«A car for survival in the apocalypse», «The best all-terrain vehicle in the world» — this is what the foreign press writes about SHERP. 134 million. One hundred. Thirty. Four. Million. This is how many people around the world have watched the video of the automobile blogger Supercar Blondie since July 2020, demonstrating the capabilities of the SHERP all-terrain vehicle, which is manufactured in Kyiv.
At that, the company does not pay for advertising in principle, preferring to focus on the product. It was a real explosion. For SHERP that was already the second one in a row. Prior to that, the vehicle appeared in a publication on the Top Gear website in 2016, as well as in other international media outlets.
Vlad Shkolnik, a visionary and the main engine of the company’s progress, a mathematician by education and a systemic businessman in life, has an entrepreneurial vision and an engineering knack, directly participating in the upgrade of the vehicle and constantly generating new ideas.
According to Shkolnik, today he focuses not on the result, but on the meaning and process. After all, by setting a goal for oneself, an entrepreneur not only determines the summit, but at the same time defines certain specific boundaries.
If you do not revolve around goal-setting, but think in a category of meanings, then you can enjoy the process and reach impressive heights. As the SHERP example shows, this concept truly works.
SHERP — POWER AND ENDURANCE
I devised the name of the company by myself. I even remember the moment when it happened — on the Boryspil highway. I wanted it to be something poetic — and at the same time masculine, «rough» and convincing, like a rasping file. This is how the name SHERP appeared. SHERPs are carriers and guides in the Himalayas, strong and endurable. Just like our all-terrain vehicle.
When at one time we showed the car to recognized engineers of the Ukrainian tank building, these worldly-wise «Aqsaqals» unanimously declared that «this» cannot drive. But SHERP does! And it is not just driving — the car has amazing cross-country ability to the envy of any tank, wheeled or tracked all-terrain vehicle.
UN VERDICT: THE BEST LOGISTICS SOLUTION
SHERP is an incredibly versatile vehicle, which is its uniqueness. SHERP floats worse than a boat and moves in the mountains worse than a quad bike, in snow — worse than a snowmobile, in a swamp — worse than a hovercraft, but its whole point is that it travels everywhere. Once it drove 10 thousand km along the Arctic Circle.
If we are talking about rationality, then in the video created by the UN, we secured premier place as «the best logistics solution of 2019». Using SHERP to deliver humanitarian supplies to remote areas, they replaced cars, ships, and helicopters at the same time and outweighed their costs for it in the first month of operation.
Overall, we always go ahead of the market and show customers that they can use SHERPs for such needs as delivering cargoes, rescuing people, or fighting fires. By the way, Ukraine is one of the few countries that make their contribution to the UN in real money.
Other countries pay off in kind. Someone with Boeings, while Russia, for example, with its helicopters. We have repeatedly applied with an offer to supply SHERPs instead of the contribution fee. But, apparently, Ukrainian public officials felt that it was a back-burner issue for them.
HUMAN FACTOR: FIGHTING THE LAWS OF PHYSICS
When our vehicle got to the UN, one wise man suggested: «Look, they had one hundred and ninety KamAZ trucks, and they rejected them all. They said that KamAZ was a bad car. They did the same with vehicles from other manufacturers — everything was not what they needed».
The main difficulty with SHERP is that it is really easy to control it, but literally in a few minutes a person gets a feeling of permissiveness — it seems to him that the laws of physics are not for him.
Then we agreed with the UN that we would appoint our specialists for six months to train their pilots and mechanics. As soon as our pilot turned away, they immediately loaded just as much as the space under the ceiling could hold — so everything fell off.
It took about a year for local pilots to understand it was more trouble than it was worth. But now SHERPs have been working in the UN for several years already. And they already have their own reputation.
CREATIVE ENDEAVOR: «I AM NOT PROUD»
Once we designed a new SHERP, being fully confident that inductively it would be a right-on-target vehicle. Moreover, the best engineers of the companies that supplied us with the equipment made all calculations for it.
And they said: «Yes, it will go». But it didn’t. Because we all thought that it was «like a car», not realizing that at some point the right rear wheel will get absolutely all the load. Millions of dollars have been cut for scrap. It was a good experience.
I don’t have to worry about which path to choose, where to turn — right or left. I experiment and go wherever I like best. I stopped doubting when I got the opportunity to pay for my mistakes.
When I hear the question «Is it done well enough?», my answer is always «No, not enough» because it can be improved. People often say «I’m proud». This is not for me. Yes, what has been done is cool. But what lies ahead is even more interesting.
SYSTEMIC PRODUCTION: INSPIRED BY TOP GEAR
In 2016, Top Gear made a publication about us — «The best all-terrain vehicle in the world». Just based on our video on the Web. After Top Gear, we decided to invest in the arrangement of the systemic production.
But if at that moment we had known what difficulties we would face, we certainly would not have started that. We do not receive any preferences as a manufacturer working for export. But instead there are a number of absurd laws.
We sent our vehicles to the conditional country X — this is a new market, we bear all the risks and do not know if the cars are going to be sold. The cars were not sold, and we returned them. If you returned them after more than 186 days, you have to pay the import duty. It is believed that we are already importing SHERPs from that country. At first I didn’t even believe it. Does our government punish us for our mistakes when entering new markets?
Here is another example. We have a buyer’s bank guarantee for payment in 30 days after the container arrives to the port. And no bank in Ukraine gives money against this guarantee. Should there be a government policy for export companies? But this is a rhetorical question.
UAE: A MECCA FOR MANUFACTURING COMPANIES?
As of today the best country for manufacturing is the United Arab Emirates. The entry is easy, and there are no taxes on salaries, and zero other taxes. Only if a product is made for the domestic market, there is a 5% VAT.
This attracts foreign companies. All you need is money and desire. We ourselves seriously thought about moving our production facilities here. But then decided: one shouldn’t change horses in midstream.
Ukraine has its advantages — you can work quite well here. And now we are inviting Western engineers to strengthen R&D at the SHERP plant in Kyiv.
SUPPORT IN THE WORLD ARENA: OUR AMBASSADOR TO TURKEY
We are trying to expand the list of our sales markets. In fact, SHERP is a 100% export-oriented company. This is vital because it is impossible to run this business in a small market. Small editions are very expensive.
We tried to contact Ukrainian officials in other countries where we have our embassies and a potential market. Andriy Sibiga, the Ambassador of Ukraine to Turkey, was the only one to respond. He helped a lot and organized meetings with important Turkish people.
We presented SHERP, and the prospect of export deliveries to this country opened up for us. All we asked for was to show us the entry point. After all, SHERP is being created for the global market. Unfortunately, this is the only positive example that we have.
BUSINESS RULE: A SYSTEMATIC SURVIVAL BIAS
In building the SHERP business, I am guided by the so-called systematic survival bias — when, while making decisions, people try to look for common features among the «survivors», missing the fact that no less important information is hidden among the «diseased» ones.
Therefore, I am not going to share my unsuccessful cases, enriching me with experience and knowledge. We are told that we are a closed company. Maybe we truly are. Do you know how many companies copy SHERP? How many of them infringe our patents? I pay with my own money for all my mistakes, so let others do the same. Why should I educate my competitors on the survival bias?
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE: THE UNITED STATES
The USA is a very difficult market. Requirements of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and other institutions are very demanding and are constantly changed. This happens due to the fact that an all-terrain vehicle is an extreme car, and their requirements are not stipulated for extreme vehicles.
We make certain adaptations, and as a result, all the hardware becomes heavier, more expensive, and the car itself begins to lose its features. Now in the USA we are working through a partner. We will be able to assess the pros and cons of this cooperation not earlier than in a year.
Once I realized that all the old goals that I had set in my life — every single one — had been achieved, I am looking for meaning. When I got the money to afford being engaged in projects that are interesting to me, the result ceased to be of interest — only the process.
If we are talking about making money, SHERP is one of my most unsuccessful businesses. In addition, it is one of the most complicated ones. I work a lot — sixteen hours a day, and this limits my freedom. This is my only favorite business today.
The only one, because I have already fallen out of love with all the others. Fortunately, I can afford it – to do what I love. There are two difficulties here: the first is to manage to earn money in order to afford it, and the second one is to be able to understand why you are doing this at all.
With SHERP I found the main thing — new meaning and satisfaction from the process. And when it happened, success stopped being of any concern for me.
ELON MASK — A HERO OF OUR TIME?
I am very sympathetic to Elon Musk and impressed by his non-standard decision-making. How could you have earned nothing for many years and still get rich? Or where is commerce, and where is space? All this is evidence of outstanding talents. But I can’t build a business the way he does. I don’t know how to get a billion dollars from the government for development. I have no idol leaders. It is impossible to repeat what Elon Musk or Steve Jobs did, because this is «the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong intensity».
ABOUT GOOD AND EVIL: BECOMING BETTER YOURSELF
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. There are actions I feel ashamed for, and there are people whom I would like to ask for forgiveness. You can only become better yourself, and then the world around you will get better.
I also came to the conclusion that if a person wants to live in a harmonious world — he must not fight evil, but do good. It is impossible to fight against darkness, it is impossible to defeat it — you can just turn on the light, and there will be no absolute darkness. You need to profess yourself, develop yourself.
Novel in verse Eugene Onegin. Sometimes you fall in love with some newfangled poets, but after a while the so-called «effect of cheap stuff» comes. This will not happen with Pushkin. This is for life.
Interviewed by Zhanna Kryuchkova, Vadim Dobrovolsky