By Helmuth Fuchs
Moneycab: Mr. Konovalov, the name of your company «Technologies Improving the World», TIW, immediately sets the pace. How did it go from the very beginning in 2014, were you able to improve the world a little?
Alexander Konovalov: Of course, the history of the company dates back much earlier. In my childhood, I was already fond of physics, radio electronics; technology always interested me. But my life gave me the opportunity first to become a civil engineer, then an economist, then get an SE MBA degree, work as a financial director of an industrial corporation, then be a shareholder in some industrial enterprises and engage in my consulting business in finance and legal practice. This long journey (17 years) has allowed me to get unique experiences in different spheres, it helps me very much and distinguishes our company from a lot of start-ups.
I always understood that all my hard work does not improve the world in any way. At the same time, ideas that occurred to me 3-5 years earlier than they were introduced, were being continually implemented somewhere in the large technological corporations.
The ideas of Droid Translator and United Help came to me in 2011. Each of them is the solution to some situations that I had to face personally. As for the idea of DROTR, I know only Russian and Ukrainian, I don’t speak English. As for the United Help idea, it was that one time I encountered an attack on myself without the possibility of calling for help, and when my son was born, I had to think about his safety.
„Ukrainian Forbes included my patent for smartphone voice control in the list of five best patents.“ Alexander Konovalov, CEO Technologies Improving the World (TIW)
In 2011, as an experiment, we created the world’s first newsreader with voice control. You could drive, listen to news from the Internet and manage the paging with your voice. I enjoyed it, and it was really convenient. Later, Ukrainian Forbes included my patent for smartphone voice control in the list of five best patents. But the application had to be abandoned because it could not be monetized (all newsreaders from major players came for free). Although even then I was convinced that with such innovations the world would become a better place. People are thankful, and that’s great.
I understood that not only I needed the ideas of DROTR and United Help, but the whole world did. It took me almost two years to finally turn my life upside down at 35 and start implementing my ideas to life in 2013. It wasn’t easy to pick the name for the company, and I decided to name it literally for what we really were going to do – Technologies Improving the World. And then I saw the astonished eyes of our clients, experts at Paris LeWeb-2013, a lot of publications and reviews around the world. It’s such an inexpressible feeling when you understand the value of what you are doing and the importance of this for the whole world. It’s nice to realize that we were the first in the world to implement calls with translation. We even started a world trend in development in the field of translation, including many our current followers. We have an exciting journey lying ahead of us, but the whole basis for developing this global business is already laid.
What is the ownership structure of TIW, are you looking for additional investors or shareholders?
We have a simple ownership structure – we are equal partners with Eugen von Rubinberg. Rubinberg AG (Switzerland) works with investors and partners, and I am engaged in the management of operational activities and product development. My main function is to generate innovations and implement them. Innovations are not only technologies but also new approaches to business.
«I plan to get a working visa in Switzerland and move there with my family to fully immerse myself in scaling business and building a global sales system.»
For today, we are open to proposals for cooperation and investment, but we treat this issue very carefully. We have the resources to launch our products to the market; we know where and how to sell them – getting investments is not the goal. We aim to be on the same page with our partners, to believe and have ambitions to build one of the best and largest companies in the world. For this, of course, we need to unite efforts with a lot of people and companies, and we are already actively moving in this direction.
The headquarters of the company is located in Switzerland, and the development takes place mainly in Kyiv and Prague. How did this happen? In which regions and countries do you see the greatest growth opportunities for TIW?
We have an R&D center in Kyiv. As you know, engineers in Ukraine are highly qualified and recognized throughout the world. In Kyiv, only development of products will be held. Since the products are ready and the sales are starting, we have already opened an office in Germany, Mannheim (to launch United Help). We are also preparing central offices in Switzerland, Germany for the development of sales. Besides, we began to work on the establishment of a representative office in the United States. All sales, PR, marketing, strategic management – everything will be concentrated on the team in Switzerland, which we have partially put together and will continue to develop. This year, I plan to get a working visa in Switzerland and move there with my family to fully immerse myself in scaling business and building a global sales system.
One of the most significant problems for most start-ups is start-up financing, and then financing growth. TIW already employs more than 80 people. How did you finance this growth and how will you fund further expansion?
Yes, it is very difficult to resolve the issue of start-up financing. At this stage, most companies stop. You need to think, do, do well, sell and only then rely on some investments.
I managed to solve this issue in such a way that I funded the company initially of my own resources. Later, Eugen von Rubinberg became the investor, and we were able to start gaining momentum.
Now I am sure that our clients, the large companies that are interested in our products, will become the best investments and assets. Sales are the best thing. Of course, for the development of sales, too, investment is needed, and the amounts needed here are quite large. For this, we reached preliminary agreements with some investment funds and private investors. I think that in parallel with sales, we will solve this issue and attract additional funding for a global start.
The TIW portfolio includes five products in the field of communications, security and the Internet of Things. Where do you now see the greatest chance for success, which idea should lead to a breakthrough?
The world is always full of opportunities. Each of our products is not just a technology; it’s a new business opportunity. For example, DROTR – it would seem a busy niche, but the issue of monetizing this market has not yet been resolved. WhatsApp, e.g., has about $ 200 million per year of operating costs, while remaining free of charge and ads. Strange business, isn’t it? But they of all people know what they are doing and why. We have our approach: we discovered four new ways to monetize a messenger and attract user traffic. We will soon begin to announce them, as we enter the market.
United Help is a global personal security system. Strangely enough, while security is the basic need of people – there is no leader in the personal security market. More precisely, there is no such market at all. Of course, United Help has every chance of becoming this world leader. It will be a business that is far superior regarding profitability to the advertising business, on which today Facebook and Google are built. The value and worth of a business must and will depend on the benefits that it brings. Yes, we have been making this decision for a long time, planning to launch by fall. But this is the case when it is undoubtedly worth it.
«Each of our products is not just a technology; it’s a new business opportunity.»
Ausweis.io was also created at the very beginning of a new trend in the smart access market. In this market, too, there is no world leader. We plan to become it as we have all the possibilities and a ready-made product.
We also created our solution in the online advertising market – CashTime, and a new monetization model for social applications – YouGiver. The solutions are ready, the sales began, and they too have every chance of global success.
I look forward to a DROTR breakthrough in the field of messaging and communications approaches, United Help – in creating a new personal security market, Ausweis.io – in the field of access services, CashTime – in the field of online monetization and advertising, and YouGiver – in the sphere of monetization of social services and е-commerce.
And these are not just ideas – they are ready-made solutions that have been evaluated by experts from each of the industries and start their journey to the global market.
With five different products, TIW has an exceptionally broad set-up for a startup. How do you use the resources for further development, do you plan time staggering or possibly focusing on individual offers?
Each product has its team and strategy of launching and promoting. Our products partially complement each other and are linked together, so the promotion of one helps the others. We create a synergistic effect from their interaction. For example, the Ausweis.io built-in alarm will be connected to call the response group using United Help when the door unlocks is unauthorized; DROTR is the first YouGiver client with real gifts embedded in the messenger. All products are clients of CashTime since advertising is needed for everyone. Also, they have shared markets and customers.
It is also worth noting that all of our ideas are venture products. The fact that we can provide such diversification for our investors significantly reduces their risks. With the success of any of the products, we will be able to ensure a multiple growth in investments. With the success of two or more products – the return on investment can amount to hundreds and thousands of percent, as it has already been many times in the world history. I am sure our products today are the best tool for medium and long-term investment.
Your first development, DROTR (Droid Translator), can do almost anything WhatsApp can, plus translate voice and text messages into more than one hundred languages. What in the application is intellectual property and how does DROTR succeed in the market against such a strong competitor as WhatsApp?
We are not trying to compete with WhatsApp or Skype. On the contrary, it’s Skype who is trying to compete with us, partially integrating the translation functions. For me, this is actually good, because they confirm the correctness of our path. Despite the fact that we are still the only service in the world providing a translation of voice and video calls to 44 languages for Android and iOS platforms. The functions of translation are no longer our strategic advantage. Today the world has changed. Competing with technology is a very short-term competitive advantage. The best competitive advantage, the most valuable invention, is the new business model. For DROTR, we have four such new monetization models, and we will compete with just that. I’ll be able to tell about this later, as the public launch of each option starts.
«The best competitive advantage, the most valuable invention, is the new business model.»
Since DROTR is free, how are you planning on making money on this?
As I mentioned above, we have four new monetization models. At the same time, the application can remain free of charge and ads and earn money honestly. Having experience in attempts of copying our ideas in the field of translation and security, I will better discuss the details later.
You are planning a completely new approach with CashTime. Here, users are paid for the time spent on online advertising. Then you can spend profits on other online services, such as movies, music, games or magazines. Who is the target audience and how do you want to attract enough market participants to make it attractive?
Yes, this is a new approach. The online advertising market today is one of the largest markets in the world ($ 220B with a growth potential of up to $ 300B in the next three years). We created a product that solves a lot of problems in this market when with existing solutions advertisers lose not only money but often reputation and attitude towards their brand. In CashTime, the advertiser immediately benefits in 60%. As you know, at least 30% of the click fraud is machine-based and bots. We completely solved this problem.
«CashTime payments will only be conducted for real human contact with an understanding of the advertisement and positive attitude towards it.»
The second 30% are ad blockers. There is a constant increase in the number of users who install ad blockers. We also completely solved this problem. But the main thing is that the advertiser receives a motivated and positive contact. For large brands, this is much more valuable than money loss. People engaged in advertising know the problem of neighboring ads and negative attitude towards annoying advertising. We solved this issue. How exactly? It is a matter of a separate professional discussion. But for business owners, people who are responsible for the result, we provide a simple understanding that CashTime payments will only be conducted for real human contact with an understanding of the advertisement and positive attitude towards it. It is a completely new approach. I’m glad we managed to create such a solution as I was an advertiser and faced all the shortcomings of existing solutions.
With Ausweis.io, you aim to solve a problem that affects us several times a day: opening and closing doors and entrances. How does your range of access solutions differ from major lock manufacturers such as Kaba, or supplementary systems such as Danalock?
If you briefly recall the Ausweis.io idea story, it all started when I arrived in Zurich in 2016, and my plane landed at 1 am. I needed to get to the rented apartment, but to find the key I needed to figure out a photo emailed to me. The trick was that the instruction was in German. Was it a quest? Although the idea to make it possible to share the key to a rented apartment occurred to me before, this story became determinant so that we could improve the world even in this segment.
Ausweis.io is an entirely new approach to access management. First of all, it is essential to understand that we are not a smart lock, as the solutions you indicated. We are an access sharing service. Ausweis Device is a smart controller that can work both online and offline, manage any electromechanical, electromagnetic locks, gates, barriers. It can also be installed along with the existing access control systems, for example, where the old cards are already used. At the same time, our device due to its simplicity and versatility is much cheaper than any other solution, convenient and easy to install. So how do we differ? We are entirely different; we just cannot be compared. We can provide the functionality that smart locks do and much more. Smart locks cannot provide the functionality that we do. At the same time, the market for our access control systems, and smart locks is almost empty. I think that practically no one has seen this in action, everything is just starting in this market.
At the end of the interview, you have two wishes. Which are they?
I wish for the new technologies and innovations to work for the benefit of society and make the world a better place, as we do. Secondly, I wish for TIW to become the world leader with each of its products, providing the best return on the investments for its partners and investors who believe in us.