Project Description

SPICE

Variety is the Spice of life. Why not try it out?

Interviewer Astrid Friberg — transcribed in yellow.

SPICE CEO Vitaliy Olenko — transcribed in white.

[Begin Transcript]

A new app designed to make life more adventurous is trending on the charts and getting rave reviews by users, yet faces some philosophical resistance from those who say the app’s forceful approach is un-democratic. We hope you enjoy this iteration of Explore With Us, as we take a detailed look at the new concept app– Spice. Joining us today is senior visionary, Vitaliy Olenko.

Vitaliy, thank’s for offering to share your time with us.

It’s always a pleasure sharing ideas with fellow visionary enthusiasts. Thank you for the invitation. I greatly appreciate it.

Absolutely. We want to respect your time, so let’s jump right in. Could you tell us a little about the inspiration behind Spice? Why did you help create this app?

Well, Astrid, I spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life and how to make the world a better place. I started traveling to different cities, Prague, Rome, Barcelona, Tbilisi, and began to notice patterns and trends. Tourists seemed in a hurried rush to experience all the top sights in a city, cramming in packed itineraries due to limited vacation time and a desire to see it all. I also observed over internet forums like Reddit, that there are a lot of individuals out there that need to experience a more global life and broaden their horizons. Many of them just didn’t know how to get started. 

Variety is the spice of life. This idiom is the core value and central tenet behind Spice. How many individuals seek out adventure in their lives, hope to travel the world, experience new cultures? It turns out, quite a lot of people. The difficulty is that in the modern, hard-working world we live in today, people must use limited vacation time to try and see as much as possible. It turns out that this type of travel, while sufficient for seeing the world and checking items off of one’s bucket list, is not the most conducive to the authentic, life-changing cultural experiences that we seek to produce.

So you created an app to create more authentic travel experiences?

In a sense, yes, however, we believe this app does much more than enhance travel experiences. We think it can redefine life itself, counter growing depression rates around the world, and also break down traditional borders as we knew them. Spice is going to revolutionize human resources, hiring practices, and will likely transform the theory of work from the very core.

That is quite a claim for a smartphone app. I have a bit of familiarity with what the app is trying to achieve, but for those listeners and readers that have never heard of Spice, could you provide a summary of the concept?

Absolutely. Spice is a network. At the core level, it is a network of opportunities that the user can leverage to improve their quality of life. I think the best way to explain it is to walk through a case study of a user joining the app and using it. Let’s use Tom as a hypothetical new user and case study for a blue-collar worker. 

Tom feels like his life is stuck in a grind. A repeating cycle of going to work, sleeping, eating, and watching TV. Tom wants to be creative and pursue hobbies such as the guitar and perhaps even learning how to code so he can get a higher-paying, less labor-intensive job. He currently works as a manager at a hotel. Work is exhausting and by the time he gets home, he doesn’t have any gas left in the tank to pursue his hobbies. He cooks dinner, watches a couple of episodes on Netflix, then gets ready for bed. Rinse-repeat. He has longed to travel and see what life is like outside the Midwest, but he doesn’t have the time or energy to plan an expensive, complicated vacation. Tom hears about Spice from a friend and decides to sign up. 

In account creation, Tom fills out a comprehensive survey of qualifications, education, expertise, passions, and goals. Tom also selects a Spice level, 1 being lowest and 5 being the highest. Levels 4 and 5 however are locked until a user has completed one assignment. He decides that he really wants to Spice up his life and picks a Spice level of 3. He then receives a message that Spice is generating an adventure and that results will be ready in 48-72 hours. 

What then happens behind the scenes is that a personal assignment matcher at Spice is reviewing Tom’s qualifications, desires, and matching to available opportunities. Spice has organized international hiring relationships and through a slew of pre-established legal processes, Spice can streamline relocation and work permits. All of this is transparent to the user, who only needs to review and accept the terms. After reviewing Tom’s survey, the matching team selects good options in Santiago, Chile, and Tbilisi, Georgia, and pushes them to Tom. The matching team always pushes two options. No more, no less. We intentionally limit choices to 1) make our processes more efficient and sustainable, and 2) reduce the decision-making difficulty for a user. More choices often cause more mental strife and if you really want adventure, sometimes you have to choose a place you never thought about before.

After opening the matching results, Tom has 72 hours to make a decision. If Tom declines both options, he will not be able to use Spice service again for 90 days. This is done to reduce the re-roll option, and also place a consequence on the decision. If a user is going to be finicky about their choices, then they are not embracing the spirit of adventure. To heighten this, if a user rejects the first match, AND the second match after the 90-day waiting period is up, then the waiting time doubles to 180 days, increasing the severity of rejecting a match.

Ah yes, excuse me for cutting in, but I believe the forced decision factor is stirring up the controversy around this app. You have been quoted before saying that “many humans are incapable of handling free choice.” You have said that “many people need direction in life and secretly desire to be told what to do.” Can you elaborate on this position?

Yes, and I do not deny either of those quotes, despite the frequent trouble they give me. Too much freedom can paralyze individuals and their development. Have you heard the saying that we are humans of habit? It is completely true. Once a person has developed habits, it is very difficult to get them to change or adopt new habits. The beauty of Spice is that it forces an individual to try something new. Yes, it would be possible for us to provide more options, allow rematching or custom area matching, but that’s not the intent behind the app. Spice is a place where members roll the dice on life and get to take a dramatically new path. A person could live their entire life using Spice and experience a much fuller life, broader experiences, and a developed world vision. I am trying to improve the quality of life and I think most members can accept the forced direction approach the Spice takes. 

Ahh, I see. It’s almost a military-like approach in sending an individual an assignment. They must either take it or leave it.

Yes, exactly. Militaries also have a forceful approach and are directive to their members. Some people hate, and some love it.

Certainly. I’ve known a few friends who have lived that life and found myself watching their adventures with a bit of envy. So how does Spice make money? Can you talk about the business model?

Absolutely. Our organization has built a lot of proprietary software and matching algorithms to find the best opportunities for members. We also employ over 500 personal matchers at the moment, and I expect that number to double in the next year. In addition, we have an amazing legal team conducting groundbreaking work on international work agreements with both corporations and host-nation governments. I bring all this up to show that running an organization such as Spice is not cheap, but I feel that our business model is fair. 

The bottom line is that we take 1% of an individual’s base pay for any contract. No more no less. We believe this is fair for low-earners and high-earners alike. Some have compared us to a union, but I like to believe that we are much more than your typical union. We do help find jobs, negotiate fair pay, but we also secure housing opportunities, travel arrangements and dramatically shape the life of members with contacts and connections around the world. Does that not seem fair to you?

I can’t see any issues with it if the customer is finding the value worth the 1% price tag. Speaking of customers, let’s return to our hypothetical user, Tom. Let’s say he chooses the Tbilisi option. Walk us through what happens next.

Alright. If Tom picks the option in Georgia, the country, not the state, here’s how it works. If an option is presented, there are usually multiple work positions available in that location. We said Tom currently works in a grocery store, and let’s say he is making $14/hour. Tom’s rent right now is $950/mo and health insurance costs $6000 annually. His average yearly salary is around $52K. In Tbilisi, his overall annual salary might be $40k, but with rent at $400/mo and health insurance for $2,000 annually. That plus a cost of living that is much cheaper, since goods, food, and transportation are significantly cheaper abroad. Tom will see a visualization depicting the pros and cons of each position he could work in. He will see a maximum of four positions. Again, we don’t want to give individuals too many options. 

Those four positions will have at least one that is similar to what he is doing now (e.g. stocking groceries at the supermarket), and at least two that are different. One could be a farmhand for an elderly landowner. Another could be a dishwasher or prep chef at a restaurant in the city. When Tom selects the job he wants to do, he will be presented with housing options, based on different budgets. If Tom wants to live more luxuriously, then he can choose the more expensive option, but if he wants to save money he can choose the cheaper option. There will be no more than four independent options, varying in price, location, and amenities. Independent in this case meaning to live by oneself. There will also be four options to live with a local family or resident. 

This is similar to a homestay experience that college students get when they study abroad. The reason for this is two-fold. It is economical, but more importantly, and can help generate human connections and force individuals to work on developing people skills with members of the host nation. This is vital not only for understanding culture, but I think it is necessary to help heal some of the big problems with society today. Mainly, I believe people are living in an isolated world and that the beauty in life is connecting with other individuals and helping them grow.

But what if the member doesn’t like their roommate or host family? Is there an option to move?

Living with other people is always a challenge. There are always going to be things that get on one another’s nerves. Leaving dirty dishes in the sink, playing music or TV too loud, the list goes on and on. This is life, and these are challenges being presented to help an individual grow, even those with a non-confrontational personality. Everyone needs to be able to resolve conflict. In this case, it can help both members grow and develop to find ways to communicate and develop better people skills. There will always be options to move, but they will not be without consequence.

And what if Tom doesn’t want to do something in the same sector? You mentioned that he has a desire to learn coding and transition to another type of work. Is this possible at all through Spice?

 It is. Spice will have an interface that builds a person’s resume or character sort of like you see in a video game. There will be ways to level up and advance, through different paths and skills development. Most of these level-ups or advancements are completed through a form of education or experience gained. For example, if Tom wants to become a coder, he could choose that development path, select a programming language, and complete programming training sessions for each, passing tests, challenges, or freelance jobs at the end to earn certifications. Spice will partner with various institutions and tradesmen’s organizations to build out a multitude of different career paths, associated training, and time requirements to get there. 

For example, let’s say there is a heavy demand for truckers. The trucker’s union helps build out an education and training timeline for new truckers to get started. Spice helps inform members on the timeline and simplifies how much training they will have to do. Since demand is rising for truckers, the salaries should also be rising. A Spice member could put their status to desiring new work in their area, and then receive offers from different companies that have employment opportunities. 

Say Tom was sick of grocery but didn’t want to move abroad, rather, just wanted to switch to doing something else. Then he could switch to Spice Local mode, see that truckers are rising in salary and the timeline to full trucking status can be achieved as quickly as ten weeks. Tom could then study the commercial driver’s test in the app, sign up for the test in a simple manner, and set up road driving lessons through the app. The app, through a partnership with trucking associations, would simplify and build out education material on income and expectations. I believe it is important to set proper, realistic expectations for members searching for jobs. No need to simply idealize a job and set a person up for disappointment. Instead, simply state the pros and cons with some testimonials from members on what they like, do not like, so that a prospect can get in the proper mindset.

So there will be a local option too. Do you think it will be difficult to establish partnerships with local organizations, who may have pre-existing hiring processes?

Potentially. It is always difficult to change mindsets and static organizations, but if a person is imaginative, they can usually come up with one solution or another.

You’ve talked a lot about single people getting new jobs and relocating around the world with different work. What about families and couples?

It is certainly possible and something we are researching. Matching two individuals to the same city is a little more challenging but it is not out of the question. We embrace challenges. Do you remember that show wife-swap, where two wives change places and see what life is like somewhere else? We are exploring something similar but with entire families. Basically, a family would try and match with another similar family across the world and trade places with them. There are a lot more variables that make matching families difficult. For example, schools for kids, matching parents with jobs, medical concerns, etc… We are working on it, but in the early days, the opportunities will likely be available to those with the fewest limitations. For example, teleworking makes placement easier. Language matching opens more work and education opportunities. So it’s safe to say some of these families may need to complete some training or skill path advancements to make placement easier.

Seems like a lot of back-end development work for you. Are some of the more challenging tasks going to be placed on the backburner over the more attainable, profitable goals?

Everything must be prioritized. We are building out core segments, then expanding upon those. As far as profitability is concerned, Spice holds to its ideals and values, rather than the most profitable business method.

We hear that a lot though. Facebook, Google, Youtube… most big corporations claim to care about the user over profits, yet everyone knows that’s not the truth. 

Oh, completely agree. I share that sentiment as well. Big corporations talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, as my grandfather used to say. Unlike big corporations, where stockholders often shape the development and demand profitability, Spice is part of the WorldBuilder’s Pledge. We take a maximum of 10% profits. Anything over that is given back to the user through investing in the Spice network to maximize opportunities and improve the quality of life for users. 

An example of profit reinvestment includes purchasing and building real-estate around the world for members to stay at, driving lower housing costs across the network. We have a few architects and plan to introduce artistic modern designs for the most efficient housing solutions to date. Other examples include hiring lawyers for expansion into new geographic regions/countries; sponsoring experienced members to start their own businesses; and establishing an inherent Spice jobs network. Bottom line is that we want to improve the world and create opportunities for people.

A 10% max profit pledge. Now that is interesting. Corporations have all sorts of loopholes to funnel money around and avoid taxes, but it sounds like you genuinely care about improving humanity.

I like to think so. We are not one of those companies trying to take advantage of tax loopholes to enrich ourselves. As I mentioned, we are part of the WorldBuilder Pledge, and as such we care first and foremost about paving a future for humanity. We have successfully negotiated work permits between nations thanks to taxes. Who would have thought I would ever thank taxes, but it’s true. Many foreign nations have difficulty collecting taxes from their workers, not only in blue-collar work but also with white-collar companies that use those very loopholes you mentioned to avoid paying the fair amount of taxes to the host nation. Our negotiations with the country provide a way for transparent taxation, collection, and disbursement to the host nation, incentivizing a partnership.

I suppose that explains how you can streamline legal processes. You are essentially becoming an international jobs broker or HR firm.

Exactly right. We seek to transform hiring across the globe and change how mankind views work… and life. 

A lot of the world’s most challenging issues can be solved by optimization. We are simply trying to optimize the employment process and respect the individual while doing it. Telework and digital nomads were major developments in freeing mankind from rooted places. Flexible benefits and retirement plans also open the door to mobility and are changing people’s perspectives on life. In the U.S. military, for example, the new retirement system looks more like a corporate system, with 401k style funds matched by the government and is easily transferable if a member decides to leave the service and join another organization, be it federal or private. Now members don’t have to feel the pressure to stay in for twenty years before receiving benefits and a retirement plan like they used to.

Think of accountants. They have a common education path that grants them a set of skills and the mindset required to work in the sector. Then they can also receive specific certifications to specialize in areas of interest. Accounting firms are generally big and located across the world, but how often do you see workers flowing from one location to another? For the sake of example, let’s say one of the big four firms (like KMPG, or Deloitte) has more than 100 locations worldwide. An accountant working for one of the big four in Chicago decides he wants to change up life a bit and have an adventure, while also continuing his accounting career. Meanwhile in Prague, an accountant at the same big four company would like to live and work in the U.S. for a while to experience the American way of life and see if it is all that it’s cracked up to be. Spice plans to integrate our network and systems with existing corporations like this to provide white-collar employees the same type of flexibility. This way that worker in Chicago could be matched for a swap with the worker in Prague. Our software and matchers will calculate salary differences, cost of living, housing options, and other factors to produce a “cost-of-adventure” quote to the members, highlighting what will change when they move.

Hmm, this concept certainly could redefine global employment if it gets off the ground. You mentioned benefits and retirement. Does Spice have any plans to incorporate benefits and retirement plans into the app? At this point, I’m not sure the word app does justice to Spice. I think it’s better to describe Spice as a service.

 I agree. The media has run with the app idea since that is our primary user engagement mechanism, but we are indeed a service. A broker of sorts. As far as retirement plans and benefits, that is definitely something we are integrating into the app, or service, should I say. 

First, we provide members with a few retirement options, simplified. They can choose no retirement, retire early, and retire late. Retire early will be tied to a higher percent range than retire late, and the user can modify contributions if they want to be on the more aggressive scale or not. The system will plot out projections and charts, helping individuals understand their futures in a more visually laid-out graphic. If a member leaves the Spice service, their retirement account can be transferred to their next company. An important thing to consider, however, is that one reason people want to retire early is to see the world and experience as much as they can. Unfortunately, this usually comes at a point when the human body is physically aged and unable to do as many fun activities as it once could. This is another benefit of the Spice program. You are essentially achieving these travel, exploration, and adventure goals earlier on in your life while your body is more capable. 

As far as benefits go, we negotiate health care agreements with host nations so that a member is always taken care of. While health care in the U.S. is extremely high quality, it is also very expensive. In foreign countries health care is often free for citizens, but not quite as high a quality as it is in the U.S. As part of that adventure gamble, however, we provide members with a variety of options that suits their risk assessment. For example, an American can pay a high price to keep health insurance for the U.S. or a lower price if they are willing to accept the health care services of that host nation. In the long-term future, one of the investment buckets for Spice profits will go towards establishing our own international health insurance policy, which should transfer savings to our customers.

So you would not only be taking on the huge challenges of dynamic employment but also looking to expand into health care and financial advisement as well. Is there a point where this idea is becoming too big and risks failure by attempting to encompass so many industries?

I don’t think so. I feel a company should have a good long-term vision. A grand strategy on how to develop and grow. Of course, we won’t be able to do this all from the get-go. You need to start small and focus on core segments, get those right, then build upon them. Without a grand strategy, however, I’ve seen plenty of corporations start to fold in on themselves. Think of how many companies fail to innovate anymore. The only way they know to expand is to buy out other smaller successful companies that are innovating or offer a different niche. We are developing this strategic view right away so we don’t fall into that common pitfall. In fact, we even have a whole other sector we are planning to expand into– Education.  

 Why should students and younger members of society be left out from cultural exchange and adventure? School systems are a perfect network to “Spice” up. Everyone has to learn, and subjects around the world and more or less standardized. Students aren’t making money, but Spice can reduce a large portion of the cost by making study abroad exchanges more efficient. For example, with profit reinvestment, Spice can charter or buy a small airline and fly whole contingents of students out from one continent to another, arranging follow-on ground transportation and dorm housing arrangements with host universities. For these sorts of agreements, our goal is to work for government grants and partnerships to improve the overall state of education across mankind. What better way to globalize the world than to actually send young developing minds around to experience new cultures and observe alternate ways of life. 

That is how you help strengthen and unify the world, which I believe is what we need if we are to overcome some of the major issues that threaten the whole world. Anyways, I’m not going to get into a rant on my philosophy. I wanted this interview to set the record straight on our intentions and explain why Spice is doing what it’s doing. We understand that we are shooting for the stars here with an ambitious set of difficult goals. But… if one misses the stars, maybe they hit the moon, or perhaps Mars. Not a bad consolation.

I suppose not. I think this could very well change the fundamentals of humankind. If you don’t mind one final question before you go, could I ask what gave you the idea for Spice? I now understand the motive and vision of your company, but I’m just curious as to how you got the original idea?

Well… you might remember that I spent a long time pondering the meaning of life. I think anyone who does that long enough eventually reaches a few conclusions about money, happiness, and the world around them. I believe each person must find and make these conclusions on their own, but I will give a personal story about mine that I think most people can relate to. Do you have any friends that have been stuck in a dead-end job, developed some bad habits, and seem sort of disengaged with the world? Perhaps they are retreating to a safe form of isolation such as video games, or television, but not really doing much else with their lives. 

We all know people that are lonely and are worried for them. The modern world is a tough place, and I think the information age that the internet ushered is overwhelming to the mind. I think there is a rise in loneliness due to a lack of connections and thrill in life. Unfortunately, there has been an increasing rise in the number of suicides in the world, and I think most people know someone near them who has been affected. 

I want to make the world a better place, and the way I believe I can do that is by giving some of these affected individuals a chance for adventure. A way out of their dead-end jobs. A flexible, dynamic life. I want to help people find happiness and I think spending time in other cultures, with new friends, and connections can do just that. Humans are designed to adapt to new and challenging environments, but instead, they are often stuck in mundane, repetitive lifestyles. Yes, my app is somewhat forceful and takes away the freedom of choice somewhat. However, it is the individual that takes the first step. They must know and feel that they want change. Be willing to roll fate’s dice and select a new adventure. Once they have taken that step, my app just simplifies the rest. They choose to throw the dice, my app determines what the dice show.

[End Transcript]