You have an idea? Use it!

When I was a Master's student, many of my peers worked on their ideas. They did sketchbooks, mock-ups, tried to create ideal designs. I didn’t waste time on it: in two hours since I came up with the idea of quest-services, I've already posted an advert that I'm looking for a designer. Why did I do it like this? As soon as I got a good design, I could find a good programmer for my task — programmers think structurally, they need a sketch, not some general idea. Such people become basis for a group that works with your idea — the group you'll have to turn into a team.

Another mistake many startupers do is developing a product, making it "perfect" without interacting with its future consumers. Right after I made my idea public, we got our first beta-testers — even before we've created anything. Thanks to our first three "test subjects", we've started to understand what our service needed and completed the first "order". If we'd worked on our project without involving these people, we'd entered the "valley of death" just like many other startupers. People often develop their products for years, and then find out that consumers don't like them. They lose motivation, and close the project.

ITMO University. Alexandr Golovatiy

Also, when you plan how to distribute the company's shares, be sure to avoid the situation that Pavel Durov and his Vkontante project got into. It's better to keep the bigger share, and make it so that if someone leaves the project, his share can be bought out by members of the team.

Our team's members changed three times. From the first line-up only I, the developer for Android and the interface developer remained. There were some people who talked a lot but did nothing, so we cut ties with them. One of the mistakes we've made was taking too much time to choose the technology for making our service on. We've made our choice, found a specialist who promised to do everything in two weeks, but we still got nothing in a month and a half. Then summer came, everyone parted, and I couldn't gather them until autumn. As of now, six people work on Surprise Me, and they've spend so much time and effort so that it'd be a shame to stop.

Why did they agree to work with no pay? First of all, as students they got a chance to put their skills to practice, to learn something from it. Secondly, we've missed all the deadlines we've decided on for a year. Showing your team the timeline you've elaborated is really important — this makes it easier for them to adapt to new tasks.

Two years have passed since we've got the initial idea, and it changed considerably since then. Now we follow the concept of a service for creating quests, when the initial idea sounded like "you'll be able to create applications for yourself, so that you can complete quests". Naturally, some thought that it's just crazy.

Building a team

How does one build a team? Anyone who you share your idea with has to understand that he's not to talk about it with anyone else. I even asked the developer for iOS to sign a nondisclosure agreement, and he did it… with blood. Surely, that was just a joke, but it strengthened our ties — this guy was really serious about the project, and he is still working with us. So, our team is everything. One has to look for people who are ready to give it all to the project; knowing their skills, you'll find tasks for them. Once we hired a person who later understood that he didn’t like the tasks we gave him. He wasn't really effective, but he brought us another colleague who did most of the work.

If your idea is strong, you have to support your colleagues, give them emotional feedback, and find individual approaches. For instance, one of our teammates created the design for our website in just a couple of days. He did really good, but before that I motivated him with something like "you're great, you have my blessings to create the world's best design and I'm sure you can do it", and so on. This actually worked.

Dealing with programmers can be a lot harder. They generally don't like being praised, though there are exceptions. One of our developers always wanted to create some game-related application. A quest is kind of a game, which means it implies having a team. He understood that he couldn’t do such a project by himself, but then saw my advert, and we've found each other.

Surprise Me App

Target group and testing

Even before we started beta-testing, I wondered whether our service is needed or not. I offered my friends to create a free quest for their girlfriends — a special application for February, 14th. The application’s services at that time were quite modest, but it turned out that the idea works. And that was our first success.

I was sure that people are not that lazy, and will definitely want to create quests. But when I studied at the Faculty of Technological Management and Innovations on the Technology Entrepreneurship and Development of Innovations program, they taught me that any concept has to be tested on real people. During the first survey I found out that women are more interested in creating quests, while men prefer to pay for a complete product and just gift it to their girlfriend. So, we've decided to sell quests, as well.

Once, a client who made an order even before we had a complete product turned to be one of our competitors. Loosely speaking, he asked us to write a technical inquiry based on his idea. He knew that we'll do it in accordance with our project, so he'll be able to learn more about it. Luckily, we never told him anything of essence. So, if anyone asks you anything, first think why he does it.

If you were not afraid to start, then your idea will become more and more detailed. It's really simple. As of now, one of our bigger clients is the museum of Peter and Paul Fortress. Once, one girl tested our app for the 8th of March with her friend, who worked there. Thanks to that, we got a chance to meet the necessary people. And, partly thanks to our service, the museum started to earn on a massive quest based on our platform.

Surprise Me App


When I did surveys, I focused on gifting systems. I asked which gifts people choose, how much money and time they spend on them. For example, when one buys a cell phone one can pack it into a gift box for some 400 rubles and order a creative delivery. Using the data I got, I came up with the idea on how to determine prices. At the pre-acceleration program, they told us that we had to raise them. Also, you can get an understanding of the possible maximum and minimum prices people would pay for your product based on the purchasing power of different clients. Thus, we can create a system of charging and work out the monetization pattern.

As of now, people don't really understand our project, so we give free opportunities to try it. Then we'll raise the prices, as both companies and single customers are ready to pay more for it.

When you share on your idea, people like giving you advices. This can be irritating, but thesepeople can give you a fresh perception. They can often further your idea for you and that is something to make use of. I got the idea of joint projects with partner organizations when I wasn't working at ITMO.STORE yet. A friend of mine started selling Crimean wines, and we decided to hide a crate of wine somewhere in the city a make a quest for finding it.

Personal attitude

It's really hard to balance work with a business project. I gave myself a promise that I will dedicate at least an hour to Surprise Me every day. When I have too much work, I come to the office earlier and still work on own my project. I do that because I believe that work shouldn't suffer from business. I have to thank my wife Lena for that — she understands me, even though I can spend no more than two hours a day with her.

Surely, there are times when you feel disheartened, as you give it all to the project, and your team is not always ready to follow your example. Arguing about mistakes and missed deadlines is not necessarily an option — you can always motivate people differently. If one of your team members works faster than others — praise him, and the latter will try working faster as well. Some start giving it all only after harsh criticism or pressing. We also have one guy who can disappear for a month, but still do everything justice and on time. Surely, relying on him is a risk. But people are different, and one has to learn to work with them and explain what he expects.