WITH A MISSION TO HELP KIDS LEARN WHILE HAVING FUN- SMART ADVENTURE
Smart Adventure is the only company in the fourth batch that is dedicated exclusively to edutainment, therefore targeting a much different audience than the rest of the teams. This company of 8 originates from Ukraine, all members are coming from educational background. Six people are based in Kyiv and two in Lviv. Currently only two members are in Estonia participating GameFounders, though. These two are Eugene Shimalskyy and Sasha Andrusyk.
Smart Adventure actually started out as a software company. Back in the day they were mostly doing work for hire. Eugene, for example, has experience that goes back five years when he was involved with a startup iOS Messenger that was successful but didn´t monetize. Then continued outsourcing later on – web and mobile. Last year the company decided to move into education. Yet it wasn´t just decided on the spot to continue in gaming, Sasha and Eugene both had been working with kids before, and a part of the team members had a strong humanities background. „The children related space was easier to tackle internationally. We wanted to do something entertaining, so here is how gaming came to the picture,“ says Eugene. „The idea was to come up with something pretty, clever and yet appealing for children,“ adds Sasha.
Even though they had an advantage of having a production muscle, they were still lacking of contacts in gaming industry and it was also geographical challenge to introduce their product to the market. The team understood that something like an European accelerator could help them with all of that and when Eugene visited GameFounders´ booth in Paris Game Connection, he realized that the program might just be the right thing for their company.
From what it looks now, it is. Both Eugene and Sasha are happy with the decision of committing themselves to the 3 months program in Tallinn. Sasha even claims it has been better than expected: “Before coming we thought that in the worst case we’d just get some advice and get to spend 3 months in Estonia, later return to Ukraine and just continue our work. But it turned out to be much more fruitful than we thought”.
Great people, possibility to use the mentors, their contacts, multiple feedback, to be introduced and re-introduced are all the factors that have been useful and helping them to reshape their product to a large extent. “The feedback has pushed us to think harder about what we are making,” says Eugene. However, since they are much more specific with their product, targeting a very specific market, they would need even more specific mentors. “For us the 1:1 sessions have proven to be much more fruitful than the seminars, say it is interesting to know how F2P model works and how to use it, but for our current product it is just not applicable.”
For Sasha and Eugene, the trip to Tallinn in the beginning of March was their first Estonian experience. Fortunately Sasha has an insider/local connection here – an old friend living in Tallinn who has been showing them around a bit and introduced to the local scene.
Smart Adventure´s headquarters (when not working at the GameFounders´ office) in Estonia is in the Fahle building – a modern architectural example with a nice view to the city. There is an interesting story with their landlord. When Eugene added her to his Facebook friends, he noticed that she has thousands of friends, that of course made him curious and to investigate further. She turned out to be a serial enterpreuner who led the launch of 6 TV channels in the region, and what is more – her husband is a VC! “When we needed to pay the rent the first time, she came to get the money and we started to talk about our project and got feedback. Next time, the husband came for the monthly rent and he is the owner of a venture capital firm. Suddenly, I was pitching the project to him! I think even if it doesn´t work out with them, you should still include it to your promotional welcome-to-Estonia videoclip. Come and rent a place, just because it´s nice and the owners might turn out to be just what you have been looking for.” He continues: “It also describes very well how small this town is. The size still strikes me. I keep running into the few people we know here in random places – restaurants, bus etc. “
In contrast to the Brazilian, Argentinian or Chinese team that actually didn´t even know that Estonia existed before they applied for GameFounders, Sasha says that before coming to Tallinn she already had a pretty accurate picture about Estonia in her mind: “It always had this upbeat image in the Soviet Union despite all the jokes about how slow Estonians are. That it is an innovative, nature centred, ecology friendly country is a common knowledge. For us it is like a cool ex-Soviet state with a mix of brand new design and Soviet heritage and relics we don´t even see in Kyiv”.
During the 2 months spent in Tallinn, they also have experienced some downsides to share. What bugs them a bit is the weather (of course): “We didn´t even notice it before, but apparently we are from a much more Southern country. I had to wear my winter stuff here while in Kyiv it was already nice and warm”. Sasha also shares her view about Tallinn after living 2 months on the spot: “Before coming here I had this image of a beautiful hanseatic city, old buildings etc. Now I know how small Tallinn actually is, but despite the fact it is small, it is very uneven and inconsistent the way it is organized. Estonians are incrediblygood in internal design yet urban planning is poor. It is not a city for pedestrians, the areas are not well connected. “ “I don´t understand the reluctance to make the seaside more usable, Estonia seems to hate the seaside, only few apartments with the overview to the sea, very few embankments, promenades, etc. You could use the seaside so much better,” adds Eugene.
Talking about the plans for the future and where are they going to continue after the program ends, the smartadventurers haven´t completely crossed out Estonia from the list yet: “Right now the most important thing for us is what we do. Where do we do it is really secondary. Whichever country gives more opportunity to run the company smoothly, we are happy to do it anywhere. Tallinn is pretty good actually, it is just 1h 40 min flight away from Kyiv.” As an advantage, Eugene points out good connections with Helsinki and Stockholm, Riga not being far either. Estonia also turned out to be the country of the nicest visa officers: “They were extremely polite and helpful when I had a visa emergency and needed to go to Riga, asking how is it going with our game and wishing me luck with the company – it surely was the nicest experience among my 30+ visa meetings”.
We´ll just have to wait and see where and what is the next destination/challenge for Smart Adventure. “We are free as the wind”, they say. Stay tuned!