Sold the apartment to support the project: the story of Madat Karimov, founder of Qtap platform

Madat Karimov ventured into the world of business while still in 7th grade, juggling his studies with the role of a gym administrator. His journey continued with ownership of a cafe, a crafted furniture production business, and a photostudio. However, Madat’s ambition always sought a grander and more scalable venture. The search led him to his latest breakthrough: over the past 1.5 years, he has been working on developing the innovative Qtap service. The platform integrates a social network, a marketplace, and a user-friendly site constructor. Dive deeper into Madat’s inspiring story in the interview.

100 Startup Stories of Kazakhstan is the joint project of Digital Business and Astana Hub. The project showcases the inspiring journeys of Kazakhstani entrepreneurs and Astana Hub participants from various countries who are revolutionizing the tech industry with their innovative products and services. We believe that one of them will eventually rise to the status of a Unicorn company, thereby elevating Kazakhstan’s reputation in the global IT market. Through this endeavor, we hope to ignite the spirit of entrepreneurship within readers and encourage them to establish their own daring and creative startups.

The project is available in three languages – Kazakh, Russian, and English, and is absolutely free for our heroes. If you are interested in being a part of this inspiring initiative, feel free to reach out to us at

«Initially, only one out of 1,000 transactions was non-cash»

— Madat, what is your educational background?

— You might be surprised, but I don’t possess any higher or secondary professional education. After completing nine years of schooling, I faced difficulties enrolling in college.

My journey began in the 7th grade when I started working. Since my studies were in the afternoon shift, I took on the role of a gym administrator in the mornings. I would open the gym at 6 in the morning, welcome guests, conduct training, and then rush to school in the afternoon.

— How did your journey as an entrepreneur begin?

— Before Qtap, I embarked on several offline projects. In 2012, a colleague and I launched a small cafe. As it began to generate revenue, we attempted to implement online payments by creating our website and connecting it to Pay Box for initial integrations. However, online payments were scarce, with only 1 out of 1,000 transactions being non-cash. Despite the experiment’s failure, we foresaw that the future would rely heavily on online technologies to enhance offline businesses.

Interestingly, the cafe evolved into a small chain with four locations, which persisted until the first wave of the coronavirus in 2020. Following the outbreak, I exited the cafe business and ventured into crafting furniture production. Yet, I soon realized that having a website was essential for effective monetization as a producer.

However, I didn’t want a simple online showcase; my website needed an audience and online payment services. Yet, as a small business owner, achieving this seemed nearly impossible.

Alongside the furniture production, I also established a photo studio where individuals and companies could create content for their audiences.

— When did the concept of Qtap first come to mind? And how did you assess the potential value of the forthcoming product?

— The idea of Qtap had been on my mind for a long time, throughout my entire entrepreneurial journey. The concept started taking shape more actively between 2019 and 2021. During this period, I sought a compelling and scalable venture that could expand into international markets.

By December 2021, the idea crystallized into a specific vision: to create a site constructor incorporating elements of a messenger, a business social network akin to Linkedin, and a marketplace with internal acquiring capabilities. The ultimate goal was to develop a platform that would gradually transform into a comprehensive sales channel, offering users a subscription-based access to a range of e-commerce tools.

This multifaceted platform would enable users to create profiles, describe services, promote businesses, upload price lists, advertise events, sell products and tickets, monetize content, aggregate applications, and share links to photos and videos.

The of-the-shelf solution can address multiple challenges simultaneously:

  1. Save costs on business site development.
  2. Create distinct online target communities for entrepreneurs, bloggers, and influencers, tailored to each category.
  3. Establish a decentralized marketplace with acquiring capabilities to increase revenue.

In February 2022, I encountered someone who believed in my idea. That person was my good friend Alzhan Sabraliyev, a skilled programmer. After a series of discussions, he agreed to join the project and assumed full responsibility for the back-end development. Today, he serves as our CTO and co-founder of Qtap.

«The innovation behind Qtap lies in our ability to blend the finest elements from various global services»

— Your product is quite intricate, encompassing multiple diverse directions and business spheres. Numerous startups have encountered failure in each of these spheres at some point. How did you assess the risks when you began working on Qtap?

— In a broader perspective, yes, Qtap does encompass numerous components. However, from our entrepreneurial standpoint, it is one cohesive product addressing a global pain point: empowering individuals to develop their professional brand and enhance business earnings through a simple, rapid, and cost-effective approach.

Right from the beginning, we didn’t perceive it as segregating different elements from various interfaces like social networks, marketplaces, or site constructors like Tilda. Instead, we saw the integration of these aspects as a unified solution. Although we recognized that we were treading a path similar to well-known products, our innovation lies in combining the best features of existing services and leveraging their synergies to create an enhanced overall platform.

So, here’s the question: do you consider Instagram to be merely a social network? In reality, it forms an entire ecosystem with its integrated messenger (Direct), offering features like making calls and creating online showcases.

As for the risks, I didn’t evaluate them at all initially. I simply developed something that addressed my personal needs. To be candid, I didn’t even conduct problem interviews with potential users. It’s only now, after completing the Investment Readiness Accelerator (IRA) program at MOST Hub and gaining valuable insights, that we do everything right. The IRA program led us to engage with users and gather essential feedback.

«The Swiss knife perfectly embodies our team’s philosophy»

— As mentioned earlier, the development of Qtap commenced in February 2022. How long did it take to create the MVP?

— We dedicated our efforts to the project from February to August 2022, investing six months of intensive work into delving deep into the code. The most significant progress was made in July 2022, when we completed the primary part of the development within 2-3 weeks. By August, we initiated the closed release of the platform and witnessed our first website registrations.

— Were there only two of you working on the project?

— Yes, later on, we were joined by Artur Askaruly, our third co-founder. He is a renowned blogger and an exceptional professional who played a vital role in establishing the initial channel for attracting the audience.

— Just to confirm, did you cover the team’s expenses independently from February to August?

— Indeed, it was a longer journey, extending from February through November 2022, until Qtap achieved its breakeven point. Throughout this period, I personally financed the project’s development. In the beginning of the year, Alzhan and I agreed that he would receive a share in the company, and I made a one-time payment to him, similar to a salary. Subsequently, I covered all the necessary expenses for product development.

As we observed potential traction in August, we recognized the need to expand our team. Qtap attracted specialists with salaries ranging from 1 million tenge and higher. In order to support the project’s growth, my wife and I decided to sell our apartment. In total, I invested 10 million tenge of personal funds into the project during this period.

— Currently, how many members are there in the team?

— Currently, we have nine members in the team. However, our numbers will soon increase as we need to accelerate the development with the investments we have attracted.

Notably, we seek only multifunctional team members due to our fast-paced environment and extensive tasks. In our startup, we value team members who can support and understand each other’s responsibilities. This unique aspect is mirrored in our branded corporate merchandise of Qtap. Upon joining, each new team member receives a Swiss knife engraved with a number corresponding to their chronological order in the team. The Swiss knife, with its 17 functions, perfectly embodies our philosophy and reflects the type of individuals we envision in our team.

«For a considerable time, Qtap was perceived as just someone’s promotional website. However, we are determined to change this perception soon»

— What strategies did you employ to promote Qtap and attract new users?

— The initial organic traffic for Qtap was generated through my wife’s social media accounts. She showcased Qtap’s capabilities on Instagram and other platforms, attracting the first 200 organic users to our website. A significant turning point occurred when Artur Askaruly joined the project; his involvement led other bloggers with sizable audiences of 1 million and more to also come on board. From November 2022, we began experiencing more sustainable traffic, with approximately 1 million unique visitors to date. Presently, our monthly average active audience stands at 120 thousand visitors, and we have 29 registered users.

— Why is the conversion rate so low?

— The low conversion rate can be attributed to a lack of clear communication about Qtap being a vast decentralized platform, offering users the ability to tailor functions to their specific needs. Consequently, we are often mistaken for just another promotional website. For instance, when an entrepreneur registers and creates a platform for their private brand and merchandise showcase, it may appear as a well-designed promotional site, without conveying that others can achieve the same.

However, we are determined to transform this perception with the help of the investments we’ve attracted. Soon, we will launch a substantial marketing campaign that will propel us to the next level and ensure our message reaches a wider audience.

«Our objective is to attract 150 thousand active users and expand our presence into the markets of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan»

— After securing investments from Margulan Seissembai, the business angel Bakht Niyazov, and the MOST Ventures fund, you said that you are planning to utilize funds for team expansion and marketing activities. What are your next steps? What can we anticipate from Qtap by the end of 2023 – beginning of 2024

— Our objective for this year is to attain 150 thousand monthly active users. To accomplish this, we intend to penetrate the Central Asian market. If we succeed, our Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) is projected to reach USD 70-80 thousand, resulting in a capitalization of USD 15 million. These targets are within our reach. 

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