2017 was (and still is) supposed to be my year of traveling. However, things always don’t happen as we imagine them.
I intended to travel to Leh-Ladakh for my birthday during June 2017, but due to delayed house interior work, I had to cancel.
It seems like destiny had something else in mind, as out of nowhere I got an invitation from a Russia-based company to join them for their yearly expert marketers summit.
The invitation was from SEMrush, which is one of the top SEO suites for individuals & agencies. They were hosting their 2nd annual White Nights SEMrush meet (WNSM) in St. Petersburg from 29th June 2017 until 2nd July 2017. (More on “white nights” later in this post).
For this event, they invited 40 experts from 16 countries:
Getting A Russian Visa for Indians:
Getting a Russian visa requires you to have an invitation letter from a travel agency from Russia. You need to take the printout of the invitation letter and fill out an online form to obtain the visa. Since I was in Delhi, I had to go to the IFS office at 24 Barakhamba Road, New Delhi – 110001.
If you are applying for a Russian visa, make sure you get to the office before 2 PM to ensure you don’t end up wasting your entire day. The normal tourist visa took three days and cost me about INR 2.7 ($45). The process was easy and I had basically no problem getting it.
I often switch between economy & business class when I travel abroad. If the flight is long or if I need to be proactive, I prefer flying business class. If not, I prefer economy class.
This time I flew using Aeroflot which is a Russian airline. I used Skyscanner to compare flight prices and MakeMyTrip to make reservations. Good thing to note: If you are a vegetarian, you should explicitly select the veg food option when booking the flight tickets.
I will share flight booking & money saving tips sometime in the near future. For now, let’s head over to this virtual tour of St. Petersburg.
Day 1: 29th June 2017
My flight started at 00.25 A.M. on 29th June, and it was a one stop flight via Moscow. The view of Moscow from the flight was serene, and I could feel I was entering new and unseen territory.
It was a quick 2-hour layover, and I had no issues moving from International Arrivals to Domestic Departures at the Moscow airport.
I reached the St, Petersburg airport around 9AM, and the first thing I did was purchase a local SIM card. Having internet connection when you are traveling is very helpful.
I was greeted by Fernando from the SEMrush team. I have known Fernando for the past 6 years, and it was great to finally meet him in person. I also met another expert who was coming in from the U.K. and was on the same flight.
We arrived at the Ambassador hotel around 10AM. Since I was still getting over a cold, the only things I wanted to do were find some medicine and get some rest.
I woke up around 3PM and walked around the hotel.
Around 4-4.30, Victoria, who is my contact at SEMRUSH, came to meet me. Again, I’d been doing business with Victoria for years. It was so great to finally meet these people in person. She took me to one of her favorite restaurants, and we also traveled around to see some more of St. Petersburg.
The first day was all about relaxing and getting in the groove of St. Petersburg. We took a boat ride which gave us a great tour of the city. This was the time for me and the other speakers to get to know each other. I was pretty interested in knowing why they do what they do and how they got started. Everyone had a very interesting story to tell.
I remember meeting Shlomi Meshalum who is from Israel. He runs run one of the biggest digital marketing agencies there, and his backstory was interesting. He was a sales person back in 2003, and slowly and gradually he moved to open up his online company. His companion, Itamar Wagner, started his journey by developing a browser-based toolbar that used to generate $50/day back in 2006-07.
The boat ride was 3 hours long, and to be honest, it was not long enough to meet and get to know everyone there. However, we all knew that we had enough time in the days to come.
Finally, at around 10PM, the boat ride ended and the sky was still bright. Well, that’s what “white nights” means because, during the summer in Russia, it’s always light outside at night. In fact, if you wake up during the middle of the night, it will feel like daytime.
Day 2: 30th June 2017
The 2nd day was an exciting day as the WNSM event was formally kicked off around 9:30AM.
The day’s highlights were “speed dating” and meeting with product owners.
During the speed dating event, we had to meet with everyone for 3 minutes and speak about stuff like:
- Why did you join online marketing?
- What’s one super power you want to have?
- Name any one person with whom you want to hang out with.
- What’s your biggest struggle in business?
This was a great start as most of us were strangers and this initiated the process of getting to know each other. Once the speed dating was over, the event moved on to meeting with product owners.
SEMrush has a lot of tools and every tool is supervised by a product owner and his/her team. In this session, we had an intense discussion around the things we wanted to have in next versions of SEMrush.
I believe this kind of practice makes a product truly great for its end users.
Google Auto-complete: Fun competition
This was a really fun session where we all were divided into teams of 5-6 members and we all had to guess the auto-complete on the screen. There were a total of 10 rounds, and I must say whoever designed these slides and prepared the hints had to be a genius.
The last event of the day was a gala dinner.
Day 3: 1st July 2017 (Saturday)
I decided to prepone my journey home back as there is no fun in traveling when you are unwell. I changed my return flight date from 3rd July to 2nd July.
Day 4: 2nd July 2017 (Final Day)
This seemed to be a great day as the sun was out and I was feeling better. Victoria and I decided to hang out in the morning before my flight.
We talked about some big ideas in the coming days, and we made a video to help some startup people and affiliate managers who are running & managing an affiliate program. (Video will be out soon on my YouTube channel here.)
Since it was sunny and great weather, I was feeling silly for preponing my return flight, but I knew it was a wise decision as the weather in Russia is very tricky. It could rain or get windy at any time.
Finally, on 4th July, I reached back home.
Now, the next few days are gonna be for relaxing & recovering from this cold.
The question is: Would I visit Russia again?
Well, I need to! I’ve still gotta visit all the touristy places and I definitely need to see Moscow. But will it happen? Well, that’s for the future to decide.
For now, thanks for reading this. I will be sharing more of my “quick bite” experiences in the days to come.