“Black Hunter”: The Story Of Samara The Cloud Castle

How to live the Russian company working with foreign clients and doing projects for the Vatican and News Corp Rupert Murdoch. “We have never had clients in Russia, so we are never PR. And the developers and designers about us and so you know,” shyly replies the 31-year-old Alexander Kolodochka to the question about why about Samara Studio mobile development Cloud Castle is typed in almost a dozen publications in the Internet.

The company does not fall within the materials about the heroes of Russian it business, who have succeeded in the West or in the related regional Russian startups. Although Cloud Castle have not startup. The company employs 130 developers in four countries, including Russia and opened in the beginning of the year development office in Prague, and the turnover last year reached $6 million, says its founder Kolodochka. For eight years Kolodochka and its partners Artem Orlov and Travis Parsons managed to build the business development in Samara and large clients around the world.

In Samara state aerospace University (SSAU), prepare future aerospace engineers, and one of the most powerful in the Volga region it professionals. But the student of faculty of applied mathematics Alexander Kolodochka diploma and has not received. Short before the end of the fifth year, left school for work.

Already in the third year he worked as a designer of user interfaces in Samara it company Magenta Technology. There at the request of the client Kolodochka, according to him, doing something like a “browser within a browser with added social component (plugins)”. The project was controversial and never saw the light of day, recalls Kolodochka.

The client Magenta — American Travis Parsons is friends with the developers, and back home in the United States, proposed Kolodochka to earn on service development. He immediately found several American clients to the new Studio. So Cloud Castle from the beginning was the Samara company focused on sales in America — the first US office was opened in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lived Parsons.

A private company became the second and last work in the life of Kolodochka. In early 2009, he and his fellow programmers Artem Orlov and Ilya Alamanov founded in a Studio apartment, which Kolodochka shot for himself. Alamanov subsequently went out of business and started their own projects. Start in the years after the crisis conveniently.

“When youre small, unable to respond flexibly”, explains the entrepreneur. In addition, the company has never worked in sales on the Russian market, only in the West. Therefore, the fall of the ruble to the dollar Cloud Castle started to earn more.

“At first it was not too fun, each project had to dip from scratch, a lot to learn,” recalls Kolodochka. First, Cloud Castle asked for their services, relatively few. Hour of programmer Studio then cost just $25. The company now prices starting from $100 per hour.

Six months later, the Studio took three programmers to develop their own products. But increased the number of orders, so the time and free hand to experiment in creating product solutions, was not. Kolodochka always dreamed about, but their developments his company could only afford after six years of work.

At Cloud Castle has never been the financial Foundation in the form of third-party investment. So the company lived by means. Each hour of work programmers were paid by the customers. In the first year of operation, turnover from orders amounted to about 6 million roubles.

“From the beginning we established a very strong design team, says Kolodochka. In those years, Samara was considered that the developer is a valuable employee, and the designer can pay 2-3 times less”. Cloud Castle immediately offered designers the same salary as the programmers, which surprised competitors.

One of the friends of Kolodochka describes him as an eccentric person, able to fire up for any reason. Competitors in Samara it market are reluctant to discuss it.

Denis Kortunov, the founder of Samara Studio “Turbomilk” which is engaged in graphics for developers of desktop, mobile and web applications (for example, companies Intuit, 1C, Livejournal, Habrahabr, and Microsoft — Prim. Ed.), says that when the Cloud Castle first appeared, she was unpleasantly surprised colleagues in Samara the it industry for their aggressive behavior in the labor market. “Turbomilk” a lot of time and effort was spent to “grow” professionals within the company. For them conducted master classes in design, English lessons, and for a long time the Studio was “the best employer on the Coast” for designers, says Kortunov.

According to him, at the same time in the Studio worked 16 designers, making it one of the largest design teams in Russia. Once in the office to “Turbomilk” came “nice guys” (founders of the Cloud Caslte — Prim. Ed.) said that they “broke away” from Magenta, and will take office in the same business-the centre, says Kortunov. “We introduced them with all designers showed something to work and staged a joint Banquet.

And after a few weeks it became clear that they entice to themselves of our best employees,” he says. The founder of Cloud Castle recalls with a laugh that in Samara it was called “black hunter”. “What to do, we were a small company, we needed the best experts, and we were willing to pay them for it better than the competition”. In Cloud Castle a long time had junior positions.

Time and money on training new graduates is not enough. So the Studio is particularly interested in the nurtured by competitors frames. Kortunova this behavior to show the “savagery”. “In the it crowd Samara was a very friendly atmosphere, everyone hung out together and helped each other.

I thought there are some principles that can not be broken,” he adds. Against this background, employees Cloud Castle stopped to let on the Volga regions largest it-event “Festival 404”, organizer of which was Kortunov and his team. However, the competitors made up “fast enough,” says Kortunov. In 2013 Kolodochka conducted the section “Designers dream” and company Cloud Castle in that year was partner of the event.

Over 10 years of experience “Turbomilk” has made more than 400 projects for three hundred companies around the world. But to do a design to order again and again — did not seem Kortunova team and interesting work. “I needed the next step,” explains Fyodor Lukyanov.

Besides, “Turbomilk” not so much money, he adds. “The business is too big word for what we were doing. We were young designers, having a great time and felt like rock stars. We didnt think about money, efficiency and growth. Was just doing an interesting job”, — says Fyodor Lukyanov.

In 2012 the team “Turbomilk” joined the company Parcsis (developer of solutions for law firms “Law.ru” – approx. Ed.) at the invitation of its founder Alexey Pelevin, according to Kortunov was “positive movement forward”. And in 2013, he Denis Kortunov went to Moscow to work as a design Director Acronis.

“In Samara nowhere else to work, to get to Cloud Castle dreamed of all my classmates in the Department of computer science at Samara state aerospace University,” says a former employee of the Cloud Castle, a designer of applications Yaroslav Patrikeev. The only reason he left a “dream job” — moving to Petersburg, he admits. Compared to other Samara it companies Cloud Castle is not the biggest, says the founder of Samara city media Bigvill Tatiana Simakova, which in December 2016 was the main editor of The Village.

For example, in the Samara office of a subsidiary of the Japanese NEC, the developer of a variety of solutions to support the business NetCracker employs more than 600 employees, about a hundred people at your local office legal tech company “Pravogo” continues to be a major player remains Magenta Technologies, it is now developing products for the logistics. Almost all like Cloud Castle, more oriented to foreign clients, said Simakov. Samara developer market today is approximately five thousand people. Salaries in the it field in Samara is comparable to the capital, and several major companies compete for personnel.

In this issue, each company has its own strategy, explains Simakova. Someone who works directly with universities and hires students almost from the third year on internship, someone advertises, a Cloud Castle, for example, makes good PR to the right audience, she says. “The Studio takes on social projects, active and fit at the initiative of the city administration — for example, Cloud designed offline navigation in Samara attractions” — lists Simakova.

Cloud Castle a long time to grow pretty slowly. In 2013 in Studio 42 of the developer. But by the beginning of 2017, it has grown to 130 people, who work from offices in four countries. The company now has three offices in the United States. In Charlotte, Los Angeles and new York — open early in the year a sales office in London and office for developers in Prague.

In 2014, the state of Cloud Castle has grown to 50 people, and the company became difficult to manage, says Kolodochka. “Decreased our ability to manage projects, work resources were used inefficiently, and the management has to avoid managerial mistakes,” says the entrepreneur. The problem of growth is decided by dividing the company into three “small castle”, each of which must operate as a company at the time of its founding, when there were only a few employees.

Podstudio have almost complete autonomy. Each has its own representative in the United States, she is looking for orders, interviewing a new people and determines the size of bonuses to employees. “I dont even know what they are doing, I have a lot of free time,” laughs Kolodochka.

He is now practically engaged in the business of the company as a whole. Under his management of the creative process. Designers, illustrators, UX-division and all-new interior design company called ventures (“ventures”).

Studio co-founder Artem Orlov is responsible for maintaining client projects. And American Travis Parsons is building a U.S. sales network and is actually the CEO of the company. In Russia the company has no leader, responsible for business. The Director of the Russian legal entity just pays staff salaries.

Strategic solutions partners are together. Here Russian and American office the parity — 50%. Parsons 50% of the votes, and Orloff with Kolodochka 25%.

Kolodochka insists that the main challenge for Cloud Castle still frames. For the development of the London office initially invited the person who already has connections, potential clients, preparing market research from the point of view of competitors and so on.

“In addition to salespeople, it needs to hire a good project Manager who can lead projects when the first customers. In a new market we like going back to the early stage of development of our company, we have to build everything from scratch and look for the right people,” says Kolodochka. At the end of last year, the Studio moved into the room more — it is designed for 200 employees, although now in Samara in the Studio, no more than a hundred people. In the new office, the design of which was created by the same team that designed the interiors in the apartment Kolodochka, there is a big lounge area, cinema and gymnasium.

Now gradually completed the reconstruction of a new café-bar with a glass ceiling, which during the day will work as an additional lounge area for employees, and in the evening will be open to all comers. The first cafe Cloud, open Studio in a nearby office building, became the centre of attraction for fashionable Samara public.

In this cafe hosts regular concerts and all the fun, said Simakova from Bigvill. Due to this cafe on 100% pays for itself, says Kolodochka. Staff Cloud Castle eat it with maximum discounts, get free coffee and buns during the day, and regular visitors pay for his work. According to the founder of the Studio, in the company from the very beginning paid much attention to the comfort of employees.

It helped to recruit from competitors. “We like to think of themselves in this Samara Google” — recognizes Kolodochka. “Castle already then, in 2012, Samara was a dream employer.

Cool office, MacBook, cool experts, new technology and high wages,” says a former designer application the Studio Yaroslav Patrikeev. From the competitors the company has distinguished all the way to the policy of communication with customers. For example, encouraged direct communication of designers and programmers with customers, he says.

And soon the Castle we minimize this distance. Began to send their employees to work in the us office. They were able to personally discuss the project with clients and immerse themselves in the culture.

“I was lucky to work in new York from September to December 2014,” says Patrikeev. Go to the client office The Wall Street Journal, to work near the Flatiron skyscraper (literally — “iron iron”. The 22-storey building, named due to its shape — approx. Ed.) and in the evening walk in Central Park — just like in the movies. “Lets be honest, a 24 year old guy from Samara is a very rare chance,” he smiles.

As soon as the Studio could afford, she raised the salaries of developers and designers to the capital. “In Moscow from us no one else leaves — salaries are the same, and to pay for life there will have to order more,” explains the founder of Cloud Castle.

At some point, to grow in Samara Studio became hard, and then the staff decided to look in other cities. At the conference in Moscow Kolodochka announced that the Studio is ready to cooperate with nonresident developers, if they come to him ready-made team of three people. Instead, Cloud Castle ready to pay them a salary of $10 thousand per month and to give full freedom to dispose of the money and authority within the team. The proposal generated unprecedented interest.

Mail Kolodochka and his colleagues fell about one hundred summary teams from dozens of Russian cities. So at Cloud Castle are in Ulyanovsk and Togliatti. The final problem was the unexpected fashion of programmers to go is not for money in Moscow or St. Petersburg, and for a good life in Europe. To cover this “brain drain”, Kolodochka decided to open a development office in Prague.

There at the end of last year, moved five people, a few employees now process documents. “Now from us makes no sense at all to go somewhere, and cases of transition from Castle to Samara competitors in almost was not” — hes satisfied. Learning to keep programmers in Samara, the entrepreneur has started to poach valuable staff from Moscow. In March of this year he moved to Samara, senior designer at Yota Devices, product Galina Kalugina.

“Do you think that Moscow is a special place where you do not leave,” said Kalugin, answering the question about the reasons of moving. In addition to financial benefits in the Samara Studio, it attracted great opportunity and responsibility, and the ability to work with clients worldwide, she says. Now Kalugin will rebuild in Cloud Castle the work of the UX Department.

To implement a custom testing, research and “packaging” them into a valuable offer for the customers. According to Kolodochka, the company has finally grown to the point when the client can in addition to orders to engage in its own product development. This requires experienced UX specialist, so the company has not stinted to “write” him out of Moscow, he explains.

“The noises you make sound like muzak to me”, — sang the song How do you Sleep? John Lennon, referring to the former partner in The Beatles, Paul McCartney, alluding to the fact that his solo music has become too commercial. The company Muzak, whose name is used in the song as a household name, is the largest U.S. producer and player of music for shopping malls, cafes and so on. Under this brand the company exists since 1954, and its history begins even earlier — since 1910. Legendary Muzak was one of the first major clients of the Samara Studio, says Kolodochka.

For her Cloud Castle designed the app to control the playback of music tracks. And worked on word of mouth, and customers began to come one after the other. “The last two years of the project was very much hands is not enough to do them,” confirms a former employee of the Cloud Castle.

Another star client of the Samara Studio of steel the Vatican museums. Developed by Cloud Castle app Patrum show visitors the treasures of the Vatican museums, in need of restoration. And with his help, you can donate any amount to save one or the other relics. About wrote all the worlds media — from The Guardian to the Washington Post.

“We did a project for one of the patrons of the Vatican (patrons-sponsors of the religious state, the rich and famous people — approx. Ed.) — says Kolodochka. €? He recommended us to the leadership of the Vatican museums, and they approached us with the idea and proposed to implement it”.

Also, the Studio has developed an app for Newsmart media Empire of Rupert Murdochs News Corp. It allows to learn the language on articles business newspaper The Wall Street Journal.

Not all projects were able to immediately. One of the unsuccessful system of discounts for companies that are engaged in a massive remote distribution of goods. It was one of the first customers of the Studio, and Kolodochkat even remember the name of the company. Cloud Castle have done a project nearly two years, had been paid only in part, the project to be successful it is impossible, recognizes Kolodochka.

The system assumed a lot of calculations had to take into account the postage from any country in the world, and developers are simply “buried in the business logic,” he says. Another difficult project is the founder of Cloud Castle calls appeared in February of this year in the App Store mobile game Die With Glory. “We probably made every possible mistake, did everything that didnt have to do” — describes Kolodochka the process of creating the first mobile game of its own design.

For the game, the plot of which red-haired Viking, resembling the founder of the Studio, overcomes various obstacles on the way to Valhalla, the company has taken almost two years instead of the planned six months. “Now we have a whole team that develops games. And two years ago when one of the employees came up with the idea to write a game, it became clear that the right professionals we have,” says founder of the Studio.

In the end, the initiator of the team had to hire eight more people. In February the game was released only on iOS and in the CIS countries. In April, the Studio plans to release the game on the global market for iOS, and on Android, and then it will become clear whether it will be possible to return the spent money on it, says Kolodochka.

To quit game development, Cloud Castle is not going. In parallel, the developers finished the second game and starting to write the third. For small orders, and unambitious tasks Cloud Castle now trying not to take.

If earlier the starting price of the project that the Studio was willing to discuss, started from $50 thousand, now dont consider working for less than $200-300 thousand. The high cost of the Studio is one of the reasons why some customers instead of Cloud Castle prefer to work with other developers from Russia or even from India. There for similar projects exhibited four times lower price tags.

With a partner in the US Cloud Castle originally worked only with foreign customers. “We decided not to mess with russian business, — said Kolodochka — Russian problems arise where they will never be aliens”. In Russia, the Studio is even there is no sales office. However, sometimes the Studio fails to get a major U.S. customers because they are afraid to work with the Studio, which developers are in another country.

So, for example, broke ordering from the channel Fox Sports, says Kolodochka. Sometimes Cloud Castle makes projects at home for friendship or for PR. For example, Castle did a new design of Samara city media Bigvill. In the words of its founder Tatyana Simakova, she was friends with the art Director of the Studio, and was sure that they will do the job at a high level.

Redesign much, says Simakova. The Studio, according to her, worked with the publication on a friendly basis. They have repeatedly rendered each other services.

Cloud Castle now finally can realize the long cherished dream of the founders. To develop own products. These projects Kolodochka personally engaged. For example, the Studio has released a solution for project management on the basis of time GlassFactory. Kolodochka hopes to sell their own product solutions to get passive income.

Another source of non earnings should be investment activity. In March of this year, the Studio changed its name to Castle Digital Partners, and now operates as an investment company. She buys a share in the projects that she is developing. The customer pays half of the cost of development cash and the remaining amount paid shares.

“On the one hand, we motivate ourselves to work better on the project, although the share of small — up to 10%,” explains Kolodochka. On the other hand, clients, especially young companies, like this model is the opportunity to get discounts and to share the risks with the developer, he adds.

To work on this model, the Studio started last year, now Castle two dozen of invested projects, for example, mobile app for shopping clothes American brand House Account. Outputs as yet, but in the future five to ten years Kolodochka expects that the investment will bring the company a profit.

Revenue Samara legal entities, OOO “cloud castle,” according to base “SPARK-Interfax”, in 2015 59.9 million rubles, and profit — 2,8 million roubles. “In Russia, the money we are wasting,” explains Kolodochka. According to him, the turnover with another Russian legal entity (OOO “cloud castle”, the financial results of SPARK no. — Prim. Ed.) reflects only the salaries of developers and designers who work in the Samara office. The turnover of the entire company on a global level in 2016, $6 million, says the entrepreneur.

Until the end of 2017, it expects to increase it to $10 million. Kolodochka insists that all the money the company tries to invest in the business — for example, in recently opened offices in Prague and London. Now the company has plans to open new sales offices in the United States, but it will have to seek investment money up to $10 million, says the entrepreneur.

The profit of the company Kolodochka refused to disclose. But led indicators on the profitability of your business. According to him, now, excluding paid employees bonuses, the figure is 15-20%. Assessment vc.ru profit Cloud Castle in 2016 could be $0,9-1,2 million.

The margin could go up to 70%, says founder of the Studio, the cost of one employee about $30 dollars per hour, and for clients prices start from $100. But now a lot of domestic projects on which the Studio is not yet earns. In the future, Castle hopes to unite all legal entities in Russia, Czech Republic and London to head the American company.

To the question about what he wants to focus in the coming years, Kolodochka responds thoughtfully. “As a child I loved to play computer games, but then became too lazy to understand the new rules and mechanics. But now it turned out that to think of all these details and stories — a real pleasure, I wouldve been doing all the time”.

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