A Great Chance of Going Global
January 28 saw the launch of a Kickstarter project developed by graduates from the HSE’s International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF).
Alexandra Zhdanova graduated from ICEF in 2008. She is currently working at McKinsey, while also developing her Jungle Bowl project – an idea she came up with while studying at INSEAD. Jungle Bowl has already received support from business schools, and on January 28, a fundraising campaign for it launched on Kickstarter.
Alexandra, you graduated from ICEF in 2008, almost seven years ago. What do you remember now, after all that time? What has ICEF meant to you?
It’s the people I remember, because I am still in touch with many of them. For me ICEF was my group, and we meet up every two weeks or so. These are people who said I should go and work at McKinsey, the people I go on holiday with, the people I advised to study at INSEAD and helped prepare. We’re friends, and help each other out and that’s for life. I also remember Alexis Belianin: he was my academic supervisor. I think he gave me this bold, creative, approach to research. That’s been a great help in my work.
Are you currently working in Moscow?
Yes, officially I am a McKinsey employee, but am currently on combined maternity and study leave – completing an MBA. I joined McKinsey in 2010, and in 2013 took maternity leave. From fall 2013 to summer 2014 I studied at INSEAD and am now working on my project. We have the option of extending our study leave, if someone wants to create a start-up or simply travel, do charity work or something. I would say that any and all experience outside the firm is welcomed, just as it is in any of the ‘big three’.
You first started working in finance – how did you make the transition to consulting?
Yes, after graduating from my MA at Oxford, I spent a year working with J.C. Rathbone Associates. It’s a very good company, located in the heart of London, and the team there is great. But after a while I understood that I want to do more than just numbers, something more alive. Of course, work in the financial sector is well remunerated, but in addition to my analytical abilities, I wanted to use my communication skills, work in a team, and also learn more about various different sectors – how things are set up and how it all works. In a word – I was curious. I started talking to other people in my year, and they told me about the kind of projects they had worked on in consulting. The nuclear industry, future school, getting rid of traffic jams in Moscow – I found all that really interesting, and came back to Russia.
Studying at the business school gave me a host of opportunities to implement ideas and see them come to life.
Did you enroll in INSEAD because you had a particular focus on being an entrepreneur? Or was it an expected ‘next step’ for someone who works in the ‘big three’?
Probably more the latter, doing an MBA is ‘the done thing’, everyone understands it’s very valuable. People who come back after studying at a business school have a significantly expanded perspective and look at problems differently – and that’s something the company values very highly. I also wanted to spend a little longer with my child: I had just had my daughter, and I decided that if I start an MBA now and don’t go back to work immediately – then it will give me longer with my child. While I was studying, my daughter was in the crèche until 6pm, and then I’d collect her and we’d spend the whole evening together. Of course – working in the ‘big three’ it’s hard to rely on something like that. So, a business-school, aside from expanding my understanding of the world and letting me meet a lot of new people, also gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my daughter.
Jungle Bowl is a bowl that motivates children to eat better. It is a deep bowl made of food-quality 0% BPA plastic with a transparent window at the bottom and a hidden compartment holding a tiny surprise gift. This is the first product we’ve launched but we also plan to launch other items to make parents’ lives easier, while also helping their children learn key skills: eating independently and sitting through long lunch-times at the table alongside adults, who are used to it – but it really is a boring process for children. There’s also the fear factor – children are scared of trying new food. Jungle Bowl helps parents overcome these problems without any pressure, turning this learning process into an easy, fun game. The child knows that once he’s eaten his meal he’ll get a surprise gift, and a new one each time. It is a deep bowl – with steep sides, and it is difficult to get to the bottom of it without having eaten everything. The surprise can be anything you like – parents can choose whatever they like. But we are also marketing our own little toys: they’re a little like the toys in Kinder-Surprise, but ours are more eco-friendly.
How did you decide on the name?
We tried different options, we wanted something simple, suited to children, and associated with adventures. So, out of a really long list, I chose ‘Jungle Bowl’. Perhaps because I’m from a cold country, and jungles are hot. And children love African animals. And in English, naughty children are called ‘monkeys’. That’s why we’ve got the word ‘jungle’ in there, and the surprises I talked about are called ‘monkey treats’. I first thought of calling it ‘Treasure Bowl’, as in digging down to the prize was like searching for buried treasure. But then, focusing back on children, we decided to choose a shorter word that is easier to read, and settled on ‘jungle’. The word also sounds the same in most languages, and we might launch other products under the same brand – we’re already thinking about a Jungle Mug.
I am confident that our product has a great chance of going global.
So, the idea for your product came to you during your time at INSEAD?
Not quite, I first had the idea a while ago, but I put it aside until I have time. Studying at the business school gave me a host of opportunities to implement ideas and see them come to life. I chose lots of course options about being an entrepreneur, and we were actively encouraged to share our ideas, talk about them with other MBA students. I talked about my idea in class, and my classmates liked it. We formed a team around it and developed prototypes – first really basic ones we made ourselves, and gave them to students who had wives and children, and to people in the city of Fontainebleau, where INSEAD is located, to our neighbors and to everyone we knew. We asked everyone who had children to use our bowl for a week, which worked out as being a kind of informal trial involving about 30 people. We got mainly positive feedback – almost two thirds of families said that the invention really helped them a lot, and the others said that they found it helped them sometimes. But the most important thing is that not a single family said that they didn’t find it helpful and that it didn’t improve their child’s appetite.
In a word, the response was positive, and I decided to pursue it further. At the school, we had meetings with business angels – we trained to present our projects to them, and my project again got a very warm reception. Then we took part in an annual startup competition – The INSEAD Venture Competition – and won a 5,000 euro grant to further develop the idea. After that, I was convinced that I need to make it a reality. As I mentioned, I extended my holiday and I was joined by one of my INSEAD classmates who has experience organizing Kickstarter campaigns – he helped me with the design of the first prototype.
He also told me that this product stands a good chance of doing well on Kickstarter as it is a simple, straight-forward, and positive project. On the one hand it’s unusual for people who haven’t seen anything like it, but on the other – its something that could be needed in virtually any country on the planet. Both the idea itself and the target audience are clear, and that’s why my friend suggested crowd funding. We filmed a video, I made the website, and on January 28 we launched our Kickstarter fundraising campaign.
On the one hand our product is unusual for people who haven’t seen anything like it, but on the other – its something that could be needed in virtually any country on the planet.
What stage are you at with the product now? What are you planning to spend the money raised on?
Currently we have the initial design of the product and prototypes, printed on a 3-D printer and then, later on - more realistic ones, cast in silicone. There are three things we need to do to get there. First, we need a professional, finalized, design. My friend doesn’t specialize in that, and we want specialists to finish developing the product from the functionality perspective, making it as easy to use as possible for the customers. That’s not the lion’s share of our expenses, most go on preparing the moulds.
Second, our plate is, like any child’s plate, made out of plastic, and that requires a particular molding tool – that is two or four moulds that fit together, are hermetically sealed and then a small tube feeds plastic into it, after which they open to reveal the finished product. This is how each product is produced individually and so that means they are quite expensive. Tens of thousands of dollars – depending on the type of product. Expenditure on making the molds themselves is our greatest cost in bringing the product out onto the plastics market. After that – once we have the mold – we’ll be able to start production ourselves. The third step is to produce our own first test batch ourselves, and we plan to send them to the people who agreed to finance us on Kickstarter, we are hoping to raise 40,000 USD, and produce a total batch of 2,000-3,000 units.
I am confident that our product has a great chance of going global. But, when it comes to Kickstarter, then of course the United States is the main market, since about 60% to 70% of the service’s users are Americans and Canadians. Then come other English-speaking countries – Great Britain and Australia. Germany accounts for a significant share. But if our campaign is a success, and we attract sufficient funds to produce the equipment I described, then of course we will enter the Russian market.
I took part in the exhibition Mir Detstva 2014 exhibition of goods and services for children and young adults, that took place in the Exhibition Center in September. I put the prototypes on display, and a lot of Russian retailers, including large chain stores, showed an interest in our products. People called and asked where our stock is and when they could visit! I had to disappoint them a little, and explain we don’t have stock yet, only the two prototypes – blue and red. If Kickstarter is a success, then I’ll produce another batch for the Russian market, and then will consider my options, and my partner on the U.S. market will take a similar approach.
Nikita Krylnikov, for ICEF, HSE
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