"Hard work! The best idea for your business is to start working. Just make small steps every day towards your dream".
Last May, Katerina Shipilova, the graduate of ‘Governance of Science, Technology and Innovation' Masters’ Programme, told us about her experience of launching a paper collection start-up ‘MK Service’. After the graduation Katerina launched one more project: Walk&Talk Tours – walking tours in English. This time we asked her about the differences of touristic business, development plans and some tips for starting you one enterprise.
How did you come up with an idea to do walking tours?
It’s funny, but I don’t remember the exact moment when I made up my mind to launch Walk&Talk. Myself, I love joining walking tours when I travel and therefore I had a subconscious idea that this could be replicated in Moscow. When summer started, I realized that it was the perfect time to start as many tourists are coming during this season. This was precisely after I had defended my thesis and obtained the diploma – when I got lots of free time and decided to use it to implement my ideas.
I worked in marketing before, so I understood well that such saturated market needs a bright and unusual product. Therefore, I decided to change a concept of the tours: Walk&Talk is all about fun and exciting. We try to distance ourselves from the traditional perception of a guide as a history lecturer, who loads your brains with dates and names which you will never remember. Our tour is a show with captivating stories and unbelievable facts from Moscow’s past.
We got started with a general introduction tour of the city centre, which is now the most popular. It’s special because we take our guests to secret places which even locals usually don’t know about.
How did you attract your first customers?
Our first tour took place on July 15th 2017, and we made it free to attract first guests. The only condition was to share the information about the tour on your Facebook page. This helped to create a momentum for spreading the word about the project, and also to take cool pictures for the website. It was so nice of my groupmates to come and support me on my first tour and recommend Walk&Talk to their friends.
Later we started to use paid search and travel aggregators to attract more customers.
Does the knowledge obtained during the master’s studies helps to develop the business?
Studying on the program for sure made me more self-confident, and it was a precious experience of team working. For instance, on such courses as ‘STI Policy’ and ‘Foresight and Strategic Planning’ we were working on the projects in small teams. We had to allocate tasks among each other, search for information and write the final essay together. Taking into account, that all team members had a job or other responsibilities apart from the studies, it taught us to negotiate and reach a compromise in stressful situation.
It was also very useful to grasp the basics of statistics when I was writing my master’s thesis. Veronika Belousova, my supervisor, helped me to learn to use SPSS from scratch and make a convincing research. In business it’s very helpful when you can operate with statistical data.
Can you share you plans for developing the project?
Now the main task is to build the team of guides, who would be really passionate about their job. It is pretty hard, as you need to be a good judge of character and constantly maintain team’s motivation. I believe that it’s not obligatory to have a specific education to work as a guide, what’s more important is a personal charm, interest in history and love for communication. I am now especially occupied with finding great guides in light of the approaching World Cup. In fact, this is a great part-time job for students. I wish I came across such opportunity when I was a student myself.
Overall, there are plenty of plans for the future: so much can be done to develop tourism in Russia. It would be amazing to bring foreigners to regions, and not just Golden Ring cities. We have some crazy dreams too, for example, to organize bike tours through Russian countryside. Why not? The weather is unpredictable though, but it would not stop true adventurers.
What feedback Walk&Talk Tours have been getting so far?
Of course, it is a great pleasure to say that we have got many good reviews. Just to quote a couple:
“Great tour around some of the less touristy Moscow sites with a lovely guide who was very friendly and engaging. This was my first day in Moscow and it gave me a lovely introduction to the city and it's history. Highly recommend.” Paul, UK via Facebook
“The tour was fantastic!!!! The guide showed us secret places, fabulous architectures and told us amazing stories about the soviet time. The tour takes places really close to the center, but off the beaten track, we were almost alone in the streets and in the adorable church we visited. What a lovely way to start visiting Moscow!!! Five stars!” Stephane, France via Airbnb
What advice would you give to those who want to launch their project?
It is just an illusion that it is hard to launch a project. Actually, it is much harder to sustain and develop it further. My main advice is to find the courage and make a try. If you do nothing, there will definitely be no result in the future. But what if you get lucky and your efforts pay out?
I would also recommend to pay attention to these things:
- Environment. It’s easier to do business, when you are surrounded by people facing the same problems. For instance, I joined PRO Women community which unites female entrepreneurs in Russia.
- Communication. Speak about your initiative to as many people as possible. Then the first clients will become aware of it.
- Lots of information. Today all the necessary information about business launch is all out in the open. My favorite business book is ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried and David Hansson. After you read it, you will have no doubts left. You can also listen to numerous podcasts and watch videos.
- Hard work! Finally, the best idea for your business is to start working. Just make small steps every day towards your dream.