Questli at TechCrunch Disrupt

Questli Sets Sights on Silicon Valley

Danil Kozyatnikov was an entrepreneur in Siberia, Russia in 2010 dreaming of a golden ticket, like Charlie hoping to get into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. But Kozyatnikov sought entry to Le Web in Paris, where he hoped to change his life.

Kozyatnikov, who studied applied math and computer science, would stay up nights on Twitter engaging with Silicon Valley influencers and aiming to get noticed. That’s how he found out about a Le Web ticket give-away taking place on Facebook. He signed up, miraculously won, and proceeded to fulfill his dreams.

Fast forward a little over a year later. He’s founder of the Swiss-Russian treasure hunting start-up Questli, has secured half a million in funding, won the 2011 San Francisco TechCrunch Disrupt Audience Choice award, and returned to Le Web (Seesmic founder Loïc Le Meur’s two-day conference each December on all things web) as an on-stage presenter. And now he and company COO, Swiss born Stefan Steiner, have moved Questli to San Francisco and set up shop at the invitation-only Founders Den thanks to a referral by Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley. Friends in high places indeed.

“I come from very entrepreneurial family and that is where the secret sauce is,” Kozyatnikov says. “My mom, dad, grandfather, most relatives, and almost all the friends of family were entrepreneurs, so I have never even thought about working for somebody other than myself.”

But treasure hunting as a business model? Questli combines the virtual and real world so that players can accomplish in-the-flesh quests—complete tasks, visit specific sites, answer questions—in exchange for real life prizes including discounts, coupons, even cash.

“I used to gift things with hidden treasure hunts. I would just do tricks on my friends to get them into this kind of adventure,” Kozyatnikov says. “The problem was navigation. It was hard to figure out where the person got stuck, but if you ask it ruins the whole experience.”

Mobile devices solved that problem, and Questli is now available on Android and iPhone in addition to a web version. Before Questli, people were checking in online but they weren’t deriving all that much offline value, according to Kozyatnikov. These games make players do something in the world: Hunt for a book on the shelf of a favorite café, turn to a specific page, and rearrange certain letters to get the next clue, for example.

Kozyatnikov met Stefan Steiner in Switzerland at Redalpine Venture Partners AG, where Steiner worked. Steiner started his first Internet company at 16 and went on to apprentice at Credit Suisse before studying business. He was the first hire the Redalpine founders made. Redalpine invested in the Questli idea and Steiner, looking for an opportunity abroad, joined the newly launched company as COO in December 2011 for the big move stateside.

Steiner had met swissnex San Francisco’s entrepreneurship leader, Gioia Deucher, in Switzerland and knew that swissnex offered a soft landing in the Bay Area. swissnex provided the Questli team with a temporary desk while they got acclimated as well as access to valuable local contacts.

“It was probably easier to enter the European market, but we decided to go after the US market instead,” Kozyatnikov says. “Here we are.”

Now settled in at the Founders Den, Questli plans to court new users with a San Francisco City quest.