusted the business to were betraying it. The Company is its people in the first place, people you can rely on, you count on.
design Ukraine, business development in Ukraine, graphic design Ukraine, SFG studio, complex design services, business support, develop a start-up in ukraine
© Photo by Ed Gapich / Gapich.com.ua
— There is a plenty of design-studios, sometimes we might come across very good ones. What is SFG’s main feature, how is t different? And what would you advise to the starters, people who want to be noticed around the existing companies?
— Some clients are eager to entrust their projects to the starters. The beginners are more ambitious and tenacious when it comes to short terms in comparison to the famous studios that have been working in this field for more than 10 years for example. Yes, there is a big competition we face every day and it keeps growing. But that is very good and motivating. Because when the studio or a start-up don’t “fight” in the competition they usually disappear.
Our features?.. I can say that the main one is having most different professionals in different areas, united together. We have created a team, where people on one hand do their concrete job and on the other ­— they work as one, for the good of the Company and clients. We don’t have such way of thinking as: ‘I am a designer, you know, and I don’t give a damn about anything not connected with design’ or ‘I am THE boss and you do what I tell you to do’. Every opinion and viewpoint are always listened and considered. We don’t play the employer/employee games here. For sure, everyone has his duties and responsibilities, but good cooperation, support and willingness to do something more than just his or her job are the most valuable and important treats of our staff and working process in general.
— SFG — it is you, right? Sergey Fomkin and G. :) How about the rest of the team? Aren’t they against the fact that the name of the company basically says that you are the one and the only?
— Officially — yes! I was engaging people I needed for the project work for me afterwards. It happened a few times. And once one team member, and at that time simply my good friend, called the whole team Sergey Fomkin Group. That was the time when the first real prototype of SFG appeared, but it had a longer name SF. Group. That decision, or to be more exact that idea, was the first important solution offered by Zhenya Shokun, the future second-important person in the Company. Today she is the one who plays a huge role in the Company and stands at the source of all the meaningful and important changes and implementations. That is why the second, unofficial, but more veridical meaning of the SFG abbreviation is Shokun Fomkin Group.
design Ukraine, business development in Ukraine, graphic design Ukraine, SFG studio, complex design services, business support, develop a start-up in ukraine
© Photo by Ed Gapich / Gapich.com.ua
— What are the main directions in which SFG works today and will work in the future?
— Our directions in which we work are not a secret: websites, mobile apps, identity, graphic and motion design, photography, video, copywriting. I don’t think that they are going to change in the nearest future. For now, it is a very good and various set of services. And we gotta work hard on their constant improvement.
But the forms (the formats) of their fulfillment and presentation we keep changing and developing. For example, last year we invented service packages, that lowers the clients’ expenses greatly thanks to the complex service that includes only the most necessary things.
This year we have worked out the long-term support program for middle and big business. It allows to completely or partially cut the design, marketing and development departments. Plus, it increases the effectiveness and lowers the cost. And this is not a simple marketing text. :) It really works! We have gotten tens of orders for this service in the first three months after launching it. Long story short, we didn’t change anything, we simply arranged the existing services, put in in a pleasant and understandable wrapping and made the service really handy and good for our clients and that’s it!
The way we give our services will keep developing and in the foreseen future we are going to have even some free ones. We want people to be able to choose something they really need, without useless additions.
And of course, there always is time and inspiration for such non-commercial projects as Ever-moving city and Про Днiпро.
— Tell us, please, what is your role in the company besides ruling it, checking the work your employees do? How is your working time/resting time ratio? And actually how do you relax and what inspires you?
— I guess like everyone who runs his own business, I can’t distinguish working and non-working time. It is not like you come t the office, do something and when the clock strikes you go home. I can only speak of active and passive work here. Active is formed by working on our projects, website, discussions, calls, mail, etc. It usually takes the third part of the day. My so called passive work doesn’t ever stop. There always are some new ideas that my mind generates. Next steps to develop the Company, how to change something for the better, how to give new information, implement new services, sometimes even how to present the task to my employees for their maximum motivation and inspiration.
Without blushing I can say that today I control and do lots of things in SFG. From the finance to constant improving our website. Not saying about the projects for our clients. And that is not because I want to do all of these things or I think that I am the only one who can do that. Simply because the number of our clients and and projects sometimes grows faster than the Team itself. That is why very often I must give a helpful hand (smiles) to my colleagues, who are actually my friends. We are not chasing the goal of having a lot of people in the Company just to be able to fulfill all the projects. I say, it is better to have fewer people, but they are trustworthy and are a real treasure for the Company.
Speaking of my rest… As for many people and I am not an exception here, I love traveling, spending time with my friends, talking and having some beer, listening to music. And these same things inspire me as well.
design Ukraine, business development in Ukraine, graphic design Ukraine, SFG studio, complex design services, business support, develop a start-up in ukraine
© Photo by Ed Gapich / Gapich.com.ua
— And to sum it up, what would you recommend to those, who are just starting to develop their business, start-up or a team?
— To work hard. There is no mystery here or a secret success-making stuff. You fail, you stand up and keep gaining experience. By the trial and fail method. You have to dwell even to the tasks that seem to be impossible for you or to those, you’ve never worked with before. They say ‘Practice makes perfect’, that is why to learn something and to earn something you gotta work damn hard. Being ready to work day and night and improve yourself is the only factor that gives you the opportunity to become successful at any stage of your business.
By Zhenya Shokun
2017