I turn left onto Rubinstein Street in St Petersburg to visit Gideon Gibson, the founder of the event platform KickCity. It is cold outside but Gideon, wearing his black KickCity shirt, welcomes me with a warm smile – I can tell right away that with him it is all or nothing
Gideon, 24 years old, grew up in Nigeria and after high school, he knew that he wanted to go somewhere to create something. But where and what – those were the questions. He received scholarships from many places including the US, China, Japan, England, and Russia. Having so many options, you might think it was a tough choice, but Gideon knew where he wanted to go. “I wanted to come to Russia,” he remembers the time back home, “But when I told my aunt, she was like: ‘No, you are not going to Russia.’” He smiles and then continues seriously, “I almost cried when she said that, but my parents have always been very supportive and told me that if I wanted to go to Russia, I should do so.”
He wanted to come to Russia, so he came here. First to study the Russian language in Moscow and then to start his Bachelor in Nanotechnology at St Petersburg Electrotechnical University, LETI. But this was not enough: “I remember, the first day in Russia, I just wanted to go back home,” but laying on his bed in the Moscow dormitory, he realised this was not an option. “I decided not to complain,” he continues. “I decided that everything was possible and I would not leave Russia before achieving something.”
The birth of KickCity
“The idea for KickCity came when I was working for W Hotel,” he explains. A lot of guests and visitors – whether Russian or not – always had the same question: ‘what can I do today in St Petersburg?’ “And I knew that there are always lots of things going on in the city,” he says. This trouble of where to go, what to do was the basis for the idea of a single event platform – combining different areas, from culture and music to sports and more. But KickCity is not just like the event section of a newspaper. Gideon makes clear that KickCity is all about interactivity: “My vision for KickCity and the event industry is to create a platform where people can easily find whatever they want and connect and interact with people sharing the same interests – bringing interactivity to an event platform.”
Starting a business as a foreigner in Russia
Either you do it or you go. Gideon follows his dream with a passion and long working hours. “The motto of my high school was ‘Be all you can be!’ and I believe that it does not matter where you are and where you are from; it only matters what you are doing,” he says. Gideon grew up learning that anything is possible and he still believes in it. He started KickCity in the second year of his Bachelor studies—now more than three years ago—after an inspiring trip to Barcelona and the Geneva Business School: “As a child, I have always wanted to have my own company. When I came back from Barcelona to St Petersburg, yeah, KickCity just came.”
Be fucking great
Starting a business in a foreign country can be difficult, this is at least how I imagined it to be but Gideon made clear that this is not the point. “I think that in life we need to learn to see the bright side. That’s how it works for me.” When I ask him about his personal life motto and how he copes with all the difficulties he meets, he starts laughing, “I don’t know, maybe, just ‘Be fucking great!’”. Gideon walks through his life with this ‘be great’ attitude and it works for him.
The official launch for KickCity St Petersburg was in November 2016. Beside KickCity St Petersburg, the app also includes an event platform for Moscow, Houston (US), and, soon, Paris (France). It is not only Gideon’s team that is growing but also his ideas, his reach, and his funding. His endurance and passion seem to be rewarded. However, investments are hard to get and funding also has to come from outside of Russia. Raising money in Russia is difficult—and not only for foreigners—but Gideon has his own formula for success: “People raise investment because they know you. So bring results and do not join the table with empty hands.”
His advises everyone who wants to be successful in Russia: “Do not get depressed. Sometimes you have to work hard and sometimes you just have to sleep. But do not get depressed.” Being raised in Nigeria and having seen the labour market in Spain and the US, his judgment and advice can be taken seriously: “Russia is 100% different from anywhere you can imagine. Business in Russia is different. Life in Russia is different.” But he loves St Petersburg and feels more and more Russian every day. “Everything is about understanding the mentality,” he explains very seriously, “once you understand the Russian mentality, you can work with them and you can work against them.” Fluency in the Russian language is crucial.
However, it is not only work that makes him stay in St Petersburg. Having his company here but also his friends makes him more Russian than he might want to admit: “Sometimes talking to my dad, I start speaking Russian and he is like, what’s wrong with you?” Gideon’s big smile is getting even bigger when he remembers this and is sure that choosing Russia and being here was the right decision. “Maybe I am staying forever, maybe I am even getting married here,” he smiles again, “who knows?”