Investing in the Future: Interview with Alexander Borodich

28 July 2014

Alexander Borodich is a business angel, serial entrepreneur, the founder of Future Labs and other business projects.

— Alexander, could you please tell us how did you enter the environment where business ideas are generated and how did you become an investor?
— A time had come when I became tired of the corporate structures and working methods of major companies and decided I should do something for myself, something that would make me happy every day. I looked for a job that won’t make me feel tired; a job that would give me energy boost and help me move onward. My search finally led me to the startup format. For some time, I was a CEO and a founder of various startups. One of my projects was successfully implemented and sold, another one was released but turned out to be a failure, then there were several other projects, and after a time I realized that this is an experience I could share with the emergent entrepreneurs to give them a warning and let them learn from my mistakes. I could also teach them the things I myself had learned in the long run. And I faced the necessity to gather these entrepreneurs somewhere, to teach them and help them achieve their goals.
I thought of creating a structure which could help other projects be successful. That was how FutureLabs project was created. It is the experience that will help avoid various mistakes while creating a product or company and while searching for scaling points for the project in future, rather than a cash pile provided to a business by the first angel investments. One of the goals of FutureLabs is to help the companies avoid the mistakes caused by lack of knowledge and experience. The teams that we select are sitting in the same office as we are, and we help them every day. Of course, I invest not only my time and knowledge in the projects, I also invest money as a business angel (usually, together with other angels and foundations). The projects which FutureLabs releases get investments from the foundations focused on their later, more fruitful stages; as for me, I hold the pre-seed, the stages of concept formation and minimal prototype more interesting and important ones.

— As the mobile technologies and devices become more diverse and innovative, it seems that inventing anything revolutionary is simply impossible. What do you think on the subject: is there any trend or a niche in which the inventors will work most actively?
— Certainly, there is! First of all, I think of portable ‘smart’ devices. Their quantity and their elaboration will increase greatly. Then, the Internet of Things branch will be developing — i. e., the devices will learn to communicate independently. For example, the cars will drive us on their own, and we’ll become just passengers; parcel delivery will be conducted by robots, and so on. There are many spheres, many professions, where Internet, technologies and robots soon will change the way of things we all are used to, the usual way of managing things, gadgets and the process of their interaction.

— And, aside from getting objects from one place to another, in which direction will the inventors move?
— I believe it will be digital healthcare. At present, we know very little about ourselves. We do not know whether we are ill or in good health, is it necessary to take vitamins or it is not. When we have a fever, neither you nor even an internist can establish a valid diagnosis immediately. I hope that soon the medical devices will be helping us understand our own body.

— I imagine the devices communicating and interacting with each other, robots delivering parcels and all the other pictures of our ‘electronic future’, and I immediately begin to think about the Silicon Valley and all the other places which are far from here. Are there any technologies which depend on geolocation, those which can’t be used in all the countries or on all the continents?
— Of course, a certain specifics exist. An average American town with mainly low-rise buildings is divided into districts, and thus milk delivery by means of drones is not a super sophisticated task. In comparison, such a delivery will be impossible in the center of Bangkok or Moscow, where multistoried buildings prevail.

— What technology impressed you most as of late?
— Last time I felt really impressed when the ‘smart’ Google Glass glasses were created. Google demonstrated clearly that a phone interface does not necessarily look like a display we’re all used to and a device we hold in hands and take to the ear. This is just another proof of the fact that the world we are used to is just a set of stereotypes. Technological revolutions happen only once in a while; but the invention of Google Glass was one of them.

—What is a trigger of invention for a revolutionary device or technology? How do people understand that the time has come to supplant a device we are used to with a modern one or to change its form?
— I think that if we are starting out from some existing technology or device, if we are trying to transform it, make it better, this is an evolutionary way. As for revolutions, these all start with sudden revelations. It starts with the questions, like: Why does this device look like that and not in some different way? Which goal does it serve? Can you reach the same goal in another way? You revise the needs connected with this very device using different approaches — service design, for example.

— What do you think of business books? Are they useful, or is it better to do business, not to read about it?
— I belong to those people who think that the more good books you read the better for you. Are there any good ones among the business books? Sure, there are! As for me, now I’m reading a book which is not about business: that is, The Tao of Chaos by Stephen Wolinsky.

— To learn or to teach: which of the two is more important to you?
— These are interconnected processes, to my opinion. I learn all the time, I’m in for personal development — and at the same time I’ve been teaching others for the last ten years, at the Moscow State University, at the School of Mathematics and Economics and at FutureLabs. For me, it is equally important to learn and to teach others.

— Are there any guidelines one should follow to make a project successful, or as usual everything depends on the team’s persistency and expertise?
— I am sure that expertise is not that relevant; everything depends on your persistency. The success of the idea depends on the quality of its implementation. If we look at the successful companies, we’ll see that for many of them the success was gained by blood, tears and the sweat of their brow and by persistency in pursuit of the main goal. Only those people were able to reach this goal who did not abandon their dream, which did not yield to disappointment after a number of failures, who did not give up even when the process, the circumstances and the people around changed totally.

Read the original interview at snob.ru