Sports for Life: Aleksandra Efimova, founder of Russian Pointe
By Colette Harris
When Aleksandra Efimova was studying international business at Eastern Michigan University she dreamed of working for a big and respectable corporation; one where she would get to sit in a fancy office, wear beautiful business suits, and travel for important meetings.
It seems that Efimova got her wish, although she created her own big and respectable corporation instead of working for someone else’s. When she founded Russian Pointe – a company that offers high-quality dance shoes made of natural materials, apparel, accessories, wellness products, and educational books and toys – 19 years ago, she could never have imagined that her former side business would become a global brand with a strong customer base in the United States, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Australia.
Combing her passion for dance – she was a ballet dancer competitive ballroom dancer in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia and the United States – and entrepreneurship, Efimova has worked to position Russian Pointe against brands that have been in business for over 100 years. The road wasn’t always easy, but as you’ll learn as you read her story, the will to succeed, perseverance, and a well-executed plan brought Russian Pointe to where it is today. Building a successful business requires the same skills that it takes to become a successful athlete. Whether you’re a former athlete inspired to start a business or a competitor looking to up your game, you can take a page out of this entrepreneur’s book.
GOLD: You founded Russian Pointe during your junior year at Eastern Michigan University while you were still a competitive ballroom dancer. What made you want to start the company?
AE: When I came to United States from the Soviet Union, a country where everything was government-owned and the concept of entrepreneurship was pretty much unknown, I was just fascinated and intrigued by it. It was like an eye-opener of what it’s like to have your own business, what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, and what that role is. I always worked to pay my way through school and as a junior in college, at 20-years-old, I needed a way to make money. I ended up starting Russian Pointe out of a necessity to put myself through school for the last couple of years. I truly did not think that this little business project out of my college dorm room would turn into a multi-million dollar business; that I’d be doing this for 19 years, that I would employee people, that I’d have factories around the world manufacture my products, and customers worldwide. So back then I did not think it was going to grow into this. It was truly just a way for me to make a little bit of money to put myself through school until I could go and get a "real job."
GOLD: But you decided to stick with Russian Pointe. Why did you choose to make the company your full-time business?
AE: After I finished my studies I had a couple of employees and I had a few customers. I was making enough money to pay my bills so I said, “Well, I’ll do this for just a little bit more.” Then my friends started getting jobs at big corporations and I still kept working with my dancers, but I was really excited and I enjoyed it everyday. I didn’t want to let my customers down if I stopped because they already liked my product and I didn’t want to let my employees down because they relied on the paycheck, so I just kept going every year.
GOLD: What challenges do you face as a business owner?
AE: I didn’t have any money [in the beginning]. That was the biggest struggle. I started my business with a $1,2000 financial aid check from the state of Michigan to pay for my tuition. I didn’t spend the check on my tuition; I spent it on a fax machine, a couple of business trips, and business cards. So doing it on a shoestring, doing it without previous experience, and not having a mentor or coach to coach me through the whole process was the big challenge. As entrepreneurs, we face challenges every day in life, in every stage of life, but the challenges are different. As the business evolves and gets bigger, the challenge that was a challenge a year ago, a month ago, hopefully is no longer a challenge.
GOLD: How did you overcome those challenges to see the business grow into the organization it is today?
AE: Well, for me it was never an option of if I’m going to do it or not. It was just my mindset of, I’m gonna do it. When a marathon runner starts a marathon they don’t think about if they will stop. They see themselves at the finish line. They visualize success. It really was my mindset of, I’m not quitting.
GOLD: What do you think has contributed to your company’s growth and success?
AE: I think one of the key success factors with me and Russian Pointe is that I truly and passionately enjoy working with children. I love the arts. I love actually designing a product and giving a product to a customer. I love the international aspect of it. I love the beauty of it.
GOLD: You’ve mentioned that social media makes the entrepreneurial lifestyle constantly look glamorous. What do you want future entrepreneurs to know about what goes into running a successful company?
AE: It’s not easy. It is a complete responsibility for everything that happens in the company. It’s fixing mistakes that arise, it’s being the last person to take a paycheck if there’s a financial challenge, and it’s paying late if necessary to make things work. So, what we see in the glamorous part of entrepreneurship is the very small tip of an iceberg; people do not see the hard work behind it. It is probably the hardest work you can do. Having any job and being good at it is hard, but when you own the business everything starts with you and ends with you. Anything that didn’t happen within the team is still your responsibility.
GOLD: What’s your advice for girls just beginning to launch their businesses?
AE: My advice would be to develop a good and clear vision and mission statement for the business, define a very clear strategy, elements, and objectives, and develop a good strategic plan. Most importantly – execute on the plan. An okay plan today is better than a great plan tomorrow.
For more on Russian Pointe, including their dance products, books and toys that teach young children the finer points of dance, and events visit
Photo at top courtesy of Aleksandra Efimova
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity