Sergey Kravtsov on the death of QIP, future of geolocation and his new 4talk project


25 August 2014

Siliconrus has talked to the creator of 4talk messenger, Sergey Kravtsov, about the handover of QIP to RBC, the future of cloud messaging, monetization of communication projects, and about the challenges of cross-platform development.

About a year ago we interviewed you about QIP — what has changed since then, has RBC failed everything or has the situation improved?

RBC has totally destroyed the project. Everything just came to a stop, the software hasn’t been updated and the product hasn’t been evolving at all. I believe that what remains of the QIP user base will soon give up and leave. Basically RBC has lost this segment of the market and will not be able to come back.

So, after you have handed all the business over, did you start working on 4talk at once or was there something in between?

We have met all our obligations according to the contracts. The company Russian Internet Solutions still has all the rights to the software. We just grew tired of working on the project, so right after the scandal with RBC I got all of my engineers and decided to pursue cloud messaging. I’ve been developing the OMMG (Open Mobile Messenger Graph) platform since August, and it has become quite trendy on the Internet.

Is Ilgam Zyulkorneev (note: QIP developer) working with you?

Main developers of the system are me, my business partner Ilgam and Georgy Khazan (editorial note: Miranda IM). These people have initially designed and developed QIP Messenger. We understood the huge amount of work we’ve done, the sizable share on both Russian and European markets we managed to cover. But QIP just stopped being interesting to us, like something obsolete. So we decided to dig into cloud services. What we have now on Mac, PC, iOS and Android is popular among users due to fast speed and cloud technology. Many products out there have a very long way to go in order to match something like that. It’s hard for others to develop something similar because they don’t have the experience we do.

It seems the messenger market is about to burst — we have WhatsApp, Viber, Kik, WeChat, Telegram and several hundred more. Why do you believe that there is a significant share still left for your product?

The main difference between us and companies trying to show off on the market is that we don’t make clones. We make products which are unique and possess a completely new essence. We have an approach to usability and security, which is different from all others. We are Volvo in the world of messengers. Safe, comfortable, fast and stylish. We have no direct competitors.

Many users are not looking for an all-in-one product, they just want to chat. Telegram, for instance, has the basic functionality and the messenger is pretty well known.

We’re not talking about all-in-one products. We’re talking about delivering complex technology to users in a simple and natural way. And we’ve been pretty successful at that.

By the way, does Telegram have a future?

We’re always treating our competitors with respect. Yet all the conflicts with shareholders have made this particular situation rather tricky. We just wish Pavel the best, and hope he will be able to resolve all his issues shortly.

Are you developing the project out of your own pocket or are you appealing to investors?

Of course, at the early stages of our work we had to use some of our own funds to support the team, especially if you take into account our difficult financial situation at the time. But by the end of last year we’ve managed to strike a deal with some very prospective investors, who have been studying our project for a long time, and in the end decided to put their trust in us. We’ll have some details soon. But even now the estimates of the company value are substantial.

Cool. You’re in Lithuania now, right? Why?

Lithuania... Many partners ask me this — why Lithuania, why Vilnius? I don’t know, I’ve just wanted to see the world, I like to travel. The Baltic region has always appealed to me for its nature, culture and steady pace of life. Here I can really spend most of my time working; it’s easier to concentrate here. Basically we have an international company. The management is in Europe. Main office is in Vilnius, and it houses a large portion of the staff — marketing, PR. We like it here — the climate’s good, the working environment is quiet and relaxed. It’s also easier to work with European suppliers and coordinate the whole process, because most of the hardware is located in America and Asia. And, well, it’s just that European companies appeal to us more in a congenial sense.

And the company is registered there? It’s not just idle curiosity — we often write about business emigration.

Of course, we have a European company. We signed many contracts with European communication service providers. Also, we are not only working with Europe, but also doing business with Asia and America.

What business might that be? How do you make a profit?

We have an unconventional approach to commerce. First of all, we have a steady monetization model for the messenger. We offer users different options on cloud services, stickers, voice messaging, geolocation features that work with taxi services. We’re working actively on integrating ticket booking. Anyone can choose what suits him or her the most. Soon we’ll tell a story about our interesting experience with a service provider. There is no war between providers and messengers — there’s only some miscommunication. And we’ve learned how to work together.

You’ve mentioned geolocation — can you tell us more?

The main problem the users are facing is explaining with one click where they are now, and how can someone reach them. We do it in two clicks. First, the user instantly sends their geolocation; second, the other user receives a map with action buttons, which offer them different ways to reach their destination: on foot, by car or by public transport. There are no analogs on the market, and we’re patenting these solutions.

Recently there was a situation, when my wife had a traffic accident in Europe, on a street she didn’t know. I had to get to her as fast as possible, as to take control of the situation, speak with the police and comfort my spouse. The geolocation system allowed her to send her exact position to me, and it allowed me to get directions, so I could reach her in five minutes in a city I didn’t know.

How is the work coming along? I saw posts on Facebook from some opinion leaders, the review by Exler for one, but what else? People don’t want to use a messenger their friends don’t use — how do you acquire this critical mass?

We’re growing fast. Communication products tend to do that. Over the last couple of days my phonebook grew by 500 some contacts. So far we’re only testing the product, and not engaging in any marketing wars. All the media coverage we get is a result of users’ personal experiences with the product. Exler found out himself what we were working on, and I myself know for sure that all of his family is actively using our products. Just like many Russian businessmen do, who are interested in new technologies and are closely watching our work. Generally, there are lots of positive reviews.

How many users?

We have more than 100 thousand people using our service in this total information vacuum, while we still haven’t said pretty much anything about the product. Soon we will take the service to 100 thousand new users daily. I have a perfect understanding of how to achieve this.

And how?

Well, some secrets must remain secrets. I’ll put it simply like that — quality products gain their user base quite rapidly due to people sharing what they like with their friends. The social aspect, of course, helps greatly. So the problem of obtaining a vast user base just doesn’t exist for us.

Should this project hit a dead end, what would you do?

We came to this market to take a big slice of the pie. Only persistence and hard work 25 hours a day allow us to achieve these substantial results. We see 4talk as a round the clock project, which is being developed constantly, and so we’re not really interested in failure stories.

Has the whole story with QIP taught you anything valuable?

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. It’s important to take any business seriously, protect your employees, your copyrights, your documents, and plan for years ahead. Only then we can talk about a business developing and moving forward. The story of QIP is a sad one for me, because we all loved this product. But it has no future, so we stopped all user support. I think soon we’ll simply close it — remove the ability to download it, because it is still our product. We don’t want a piece of software, which hasn’t been updated for a year, to cast a shadow on our former company.

It would be even easier to just close the project for the users, and redirect them to our new solutions. We’re still outraged by RBC’s position, and we even heard they wanted to sell QIP without us knowing. It’s even funny to hear such things come out of RBC walls. Well, we’d be more than happy to take a look at the buyer.

If Facebook comes to you and offers N billions of dollars — will you agree? Or do you want to keep nurturing your business by yourself?

That’s a peculiar question. We’re not a startup in a common sense of that word. Today we possess a serious financial supply, and are more interested in strategic partners, who will be able to bring new users and new qualities to the product. 4talk is not only a business product; it’s a paradigm shift, a new quality level for such services. We receive many offers from investors but don’t publicly discuss them. Maybe in September we will announce our first big deal with a western investor.

Cross-platform development is hard, right? What are the problems, the ins and outs of this trade? What platform did you start on, and why? When do you plan to release a version for Windows Phone?

Developing simultaneously for several platforms truly is a rather complex task. But the planning system for the product and a list of features really get the job done! We’re working on all platforms at the same time, for messengers it’s a must-have. In September we will launch a version for Windows Phone and a web-based client application. Support for Blackberry devices is not a top priority for us, at least for now. I believe that sometime during autumn we will open the API for the OMMG platform.

It would be great if you gave the young startuppers, who are reading this, some sound advice.

If you’re passionate about an idea, if you see potential in it — go on and do it! Just keep in mind that products are created for the users, not for the investors.

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