The story of one place: Mama Ro Apartments

The owners of Mama Ro are the first guests of our “Story of One Apartment” series. We talked with Anton Kozlov, one of the founders of the company.

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Gleb Kryakin: To be honest, I was stunned when I saw the photos of the Mama Ro apartments on Sutochno.ru (“sutochno”, which literally means “daily”, is a booking Internet portal on Runet) I said to myself: “This beauty cannot be created by an ordinary man. A team of elite designers from Europe must have worked on this”. Please, tell us, how much did you invest in time and money to create Mama Ro?

Anton Kozlov: (is laughing): I’ll tell you our story, which it is full of coincidences and surprises. It’s hard to believe, but in reality the Mama Ro apartments are created by non-professionals.

Our company initially began as a union of three friends: myself and Volodya Nizovtsev and Tolya Smirnov. We were completely naïve about the hotel business. Of course now we’re fully immersed in the industry, and we’re adding some really cool guys to our team.

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At first we didn’t 
have the idea of making 
apartments.

It all happened by coincidence. In 2011, I ran into Tolya Smirnov, a former classmate of mine that I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. This time I met him in Kitay-gorod. Later, I helped Tolya make a cartoon for a presentation, which resulted in us spending a lot of time together in our workshop-apartment and walking around the center of the city. Eventually, we realized that we wanted to live there, in the historic heart of Moscow. So, we took the first opportunity that popped up, which was a ground floor apartment in Maly Ivanovsky Lane. It was actually just as office space, but we eventually re-did the space entirely. All the work on our apartment we did by hand, with some gracious help from our friends.

Eventually, our friends ended up renting apartments near by as well. We’d spend a lot of time together drinking tea and dreaming. Then one day I saw that our friend Aram from South Korea had opened her own hostel. Someone suggested that we should do the same thing. We estimated, for fun, how much opening a hotel would cost and eventually decided that the idea was feasible. We even came up with a name, “At Roxana’s Mama.” Roxana was a mutual friend who is now conquering America as a young actress… Her mother also rented an apartment in the building where our workshop was, but it was almost impossible to meet her there. As a result, “ Roxana’s Mama” has become kind of a symbol of that place.

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Gleb Kryakin: So you thought of creating short-term apartments?

Anton Kozlov: Yes and no. It’s more of a coincidence. I needed to lease my workshop (as my small property on the Volga river got burnt down and I urgently needed money) but I actually doubted if anyone would want to live there. I posted photos of the studio on social networks but didn’t expect much. To my surprise, by the end o the night I had a ton of messages. It was kind of a sign for me. By the way, Volodya was the one who rented my apartment, which is how we met each other.

First, we all came to the conclusion that we should go forward with our idea. I was the first one to quit his job. Volodya and Tolya quit soon afterwards. We worked non-stop from morning until night. We did a presentation for our prospective investors, but (unfortunately or fortunately) we did not get any money. Afterwards, we rented a room in the center of Moscow and refurbished it according to our developing ideas about interior design. As we didn’t not get money to pay builders all the construction works we did with our own hands. We called our project “Roxanna’s Mama” because it reminded us of our great times in Kitay-gorod. Eventually, we adopted a simplified form of the “Roxana’s Mama” as the name for our business “Mama Ro”.

We worked 
2.5 months without 
a single day off, from 
noon until the metro 
closed. We looked like 
bodybuilders after 
about two weeks.

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Gleb Kryakin: I understand that you did the design of the apartments, but who actually turned the ordinary studio into luxury apartments?

Anton Kozlov: The three of us did everything. We worked 2.5 months without a single day off, from noon until the metro closed. We looked like bodybuilders after about two weeks. It’s incredibly exhausting: breaking, drilling, puttying, painting walls, building things, purchasing materials, loading and unloading from morning until night. But, it was an extraordinary experience. We figured out what needed to be done and we did it.

The basic concept was actually pretty simple. We wanted a corner in the center of the city that someone could walk to without taking the train. A place where we could play music, read, watch a movie, have small parties. This is what we have now.

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Gleb Kryakin: As far as I understand, your studio was just the beginning of a much larger project. Is that correct?

Anton Kozlov: Yes, over the next year and a half we opened twelve additional studios. We continue to do all the designs ourselves. The last 6 studios were individual projects – we divided 6 spaces between 3 of us. Volodya worked on the Bauhaus and Melnikov studios. I worked on the Pine and Stone studios. Tolya worked on the Jazz Studio. Finally, we all worked on the Avia studio together.

That’s how we do all of our work now, by splitting up the projects so everyone can design the whole thing from beginning to end. In our opinion, the studios became brighter, more interesting, and all the details are well thought out. Now our guests have an opportunity to choose what they prefer. I must say that this is a great happiness: to see how people have different preferences and tastes.

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Gleb Kryakin: How did you start working with Sutochno.ru?

Anton Kozlov: Our relationship with Sutochno developed gradually. As you know, we don’t have any formal training in the hospitality industry. When the first guest arrived, we treated him as a deity descended from heaven.

We found Sutochno.ru by chance. We urgently needed an internet platform with a large amount of users. Most booking portals have a complex system of registration that takes a long time to get the data back to us. Within a month of using Sutochno.ru and working hard we were fully booked. Actually, the first two studios got rented out for 16 months straight without a break.

The platform also allows us to gather data about our customer’s preferences based their booking habits, which helps us to continue developing our business. Although, even now it seems that people really love the product we’re putting out.

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Gleb Kryakin: I bet they do! I would love to live in your apartments.

Anton Kozlov: It’s not only the design that attracts people. We constantly work on our project. In the beginning, we greeted guests ourselves. Sometimes when we knew that a studio was vacant we would call our clients to offer them staying at us for a night. It wasn’t uncommon, we truly had great relationships with them, and people stayed! Honestly, our whole business structure is non-formatted, which is something we realized later when we compared Mama Ro with our competitors.

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Gleb Kryakin: Say a few words about Sutochno.ru.

Anton Kozlov: Most importantly, Sutochno is really popular. In Russia, there were several attempts to copy successful foreign booking cites. Unfortunately, those sites never pulled it off, either because they didn’t get enough traffic or they didn’t get the reservations to the hotels in time. Sutochno built its platform from the ground up and I think that really contributed to its success and why it’s so popular. We hope that Sutochno keeps growing and that we can grow as a result.

Gleb Kryakin: Sounds like a win win!