BizSpark Startup of the Day on Windows 8: MindSticks

Oleksandr Tebenko is the CEO and Co-founder of Ukraine-based MindSticks.

  • Name of Windows 8 App: MindSticks. Please click here to download it from the Windows Store.

  • Brief Description of App: MindSticks is an educational app that helps you improve brain skills and have fun. Each MindSticks user is a game designer which can create and share puzzles with friends and other users, thus making a contribution to the development of the project. The most interesting levels can be combined into thematic sets and collections. Tournaments are making the game even more challenging.

What is your company’s mission?

We hope to change the learning process to make it more interesting and creative. We think that the time has come when you need not only teach and lay the foundation, but develop necessary skills.

In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does?

MindSticks allows users to unobtrusively improve abilities such as logic, imagination, memory, attention and reaction.

How did you get the idea for your company?

We teach computer science at the school. We noticed that the traditional educational process is too complicated and often causes negative emotions in students. Game-based learning gives much better results. Thus the idea of ​​the MindSticks appeared – a set of web and mobile games for brain training.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment since founding your company?

That MindSticks reached the top of the Windows Store in the Games section, and that it stayed in the first place for a month. We were very pleased to know that users are interested in our idea. But special feelings were caused by the first thank you letter from parents, who wrote that our game was able to interest their children.

Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding?

We are looking for a seed investments these days.

How many employees do you have? 3 How many of them are developers? 2

Microsoft technologies that you are using in conjunction with the development of your application (and if you’re using Windows Azure, please answer the Windows Azure section below):

We are using Microsoft TouchDevelop as our main development tool. We are using Windows Azure for the database server, which holds all the information about puzzles, players, history of games, etc.

Azure Information:

Tell us about your Azure based solution.

We use Azure cloud-based hosting for our DB and to process requests from the app. 

How did you get excited about Azure?

We really like Azure, it allows to control server loading. Also, TouchDevelop easily integrates with Azure to implement authorization for users via social networks.

Business Questions:

Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?

First, we want to create a large, loyal community that associates our application with innovations in education. After this happens, we will select the optimal monetization model that we have. Game-based learning market will have grown from $1,5 billion in 2012 to $2,3 billion in 2017. Potential audience of our service is about 50 million users (based on similar applications and competitor analysis).

Do you make reasonable predictions about how you are going to achieve revenue and then test them out, or do you start with a business model and deploy it, to see if it brings in revenue?

The meaning of any business is to make a profit. Therefore, before we started serious work on the application, we have learned the market size and marketing efforts. We made reasonable predictions on the basis of these conclusions. Therefore, we started with a business model that was based on monetization strategy and market research within our niche.

What questions do you and your technical co-founder / engineering team feel are the most important to solve about the business aspects of your company?

We try to make our application as intuitive as possible and at the same time retain all the functionality. We continually refine the UI and monitor how it affects user interaction.

Culture Questions:

When did you decide that you were “startup material”?

After the first version of MindSticks became popular among our students and friends, we thought why not take it more seriously. We always have time to go back to work in school, and now we can do something really strong and meaningful. We can arouse the interest of children in more than one school, in 5 or even 10 :)

What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family life, or socially? Does working on a startup change the way you associate and interact in these areas?

It can be described roughly as follows. Previously, you worked for a company 40 hours per week with two days off. Now you work for yourself, but work 60 hours per week with no days off. This schedule causes some difficulties, and it is often impossible to spend time with friends and family. It creates more difficulty when planning vacations, and personal liability is several times larger.

What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?

I am a goal-oriented person who always achieves his goal. At the same time I'm not stubborn, but always try to be flexible if it can speed up the process. What makes our startup a startup? Probably the atmosphere that prevails in our small and friendly company. We completely surrender to our work and believe in it. Startup entrepreneurs are adventurers who have not been touched by boring and measured life.

Do you have any advice for young startups?

Pick the right cofounders. Understand your users and make them happy. Avoid instant benefits, which distracts you from startup. And, of course, don’t give up.

Relationship with Microsoft:

Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?

Thanks to Microsoft, we participated in TouchDevelop Appathon, where MindSticks won the People’s Choice Award. In fact, that's why we decided to develop the app further.

What do you think of the BizSpark Program?

I think this is an important job. A lot of people do not manifest their ideas when faced with a shortage of development capital or lack of experience. BizSpark helps solve both these problems.

Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?

I think the most valuable thing that Microsoft can give to budding entrepreneurs is not software. It's experience and knowledge that cannot be measured in money.

Oleksandr Tebenko, CEO & Co-Founder