Firing Squad: Spontea Coffee's Viktoria Sheyko


COVID has made online video incredibly popular in the workplace, but it's also made human connections harder to come by. And engaging with new people at work is almost impossible. That's why startups like Spontea Coffee are so interesting, they bring together online video with spontaneous human connection. But do they have the chops to survive the Firing Squad? Being recent winners of the HR Hackathon says they do, but Chad & Cheese will have the Final Word.


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Firing Squad Intro (36s):

Like Shark Tank? Then you'll love Firing Squad! CHAD SOWASH & JOEL CHEESEMAN are here to put the recruiting industry's bravest, ballsiest, baddest startups through the gauntlet to see if they got what it takes to make it out alive? Dig a fox hole and duck for cover kids the Chad and Cheese Podcast is taking it to a whole other level.


Joel (58s):

Ah, yeah, what's up everybody. It's another firing squad. This is your co-host Joel Cheesman joined as always by Chad Esquire Sowash.


Chad (1m 8s):

Well, Hello.


Joel (1m 10s):

And today we welcome co-founder of Spontea. We'll get into the name in a second. Viktoria Sheyko, Viktoria is also a consultant at KPMG, Viktoria . Welcome to firing squad. How are you?


Viktoria (1m 24s):

Hi! I'm good thanks!


Joel (1m 26s):

So who is Viktoria? Give us a little bio tweet on you and then we'll get into the show.


Viktoria (1m 31s):

Sure. I will be glad to. So yeah, I'm Viktoria. I used to be an auditor in KPMG, there for six years now and yeah. Switched to being a finance consultant, doing all these things, now I'm communication. And at the same time, I'm very passionate about improving the world a little bit, especially focusing in an improving workplace, I'm doing like a lot of diversity stuff and yeah, and now I was participating in that HR hackathon, too.


Joel (2m 1s):

Chad, tell her what she's won today.


Chad (2m 4s):

Well, that, that being said, everybody needs to know this is a special edition of firing squad because Spontea Coffee, the Spontea Coffee team actually won the HR hackathon, which landed them a spot on today's show kids. That's right. So for clarity sake, there were two categories of winners. Category number one was a ground up build concept tech team, everything. And that's exactly what Viktoria's team did. They built the entire thing from the ground up, the team, the concept and the tech. And it took two days. The second winner was actually existing tech and they will be on a future firing squad.


Chad (2m 48s):

So congratulations on that, Viktoria.


Viktoria (2m 52s):

Yeah.


Chad (2m 53s):

Now let me tell you what you've won you, lucky thing you. Well, you have won, two minutes to pitch the Spontea Coffee app. At the end, you will hear that bell then Joel and I will hit you with rapid fire Q and A. If your answers start rambling or we get bored, Joel's going to hit you with the crickets. At the end of Q and A, you're going to receive either a big applause. That means you'll be swimming in caffeine, water-cooler talk and cash.


Joel (3m 27s):

Drinking gold plated, orange juice.


Chad (3m 32s):

A golf clap. Now you should probably brew another pot of coffee, you're going to need the energy because a, this slug needs to get moving or last but not least the firing squad. Sorry, we don't see coffee in your future. Just another HR hackathon and try again. Any questions?


Viktoria (3m 54s):

No.


Chad (3m 54s):

Okay. Let's do this.


Joel (3m 56s):

Let's have at it two minutes starting in three, two.


Viktoria (3m 60s):

Yeah! Hey everyone. So you heard it. I was participating in this big HR hackathon of two days and was teaming up with literally two strangers. And we were from different countries, different backgrounds skills. And yeah, the ideation process was really, really intense. But at the same time, we were concerned about this one thing we wanted to embrace remote work and why. So the new way of working, it proved to all of us that we are getting more and more disconnected from our colleagues, from the company. And the same time we are realizing that conscious breaks are so important for productivity at work. In the same time we used to have the breaks for networking because there we built relationships and this basically shapes work culture.


Viktoria (4m 46s):

So how does Spontea Coffee resolve the issues of being disconnected? Right? It gives us the opportunity to really connect and engage with each other in little short breaks, really five minutes with the option to extend and without having to consciously make appointments, right? The tool itself reminds us to take the spontaneous break. And yeah, you can decide in advance whether you want to meet new people or just chat with your teammates. So that way you keep in touch with your teammates constantly. And at the same time, you have the option to broaden your horizons. You realize how diverse your company is and then how much it has to offer. And this, at the same time, we really want to use intelligent matching tools.


Viktoria (5m 27s):

We're thinking about that also. So you're getting matched based on common interests or hobbies based on data from LinkedIn profiles, for example, or acquirees and especially exciting is our collaborative feature here. That's possible to hop in conversations like an in-house clubhouse feature in a way. So you see two team colleagues and you're like, Oh my God, I didn't talk to them for ages. So you hop in and you get the ultimate kitchen top feeling back. Yeah. So this tool is really for connecting with each other again, get the team spirit back. Yeah. We would be glad to see you on SponteaCoffee.com. Thank you.


Joel (6m 3s):

Good. Very good. All right. I'm going to give you the softball first. Let's talk about the name. So Spontea, how'd you come up with the name? And will there be an American version called Sponfee? Because we drink coffee over here.


Viktoria (6m 17s):

Actually, it was a really fun conversation. Very intense because yeah, we were out like one German girl, one German guy who's living in Denmark and Australian girl living in London. And we were really discussing it because it had to be spontaneous in it and the same time, Spontea Coffee and tea. And she's like from London. So yeah, it must be something with tea at the same time. And the thing is, I was thinking in German, I was like, do you mean spontaneous Spontea Coffee? Because I literally read it. And I was like, no, no, I don't like it. I don't like it. And until we really talked about that yeah, it was really, it was SponCoffee, CoffeeSpontea, it was everything.


Viktoria (6m 59s):

So yeah, the same at the end when we talked and she said Sponttea! And like, yeah, I like it. I like it. It's smooth. It's quickly. And it has everything it is in there. So as spontaneous tea or Spontea Coffee.


Joel (7m 12s):

So the full name is Spontea Coffee.


Viktoria (7m 14s):

Yeah, exactly.


Chad (7m 16s):

And the SponteaCoffee.com domain was obviously available. Is that what I'm hearing too?


Viktoria (7m 22s):

Yes!


Chad (7m 23s):

Excellent. Okay. So tell me a little bit about the team, you had. Was it two other team members? How big was the team? What are their backgrounds?


Viktoria (7m 31s):

So it was also an interesting thing. So I was applying like submitting my idea and yeah, the, the only, the other girl was helping in my chat. And we were like having this really hot discussion about everything. What kind of features can we have, like virtual rooms and all this stuff, like really, really hard discussion. And yeah, all of a sudden Tom joined us. He has like a more kind of hackathon background. He did a lot of them. And so he and her, they're both developers and I'm the only one having this business consultant background. So I was mainly responsible for making the concept more, like writing it down, doing the video and stuff like that.


Viktoria (8m 14s):

So it was, and for like developing the prototype, they were more responsible and was a lot of fun, like having this energies, especially where like really different people. I'm like, okay, so I'm a consultant. So I love talking to people and I'm like, Oh, I would love to share this information or this information. Then I have, like, we talked to Tom and he was like, I don't want to talk to like strangers or something. And we were like, Oh, what do you want? Like you really want to. So I was like really a lot of fun conversations about like sharing data also because we were like, okay, intelligent matching what kind of things we would share. And actually, I was also like, I'm from Germany. So data privacy is really a hot topic here. And for example, him, he lives in Denmark and he says like, we share everything.


Viktoria (8m 55s):

So it was really interesting to get all these ideas together. And only in two days.


Chad (8m 60s):

You're right out of the gate, there, there really isn't any intelligent matching. You were looking for individuals to tell you what their interests are so that you can actually just do that regular type of matching and then hopefully match them up for calls down the road.


Viktoria (9m 16s):

Yeah. So it was one option to say, okay, rather we want like more data, like more information about the people. If this is like, you're compliant with the data privacy things. And then you can like matching them more intelligent, intelligent, because you're then like, okay, you love tennis. So you get like matched with someone who loves tennis or something. But at the same time, we were like, okay, you can just get matched randomly, completely, randomly. And also using, for example, icebreaker questions who are like coming up from a bot, for example, like, I don't know, I was making all this questions like, yeah. What was the best thing you did today or something, or like, did you have a hard day or something like that?


Viktoria (10m 2s):

And then you can start just from scratch.


Chad (10m 4s):

So is this only a mobile app or is there also a desktop


Viktoria (10m 8s):

Right now? It's not a mobile, it's only the web version.


Joel (10m 12s):

Okay. So what do you want to, what do you want to be when you grow up? So you win this hackathon thing and this weekend, you know, development sprint, are you going to raise money? Do you have plans to evolve the product, go to market it as is and see what happens? Like what, what are the next steps?


Viktoria (10m 30s):

So actually I was talking to some people from HR because I really wanted to get to know their opinion about the tool itself. And really, I didn't even expect that much positive feedback about that because really people from HR looking into that, and there are like many big companies. For example, I was talking to someone from Microsoft, but they're developing kind of their own tools, but who knows, maybe they're coming up to us as well. Who knows? So we really see the need at one point. And yeah, we definitely would need to raise money to develop it further because it's really an early stage development prototype.


Joel (11m 11s):

Well, so let's get into sort of my, I guess two hurdles, I'll go over the first one. To me like these sort of, I don't know, chat, chat-roulette, you know, spontaneously meet folks that you work with through video almost feels like the ping pong tables of the nineties. You know, like companies thought it was cool and Hey, people are going to have these, these moments where they meet for ping pong or foosball or something, and really connect and engage. And I think what mostly has happened is that people don't use those because they think, well, if I'm using them, then I look like I'm slacking off. Or I'm sort of connecting with people that I may or may not like, talk to me about the human element.


Joel (11m 53s):

Do you feel like people want to spontaneously talk to coworkers in this way? Do you have any data to promote or support the business model or do you just have anecdotal conversation with HR people, who let's be Frank usually will tell you something is good now, whether or not they'll buy it as a whole different discussion, but help me and help me con convince me that people will do this.


Viktoria (12m 18s):

Okay. So I can actually talk also from my own experience, I told you, like, I'm very engaged in diversity thing. So I was building up with some other colleagues, huge female network within the company of 800 people. So when Corona came up, like everyone was like, Oh my God, we are just sitting at home and how to engage with each other. And actually we were one of the first ones saying, okay, we just do coffee dates with the people. So you get still this feeling of connection with each other and of this 800 people, like within a few days, more than 100 were like engaging, just filling up XO spreadsheets, like saying, okay, I will have an appointment with this people because we didn't have any other tools.


Viktoria (13m 1s):

Right. They just wanted to get connected. And especially new joiners, I had so many new journals talking to me. It was like really just 15 minute talks, but they were so important. And the same time you get a connection with a person who's there in the company for six years. And I was like, okay, just hit me up whenever you have any question and you need like some information about how getting things done or something, you know? So I think this is a very, very special tool, especially because I have the same feeling about this making appointments. Like I don't want to use that because I keep rescheduling stuff. I keep rescheduling stuff because I have so much to do during the day. And especially I forget about my breaks, right? So this was the main idea about that.


Viktoria (13m 42s):

They were saying, okay, the tool itself tells me to make a break, especially when it sees, I have like some, like I have no appointments in between. And then I can still say no, but like in this moment, you, you might feel happy about that because I barely talked to my teammates nowadays, because we have our tasks and we don't need to talk to each other, but it would be nice. I'm always happy if someone calls.


Chad (14m 8s):

So what happens when Covid goes away and we're not relegated to staying home anymore? I mean, do you believe this issue is going to be de prioritized? Yeah,


Viktoria (14m 17s):

Sure about that. Because I was also reading some studies, at least for Germany, for the German market. So almost half of the people like the employers, they don't want to go back to the office. And the only reason people want to go back to the office is to meet the people, to talk to them again, to network. This is the number one reason. There are some other reasons for sure, but this is the number one reason. So it will be kind of a part-time thing. Maybe we will go back, but probably it will be always a half-time thing, going back. So we need tools to stay connected. It's really like, I believe there's a so important because companies will have a huge issue because of this disconnection.


Viktoria (15m 3s):

Because at one point, like, you will say what I do this for this company, because you don't feel this bonding anymore. You're too far away from like being engaged in there.


Chad (15m 14s):

No zoom fatigue is real. So, you know, does anyone really want to go on another video call? No matter what, you know, you feel like you're on video calls all day. Do you really feel like you want to jump on another one, even though it's only for five minutes and maybe you're not talking about work, how do you get past the zoom fatigue rule? Yeah.


Viktoria (15m 35s):

This is actually like the only issue I see for sure, because we like need time, like a screen off time. But at the same time, I feel like for example, so in the tool itself, we definitely one, like we made a setting where you say, how often can you get called and which times you prefer, for example also. So you have definitely control over that. So you don't get pinged all the time. This is really important because it gets, it can get like annoying too. But for example, at the end of the day before the weekend, for example, you're just saying, okay, let's have a beer together. It's almost the end of the day.


Viktoria (16m 15s):

Right. And you feel great just talking to someone randomly or some of your team colleagues, even feeling this connection right now, having this beer and just be happy about like going into the weekend.


Chad (16m 28s):

I do like beer.


Viktoria (16m 29s):

Love it. Yeah.


Chad (16m 30s):

I do. Like you sold me on that one.


Joel (16m 33s):

Okay, Viktoria, let's, let's talk about competition for a second because a lot of this business to me feels very commodity and nature, like very easy to do. So in researching for this call, I went to the Slack app store and there's a handful of companies that already kind of do this where, you know, via, via Slack, you can sort of randomly talk to people that you work with. They can set you up on calls with people that are sort of like-minded. So it seems to me like there's a, there's a good amount of competition in this space already. And it also seems like the ability to build a moat or a defensible position around it seems very hard to do.


Joel (17m 17s):

So I guess, tell me why your app is going to succeed on a field that's already has a lot of competitors. And what, what features are you going to build that will help defend it against other competition? What's going to make it unique.


Viktoria (17m 33s):

First thing I was looking into the other options. And as I said before, for example, like the big companies they are all working for in-house functions. So you're kind of like always limited to one program. For example, like we were not allowed to use Zoom at work or some others not Slack, some others, not Microsoft, maybe even. So you're always limited to this one program and with our tool, like, we really want to make it able to everyone using it, right. Like everywhere and everyone. Another thing, what I think is unique is like that it's very spontaneous.


Viktoria (18m 13s):

It's really like, we want to focus on the spontaneity again, this kitchen talk, feeling like no appointments. And especially, for you, no effort. I think this is so important because I don't even want to fill in my name in a fucking, sorry, spreadsheet.


Joel (18m 30s):

It's okay. You're on the right show.


Viktoria (18m 34s):

So it's like, even this is too much effort. I'm the most lazy person, the most lazy customer is. I'm always saying to all my friends and colleagues and I don't want them to have any effort with any tool. And this is what we are focusing on, that you don't have the effort, but you get the most out of that. And what I was mentioning in the elevator pitch, I really love the collaborative feature that you can hop in conversations really with teammates that you didn't talk to before. And you feel like, Oh, I have two minutes in there talking, maybe I can join. Especially if you have like kind of a red or green flag saying like, yeah, I'm always open to any other people talking to me.


Joel (19m 14s):

Let's talk about sort of a little bit of your growth strategy. And I know you're still developing the product, but are there plans to integrate with other platforms such as Slack to sort of get traction? What is the growth strategy of the company?


Viktoria (19m 29s):

It will be definitely an option to integrate it in other platforms.


Joel (19m 32s):

So haven't crossed that bridge yet in terms of, in terms of growth and how we market this thing.


Viktoria (19m 37s):

No, not that far, no. Okay.


Chad (19m 39s):

What department in the company actually owns this? Who are you selling to? Do you believe it's HR or is it somebody else?


Viktoria (19m 48s):

It could be all kinds of departments. We're really interested in team building. Like, like, I know for example, some departments who are very much focused on team building measures, so everyone who wants that they can use that. For example, only for their little teams, it doesn't need to be always HR and using it for the whole company. It can be really, yeah. Just be applied on some certain little departments. Depends always on the boss.


Chad (20m 19s):

Okay. Okay. Yeah. No, makes sense. Flexible. Can this work outside the virtual office? I mean, can I integrate friends and family from Facebook? Can I have kind of like spontaneous tea and coffee with whoever I want to?


Viktoria (20m 34s):

We discussed this feature as well. It's always like about data issues, but at this point on this two day hackathon, we were like, okay, let's just discuss everything, if everything is possible. And we really like this idea of, for example, like when you have this connection to LinkedIn profiles, just saying, okay, we can integrate this profiles and having this matching things with interesting people from business, for example, also. Yeah. So we definitely had this conversation as well.


Joel (21m 4s):

Well, Viktoria, that is the bell, which means your question and answering is now complete. Are you ready to face the firing squad?


Viktoria (21m 12s):

Yes.


Joel (21m 14s):

Okay. I'm going to go ahead and go first. I have, again, I have two sort of major hurdles in this business that I was, I was hoping that you'd, you'd be able to help me clear after the call. The first one was, do humans really want to do this? And Chad mentioned, you know, fatigue on being on video and sort of being on all the time with your employer, fellow, employer, coworkers, and employees at a company. And I just feel like it's just easier to have those friends that you want to talk to and have those side conversations, whether it be on FaceTime or Facebook and have those conversations that you would normally have at happy hour take place outside of any kind of work work environment.


Joel (22m 1s):

Because I think there's also an element of sort of being spied on by your company. And when you're chatting on a company device, you feel like, well, I have to act a certain way. I have to talk about certain things. So I think that's all gonna come into play as a hurdle for the business. The bigger hurdle for me is the competition. Like I mentioned, you know, a handful that are on Slack, developing that have already developed similar technologies. You know, they have their pricing, you know, down, they have their marketing down. They are integrated with obviously very popular messaging device. For me, I mean, maybe it's, you guys are just so early in the process, maybe I'm doing you a favor by nipping some of this in the bud, but for me, I think human nature and the commodity of video online and just making that, you know, spontaneity or spontaneous, just isn't enough for me to sign off on this startup.


Joel (23m 1s):

So for me, this is a shoot down situation. It's a shoot down situation. Let's hear what Chad has to say.


Chad (23m 10s):

Whew. Okay. Okay. I'm coming down.


Joel (23m 14s):

Nothing personal.


Chad (23m 15s):

I'm coming down off of that one. So a couple of questions that Joel asked, number one was, is there a need? And then number two, he asked about competition and says, it's high. Well, competition, wouldn't be high if there wasn't market validation. So therefore, Viktoria, there is a need. You have passed the needs test. For me, human connections plus beer equals great mental health, right? This doesn't have to be obviously a sit down and have beers with your colleagues or anything like that, but the mental health aspect of what we're doing today. And I agree with you a hundred percent. What we're going to be dealing with from now on, in this new hybridization of work is, is real.


Chad (24m 1s):

And there's no question we're connected 24 seven. The problem is we're losing the human connection. So this concept, this product, this, this app provides an easy opportunity to reestablish that human connection many of us have a lost. And a, I mean, yes, the Zoom fatigue is real, which is one of the reasons why, you know, I like the idea of this app specifically, and I know it's not, but I do like the idea of it specifically being a mobile app that drags me off my laptop and allows me to get up and stroll and chat and get away from just really the thought of even being at work overall.


Chad (24m 46s):

So it gives me the possibility of stepping out of my workplace. Are there obstacles? No question is developing directly to Slack in advantage. No, it's not at all because you're automatically pinned into Slack. What you're doing. And what I believe you're doing correctly is you're developing outside of Slack and or any of the other platforms that you can integrate into later. So you're not painting yourself into a corner, which is incredibly smart, which is overall, I understand there's a lot, you have to work on, but overall, this is something the market needs. This is something that humans need. You get a big applause.


Joel (25m 29s):

Love it. That's why we have a podcast. Opposing viewpoints. So how do you feel, Viktoria?


Viktoria (25m 36s):

Good, good. And you gave me a lot to think of and really good ideas and yeah, for good ideas to improve and yeah and work on that further.


Chad (25m 47s):

Thanks for coming on and congrats on winning the HR hackathon.


Joel (25m 52s):

Congrats for sure. And good luck. I hope you prove me wrong because it's not personal. It's all about the love. And with that, another firing squad is in the books. We out.


Chad (26m 7s):

We out.


Joel (26m 8s):

Thank you goodbye!


Firing Squad OUTRO (26m 21s):

This has been the Firing Squad. Be sure to subscribe to the chadandcheesepodcast so you don't miss an episode. And if you're a startup who wants to face the Firing Squad, contact the boys at chadcheese.com today that's www.chadcheese.com.

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