Natalia is doing the damn thing
I am so excited to present April’s Power Frau: Natalia! I met Natalia for the first time in Spring 2019 when I attended my first Monkey Quiz night at a cafe in Hafencity. I was still relatively new to the city and wanted something fun to do with a few friends that was international-friendly. I found the perfect solution in Monkey Quiz, and true to my linguistic roots, my team was (and still is to this day) named Cunning Linguists.
Natalia’s story of how she created Monkey Quiz and has grown it is a very inspiring story. Aside from that, she’s just a cool gal who is very passionate about what she does and has big dreams of forming community through her business and other activities. So go ahead – dive in and discover how she’s doing the damn thing!
Originally from Moscow, Russia, Natalia has lived a few other places before her current home in Hamburg, including Brazil, Copenhagen, and Berlin. When she’s not grinding to grow her businesses, you can find her learning a new skill like chess, piano, or knitting. Or she’s studying physics so she can create brain busters for her quiz. And I can’t forget baking! You can often see her baking the most delicious looking cakes on her instagram stories that make me incredibly jealous. (When are you going to invite me over for Kaffee & Kuchen, girl??)
What initially brought you to Germany? And is it why you're still here?
The story starts 6 months before I moved to Germany. My first startup got selected into an acceleration program and received its first funding in Copenhagen. I moved there with my team and so did another startup that got selected from Germany. That’s how I met Richard, fell in love and after the program finished I left my startup and moved to Berlin with him. There was one moment when I nearly moved to Prague, because I got a job offer from Microsoft. But at the same time Richard’s investor wanted him to move to Hamburg – so after a month of only seeing each other at the weekends – I decided to ditch Microsoft (Apple rules anyways) and move to Hamburg. That is how I ended up here.
What do you love most about living in Hamburg/Germany?
It’s incredibly beautiful here! I love new buildings and new apartments with high ceilings and modern design. We live in Hafencity and I L-O-V-E it here! At the same time whenever I want to go to the forest or in general to nature, it’s all nearby! The sea is close, other beautiful German cities are also around and things are not far apart. In Moscow a trip anywhere takes at least an hour and with bad traffic can easily take 2-3.
What is the hardest part about living in Hamburg/Germany?
Right now I would say nothing. Previously my reply would have been the visa – and the fact that I could not do what I wanted because in order to maintain my visa I had to work for a company. Since that was a strict requirement – I always had to take any IT job I could get – and that also meant jobs with poor company cultures and a poor fit to me.
Let's talk about your German language-learning journey. How did you start, how has the process been, how do you feel about your abilities now, etc.
I studied German in Moscow at school (I could say ‘Heute sind alle da’ and ‘Der Himmel ist grau’ after that). Later on I had it in my university where I learned a dialogue
– Mein Handy ist kaputt!
– Das Handy ist nicht kaputt, die Batterie ist leer!
– Ach so!’
I had A2.2, B1.1 and B1.2 courses here in Germany which gave me a little bit, but the most knowledge I got when I started going to the gym – on the treadmill while watching german TV.
Tell us about a time where you said the wrong thing or misunderstood something in a funny way.
OK, I have a funny one. It was my second month in Germany. All German knowledge I had was from Russia – so we are going home on the subway after a party. Richard had a few drinks. We finally enter our train, it’s around 2am. There are people around us. I look at him and say loudly ‘Richard, deine Eier sind rot!’. People start laughing. What I meant was that his eyes were red – but instead I said that his balls were red! Haha we all laughed together.
So you’ve learned both English and German in your life. Do you have any language-learning tips, especially when it comes to learning German?
Watch more TV (without subtitles), listen to german audio books and practice practice practice. I know it’s tough since all Germans believe that it’s their high duty to correct people (mit deM Hund, nicht mit deN Hund!!!), but screw that – and talk more!
Let’s dive into the amazing businesses that you’ve started from the ground up starting with Monkey Quiz! Walk us through that journey.
I went to Moscow in February 2017. A very good school friend – you know her from my German dialogue – she was the one telling me my Handy was not kaputt – invited me to her quiz. I agreed to take a look – not to play. I remember entering that huge casino place, it fit around 400 people – all divided into teams. At some point the quiz started – and it was so amazing. My friend suggested that we play and I LOVED IT! I came to Germany and my birthday was coming up so I invited my friends, wrote a quiz, locked them up in my apartment and made them play! After that we always played quizzes at home on special occasions until I finally had the balls to ask the bar downstairs if they would be willing to run my quiz there. They loved the idea and so Monkey-Quiz started!
You sometimes do Monkey Quiz with a theme focus (e.g. Harry Potter, Friends, Lord of the Rings). How did you come up with that idea? And is the process for creating those quizzes any different than the ‘normal’ Monkey Quiz?
At some point the last season of the then extremely hyped show Game of Thrones was coming out and I thought I had to build something around that to attract new players.
The process is a bit different since themed quizzes are played by theme experts, the material has to be studied carefully. Since Harry Potter is our most successful quiz – I literally have the audiobooks non-stop in my ears and let the movie run in the background very often. Mistakes aren’t forgiven easily by players so you have to be really careful about your facts. One more point that is different is the translation into German – you cannot just translate it from English – you have to actually check how all of those phrases, character names, spells etc are translated into German.
You somewhat recently launched a new scavenger hunt game called ‘Monkey Quest’. It was even featured on NDR! Can you explain a little bit what people can expect from this activity without giving too much away?
I am a big fan of escape rooms and when the first lockdown hit, all of those were closed, so I decided to write my very own quest that would be a little bit like an outside escape game.
The idea is that you get a backpack from us that has its pockets locked with code locks. Inside the backpack you’ll also find a book with instructions and a map. While walking around the beautiful Hafencity you unlock the pockets. Each pocket has clues and riddles for opening the next locks. Some of them have other locks inside. At the end solving all the riddles and finding all the hidden things lets you find The Lost Treasure. The book and the instructions also give you information about the area in an interesting and funny way.
What do you envision for the future of Monkey Quiz and Monkey Quest? Or do you have any further projects in the pipeline that you want to create?
I envision my own restaurant (I’m already working on it) where my quiz will run, the quest will have its starting point, I will have lots of board games, extremely delicious cakes and food (in my opinion, gastronomically Hamburg does not have much to offer) and a few Escape Rooms might be there at some point. I generally love clever entertainment and definitely want to continue building my empire around that.
Your daughter just recently turned one year old! What has the first year been like juggling motherhood and being an entrepreneur, all while navigating this complicated year of lockdown?
First half a year was more or less easy. Especially in the Lockdown: I could just host my quizzes online – there was no need to go out. Between the two Lockdowns we did have restaurant quizzes – and Olivia joined me – it was not too easy though. The last 7 months it generally got harder – she started needing much more attention, so I only have time to work when she sleeps: 1.5 hours daytime and then after 7pm. Luckily I have Richard – he helps a lot! With his help I have Thursdays (he does home office and plays with Olivia) and weekends to work.
Finally, in your opinion, what makes you a Power Frau?
- Olivia was born on the first day of the first Lockdown. 2 weeks after that on 01.04. I hosted my first online quiz with 500+ people and 105 teams.
- I hosted a quiz in Hard Rock Cafe on my due date
- I worked out (strength training) until my due date – with doctor’s permission of course.
- I’ve been running my business and growing it in the current conditions for a year now having a newborn baby with me. I was never looking for excuses. I adapted and continued and this perseverance makes all the difference. Now my business is in better shape than ever, whereas a lot of other people wouldve given up in the first Lockdown.