A year ago, three like-minded people decided to introduce a new format of children’s entertainment in Almaty, which would become a 100% Kazakhstani product and benefit both children and parents. So, in November 2014, the first leisure and entertainment laboratory for children aged 1 to 12 years, Kids lab, was opened in the Dostyk Plaza shopping center. Three months later, this project became one of the finalists of the “Build your Business” competition, and now the founders of the project are opening a second gaming zone in the largest mall in Kazakhstan and expanding the business concept. “Build your Business” is an annual contest run by Saby Charity Foundation. Kenes Rakishev is a co-founder of the fund. Aselle Tasmagambetova is the president of the oldest private charity in the country.
The #BuildYourBusiness contest continues to support aspiring #businesswomen in #Kazakhstan – the Kids Lab start-up founded by Ardak & Janar is one of the many that received a grant to help expand their #business #SabyFoundation https://t.co/pFUZ9BaTZK
— Kenges Rakishev (@kengesr) September 9, 2021
About the beginning
Ardak: We, three young partners, decided to implement a new concept of leisure for children in Almaty. Our initiative was the opening of a game zone in the shopping center ”Dostyk Plaza”. Having carefully studied the market of our city and the demand of consumers, we decided to occupy the niche that will appeal to both children and their parents. We decided to offer parents to leave their child in the shopping center for 30 minutes to 2, 3 or more hours under the supervision of experienced staff and thereby free themselves for shopping and personal affairs.
At first, we were a little worried about how Kazakh parents would perceive this format, since there was no service in Almaty that would allow leaving a child in a shopping center without parental supervision. This is not a kindergarten or an early development school. This is a new format of entertainment + training “edutainment”. But, as it turned out, the client is ready and, moreover, has accepted this format with a bang. Meanwhile, children spend their time with us, engage in self-development, participate in master classes, develop their personality and make new friends.
About the background
Ardak: I worked for 2 years as the Executive Director of the portal for the whole Pandaland family.kz since the start of the resource. Zhanar has a financial education, worked in London in the airline industry and as a business analyst in an investment fund. Each of us turned out to be strong in his element and together we turned out to be a competent team.
Dostyk Plaza had many offers in the children’s direction. Both international franchises and local brands claimed this place, but the management of the shopping center believed in our project, despite the fact that we had no experience in the business itself. In general, there was no children’s zone provided in the shopping center at the launch, so we had to work with a room originally designed for a boutique. In this regard, we were a little limited in terms of terms, communications and space.
Our area is small, 282 square meters, but we have divided it into different zones as much as possible, so that children of different ages will be interested in us. For example, we have a zone with kinetic sand, a zone with soap bubbles, a maze, a trampoline, a mini-stage where we have puppet shows. There is also a game room with designers and a children’s kitchen, a separate art class, where we constantly hold creative master classes. There, our children work with plasticine, draw pictures, make-up and are engaged in robotics.
About start-up funds
Zhanar: This project was implemented with the raised money. These are not banks, these are investors who liked our idea and decided to invest in it. Negotiations on raising funds took us about six months. We presented our project to various businessmen and friends. Now it is easier for us to attract capital, since we have an operating zone in Dostyk Plaza. This factor helped us a lot to open in ”MEGA Alma-Ata”. In the future, for development, we would like to start working more actively with banks.
About foreign experience
Ardak: We have not seen an identical model abroad. There are completely different formats of entertainment for children there. Like, for example, the huge parks “Kidzania”, but we have not seen exactly the same space as we have. We have turned out a kind of hybrid of entertainment for children with our own concept. We really like this direction.
About the success
Zhanar: Now we have received a lot of attention from shopping and entertainment centers and private investors. People like our business model and approach to business in general. After long negotiations and studying the terms of the lease, we chose “MEGA Alma-Ata”, first of all, because there is good traffic and location. And the shopping center itself is very large and family-run. Already in August of this year, we are planning to open Kids Lab No. 2.
Of course, we were very lucky with the location in the “Dostyk Plaza”, between the food court and the cinema area. But, we hope that in the gallery of restaurants ”MEGA Alma-Ata” people will come to us purposefully, since they are already familiar with our service.
About participation in the Saby contest
Ardak: I’ve been following him since the first contest. I watched the works of the finalists, followed them. When you are doing your own business, you have to constantly think about additional sources of investment. You study what programs there are for young entrepreneurs, what kind of grants exist. Therefore, we decided to participate in the “Build your own Business”contest.
Our project was not included in the shortlist of twenty finalists. It was a surprise for us that on the last evening before the winners were determined, Vyacheslav Kim and Kenes Rakishev decided to allocate an additional prize fund for us, as well. When we were invited to the award ceremony in one day, we came simply as participants of the competition, to support the finalists and just get acquainted with the list of winners. We didn’t expect anything. We shot the video on our own, it was unprofessional, yes, we had problems with sound, which the jury members, by the way, noticed. At the time of submitting the application to the competition, we had only launched our project into action a month ago, and all our forces were put on operational activities. The main thing for us was to participate, to declare ourselves, because we, like other participants, are also young entrepreneurs and creators of our Kazakh product.
About the funds won
Ardak: First of all, we purchased the Imagination Playground constructor. With this constructor, we travel around the “Dostyk Plaza”, organize contests, play inside our zone. It is unique in that it was not in Kazakhstan before, it also promotes team play and the development of creativity in children. Because you can build absolutely anything you want out of it. We have invested the remaining funds in our project in “MEGA Alma-Ata”.
About the ROI
Zhanar: The payback point is just around the corner. We hope that our project in Dostyk Plaza will pay off within three years from the launch date. In general, we reinvest the earned money in further development, in new equipment, automation system and personnel.
About the future development
Ardak: We really want to open another space in Astana. There is also a great demand for such services there, since this is a very young, family-run city, with many small children. But we still just physically out of hands hands. And we have plans for expansion to the capital.
About the staff and the concept of the new zone
Zhanar: Now our staff consists of twelve people. We will have even more staff at MEGA Alma-Ata, because the concept is more expanded there. In addition to the game area, we will also have a cafe. The waiting area in MEGA Alma-Ata will also be more comfortable for parents, with an expanded video surveillance system, automatic registration of children, a children’s menu and wireless Internet for working on a tablet. If in Dostyk Plaza parents, as a rule, do not stay with us for a long time, then in “MEGA Alma-Ata” they will have the opportunity to have a snack, work, feed the child. The room itself will be almost 3 times larger in terms of area there.
We expect that our summer terrace will also be interesting for children. There we decided to make a driving school for children. There is no such thing in Kazakhstan yet. There will be road markings, mini-cars, we will teach traffic rules, give children rights, etc. We plan to launch everything in August.
The annual Saby contest is accepting projects, Kenes Rakishev reminds. “Build your Business” contest is free and gives away money without repayment obligations. The conditions are very simple and the participation is transparent.