Mikhail Orlov's Arlington, Texas-based Webyshops sells guns, ammo, and hunting accessories online. He discovered his entrepreneurial instinct when he began importing Russian army surplus gear. One reason he ended up staying in the U.S. was that he didn't support a recent Russian war.
I grew up in Moscow. My dad worked as an engineer for the factory that made engines for the Mir Space Station. My mom taught math. Hunting was for the upper echelons of the Communist Party. It wasn't a big part of our childhood.
In 1989, I was 15. A school in Boston sent a few students to my school for three weeks. They arrived and met a bunch of us in the library. We just stared at each other--like, what's there to talk about? So I said, "Hey, do you guys listen to Metallica?"
That broke the ice. I showed them Moscow. I just found them fascinating. The head of their delegation suggested me to an exchange program in Missouri. I went, and the next summer I went to a program at Westminster College in that state. A professor there suggested I apply there. Thanks to my grades, I got a full ride.
Russia was fighting a war in Chechnya. When you turned 18, you reported to the draft office, and they assigned you. I wanted to be ready to serve. I did one year of ROTC in America. But I didn't believe in the Chechen war. You're exempt if you're in university, so I said, "I'll stay in college."
When I graduated, there was still fighting in Chechnya. I got a job selling cars in Dallas. If you want to lose your foreign accent, work at a car dealership. You're forced to talk to people all day. But I didn't see my parents for 10 years.
Just before I went back to visit, a friend and I stopped into this Army-Navy surplus store, and I asked the owner whether he had any Russian gear. "If you can get it, I can sell a lot," he said. When I went home, I contacted a few sources. My friend and I decided to import it ourselves and sell it online. We started a website called Redsoldier.com.
We partnered with these guys who imported scopes from Russia to make night vision equipment. Then, along with two co-founders, I started selling hunting apparel, holsters, guns, and all sorts of gear online at Webyshops. I'd love to do more hunting, but it's very time-consuming.
I had mixed feelings about serving in the Russian army. I felt duty calling. But I instinctively knew my country did not need one more dead body in that war. Life works in mysterious ways. Who knew, years later, my first online venture would be importing and selling Russian military hardware and clothing?
As told to Inc. senior writer Burt Helm.