Graduated from the HSE Faculty of Management in 2012 before continuing her studies at the Wordshop Academy of Communications in 2013 as a creative producer. Simonenko has also organised several festivals, including Dance Atmosphere, the Eco-Theatre Festival in Odessa, the Seliger International Forum, and many more. She was also the cofounder of HiConversion, an IT company specialising in automated advertising, and created the disinfection services company Parasite Pro. In early 2014, Simonenko put together the Reforma project, which brings together leading specialists in fitness, nutrition, wellness, physical therapy, and coaching.
«I teach people how to become the best versions of themselves they can be»
About the project
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
What is the connection between the cockroaches in our homes and the ones in our head? According to the work of HSE alumna Alisa Simonenko, the founder of the Reforma project, the connection is direct. Simonenko first created a pest extermination company before realising how she could help people find the source of their personal happiness. Alisa tells Success Builder how she uses science to give people peace of mind, why her project Reforma (reformagame.ru) is not like the company Secta, and how to eat whatever you want without gaining weight. HSE Day, which is one of the university’s biggest events that took place on September 9 this year, featured the Reforma Higher School of Fitness.
You had some interesting experiences after graduating from HSE – cultural events, IT projects, social networks, and even a disinfection service. How did this all lead to what you’re doing now?
A big thanks goes out to my school first and foremost. This is where I learned how to make friends, love, create, and always strive to be the best me I can be every day. I wanted to always have this feeling throughout life, but in reality, the older I get, the more I lose this sense of ease and celebration. This is how I got the idea of setting out on a ‘life mission’ of instilling a certain universal happiness in myself and the people around me. This sounds bold and sugary sweet, but I really dreamed of this, and after finishing HSE, I got the necessary project management tools and realised that my dream was more than possible. The first thing that came into my head was event organisation. But after several years of organising festivals, the Olympic Torch Relay, and dozens of smaller events, I realised that the ‘fireworks’ at the end of an event are over too quickly, so to speak. I wanted to find a way to extend this happiness.
This is how Parasite Pro came about. It was my first serious business that has been operating for over four years already. It’s definitely useful and makes people happy. We specialise in bacteria, bugs, and rodents. And exterminating the cockroaches that surround people has brought me closer to my goal of destroying similar ‘cockroaches’ in their heads.
Is there a market for these kinds of services? Do you have competitors?
On the ‘happiness, health, and harmony’ market there are various projects that have been active for quite a while, instilling in people healthy habits, healthy thinking, and a healthy environment. One example is Dmitry Shamenkov and his ‘Health Management System’ or Sekta. There are also several hundreds of projects and people that offer clients such services. And this is certainly one of the most prospective and growing markets.
Every day we see online posts from “happy” and “perfect” people with hundreds of likes, and we actually believe that they are perfect. But then after talking with them personally, it turns out that this virtual person is deeply unhappy.
Overall, I am the kind of person who doesn’t believe in competition. I believe in uniqueness and endless self-development, which is why the project is bringing in some of the best specialists we can find in order to create top quality content and a comprehensive service that allows people to attain happiness, health, and beauty. This sounds very sectarian, but there’s more to it than that.
I always thought that wellness meant going to the spa…
Not really. In Russia, the term is used very haphazardly. The West has a very accurate equivalent; being healthy, beautiful, and happy means to ‘be well.’ And that’s it! I went through our wellness programme six months ago to understand how it works, and for the first time in 24 years I started ‘communicating’ with my own body. That’s when I understood that it’s not only useless to fight with your body, but it’s also unhealthy. It’s simpler to love your body, relax, and start enjoying the fact that your body is what takes you towards your goals.
But working with your body, mind, and spirit is like a mountain with no peak. You develop and learn throughout your life, and you just can’t stop climbing. I’ve already reached a tangible stage where I know that this works, but I naturally have a lot of interesting challenges ahead. I want to learn to do a handstand for example. As for the meaning of wellness coaching, it’s a system that is based on a very simple and clear understanding of yourself and the possibility of doing what you want. So it turns out that you can eat what you want and as much as you want without gaining weight because food is not the problem; the problem is getting a good grasp on yourself and your desires.
Who are your coaches?
They are the heart of the project – psychologists who love fitness and healthy eating. They generally come to us themselves. PhDs and researchers from HSE, the Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Education, and the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University develop Reforma’s programmes. These training programmes teach adults and children how to find harmony and well-being in all aspects of life – physically, socially, and spiritually.
As one example, we have a coach, Vladislava Romanika, who is a Gestalt therapist and uses various methods to motivate people. We only take on the best people possible, people who are ready to work on themselves physically and spiritually and serve as an example of a happy and harmonious person, which is actually an extremely difficult thing to do. And here’s why: every day we see online posts from ‘happy’ and ‘perfect’ people with hundreds of likes, and we actually believe that they are perfect. But then after talking with them personally, it turns out that this virtual person is deeply unhappy. After all, a truly balanced individual doesn’t need social networks to be happy. He or she simply lives and develops themselves, and is happy by devoting time to themselves, their loved ones, and the things they love to do.
Did you have a business plan for the project?
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was on the wrong path for the entire first year of the business plan. I spent a long time unable to understand how to sell such a complicated, deep, and somewhat frightening product. I think the reason was that I lacked experience working with such large projects.
A wellness coach uses a lot of body-related practices, focusing on having a “smart brain” while also telling you to “turn on your smart body.
Now, thanks to the help I’ve gotten from serious experts in the field of online marketing, I have reached a final formula – share a portion of the vast content available, begin distributing it to everyone for free, thereby creating the maximum use possible for people and developing a community of ‘Reformers’ around the project. This allows us to get to know one another and provide help without selling directly.
Is this a promo type of format?
It is more than a promo; it’s part of the business model. A type of investment in clients’ trust, which you can’t put a price tag on. At this stage, we provide positivity and use, and we talk about our programmes and introduce people to our coaches. And only after all of this does a person naturally develop trust and a desire to work with us intensively by going through one of our training or coaching programmes.
How do you work with the client?
We base everything on a person's unique characteristics. Only you and your body know the best way to live your life, and if everything is okay at that level, then you won’t have any problems in life. But the problem people face today stems from a lack of contact. We don’t trust or listen to ourselves. I can tell you about a story from my own experience. A girl complained that she couldn’t accept her body and constantly felt guilty about what she ate. She said she didn’t accept or love herself. A problem exists, so it’s next necessary to work with a coach to develop a goal. In this case, the girl wanted to accept herself, feel calm, and eat what her body, not her mind, wanted. But losing 20 kilograms does not get to the root of the problem, as the issue is much deeper. You have to figure out the reason for gaining weight once and for all.
For this girl, the coach figured out that at fault here was not only the girl herself, but also her mom, sister, and ex-boyfriend. In fact, their breakup was the catalyst of the problem. They figured out when she started feeling this way about herself, and then they used an entire arsenal of existing practices, from conscious eating to meditation and psychotherapy. There are over a hundred working practices that are used. Of course, we select the practices specifically for each case, and only after observation and detailed diagnostics do we create a strategy for reaching a person’s goal – something like clear and well-formulated tasks that are completed step-by-step. The tasks’ execution is looked at during meetings with the coach. A few of such meetings will likely suffice.
And that's it? I thought that the so-called Woody Allens who lack self-confidence should sit with a psychoanalyst their whole lives, often throwing good money after bad…
The thing is, classical psychotherapy often makes diagnoses too early without knowing a person in full and relying on the visible particularities of their behaviour. Our staff does not make up anything or hang any ‘tags’ on a certain deviation. A wellness coach gives weekly tasks and looks at how they are carried out. There are some people who go to a psychologist for years, but wellness coaches work differently. They set an achievable goal and reach the first results after just a few sessions. Another huge difference between this and classical psychology is that a wellness coach uses a lot of body-related practices, focusing on having a ‘smart brain’ while also telling you to ‘turn on your smart body.’ And this works! You see how detailed and personal everything is here? And this is practically impossible to sell directly. In order to sell something intangible and new like we have, a person has to try it out and achieve their first results.
Then this is a question of marketing. How do you ultimately sell the product?
All of the project's current marketing activities have culminated in the creation of useful content on the YouTube channel Reforma TV, which we are launching full force starting October 1. The thing is, we have practices that help people quickly solve problems of a physical and psychological nature – faster than years of meditation, after which it isn’t certain that you’ll reach your goal without falling into the abyss of despair. It is these practices, recommendations, and cases that we now want to offer on our channel for free.
The simplest way of joining us is to get on Reforma Game, a mobile app that is a wellness quest with tasks and a section to talk to a coach personally. The coach will tell you why your knees hurt when you run, or they will explain when it’s bad to eat dates.
I learned how to get a sense of my own body. I lost 5 kilograms, ran three half marathons, re-evaluated my surroundings, mended my relationship with my mother, got out of relationships that didn’t make me happy, and launched the project of my dreams.
Have you personally felt the results of the practices you teach?
My life changed drastically. Thanks to our practices, I learned how to get a sense of my own body. I lost 5 kilograms, ran three half marathons, re-evaluated my surroundings, mended my relationship with my mother, got out of relationships that didn’t make me happy, and launched the project of my dreams. But the main thing is that I learned how to truly feel the joy and flavour each day has to offer. I now know exactly what I have to do to always keep this feeling of happiness and never let it leave me.
Have you tried finding investors for Reforma?
The large fitness website Onfit.ru became our investor a year ago. They liked the idea of ‘playing a healthy lifestyle.’ But we became divided in opinion somewhat due to my desire to add more psychology to the project. I now believe that it’s not worth putting a product on the market without testing it first. And because of the current possibilities the internet provides us with, you can do this for zero money. You don’t need investors at this stage.
But also, investments are not so simple. This is a huge responsibility and it's not always certain that you, as the entrepreneur, can carry this responsibility. It’s more important and worthwhile to learn how to maintain contact with your clients.
You don't want to simply make money by franchising the methodology? It's unique after all…
The methodology is in fact unique, but it belongs to the Smart Body Institute. Anyone can study there and become a coach and trainer.
Our main trump card is that we are guided by science. The institute’s founders – leading wellness coaches Maria Danina and Natalia Kiselnikova – are scientists who studied at the best universities in the world. They constantly work with key figures in contemporary psychology, and they’ve developed their own science-based approach towards harmonizing your body and mind. This is why I have no doubts in the quality and uniqueness of the channel.
Reforma is special not just because of the approach, but also because of the atmosphere and environment that we all create together. I am creating a strong community around Reforma where I bring together people who lead or are starting to lead a healthy and active way of life and can join in on our events, develop, become the best versions of themselves possible, and learn to enjoy life as much as possible.
This is why the methodology itself doesn’t have a frenzy surrounding it and is pure science. Maria and Natalia are constantly adding to it and apply for various prizes and scientific councils. For two years already, they have won the Golden Psyche, which is the top prize in the scientific psychological community. It’s still too early to talk about selling this frenzy on top of the science, but we'll most likely reach this point.
So how does one communicate with one's body?
It’s simplest to do the ‘hellobody’ exercise. You need to find a partner you trust, assign him or her the role of your body, and tell them what you think about ‘them’ and what ‘they’ need to do. This is an attempt to view your life from the outside in the form of a game that really teaches you that you have a body and that it can answer what you’re saying to it. There’s also a practice known as ‘morning pages’ or ‘autoletter,’ which are when you spend three hours simply writing down your thoughts, including those like ‘I don’t know what to write.’ This helps you express yourself and communicate with your body from the outside.
How are you planning to work with the university in the framework of your scientific project with HSE?
On HSE Day, we wanted to use fun and simple activities to tell people about what we really do. And after this, we hoped to propose various ways of working with HSE, including by creating a wellness laboratory where we could work with students on how to improve their studies and personal life.