From the Datcha to the Boardroom: The Story of Yuriy Nekrasov
How Utech CEO Yuriy Nekrasov accomplished the American Dream
The art of closing a deal has always been intrinsic for Utech CEO, Yuriy Nekrasov, who from a young age already had a knack for selling.
It all started at his family’s datcha, a country house where his grandfather grew a variety of fruits and vegetables back in Ukraine. At around the age of 6, Nekrasov and his cousin had begun picking onions and tomatoes, taking them over to the local market, and selling them just for fun.
“We were just running around, selling fruits and vegetables for fun,” said Nekrasov. “People were like ‘what the heck are you doing here,’ and would give me change here and there in exchange for my produce.”
Though his knack for selling was undeniable, it wouldn’t really come in handy until later in his life. At this time Nekrasov was more focused on tapping into his creative side, through playing music, dancing, practicing martial arts, and watching films.
It was the films, specifically, that would play a significant role in his life as he got older. Upon immigrating to the U.S. at age 13 and enrolling in high school a year later, Nekrasov began to put his creative chops to the test.
“Because of my creative personality, I wanted to be in the movie industry,” Nekrasov said. “I’ve liked movies since I was growing up, I watched everything back in Ukraine.”
Nekrasov got involved in a variety of extracurricular activities, including producing shows and films for his school’s local channel. Four years later, he was ready to take his talents to the next level, looking to attend one of the nation’s top film schools: UCLA.
Unfortunately for Nekrasov, that dream didn’t come to fruition, which forced him to ponder his future and consider what he would do next.
“After I didn’t get accepted into UCLA, I was sitting around thinking what my next move was going to be,” Nekrasov said. “I figured that marketing would allow me to apply my creativity, while also learning the management and business side.”
After spending two years at Oakton Community College, Nekrasov ultimately landed at DePaul University, where he was part of the Integrated Marketing Education (IME) program.
The IME program, as the website states, is an honors marketing program that “gives a select group of undergrad students a hands-on opportunity to develop skills in marketing management while interacting with Chicago-area businesses.”
Nerkrasov’s cohort proved to be quite the star-studded bunch, as many of the students went on to be successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, and VPs at major corporations.
As part of the program, Nekrasov flourished alongside his talented classmates. From trips to South America to learn about the wine industry to working for companies in the Chicago area, Nekrasov received hands-on experience that helped shape him as a marketing professional and leader.
He’d also moved out of his family home, found a roommate and snatched up an apartment in the heart of downtown Chicago. There, he began to experience life as a young professional, working a variety of jobs in order to stay afloat, while he finished school and looked for a job in his profession.
“At the time I wasn’t thinking about money,” Nekrasov said. “I didn’t care about luxuries. I slept in a sleeping bag and my apartment wasn’t furnished. I didn’t even have a car.”
Nekrasov worked three jobs, all in different fields. He was DJing, doing accounting at an art gallery, and bartending. It was the bartending gig that would open opportunities for his career, after a long talk with a CEO of a local tech startup.
“After chatting for a while, he couldn’t believe that I wasn’t already working in my field,” Nekrasov said. “I must have made him the best drink he ever had!—-I got offered a job as a Project Manager for his startup.”
Nekrasov started the job the following Monday. At just 22, he got his first real taste of startup life—-something that would play a major role in his professional career in the years to come.
“I’ve always felt that startups give you a certain freedom to figure things out,” said Nekrasov. “You can really involve yourself by suggesting things and growing with the company.”
He was amazed at the access he had to higher management, specifically to the CEO who was only 36 years old. The small gap in age between himself and the CEO was perplexing to Nekrasov, who couldn’t believe that one of the higher-ups could be so young.
He took full advantage of the opportunity, picking the CEO’s brain every chance he got until he was eventually poached by another startup with help from an IME program connection.
At this startup, Nekrasov worked his way up in the ranks, becoming the company’s Marketing Manager, getting his first opportunity in a higher management position.
Nekrasov relished the opportunity. He would find any excuse to stay at work and continue to grow professionally.
“There were times we would just stay in the office all night,” Nekrasov said. “Sometimes we just slept in the office, it was like chaos.”
Nekrasov and his fellow young professionals had a clear philosophy: move fast, fail fast, recover fast. Their goal was to try different strategies, without wasting time, and finding out what worked best. This experience was crucial in Nerkasov’s development, teaching him about dealing with the process of trial and error, and finding successful solutions. The process, in many ways, still works for him today.
However, while Nekrasov was learning and doing more than he ever had before, he was in need of some freedom in his professional life. While considering his future, Nekrasov landed a consulting contract with a custom door company, so he left his job and took the opportunity in stride.
After spending some time doing PR, online marketing, and sales for the door company, he decided to flex his entrepreneurial muscles even further, starting his own consulting agency, NKRSV Consulting Inc.
Four years into consulting, Nekrasov realized that it really wasn’t for him. He missed working as a part of a team and building something from the ground up.
That’s when he got a call from Vlad Balabuev, a friend of Nekrasov and one of the founders of Utech.
“We had always wanted to work together,” Nekrasov said. “He asked me if I was finally ready, and I said yes.”
At Utech, Nekrasov had a unique opportunity to apply everything he’d learned as a professional working at various startups—-first as the Director of Marketing & Sales, and now, as the CEO.
Utech was launched to meet the technological needs of the trucking industry. The ELD–Electronic Logging Device–mandate that ensured trucking company compliance, was on its way and there was a demand to be met. Utech was ready to take on that challenge and so was Nekrasov.
Nekrasov was only Utech’s fourth hire, so he’s had an opportunity to truly grow with the company from the start. As he recalls, the beginning was quite the conundrum.
“We were four days in before we found the correct (ELD compliance) documents to get us started,” Nekrasov said. “And once we found them, we realized we had a lot of work to do. How could I sell a product we didn’t have?”
And from then on, they were off to the races.
In only a couple of months, this small group managed to get a viable product out into the market. From the software development to finding hardware and finally selling it to consumers, Nekrasov was able to experience everything from the ground up.
“Being here from the beginning meant that I knew everything about everything,” Nekrasov said. “I knew the product, the market, the customers, the regulations. When it was time to register our ELD with the FMCSA, I was the one that got it done. I’ve been able to really witness and live everything that went into building the business.”
Eventually, Utech’s other founding members entrusted Nekrasov with the future of the company by offering him the role of CEO.
“It was an amazing opportunity, ” Nekrasov said. “I finally had the opportunity to make major decisions and to take risks by steering the company one way or another.”
Only 3 years into his time as CEO, Nekrasov is still looking forward to continuing to grow alongside Utech, with many more milestones and achievements to come.
Additionally, Nekrasov is excited for the continued technological growth of the trucking industry and expects Utech to become a leading innovator.
“Most trucking companies are beginning to rely on technology to manage their day-to-day operations,” Nekrasov said. “Going forward, I think integrating with other systems that deal with freight, management, and data among others is going to be crucial in order to continue giving our customers information they can use to improve their operations.”
Nekrasov is confident that Utech will continue to be at the cutting edge of technology in the trucking industry by being open to new challenges and finding solutions that meet the growing needs of trucking businesses. This marketer, now CEO, is ready to take his company to the next level, and that is a pretty good story–even if it won’t become a film. Nekrasov is excited to apply his creativity to the business.