Interviewer: You are Global Scotch whisky Ambassador for the Singleton and now scotch is a very important part of your life. Do you remember trying whisky for the first time and how was it?
Ervin Trykowski: Yeah, it’s something that in Scotland is always around you. You can find it on occasions, at anniversaries, at birthdays, and you always remember the first time you smelled it … For me it was enormous and peaty and smoky. I can always remember the first time I smelled certain whiskies.
The first time I really remember cracking it, enjoying was when I started to work at bars. It was sweet and honey and citrus, not too challenging and that was the moment actually I really liked it.
It’s always around you. Scotch has amazing power to bring you back to somewhere just as soon as you smell it and it does for us being from Scotland. It brings you back quite a while.
I: You became a global brand ambassador in relatively young age. What brought you there? Was it your goal or was it just some lucky circumstances?
ET: Well, I worked behind the bar from the age of 17 and I worked for some smaller companies and I knew I always wanted to travel the world to talk about Scottish whisky. It’s a good job to do when you are relatively young. It’s quite a lot of travel. I did want to travel and it was definitely my goal. Doing it for the world biggest scotch company wasn’t a plan, it was quite lucky circumstance. It’s a massive honor to travel around the world and share national drink with people in different countries.
I: Maybe it’s kind of silly question but still — what does a global ambassador do? What are your usual every day duties?
ET: It’s a really hard question to answer. Well, it’s constantly like booking holidays. You’re talking with markets, you’re planning activities, you are making sure that when you’re at the market you do as much as you possibly can get in front of many people. And making sure it’s a right type activity for what you want to do.
It’s also talking to bartenders and hosting lunches and dinners and all different types. We do a lot of internal work like talking to people from Diageo about how they sell scotch as well as smth you don’t really talk about very often …something glamorous like coming to Barometer and talking on the main stage stuff. There is no really a normal day at this job, it can be very different. It’s a particularly strange experience, talking in very strange environment, it’s great. It just shows where scotch ends up. Scotch from a country with 5.5 million people is currently available in over 180 countries. It’s amazing. We’re very a small country with this massive global export and it’s amazing how every single country acts with it completely differently. So you truly find yourself in a very funny experience.
I: You have a quite impressive background as a bartender and mixologist. Can you tell your personal top three cocktails?
ET: Well, just three? Actually, I’ve pretty much to say (laughing)
I: Ok, top one?
ET: Highball. Both of my top two are there exactly for the same reason as High Ball and Old Fashioned. They both have this incredible ability to bridge the gap between experienced whisky drinker and complete amateur. But they show off whisky in a very similar way.
Highball makes scotch approachable. It makes scotch available and it makes scotch accessible to people because you drop it not intensive in alcohol, you’re revealing more flavors underneath. It’s cool because the pure is loved as well. Because it’s still seen as being an expression of a cocktail that shows off a single malt in a pure form. So you can serve a Highball to anyone, non–scotch drinkers or hard-scotch drinkers will enjoy it.
The Old Fashioned does exactly the same. It takes the ages off the whisky, it makes it accessible, also for that home-drinker is so simple to make it. There are three ingredients. Anyone can do it.
The biggest compliment you can get as a bartender is when one of your guests comes back and says “I made that drink you’ve made me at home for my friends”. It’s the biggest compliment. It’s so easy explained over bar that why won’t people make it at home? And that’s the best thing for me.
You can take your Scottish whisky; you can take some bitters and sweetening agents and you can make an unlimited number of different expressions of the cocktail. As bartenders we want to have more people drinking cocktails.
So Highball, Old Fashioned and Pina Colada. Cocktails are supposed to be fun. Pina Colada is fun (laughing). I make up Pina Colada with Talisker, call it Buckthorn Coladas.
Cocktails are supposed to be fun.
I: Do you remember your first signature cocktail?
ET: Yes, I remember the first cocktail I’ve ever done at the cocktail competition. It was the World Class. I don’t think it was called a World Class yet. I made it to the Northern Final in the North of England and Jim’s Beverages actually have come to the competitions and judged them. Now they’re way too busy to judge cocktail competitions.
It was Talisker, gingerbread and hazelnut, and cracked black peppers on top and it was not fashioned basically. It was served with smoked fish from Scotland called Arbroath Smokie — it’s very common fish in central Scotland. Yeah, that was the first cocktail I made at the competitions. I remember it was very sweet.
I: Did you win with this cocktail?
ET: No. I think I came the 3rd in the Northern Final. But it’s the 1st drink I remember to make at a cocktail competition.
I: What’s the funniest or the strangest ingredient you’ve used in your cocktail?
ET: Judging world class, you see some pretty strange things, for example, smoked salmon in a cocktail shaker. In this pursuit of bartenders using cool flavors and sustainable ingredients you see some pretty insane stuff.
There were drinks with oyster shells which I think is amazing but very odd.
Actually, I want people to be able to recreate what I do so…
Well, ok, there is a bar in London called Crucible which is owned by my best friend Stewart and we spent an afternoon making a drink that was wild.
We took Singleton 18 and put fresh pineapple, redistilled which essentially took all of the itching characteristics of the whisky so all vanilla, all your rich dark flavors mixed with pineapple and in the end, you have the redistilled pineapple infused 18-year old whisky. We took the slushy stuff left over and made ice-cream so we had 18-old ice-cream.
We distilled part into Mary Pickford, it was half way between Mary Pickford and Scotch Martini, and we garnished the 18-years old ice-cream. It’s absolutely dynamites. It’s a really tasty drink. You could make it in market but it’s not so easy. Next time I come to Kyiv, I’ll bring it. It’s absolutely delicious. Insane but delicious.
I: Let’s have a question about Barometer. Sure, you’ve been there. First of all, what do you think about it? And how often do you attend such events? Do you think they are useful and for what: for inspiration, for work, for grabbing some tips from others?
ET: The 1st thing that hit me is the size of it. It’s enormously huge. It was amazing, like, people just go, turn up.
I gave a talk at the 2nd biggest room and it was just like 400 people in the room, 200 people in seats and people standing up in the back. And I like “This is insane, it’s enormous, talking to so many people.” There are only 2 of them at this scale. It’s great. It’s good for us to get to know what else is on the market because we usually see only our stuff
My favorite part about Barometer is the actual bars, you actually can see what the top bars in the world are doing with their products. I think it’s very clever and it’s what we should learn from.
I: Do you often go to such events?
ET: Yeah, in Europe, sometimes in Asia, some whiskey-focused as well: for bartenders, by bartenders. Probably, 5 or 6 times a year.
I: What about work/life balance? Do you care about it? How do you keep it? If it’s possible to keep it with your work.
ET: Yeah, I’m very lucky to have support from my fiancée. We’ve just bought a new house so it makes your time home way more special. I’ve done 2 years when I travelled 50-60 % of the year which is heavy. Then I had a break of 6 month when we had our 1st child, it was good to recharge as well.
And then the plan is to come back but I don’t think I’ll travel as much again as this balance of work and life has shifted towards life and it’s great.
Well, there is no reason why you can’t do this, work and life at the same time. You can actually travel 360 days a year if you want it but I don’t. So you find yourself prioritizing certain markets, prioritizing certain events like Barometer.
If you travel 360 days year, at the end you have nothing. And companies are realizing it as well that you are not a machine.
I remember 5 years ago people did this job for 2 years and then they went off, they had another one. We’re seeing more people now doing this longer which is good.
I: Where do you find you inspiration? Maybe who is your inspiration or what is your inspiration?
ET: For drinks, when you talk about whisky inspiration, you’ve got a prepackaged product that has a buck of flavors and of stories of people and places and beautiful countries. When you make a drink, you want to take someone to that place. It’s about creating experience.
And there are so many good public speakers, people I enjoy working with and who formed my talking style.
I: I mean, for example, you definitely need some source of inspiration to create something new crazy and interesting.
ET: Yeah, when you get to travel around the world’s best bars, it’s very easy to be inspired by what these guys do, to make a tiny version of something, maybe a little slightly less advanced one of what people can get on board with and enjoy.
And it goes back to the old-fashioned idea that we want people — and I hope we do inspire them — to do something similar. All these wonderful bars and all these amazing people are experiencing a list of different cultures.
I: As you travel a lot, what tips do you bring from everywhere, what exactly did you bring to your own work from there?
ET: It’s something that a bartender will say or something that a bartender will do and you think “It’s f*** cool!” It may be a way he uses a piece of equipment, a way he got his bar set up. Just it’s so hard to give an example because there are so many things! Especially when you are judging World Class.
And it’s so nice when you work with these products, every bartender will give you cocktail ingredients, equipment, its line in cocktail presentation — all of these things inspire us, inspire me. It’s really easy to turn up with something cool when people are constantly feeding you information.
I: If you could choose, what superhero would you like to be or what superpower would you like to have?
ET: I don’t know, something to do with going through time.
I: Back or forward?
ET: Forward. So many good ones to pick up from, I don’t want to get wrong. I can either be really fast so I can stop missing flights. I’d like to be speedy. And maybe really fast behind the bar. It would be very good! I’d be a superman, with a suit.
Aleksey Akimov, founder of the event agency and technical company IDEALSECRETS, has been CEO of the business for 7 years and feels well in his element in the world of events. Aleksey usually takes part in various educational events as a visiting coach and he told us how to set up a company having only 100 dollars, why it is difficult to find a worker for the salary of 30 thousand hryvnas and why fuck-ups can do some good.
«Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.. Because every fuck-up is an opportunity to do your work better. And it’s even more useful if you get this lesson not for free. In this way you’ll learn it better».
Aleksey tell us how did you get an idea of starting a company?
Everything is simple. Seven years ago I headed a technical company. I don’t want to name it out of respect for its owners. Even at that time, I suggested to the management that we should organize events. I had a very powerful argument – the availability of all the necessary equipment and a good team capable of operating it professionally. However, the answer was always the same, “let’s not mix apples and oranges; if you want to hold events, open your own company.
I gave it some thought and decided to do it. I started literally with a hundred dollars of budget, but eventually this figure changed. I can say that we are the only event agency on the market with our own large stock of equipment. This is our USP. Because we are an event agency and a technical company rolled into one. This is how we get advantages over the competitors.
What business is more profitable for you: event organization or a technical company and equipment rental?
Today, equipment rental provides us with a greater income.
Can you evaluate in percentage terms?
Thirty to seventy. Events are really popular but still equipment makes us more money. But for me it’s not critical. In my company I am a founder, CEO and a «player-coach», I have over 20 years of experience in organization and technical support of events. I live for my business. Recently, I have given a lecture for beginner event-makers and my point was that you need to live for your profession, your eyes should sparkle, the work should bring excitement, otherwise you’ll never succeed. I know that the world of sounds and events is my element, I feel completely at ease there, so it doesn’t matter for me if I hold events or help organizers choose proper equipment.
What do you think of the equipment market in Ukraine? Is it a competitive business and how has it changed over the last 10 years?
Today, the competition in the market is really stiff. There’s definitely more equipment than events in the market. Supply exceeds demand.
How do you assess the annual turnover of equipment in terms of money?
It is hard to say. There’s no exact statistics, because no one collects it. In Ukraine, there is no technical community, because the competition is tough, closed and not always fair. I assume that it might be about $ 50,000,000.
What is your market share in percentage terms?
The thing is the market is highly segmented. We work in corporate business. We hold at least 10% of this market.
What other sectors exist?
There is a private sector – these are birthdays. Also, a weddings market, it is very large and profitable. A sector of children’s activities. Sports events that have become very popular recently. Sometimes we organize weddings but it’s not really up our street. However, we were considering whether to make weddings a separate business. There’s no final decision on the matter yet.
How many employees do you have?
About thirty people. But it’s an approximate figure, we have about 20 permanent employees.
You mentioned your USP, that your business is an event agency and a technical company at the same time. Maybe you have other advantages under your belt in addition to having a large equipment stock and 7 years of existence?
We can organize turnkey-ready events of any complexity. We do everything from the choice of an event presenter to the sound set-up with our own equipment. This provides a financial advantage. At any other agency it takes a considerable sum because they work with vendors. We don’t need to negotiate with other firms and go to great lengths to fit within a client’s budget. We are more flexible and efficient due to our good equipment; we propose our clients a variety of options relying exclusively on ourselves. This includes our discounts. All decisions are made inside the company at the round table.
What are your plans for the next 5 years? For example, what about increasing your market share?
We have quite ambitious plans. Now I won’t unveil them but we want to become one of the most popular company in the market. I deliberately avoid saying “the best” because it’s a very vague notion. We have two slogans, the first: «We make life brighter» and the second one is «Our mission is success of your business». We want to develop in tune with our mission embodied in these two mottos. We love what we do and we enjoy it when a client is satisfied with the result even if it is not too profitable for us.
Do you organize some educational seminars for your clients? In the West it is very popular to shape the market by educating the clients, introducing them to a certain level of quality.
We don’t want to enter the educational area. Because this business bears a certain amount of responsibility. Some of our partner agencies have chosen this path and launched several good, high-quality educational programs. I am often invited to these trainings as a speaker. Twenty years in business is twenty years of daily solving some problems; this is a valuable experience, which I readily share with beginner event-makers.
Tell us about your technical park, how often do you modernize it, what percentage of income do you invest in that?
Actually, those who are a little aware of the notion “technical park” will smile. Because every month something new appears: new devices, consoles, new sound, software – this is a never-ending process. If you do not renovate the park, very soon you will find yourself “behind the curve”, good orders will go to another agency. The market of technical equipment can be compared with the market of mobile phones and other gadgets. We are now talking about the equipment that involves software. It needs to be renovated every month. This is the only way to remain competitive.
We spend at least twenty percent of our income on equipment modernization. It’s a considerable amount. But this should be done, because financial amortization is high. Equipment is made smaller, smarter, more productive. If in the past you needed a remote control that occupied a half of the room, now a third of the operations can be done using a tablet. Therefore, what used to cost $ 100 thousand 10 years ago, will hardly be even $ 10,000 worth. Without timely renewal of the technical park, there will be no business.
By the way, business. How much money is needed to start a similar company? To what extent is the market saturated?
Despite the fact that competition in the market is very high, it is worth doing this business. People with shining eyes can always bite a chunk of the market. As for the money, you need at least $ 100,000 to launch something. But in order to get noticed in the market, you need a million American dollars, not hryvnas.
In your area of work people who operate equipment during events matter a lot. What about turnover? What salary is enough to make a good specialist continue working for a company?
Competition for employees is intense. Older specialists leave, and new ones are not very numerous. Because young people do not want to work physically, they want to make a living intellectually. In addition, the turnover is very high. Event business is stressful, sometimes there are several events in one day. Some people cannot cope with such pace and leave to related businesses. In terms of salary, I can say that it might be difficult for us to fill some vacancies even with a salary of thirty thousand hryvnias. I’m talking about installers, light engineers, and sound engineers.
What significant events have you organized recently that you are proud of?
Besides BAROMETER?) There are events that I lived through from beginning to end. The first is 26 May, the Champions League final. Our company was fully responsible for organizational and technical side of the two fan zones. The first one is Arsenal club’s zone, it was located in Shevchenko Park, and the second one near the Palace Ukraine – Real’s zone. Working with UEFA, with the management of these two great teams and the very involvement in such an event is incredible. At the venues we did a lot of complex work with six thousand fans. We were fully responsible for everything and controlled the entire process of fans’ visit to Ukraine. Starting with their arrival at the airport, accommodation at the hotel, meals and boarding on the return flight.
The second event is also a sports one – 7-8 October, Odessa, Langeron Beach, 785 people in the massive Ocean’sMan swimming competition. We were organizers and contractors. This is the Spanish franchise bought by Vlasta Shovkovskaya. Recently we have received a confirmation that we’ll be organizing the next year’s event as well.
Would you tell us about fuck-ups? What was really interesting or funny?
We had many fuck-ups. Personally, I believe that practice is the best teacher. At my lectures I always say that you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes because:
- There are no events without minor mistakes. Any event always has some nuances. There is always something that doesn’t work out as it was planned. But consider the fact that what an agency and a client is preparing for visitors is nobody’s guess. Guests do not know ideas and details. Sometimes, what you consider to be a fuck-up might play into your hands. Because guests might like this fuck-up. They may well say: “Wow, so cool.” But they also might dislike it, and then you will have to learn a serious lesson from the situation;
- Your anxiety is perceptible energetically. You worry that something went wrong, and guests feel your effort and sincerity and will reciprocate. Often, a fuck-up turns into such a powerful energy that will save the situation and make a truly hearty event.
Let’s go back a little. With regard to equipment, are you planning to bring some unusual appliances to Ukraine?
Yes. It will be brand-new lighting equipment. Due to innovative lighting developments, the decorations go to the background, but the show does not lose its quality. And we are also thinning of a large sound package.
You have lighting and sound. Why haven’t you opted for LED equipment development?
We feel comfortable with the field we’re professionals in. LED equipment market is quite large and there are serious players, for example, our partner “RentalMedia” and a number of other good, interesting projects that I would readily recommend to a client.
By the way, as for giants. Let’s consider BAROMETЕR in the technical perspective. What would you like to change in BAROMETЕR next year?
I’ll start with compliments. The first thing we liked is that we have always been on the same wavelength with a client. We had complete freedom of action, which allowed us to realize our full potential. The second is European approach. It was easy to notice that the level of the event is already higher than we are used to in Ukraine. What I would like to do the following year is to make a brighter opening in order to energize people for the next three days. I’d like to create a beautiful, correct intro. This can be achieved by highlighting the stage bar (LED strips). Moreover, it will be nice music to set the tone for a three-day flight.
Who worked with lighting and sound at BAROMETЕR?
I’d like to single out a few people from our company. Lighting – Nikolay Kuzmenko, a very talented light engineer, sound – Bogdan Romanovsky and Stanislav Lubich, the head of our agency. Stanislav even devoted some time to taste a couple of drinks at several bars on the second day. The event went smoothly because these guys spent there at least seventy-two hours doing their best. The same as all our employees do. A strong team is also a part of our USP.
Aleksey thank you for an interesting conversation and honesty. Thank you for making time to come here and share so many amazing things. See you at BAROMETЕR.
Tsahi Ben Amram: “People in Tel Aviv here like it fast and furious”
Maroš Dzurus: «Spirit of the future – Mezquavit, a hybrid between the smoky mezcal and spicy aquavit»
“ Over nearly 30 years I believe I’ve made and sampled more cocktails than anybody else in history – and I’m still going ” – Simon Difford.