Turning Ideas Into Reality

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Ilyas Kudratullaev featured above
Alina Zhalikova for USAID

A young entrepreneur wants to tap into Turkmenistan’s e-commerce potential

Ilyas Kudratullaev, 25, is an ambitious budding entrepreneur from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. He is one of over 7,000 young people from the country to benefit from USAID’s Enriching Youth for Tomorrow program, designed to prepare youth for the modern labor market and enable them to contribute to the local economy and their communities.

Since childhood, Ilyas has been drawn to entrepreneurship and spent years researching what makes companies successful.

“Analytics, mathematics, and statistics are really important in business. That’s why I studied applied math and information technology at Turkmenistan’s State University,” says Ilyas.

While at school, he learned about computer programs, taking classes on Python, Titan, PHP, Bootstrap, C++, among others. To earn some money, he also started working on web development and a paper-based wedding invitation business.

Through the USAID Enriching Youth for Tomorrow program, Ilyas was selected for “Be Entrepreneurial”, a course designed to help young people develop the skills they need to start their own businesses.

In 2018, Ilyas was part of the first cohort of participants selected through interviews from hundreds of young people interested in the program. He says, “The three-month course gave me an understanding of the fundamentals of marketing, finance, and sales.”

After completing the course, Ilyas realized that he was one of many competitors in the wedding invitations industry. To distinguish himself, he decided to merge his two ventures into one: an online wedding invitations business.

However, soon after graduation, Ilyas was conscripted for two years of military service. He was stationed in Mary, a city in southeast Turkmenistan. While away, he missed his friends and the Enriching Youth for Tomorrow team.

“I wrote to them and they replied! I clearly remember the day I heard back from them,” Ilyas says. “I still have the letters, two years later. I was so thrilled, it brought me to tears. I can’t describe the feeling when you’re far away from your friends and then you receive something that reminds you of home!”

On his first day back in Ashgabat after completing his service, Ilyas corresponded with Enriching Youth for Tomorrow’s representatives and learned that he qualified for a soft skills program designed to assist young people foster skills such as emotional intelligence, goal setting, effective communication, time management, and leadership skills.

Right after that course, Ilyas joined the USAID-funded Startup-Ecosystem program. “This was the most crucial program for me. It equipped me with the tools to achieve tangible results. I was able to transform my e-invitations idea into a business. I received help with attracting investors and launched the business in 2020,” says Ilyas.

COVID-19 presented his next big challenge.

“Due to the pandemic, people couldn’t have events and so there was a lull in demand,” says Ilyas, “With hopefully the worst behind us, things are starting to pick up again.”

Ilyas used the downtime to invest in his venture. He developed a new marketing strategy and updated his offering, adding new features by leveraging the many computer languages he has learned.

“I want to develop the business to a point where I no longer need to be involved in day-to-day operations. I want the business to work sustainably and make people happy. That’s my vision. I also want to have time to exploit the potential of e-commerce in Turkmenistan,” says Ilyas.

Ilyas has a three-pronged approach: grow his online business venture, develop online advertising, and generate online sales. This will set him apart from his competition, Ilyas adds, because “businesses in Turkmenistan struggle to advertise themselves.”

Digital marketing is in its nascence in the country: “I’m trying to bring modern tools here. I taught myself to use Google AdWords, Yandex Direct, Yandex Metrica, and I want to use these tools to help local businesses reach potential customers,” says Ilyas.

He also hopes to develop sales funnels. A sales funnel is each step that someone has to take to become a customer.

“It’s really awesome! I love it when I can bring real customers to businesses. Online sales is under-developed for now [in Turkmenistan]. I want to help more businesses find and reach customers over the internet,” says Ilyas.

On World Youth Skills Day, Ilyas has this to say to other entrepreneurial youth: “Look for opportunities. Take every opportunity you can get. You will continue to learn by being curious. Don’t be afraid to turn your ideas into reality.”

USAID’s Enriching Youth for Tomorrow program partners with state, non-governmental, international, and business organizations to help Turkmenistani youth like Ilyas reach their full potential.

Last updated: September 17, 2021

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