Interview with Igor Trunov: How His Passion for Affiliate Marketing Led to the Creation of an International Holding

Interview with Igor Trunov: How His Passion for Affiliate Marketing Led to the Creation of an International Holding

Igor Trunov is a successful Russian entrepreneur born in 1987. He decided to become a self-made businessman at an early age, and in his youth, he conceived the idea of getting involved in affiliate marketing. The essence of this concept lies in attracting partners in the field of CPA marketing through various marketing tools. In 2016, he co-founded the company Alfaleads with a business partner.

Igor and his partners, eventually totaling three, were testing various promising directions at that time. As a result, Alfasearch, specializing in website development and SEO promotion, was established, as well as Appska, an agency focused on in-app advertising, and Go!cha, a studio for mobile app development, casual games, and traffic generation. Eventually, they were all consolidated under Advisability Group.

Approximately two years later, the decision was made to take Advisability to the international level.

Today, Advisability Group is an international company with over 200 employees. In just five years, starting from the idea that brought together a group of passionate and ambitious young individuals, it has grown into an international holding.

In his interview, Igor will share valuable insights and experiences, discussing key principles of successful entrepreneurship, secrets of effective business management, and the importance of adapting to changing market conditions. He will also talk about his achievements, development strategies of the companies he founded, and his contribution to the country’s economic growth.

Tell us about your journey towards establishing Advisability Group. What motivated you to start your own company?

Hmm, interesting. I studied and worked in different places. I started working in a cool, interesting advertising agency. I had various ideas, but due to different circumstances, they didn’t materialize. That’s when I had the first thought that in order to implement my ideas, my thoughts, the way I believe is right, I need to do something of my own. And secondly, of course, I wanted greater commercial success for myself. That was the main motivation to venture into business. There were different paths, attempts to create something, different unsuccessful projects. Advisability Group came about because at that time, in 2016, there was an understanding that traffic and internet users were the oil of the 21st century. Many people said that those who controlled it could create an infinite number of new business  projects. When you realize that you can always attract only as many users as you need. And while exploring all these advertising models, the emerging field of affiliate marketing became interesting. It was created by Amazon. And it was growing, showing the biggest growth, and it was more technologically advanced than other industries. That’s how it all came about.

How has your vision changed over the years? Your perspective on Advisability Group? Point A when you created it, what were you thinking and how did you position yourself, and point B now?

To be honest, the vision itself hasn’t changed for me. The field of digital marketing has remained interesting, and it is truly a very useful tool. Now, while creating new business directions within the company and externally, I understand to what extent this experience, knowledge, and tools can be applied to creating new businesses and making them more competitively advantageous. So, speaking about changes in vision, it probably hasn’t changed significantly, but the approach has constantly evolved. At the start of the business, you create a dynamic, small team. We called ourselves a united family, where everyone supported each other, and that’s how we lived. It had a lovely, cozy atmosphere. But with each stage of the company’s development, the format of interaction changes. You become a more structured division, then you have business processes, responsibilities, and strict reporting. You can no longer call yourself a small team because everything diverges, and that sense of family is lost, honestly. Everyone understands it. Especially those who started from the very beginning. They remember those wonderful times when everything was so charming and heartfelt. Now it’s like turning into a soulless machine. In this case, we recognized these problems and tried to preserve some warmth, but now you preserve it within individual departments. Each department carries its own sense of family. And that’s how it grew and developed.

And what do you think are the factors that have contributed to the success of your company?

Well, the first factor that has always been important for the company and has consistently allowed us to find new growth opportunities is ambition. We never settled even with the successes we achieved. Every time we reached a new level of success, it was always more of a personal drive within the company. I would come in and say, “Guys, that’s great, but let’s aim for the maximum.” Everyone would respond with, “Can’t we just enjoy our achievements for a moment?” But that ambition has always allowed us to seek new paths. Another thing we did, which may not be the most popular method, was diversifying rapidly. Within the scope of affiliate marketing, we started creating multiple independent divisions that offered different services. This allowed us to operate in the same market while providing completely different services. It helped us survive difficult periods when one division was struggling and unstable. If one division faced profitability issues, the other would carry the entire company. This diversification always kept us on our feet and created a competitive and motivated environment. Our key advantage is our people, who work for us and who care. They always strive for something more and want to be strong and the best. That sets us apart.

And what unique team management methodologies have you developed and how do you apply them?

Amazing. So what unique team management methodologies have we developed? I wouldn’t say that we specifically tried to create something unique. Undoubtedly, we always tried to use various best practices we saw from different sources. Reading books, attending seminars, interacting with other entrepreneurs, coaches, and wherever possible, we always sought better tools. However, blindly adopting a methodology described in a book or methodology without adaptation never worked. It would become a process for the sake of the process, and no one would embrace it. Therefore, we always had to create a kind of Frankenstein’s monster by merging the methodology with our corporate culture. And that’s what might be considered unique, but I would call it adaptability. Adapting the system to our corporate culture is what allows us to work the way we do now.

What challenges has Advisability Group faced? How did you overcome these obstacles?

Well, we face difficulties about once a year, but after overcoming a crisis period, we always achieve outstanding results. It’s statistically observable. There was a period when we placed all our eggs in one basket, and all our divisions started working with one client who was showing the highest results in the market. No other client’s offers could even compete. As we rushed into that direction, we eventually realized that we became dependent on that client. We thought we would have time to find others. However, that client faced a crisis, and we realized that our revenue almost came to a halt while expenses remained high. It was a challenging period that we had to overcome.

So, you understood that you were losing a client? It means that a certain number of your employees could be left without work. How did you start taking action?

First of all, we resumed our base of old clients, and then we began to launch a sales and negotiation system. It’s quite simple, really. Speaking of challenges, there have been many, but we can classify them a bit. The challenge of growth always arises. When you grow rapidly, everything around you falls apart. You may be generating significant profits, everyone is satisfied and happy, but at the same time, all processes collapse in that moment. It’s like a scorched field left behind. These are the challenges we have always faced during periods of growth. We were never able to address everything at once. Instead, we always took it step by step. We would grow, then slow down, put things in order, and then rush forward again. One of the challenges we encountered was when the company outgrew its employees. It created a situation where we had to confront the notion of “we’re a family, how can we let go of our favorites,” while realizing that they were not keeping up. We had to change our approach and view ourselves not as a family but as a team, a sports team where there is always a weaker player on the bench, and the strong ones are always on the field. This competitive environment allows us to stay in top form.

Let’s recall what cool innovations the Advisability Group has brought to the industry?

There is a payment model called CPA, which stands for Cost Per Action. It means that for every specific action, you pay your partner a fixed cost. This model is widely accepted in the market, but we were the first to implement not only a payment system based on specific actions but also to adapt them to the traffic sources used by our partners. For example, a partner working as an accountant would have different rates than a partner working with Facebook traffic. It provided a fairer system, and that’s what we applied.

What are the main awards received by Advisability Group?

These awards are based on voting, and the principle is to vote for those whom you like.

And what about the categories?

Our nominations have always been niche-oriented. We have never been awarded “Best Affiliate Program” because there are industry giants in that category. Instead, we focused on niche directions. We won the best dating promotion program, which specifically targeted online dating sites. We also had the best gaming program in the entertainment sphere and the best sports betting program, which was the most trending in Russia last year. We won the award for the most creative affiliate network in the world because we employed some creative approaches and produced videos.

The next question is about your corporate culture. How do you create it, and how do you attract and retain talented specialists?

First and foremost, we have a large HR department. Each department has its HR representative who monitors the corporate culture within that department. They observe the atmosphere, identify what people lack, and understand their problems and challenges. We have a performance review system that tracks the effectiveness and performance of employees. It provides feedback not only on what is good or bad but also on what individuals need to grow, improve, and become more effective. Individual development plans are created accordingly. This allows people to feel that they have opportunities for growth and continuous improvement within the company. We also have team-building activities and regular corporate events. We strive to give individuals the opportunity to express themselves, be heard, and have an impact on their work process. We don’t want them to be just cogs in a big machine but rather significant parts of our entire team. I believe this enables us to retain talented specialists.

What global IT trends do you believe your company should be particularly attentive to, and how do you adapt to major global trends?

I would like to say, considering the trend, that AI will take over our minds and make our work useless, but I don’t fully believe in that, or at least that it will happen quickly. AI as a tool is technologically advanced, so the effect of its development is happening very rapidly. What is considered an innovation today that enables us to work may become outdated tomorrow, as there are already many advancements in this field. In the context of AI and other personal tools, it is important for us to always be at the cutting edge and adapt quickly. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We have a technical department that is always looking for new innovations present in the market and thinking about how to adapt our work to make it more efficient and faster.

In addition to the topic of artificial intelligence, how do you think AI can change our lives, particularly in the advertising industry?

Well, in my understanding, artificial intelligence should simplify our lives. If we look at it globally, robots and artificial intelligence should take over all the routine work and give us, humans, the opportunity to think about things we don’t have time for—something more elevated, complex, and interesting. Consequently, there should be a significant increase in ideas and innovations because the simplest things that used to distract us are now being handled by artificial intelligence, robots, and others. It seems to me that this expands our consciousness and gives us the ability to think about more global issues. As for the IT market and advertising industry, apart from working with content, I’m not aware of specific applications yet. But I believe it will speed up certain processes and increase transparency through high automation of results.

How does Advisability approach cybersecurity issues and ensure the protection of its clients data?

We have had cases where our platform was hacked, and the database was stolen, followed by demands for money not to disclose it. We have encountered such situations several times, and honestly, it helped us strengthen our security and close the loopholes we found in our system. Secondly, thanks to coordinated efforts, we were able to identify these individuals. So, there are always ways to solve problems.

What strategies do you use to stimulate innovation within your team?

When it comes to innovation, it’s difficult for me to say because we don’t specifically do anything for that. I mean, we motivate people to achieve outstanding results, we create a compelling mission, and we establish a strong corporate culture, as I mentioned earlier, to make people feel connected to something great and to provide them with a comfortable environment for growth. This team’s drive for improvement and achieving high results leads them to look for what will enable them to achieve those results. And innovation is one of those tools.

How do you envision the future of your company in 5 or 10 years, and what long-term goals do you set for your team?

Our goal is to become one of the top 10 largest technology companies in the world, but there is no specific timeframe. Let’s say 10 years. And what do I see in the future? A bright future. If we imagine the company in 10 years in an idealistic scenario, of course, I would want the best professionals to work there, and I would want the technologies to allow us to make predictions on how to make the right decisions and where to look. That’s what I envision.

In your opinion, what differentiates the US market from the European market, and why doesn’t Advisability operate in the US market?

Honestly, it’s difficult for me to say what the differences are. From what I know, first and foremost, there is a significant territorial difference. It’s much easier to come here and interact with clients in Europe than to fly to another continent like the USA. Territorial accessibility is indeed an important factor. Even when communicating with clients online, the difference in time zones can have a significant impact because our approach involves close communication with our clients, not just exchanging messages once a week. Secondly, there is an unspoken code among companies in the US that they should only work with US companies. If they have a choice between working with Europeans or Americans, they will choose Americans. It’s just the way it is, and it’s difficult to overcome. Local presence is necessary there for interaction, and that’s challenging. Firstly, it’s far away, and secondly, the United States has quite complex visa criteria, so it’s not easy to transfer our employees there. However, it’s evident that the US is more advanced and financially driven.

Which people or events have influenced your career and overall management style?

As for people or events that influenced my career and management style overall, I didn’t try to consciously create a management style. It naturally emerged within me. I’ve always followed my internal feelings and instincts in how I perceive people and how I should interact with them, rather than following what books say. For example, I realize that raising my voice at someone is not my style; I can’t act that way. Consequently, I can’t apply approaches that involve such methods. I appreciate the management approach I’ve read about in Elon Musk’s books, where there’s a direct push to extract the best from people, inspiring them to accomplish great things. I believe that inspiring and motivating people produces better results than simple management tools. Undoubtedly, the people I interact with, such as colleagues and partners, influence me, and that interaction somehow reflects in my worldview. We subconsciously absorb and emulate aspects of those interactions. It seems to me that the people who surround me have a greater impact on me than how individuals are portrayed in movies.