The Napoleon Hostel in Moscow

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When Richard came to Moscow there were two options for him to do for living. He can become an English teacher or start a kind of a business. He chose the latter.

“When I worked for a bank I decided to do backpacking and in six months go back to London. I visited a lot of countries. All of a sudden I wanted to settle in Moscow. I thought about going to the university to get an MBA there and to learn Russian. I liked Russia. In Moscow back then, there were a lot of expensive hotels and a lack of hostels. My university mate introduced me to my current business partner Misha. So we agreed to set up a hostel,” says Richard.

Selection_245Though Richard had no experience in running a hostel, having stayed in hostels in 50 different countries, he knew what people wanted. “You have to find a good location close to tourist attractions with cheap bars and restaurants around. You have to hire a receptionist who is good at languages and maths. It took us 6 months to find a place we could rent, and another three months to renovate the place. We put in a kitchen, bought furniture and constructed the beds. We registered a company, did marketing and appeared on different booking sites. That was in 2007, and there was a shortage of hostels in Moscow at that time. Napoleon became popular very quickly,” says Richard.

“For the first year it was a very profitable business, but that didn’t last long. There is a lot of competition now. Almost every week there is a new hostel opening up and one closing down or being sold,” said Richard. He says that if you run your business well your profit could be between $0 and $4000 dollars a month. The prices vary from 450 roubles up to 700 roubles per night, in winter the hostel charges a little less than in the summer.

There are several factors that make Napoleon different from other hostels. “We have an extremely good location, it’s only a seven minute walk from the Red Square and the Kremlin. We have been operating for seven years now, and we try to be the best amongst our competition. We provide free Wi-Fi and maps of Moscow. Our customer service is very good; we explain about all the interesting places to visit. We have comfortable beds and a nice living room, we have board games and TV; it is very easy to socialize for guests. We can serve meals if guests want,” he added.

Despite all the horror stories we hear about Russia, Richard doesn’t think that it is difficult to do business here. “It’s a little bit riskier than in London. There is too much bureaucracy in Moscow. Napoleon is a hostel but it still follows the same regulations as a hotel. You need a paper from the department of sanitation to say that it is clean. You need a paper from fire inspection to say it is safe… So in London there is heavier competition for just about everything, but in Moscow a more complicated bureaucracy and more opportunities. Having a Russian business partner is a huge plus for me, it helps me to avoid tricky situations. Overall, even for foreigners who don’t have a good command of Russian I would say that the risks are there, but there aren’t too many of them,” says Richard.

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There are some things that Richard is not so positive about: “Prices for food, clothes and computers are more expensive than in England. The quality of service is definitely a problem here. People who work in hotels or restaurants need to smile more. But then again, there are plusses. I used to live in London, which is a big vibrant city. Moscow is bigger. There is more energy. There are a lot of attractions. You can have everything you want here. You never know what is going to happen next, life is full of surprises. It is great going to the bars speaking with locals and teaching foreigners how to live here. Moscow is full of such a diverse bunch of people.”