It is nearly 2 a.m., and Maxim Glagolev is lost, deep in focus. He and his partner, Dmitry Semchenko, persevere through time zone differences as they aim to start their U.S.-based startup while living abroad. Although both founders were born in Moscow, Maxim is temporarily working from Turkey, while Dmitry does the same from Armenia.
Maxim is a beloved alum of Syracuse University’s Blackstone LaunchPad. He participated in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship to study International Leadership and Technology Management at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in 2019 when he first started working with the LaunchPad. Armed with newfound hope, Maxim joined the LaunchPad to work on his dreams and break the glass ceiling in his career. There, he fell in love with the world of possibilities that entrepreneurship unlocked.
Working with the LaunchPad, Maxim overcame his mental limitations about starting a business and founded GeekLama which helps children around the world receive an IT education that empowers them to pursue better jobs and a better future. Since its founding, GeekLama has launched in the U.S., Russia, Israel, Ghana, and Qatar. Maxim remains engaged with the LaunchPad as a mentor to current student startups working in software development, ed tech and impact entrepreneurship.
Maxim’s best friend Dmitry was inspired by this entrepreneurial journey. As someone who adores innovation and appreciates a challenge ripe to be solved, Dmitry looked for a way to partner with Maxim to start another venture. With Dmitry’s expert knowledge of the diamond industry and Maxim’s entrepreneurial prowess, the duo kickstarted LGDeal, the first B2B marketplace that connects lab-grown diamond producers with jewelry stores.
The idea was born when Dmitry was sitting in a sales office at work, observing how long it took to receive information about diamonds. He learned that diamonds would switch hands from three to five intermediaries, increasing their cost by 200-300% along the way. LGDeal solves this by creating a thorough database that enables producers and buyers to connect directly. Jewelers can filter for parameters such as shape, price, carat, cut, color, clarity, production location, and seller rating.
Although lab-grown diamonds are a young, emerging and rapidly growing market, the diamond industry overall remains conservative. A marketplace model like this one plays by different rules than what players in the field are used to, revolutionizing the industry in a way comparable to what Amazon did for consumers. LGDeal offers greater transparency and lower costs than the market had ever seen before.
Maxim and Dmitry built their MVP in less than a year, an incredible accomplishment for the scale of the platform they were aiming for. How did they create a team that was able to do this so efficiently? Maxim and Dmitry leaned on each other’s best talents — while Maxim built a team of his best IT developers, Dmitry could recruit growing companies to join and salespeople who were familiar with jewelers worldwide.
Dmitry also added, “It is important to hire people who are smarter than you, who do better than you. When hiring, spend a lot of time choosing the right candidates because it is better to spend more time now to find the right fit than it is to spend time fixing a problem later.”
Maxim nodded, saying, “Time is a crucial resource for startups.”
Aside from the skillset of the team, Maxim noted the importance of team camaraderie: “There would not be a company without Dmitry. He drives all of us when we are down and lifts our spirits. We did this all together.”
Dmitry echoed similar wisdom: “We try to make the company feel like it is not just me and Maxim’s baby. It is everyone’s baby. We always receive other people’s input because in many cases, our initial assumptions are wrong or made better by the team. Don’t give your team a solution — give them a problem to solve. Then listen.”
The founders explain that they never vote on decisions. Instead, they continue discussions until they discover the single best solution that everyone agrees with. Their favorite decision was the naming of the company.
“That was when the company was born — when we created the name,” Maxim said, smiling.
As with all startups, the process was not without its challenges.
Maxim particularly recalls learning a valuable lesson in being realistic in his time commitments: “I promised to give a lot to the company, and sometimes I could not. I had to evaluate the work on my plate and be honest with myself from the beginning about what I can take on.”
Maxim calls this his illusion theory. Filled with ambition and vision, entrepreneurs often come up with more ideas than they can realistically pursue within 24 hours of a day. Outside of his startup work, Maxim is also a Chief Business Development Officer at Yandex Practicum and has a family to tend to. Dmitry also works full-time and cares for a family of his own. Balancing these has helped Maxim develop a greater self-awareness of what is realistic and what is an illusion.
Despite the challenges of time and distance, the founders have built a successful venture. They now have a collection of over 150,000 stones on their platform that is updated weekly, and LGDeal is even listed as a member in the Jewelers Board of Trade (ID #02738458) and the Jewelers of America (ID #1013659).
By the end of the year, Maxim and Dmitry are planning to open an office in New York City, where they can expand to honor certain clients’ requests for quality control, checking and storing diamond stones before they are shipped to customers. Their goal to be an ecosystem and a one-stop shop for jewelers is well underway.
Both founders offer aspiring entrepreneurs words of advice as they begin their own journeys.
Dmitry advises entrepreneurs to build a strong support network first. “Make sure to have support from friends and family before you start because the process will be challenging, so you need this support from people you love to be sustainable.”
Finally, Maxim encourages all potential entrepreneurs to take a shot at their idea: “In the worst-case scenario, you might fail. But you can tell yourself, ‘At least I tried, and then move on, building on lessons learned along the way.’”
Story by Sasha Temerte ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photos supplied