CEO of TuSion on Participating in Startup Festivals
TuSion is a neurogaming app that helps users develop their cognitive abilities by playing with the power of their minds. The app allows to decrease one’s level of stress and increase productivity. In the past, the team participated in ITMO’s Future Technologies accelerator. Since then, the project has undergone many changes, and its team has participated in many startup festivals and contests. Their members have recently returned from the *ship international festival in Finland where they made it into to the 10 best startup teams, and will soon participate in an acceleration program in New York. We’ve spoken to TuSion’s CEO Andrei Hapsasov and learned how the project changed over time, whether there is any point in participating in contests and conferences, and how to participate effectively.
How did your project change after your team participated in Future Technologies accelerator?
The team changed a lot. The core members remained the same, but those who didn’t perceive the project as business or lacked enthusiasm dropped out. Currently, our team consists only of those people who are ready to dedicate their next several years to the project. I joined the project last year in April. The project’s concept has also changed: while before, it was somewhat vague, now people find it a lot easier to understand what our product is about. When we started, we worked on perception, how brains work and planning communications, which all sounds very interesting but no one really understands what was behind these words. Then, we gradually became focused on games where people control processes with the power of their minds.
This concept got a better response, we tested it during VKfest, when we presented a spinner that can be spined by using the power of one’s mind. Later, we learned that companies are interested in such games’ side effects. Neurofeedback has lots of benefits: it can increase one’s efficiency, productiveness, relieve stress - all companies are interested in such things. We understood that people can use our games to not just play but also restore their emotional balance. Our current idea is as follows: we offer a platform and a mobile application for increasing people’s efficiency and relieving stress with the help of neurofeedback.
When did you start studying the properties of neurofeedback?
Our team knew about neurofeedback, as one of our startup’s founders, Yuri Konoplev got interested in how the brain works and everything that happens to it. In his time, Yuri changed his focus from programming to neurophysiology, he’s now a PhD student at the Bekhtereva Institute of the Human Brain. It is he who is responsible for the scientific aspect of our project.
What are the ways in which companies can benefit from neurofeedback?
In order to talk about the benefits of certain effects, they have to be measurable. In our case, that would be relieving the employees’ levels of stress or increasing their productivity. Stress can be measured by simple means, for instance surveys or collecting subjective data. Productivity can be measured as a number of tasks completed in a unit of time, for instance the number of code strings written in an hour - that would be objective data. Whereas if we talk about subjective data, then we would need to consider the executives’ impression of how focused their employees are. Our product combines both approaches.
We’ve come to understand that there are different levels and stages of stress. There’s emotional burnout, weakening of vitality, and such. In some cases, for example, if a person has just found themselves in a difficult situation, it’s possible to help with using neurofeedback to train their brain. We help companies make it so that their employees get tired less. A good employee is not someone who will burn out in a couple of years, but someone who won’t quit and will continue working for a long time.
You often participate in different events. Are startup festivals, contests and conference really an important stage of a project’s development?
Renowned investor Arkady Moreynis, with many of whose ideas I agree, believes that startup contests and associated conferences are useless and can even be detrimental to a young company’s development, as they don’t have much in common with real business. When he launched a program where he was ready to invest up to 1 million dollars into some team’s project, an essential requirement was that participating teams never took part in any startup contests.
We agree with him, and believe that such activities have little to do with real business, but there are different kinds of events. For instance, we attend those where we can show our games and products to many people and get feedback. We are also interested in events that strongly focus on B2B, like it was at the Shift festival in Turku (Finland). In such cases, we get to directly communicate with potential clients and partners, which we are really interested in.
There are also events with a more carefree atmosphere, *ship is one of them. We see it as a retreat of sorts: summer, Finland, lakes, good company. Still, even there we understand that there’s the important aspect of communicating with Finnish companies. What’s more, the pitching contest is a great opportunity to train one’s English skills at an international event with a professional jury. We’ll soon be taking an acceleration program in New York, which is why we can perceive our participation in *ship as additional training.
Young companies shouldn’t pay much attention to the events that are just gatherings of startupers, and focus on improving and selling their product. On the other hand, if they can benefit in any way from attending an event, and it doesn’t consume much time and money - why not? Every team should understand why exactly they need to plan to participate in a particular event.
In which events have you participated?
Since June last year, we’ve been to VKfest, Starcon, the Day of Science at Lumiere Hall, and SPb StartUp Day, which has become a milestone event for us. We also went to GoTech in Moscow, 4YFN in Barcelona, which took place as part of the Mobile World Congress '18, the CUBE TECH FAIR conference and startup events Slush, Shift and Polar Bear Pitching in Finland, SPIEF in St. Petersburg and, finally, Finnish *ship.
At SPb StartUp Day we got to meet companies that are interested in our product, and talk to them about its possible development. They needed an instrument that they could use on a corporate level. As result of our collaboration, we got an important element of our product - a personal account for companies where they can track their employees’ progress in different categories, i.e. in relaxation, concentration and such. This was indeed an interesting experience.
How do you find out about the upcoming events?
We get information from our friends and partners. There are also platforms where we monitor information about events. So far, all the events we participated in did us good. On any stage of a project’s development, its members have to know what’s happening in the field they are working in. The purpose of a company is not to just attend different events, but look for new opportunities - this helps improve the product and sell it to a bigger number of clients. Networking is also a bonus. As for field-specific products, you have to constantly monitor what’s happening, for example by using dedicated portals.
Tell about your upcoming trip to New York.
This is an event that can take much time. We’ll be participating in an acceleration program by the Starta Capital accelerator, which has already started. The program is aimed at those who want to enter the American market, so we compiled several tasks that we want to complete in this time. Many people are very enthusiastic about this program, mostly because it takes place in New York. Personally, I believe that when going to an event, you have to focus on your work and not the place you're going to.
This spring, Boomtown’s investment manager Jeffrey Donenfeld came to St. Petersburg; he said that foreign startups who wish to enter the American market need American advisers, who can speak for the project to the American investment community. What’s your opinion on this issue?
If a company has a goal of selling in the USA, connections are important, but they are not the key issue. What’s most important is for the American transactor and business partners to trust the company, which can be attained by having a really good and unique project, as well as having an American affiliated company or registering the company in the USA.
When talking about investor relations, American investors prefer to invest in American companies. Most don’t even consider the possibility of investing outside the States. In this case, a person who can explain to the investors that they can make money on this particular project will surely come in handy. There are people like that in the USA, who have their own networks of contacts and other instruments that can make a startup successful in the USA.