I discovered Kwestr when they won the Ushi.cn ‘most promising start-up’ title. Instead of checking into a location and getting a badge with LBS apps, you check into an achievement. It sounds a little strange but I actually had a very similar idea before. It works like this – you set a kwest (quest) for yourself, for example, ‘run a marathon’. Once you finish the marathon and your friends who witnessed you finish the marathon validate your completed kwest, you are then rewarded a nifty virtual badge to make you feel good about yourself. Essentially it’s a way to keep you motivated and proud about your achievements.

To get more insight into Shanghai based Kwestr, I interviewed one of its founders, Frank Yu.

Frank’s background

Frank’s background is rather interesting and unusual. He studied philosophy and psychology in college in America. After graduating he entered the military. Later he worked as a journalist in the Soviet Union, which subsequently collapsed so had to leave. Following his journalism path, he became a prominent blogger and was the first person to be called a blogger on CNN by its current news anchor, Kristie Lu Stout. He also worked at Microsoft for a number of years, first as the Xbox Regional Business Manager in Singapore, then Microsoft Research in Beijing and started its first Casual Gaming team.

Frank is also an avid start-up enthusiast. He is a consultant to TEDx Beijing and organizer of Bar Camp Beijing and Startup Digest Beijing. He has worked at a few start-ups like E-City Sky where he met his current CTO and has learned that “when going to these [startup] events, you meet people but two years down the line, you might actually start working with them because it’s such a small community and is a great way to meet people and co-founders.” Although confessing he isn’t good at games, he likes them because he feels “it can bring people together and people are really passionate about it.”

How Kwestr works

“It’s a narrative social game layer that combines elements of social games, social media and augmented reality. We basically gamify your whole life. It’s about breaking down everything in your life into an RPG (role playing game) format. So whether you’re learning Chinese, or visiting the 7 best sites around Beijing, you create a series of milestones to check-off as you complete them to get a badge. When you get the badge, it will be pushed to Facebook.

For an example, for the Kwest, ‘be a vegetarian for one day’, I invite friends through Facebook to validate the completion of the Kwest. Of course you can cheat and fake tick off all the milestones, but if they get validated, your badge will look much nicer and embellished. The social graph is the enforcement method but later on we could link it to a picture from Picasa or Instagram for verification. Another use case is for teachers. For example a yoga instructor might set a Kwest for his students and once they have mastered it, he can validate it to give them an achievement badge.

Initially we are creating the list of Kwest’s people can do but later on we will allow other people to self-create, especially for more private Kwest’s. For those, we have a badge creator tool.  You can also challenge your friends to a Kwest.

We can also create meta-Kwests, so if you complete one Kwest it opens up another. For example, if you get the Hong Kong food badge, Guangzhou food badge and Beijing food badge we can then give you the China food badge.

To make it more social, you can also follow people that have the same interests as you and do the same Kwests as them.

We want this to be fun and increase the chance of people doing stuff, because once you start a Kwest and people know you’re doing it you don’t want to let them down and people want you to finish things.”

Invested in?

“We have four co-founders and have just closed our 2nd seed round of investment.”

Kwestr is now looking for seed-funding to accelerate their growth.

Vision of the founders

“We wanted to make a game that was more real and compelling. I mean your friends couldn’t care less, if you’re growing a plant or something (@Farmville). But our first premise is that your social graph is positive and they are going to support you. The younger generation is very socially integrated and supportive through Facebook or Twitter.”

Social then mobile

Frank believes it’s more important to build in the social integration then focus on making it a mobile app. Kwestr is now live on the web but Frank want to create a mobile client and iPad version.

Business model

“A lot of advertising and marketing companies want to engage with a younger audience. They’ve been asking for social games and contests. So we could create a brand Kwest so that users receive a discount or reward for completing it. You can also develop your brand on top of Kwestr by becoming like a Kwest Master.”

Similar businesses

SCVNGR (acquired by Google) is a challenge check-in, Hot Potato (acquired by Facebook) and Did-It (acquired by Groupon) is a ‘doing now’ check-in like ‘I am watching TV’. Epic-win is an iPhone, chore check-in app.

Focus outside China

Since Kwestr is done using Facebook Connect and of course, it’s blocked here, the target users and clients are actually outside China. However they are developing a China version without using a SNS api. “My inspiration is really seeing how whole companies can layer on top of Facebook like Quora and Zynga.”

Aimed at early-adopters

Since this is a new thing, the same type of people who like using Twitter or Foursquare would use Kwestr.

Although only still in open-beta, it’s worth checking this new start-up out.

Tip – turn on your VPN, connect to Facebook then Kwestr.