I just got back from a great trip to Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow). I highly recommend going. Great people, food, and amazing history. Very clean, excellent transportation, and a feeling of relative safety. Let’s ignore the current news topics, for now. From a business perspective, it was very interesting to see what’s happening within our “arch-enemy’s” territory.
First-off, all of our terrible American fads are already over there. Fidget spinners and vape pens are everywhere. Yes, the Russians love cigarettes, but seeing vape pens is one export we should not be proud of (ok, I’m not sure where these started, but …. ). Fidget spinners are in every shop and seeing adults using these on trains makes me want to toss them out the windows (yes, the windows are open in the subways – it gets damn crowded and hot down there).
And yes, there are Russian hipsters all over the place. Sorry hipsters, but your painfully complicated mustaches and beards are just too much work. Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole cool factors of clothing and coffee, but it is a crack-up seeing them walking around the Kremlin.
Talking about coffee, it is everywhere (thank god!). The coffee craze kicked-off a few years ago and is going strong. Yes, Starbucks is everywhere, but so are local coffee chains and small cafes. It is an eye-opener seeing small kiosks with $50,000 espresso makers. I hope it lasts for these small businesses. What is lame is seeing many kiosks using regular pod coffee makers and charging a few bucks for a cup of coffee. No thanks. What’s the differentiator there? Get creative.
High-end barber shops are also popping up. I guess these are for the hipster community, but please, we don’t need $50 hair and beard cutting services. (yes, I guess I’m becoming a grumpy old man). And to add to over-priced things, high-end gourmet burgers are moving in. Yes, we all need good hamburgers and not the typical fast-food crap. But $15 burgers? Really? Please stop. Hey, if there is a market, go for it. But will it stop or will we only have $15 burgers in the future?
Two other great fads/trends are appearing; food trucks and Vietnamese pho. I had an amazing hamburger from a couple of guys in a fancy truck – luckily the burger only cost $5. And going through Vietnamese iced coffee detox was not needed as I found great pho shops in Helsinki and Moscow. If you haven’t tried Vietnamese soup (pho) and the addictive Vietnamese iced coffee, please get on Yelp, find a shop, and try it. These are good things spreading around the world!
Sure, the whole culture experience can be diluted with the expansion of Western trends, but hey, the world is supposedly flat, so you might as well enjoy it. Trust me, the Russians I met and watched are not becoming Americanized anytime soon. They are very Russian – not sure what that means, but you know it when you see it. Just like Americans stick out like a sore thumb around the world, you know a Russian when you see one. The experience was amazing and the people were great.
As business pros we need to see how others do it. To create new products requires new perspectives. The way to develop new, creative ideas is to experience new things. The best way to get new experiences is to travel. Be it a new city or state, or a new country, go! Learning how a country runs its trains, the types of cars on the streets, or simply what the locals eat, opens up your mind and can spark great ,new ideas.
So update your passport and hit the road. Don’t listen to the news stories or be afraid of what people warn you about. Be smart and do your homework, and enjoy life. We only live once so go live it! Travel, learn, and create innovative solutions for your customers.