Dmitry Volkov perfectly combines European culture with an American entrepreneurial spirit in his personality. His career started with a role in a blockbuster mafia movie (Red Mob) followed by dancing parts in Broadway shows.
In 1991 together with foreign partners he founded an international investment holding – Social Discovery Ventures (SDVentures). Today SDVentures is the international umbrella brand for a group of technology and software engineering companies.
Company’s portfolio includes more than 50 unique online brands (Shazam, TripTogether, Dating.com, LinguaLeo, StreetLife), which empower people around the globe to discover each other through the power of shared interests and mutual benefit.
SDVentures corporate concept “Art in Technology: When art & technology collide” enables Dmitry to combine business and personal interests. He is the co-founder of the Centre of Consciousness Studies affiliated with the Philosophy Department at Lomonosov Moscow State University, the author of several books on philosophy; he also supports contemporary art in close cooperation with curators & artists.
Can you tell something more about your nearest future plans in Latvia?
We plan to make more investments in tech space. So far we have made two investments in Latvian market. One in the company called AirDog. They manufacture drones or personal flying cameras. These drones are specifically designed for the fans of active lifestyle and extreme sports like kiting, surfing, skiing, byking.
What we like about this company is that they understand the social aspect of the extreme sports. People who are interested in them are also interested in sharing their experiences with the others. So AirDog team builds not only the hardware but also some sort of social network for the fans.
The second investment is BitFury. This company specializes in developing hardware for mining bitcoins and supporting bitcoin transactions. It is one of the leaders of this industry.
Besides investment we also plan to contribute to developing infrastructure in Riga for the startups. We have completed the renovation of the co-working space in the old town. And now we are inviting new startups as residents. We will organize there events, like public talks and meetings with potential investors.
You’ve invested in AirDog and BitFury. How did you distinguish their potential?
AirDog and BitFury have good potential. Both of them have products in the growing industries, i.e. Drones and Blockchain technologies respectively. For instance, if we take drones, then, based on PwC data, emerging global market for businesses using drones is valued at over $127B.
And in respect of Blockchain, according to CoinDesk, as of mid-June 2016, the total value of all Blockchain-based currencies in circulation was around $14B, and the price of bitcoin was a leading driver of this growth. Both above mentioned industries have already gained significant traction and would further develop.
Can you name any other Latvian tech-companies with the highest potential?
Well, maybe it is Forticom? They have stakes in the largest social networks. But we are still looking for the companies that have the highest potential.
What are the main differences between European, Asian and US startup markets?
Asian market (especially China and India) has a huge amount of smartphone users. Consequently, mobile platforms are currently the most perspective ones at the moment. US market is totally diversified and one can face different types of business models there starting from e-commerce up to drones.
European market is still rather conservative and traditional technologies are more prevalent there. I think that ‘next big things’ are mostly widespread currently in US and Asia/China. Unsurprisingly one can face such a great interest in respect of VR/AR space in the last 12 months in US and China.
Which industries or sectors, in your opinion, will be the key players in 2021?
I think Sharing Economy, P2P-lending, Blockchain, VR/AR, IoT and AI with strive. For more info on some of these industries, please check my interview.
As a collector of contemporary Russian art, you’ve said: If I did not want to take the risk, I would have bought Modigliani. Using this analogy, what would you say about tech companies?
We take risks in our technology investments too. But we take calculated risks. We only take this risk when we have a justified belief in the upside.
CEO of one Latvian FinTech company said that entrepreneurs – just like artists – want to leave their name in history. What he didn’t say, is that it is, probably, his own quest for immortality. Would you agree with such affirmation?
I think that the main motivation are curiosity and desire to shape the future. Most successful entrepreneurs have big egos but they have even bigger passions. The passions are probably more important.
Millions of people fanatically use apps and devices they couldn’t even imagine 20 years ago. How can you explain this in terms of their free will?
There are several senses of free will. One is metaphysical. Most philosophers are concerned with the metaphysical sense of free will which is ability to do otherwise and own actions in the context of determinism. New gadgets have not changed anything for free will in this sense.
However there is a different sense, a psychological one. In this sense we can say we have free will if we consciously make decisions. This sense of free will is influenced by the new technology. In many ways it is empowering us.
The technologies make it possible to search for information or broadcast to huge audiences. It makes it possible to be creative, to develop, to self-actualize. But it also makes a person a target for manipulation. People become addict, they lose their true identity sometimes.
But I’m generally optimistic. I think technology is more empowering then limiting us.
Your friend Daniel Dennett is one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from him?
Well. I learned many things from him and his colleagues. One important thing is not falling pray of deepities (stuff that is sooooooo deeeeep). This is a term that refers to the statements that sound profound but in fact both trivial and meaningless.
A lot of people try to philosophize by pronouncing deepities. Even some professionals when they want to impress produce deepities. It is always important to bring the discussion to the ground and try to find out what the other person really means. Vague statements don’t get communication very far. A great skill and effort is required to make something sound simple and clear.