''To put it mildly, Telegram blocking is carried out not in the most optimal way''

Interview with Denis Cherkasov, CEO of a venture fund, about start-up movement in Russia, investments in technological projects and other topics

''To put it mildly, Telegram blocking is carried out not in the most optimal way'' Photo: rvc.ru/

Kazan has recently hosted the Russian Venture Forum. The correspondent of Realnoe Vremya talked with the director general of the venture fund UK SBVK, Denis Cherkasov, within the framework of the forum. In the interview, the expert told our publication about the impact of Telegram blocking on IT segment, the activity of start-up movement in Russia, as well as about investors willing to invest in Russian projects.

''The average age of a start-up founder abroad is 40-45 years''

Mr Cherkasov, how would you assess the start-up movement in Russia? Would you call it active?

I would not argue that it is more or less active than in other countries. It should be understood that a start-up means an activity by definition. You won't be able to run it without being a hopeless, fanatical enthusiast. If you are a sceptic, if you see risks in everything, then you will never take up a start-up. The start-up — it is always ''in spite of'', and to overcome this ''in spite of'' you need remarkable energy. In my opinion, from this it comes the sense of threat of the new.

I would like the start-up movement in Russia to develop more actively, and also to cover not only young people. In Europe and the US, the average age of a start-up founder is about 40 years. Yes, we all know the widely publicized example of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, thanks to whom there may be a feeling that start-ups are business for the young, ''medicine against wrinkles''. In fact, the average age of a start-up founder abroad is 40-45 years. This is a person who has gone through corporate school, worked in technology companies, nourished an idea, got some contacts among investors and at some point decided that he has grown from the role of a performer and is ready to embark on an independent captain's voyage. In my opinion, this is a really successful start-up.

Again, I would like to see our start-ups getting mature, so that our people aged 35-45 will not seek to continue their career within large corporations, but leave and found their own business. At the same time, the spirit of entrepreneurship should cover a broad spectrum of our young people as they will come here in 20 years and decide the fate of our country. It is essential that these people are flexible, self-reliant and proactive.

Venture capital is now significantly higher in foreign markets, and the assessments of venture companies and start-ups in Russia are significantly lower than abroad. There appears an obvious arbitrage opportunity: ''To buy cheap here, to sell expensive there''

Nevertheless, we often hear from market participants that Russia has quite an active start-up movement. But the other thing is interesting. Our interlocutors note that it is mainly foreign partners are investors in Russian projects. In Russia, people are supposedly not yet imbued with confidence in start-ups. Do you see the similar picture?

I understand where this position comes from, but I can't agree with it. A large number of our technology investors are actively investing in Russian start-ups. If we look at the general statistics, we will see that the majority of investments in our projects are Russian money. Yes, perhaps they are structured abroad, but in fact they are Russian.

This position has a good reason for this. It is connected with the fact that venture capital is now significantly higher in foreign markets, and the assessments of venture companies and start-ups in Russia are significantly lower than abroad. There appears an obvious arbitrage opportunity: ''To buy cheap here, to sell expensive there.''

We see that technology companies engaged in AI or ICT with truly unique technologies and excellent teams, producing the same product, when entering the European, Asian or American markets, get assessments significantly higher (and, accordingly, greater investments) for a smaller share than they could do in Russia. In part, this is due to a ''country risk'', as well as the fact that money in Russian venture technology industry, unfortunately, is significantly less than in foreign markets — even in the markets of our neighbours, for example, Finland.

''Roskomnadzor's actions cannot but cause alarm and concern''

What is the reason for this situation?

I think it is a lack of economic growth. There is a direct dependence here. In such a situation, our ''economic organism'', like any living organism, reacts quite naturally: first of all, it directs blood to vital organs, leaving the blood supply to the periphery, allowing it to develop, to the best of times. The same thing happens in economy: when you have no economic growth, first of all, those industries that already earn or are able to earn in the unfavourable economic situation survive. The industries that require a large economic boost for development remain on the sidelines.

The spirit of entrepreneurship should cover a broad spectrum of our young people as they will come here in 20 years and decide the fate of our country

Mr Cherkasov, against the background of the recent events, I cannot but ask you a question about Telegram. In your opinion, does the blocking of the messenger have a negative impact on the development of digital economy in Russia? After all, the process initiated by Roskomnadzor has seriously affected Russian IT segment.

I would not like to assess the decisions of the authorities, but I can assess their consequences, as well as how these decisions are being implemented. To put it mildly, the implementation is carried out not in the best way, which is leading to significant problems for many services (I can cite an example of Evernote, which has not worked for me since yesterday). Although it would seem, what does it have to do with Telegram?

These actions are alarming and worrisome, but not in terms of freedom of speech or regulatory activity — it is the prerogative of the state, which has decided that the law must be enforced. I am referring to a lack of implementation mechanisms and a lack of a regulatory framework. In my opinion, the most important thing in this situation is the haste with which regulatory activity has been applied. This is a cause for serious concern, as problems are arising including for Internet investors.

By Lina Sarimova. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
Tatarstan