Drew Rossow

Living On the Digital Edge of Innovation — A Q&A With Dmitry Volkov of SDVentures

Social Discovery Ventures (SDVentures), is an international
Internet holding group that has been around since 1998. With offices located in New York, Hong Kong, Minsk, Riga, and Moscow, the company is always on the prowl for new investment and development opportunities when it comes to projects involving joint travel, language learning, dating, games, and leisure.
Last year, the company invested $900,000 in the U.S. femtech
market leader, Flo Health, a digital fertility predictor for women.
In speaking with SDVentures, I learned that they are structured around the theory of social consciousness, supporting many scientific and art initiatives, including the Moscow Center for Consciousness
Studies.
Cooperating with various Russian and European artists, collectors,
critics and musicians, including Dmitry Gutov, Oleg Kilik, Pierre-Christian
Brochet, Mikhail Pyatigorsky, and Polina Osetinskaya.
I spoke with Dmitry Volkov, the founder of SDVentures and an
entrepreneur who has been hustling since he was in high school, now serving as a limited partner in over ten international investment projects, which include major Fortune-500 companies.
Andrew Rossow: How do the theories of ‘freedom and moral responsibility’ impact a business’ decision to invest in other corporate opportunities?
Dmitry Volkov: I believe implementing a philosophical approach can be very useful in business. It allows you to doubt the established social and economic practices and teaches a person to doubt that the current situation will remain the same tomorrow.
AR: For you specifically, how has the implementation and utilization of philosophy helped you in your journey as an entrepreneur?
DV: My success in negotiating is largely based on the experience of
philosophical debate. Philosophy has allowed me to see positive elements in crises. There is a skill in observing things globally, from a bird’s eye view. I managed to avoid focusing in on specific problems, and rather, on opening the doors to new opportunities.
I think this is also the result of philosophical approach. Philosophers do not experiment in laboratories, but they imagine certain situations. I work like this all the time and have taught myself to think in detail about future situations and evaluate a situation from various perspectives.
AR: You started your first business as a teenager. Let’s talk
about its genesis and how that experience has changed your entrepreneurial approach over the years.
DV: I was still at school when I launched my first business – while I
was still 14. A friend asked me to find work for our contemporaries, so we
opened a kind of employment center for kids. We found jobs for kids, working as couriers, or as promoters – and we kept commission from what they were paid. Unfortunately, there came a point when our school grades took a dive, and we didn't have enough time for our studies, so we had to close the business.
By the 1990s I'd become one of the activists on the Fido network, a kind of
proto-Internet. Then I began studying at the history faculty of Moscow State University. There was one guy, an American, who asked if I could maybe find him some programmers who'd be able to translate some stuff from ColdFusion to ASP. I said yes, of course.
First, I found one good programmer, and then I found another. After four years, we had 200 of them altogether. That's how IT-Online came into being, in 1998. Over time it turned into the international internet holding company, which is now known as SDVentures.
AR: Since SDVenture’s inception, entrepreneurship and investment
has shifted into a digital age. How has this digitization impacted the
company’s direction and funding approach?
DV: There’s a lot of fear and skepticism about the rapid technological changes we’ve seen in recent years—concerns about privacy, surveillance, and so on.
Yet technology’s tremendous power can be used for things that are overwhelmingly beneficial to mankind too. It’s important we don’t forget that. It’s just a matter of unveiling and understanding the most promising technologies (like blockchain, artificial intelligence) and applying them to the same core mission we’ve had all along.
My overall focus was on looking for growth opportunities for the
company, and for venture capital investors. We ourselves invest in innovation companies. Frequently these companies act as test-beds for us – and we gain access to cutting-edge technologies through them.
AR: How has your experience as an entrepreneur and partner with a number of investment projects been affected by this transformation?
DV: My experience as a general partner in the Gagarin Capital fund and having been a limited partner to over ten international investment projects, most of which include Fortune-500 startups, iTech Capital, and Blockchain Capital, has illuminated one major drawback—the tempo for inventions and implementing innovative solutions. –explain this more and identify some of the projects.
Yet, you must bear in mind the size of the company, and a certain
degree of inertia arising from that size, it's often hard for us to compete
with start-ups.
AR: Every entrepreneur has a tale of defeat. What keeps your engine running?
DV: When people ask why I keep on going, and developing, I say that I
don't have an indifferent attitude to life. I'm driven by passion. Every peak
has a plateau behind it, every achievement is followed by a lull of monotony and routine. I've learned how to deal with these plateaus.  
There are many people who just come to a halt on such plateaus – whereas I pick up speed. It's already become a habit of mine – to start thinking of something unsettling and take off. Or I just head off faster anyhow, without having to think of anything.

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