Fedor Skuratov — CEO (General Director) of Combot
The Interviewer — Polina Vishnevskaya
- Tell us about your background, how you came to IT, and then to Telegram and Free TON.
Actually, I didn’t come to IT. Mostly I work on the communication path, but I am often associated with the IT sphere, since the demand for community managers and our communication direction in general in the IT environment is quite high. For the last 12 years, I have been engaged in community management — this is the methodology of community development. I have worked in a huge number of different initiatives, projects related to startups, as well as VKontakte and other social networks.
In 2019, I was brought to TON labs by the founder of Broxus (a cryptocurrency exchange and Free TON validator), because I was quite famous in the Telegram community. And, in turn, in the Telegram community, I became known largely due to the fact that I was once popular in VKontakte. Each previous community led to the fact that I started working on some other cool project.
- Were you personally acquainted with Pavel Durov or did you communicate only in chat rooms?
Yes, we knew each other. But Durov has several thousand people like me, maybe tens of thousands… just because I know him doesn’t mean he knows me well. Yes, he knows who I am, we exchange some data from time to time. But, basically, as for 99% of those who are slightly familiar with him, it is rather a one-way exchange: we write something and sometimes get answers. This is a normal situation. Probably 99% of my contacts who think they know me are in exactly the same position.
- Do you think Pavel had a chance to launch TON?
Yes, of course. There are always chances. But, probably the project was delayed, the development was too long. In 2019 or a little earlier, when the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and a number of other agencies became interested in the project, the hype was too big to get off with a slight scare or a penalty as it was with other projects before TON. Facebook Libra also “brought a stir” among the regulators… Anyway, if it would had been launched in 2018 or early 2019, it would have probably worked.
- Do you maintain any contacts with the Telegram team?
Probably any developer (and just a person involved in some major projects on the telegram platform, including Combot) supports contacts. Especially if we are talking about the core, engineers and developers of Telegram.
- What do you think about Ilya Perekopsky and his role in Telegram? Recently he spoke together with prime minister Mikhail Mishustin at the forum in Kazan. Does it mean that Telegram has made concessions?
First of all, I feel great about Ilya, because we met literally once in our lives, and this has nothing to do with the episode of our acquaintance with Durov. I can’t relate to his role in Telegram, because only Ilya, Pavel Durov, and perhaps a few other close friends know what Ilya does in Telegram.
As for the question of the speech, I think that what the audience can understand by concessions, for example, I will not call them such. This can be paraphrased as: does this mean that Telegram will start issuing user data to the Russian authorities at the request of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, etc.? No. But, of course, there have been public concessions. Pavel and his inner circle represented by Ilya broadcast some changes in their attitude to the Russian authorities. But it was an exchange of concessions: Telegram was unblocked, and Durov lowered the heat. This is understandable, because in a situation where you are being chased by the USA and American regulators, you need to unite. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. I mean, in the world of big politics, as well as Telegram, which in one way or another is already in the world of politics simply because a service with so many users cannot stay out of it, this is impossible. In this world, you can’t exist alone, without allies. No matter how many people would like to see big, cool and independent guys in the team of Pavel Durov and Telegram, this is simply impossible. There are only two ways: either you make temporary tactical alliances: today with one, tomorrow with another, which is beneficial at a particular moment, or you make long-term alliances, but no one knows about them. I think Pavel prefers the first option — tactical decision-making.
- Do you think Telegram has a chance to join Free TON or become, for example, a validator?
No one prevents Pavel or someone else from the Telegram team from coming as a validator, their salaries are quite enough to run validators. If we mean what kind of approach some part of the Free TON or Telegram community wants to see — of course not, in the next 2-3 years. Not in the situation in which Telegram remained after the whole story with TON. When Telegram gets even with all the debts and obligations to investors, then it will be possible to say that they will start doing something. Whether they will specifically join Free TON or restart their TON — no one knows. It will be clear in the future.
As I said, Pavel is a tactician, and as another Pavel from the Free TON team likes to say, let’s work case-by-case (individually), that is, let’s start with the current situation. Thus, at the moment, Telegram will not join Free TON under any circumstances.
- As you know, Durov did not comment on the launch of Free TON. Do you think he’s keeping an eye at it?
Of course! I think he is told from time to time, including some initial members (founders) of Free TON. But I don’t think he’s keeping a close eye on it. After all, this is not what his attention is focused on.
- Why didn’t you join Free TON immediately after the Telegram closing?
You mean the closing of the TON? Yes, it’s not a secret. Some know this story from those who were at TON last year. We had a rather tough value conflict with some guys from TON Labs, because I worked there and in those conditions found it impossible to support Free TON, was demotivated, offended and considered such a launch of the project incorrect for various reasons. Mostly, 80% — for professional reasons and 20% — because of loyalty to Telegram as a product. And then I watched out of the corner of my eye what was happening: some of the things I predicted happened, and some of them didn’t. Most importantly, I realized that there is money in this project and thought: Why not? Most likely, this will work with a high degree of probability, if you work hard on it.
- It is known that Combot recently became a partner of Free TON. What are your plans as CEO of Combot for Free TON development? How much do you believe in the potential of Free TON?
I don’t really believe it, but if you work hard, you can make a lot of money, but not quickly. I am not one of those who try to make money here and now, I believe in long-term investments, prospects and constantly growing assets. If we talk specifically about Combot, then yes, we have integrated Free TON into Combot as a means of encouraging some users by others. We made the send and tip commands, chat wallets, as well as a paid promo on our resources, and introduced TON Crystal payment. In general, we have completed almost the entire scope of work stated in the offer. We haven’t done a giver yet, but it’s deliberate, because we want to see how it organically works. Any distribution, even the one that we designed — quite smart and interesting — knocks organic. It all depends on the tactics: what will be right at a particular moment, profitable, will bring the greatest impact, the greatest increase in the indicators of both Free TON and Combot.
And then we have a lot of plans. We’ll probably make our own wallet, our own staking… It’s like we have a big «To do» sign, and at a certain point we look at what is most profitable. In this, by the way, we are similar to Telegram: it also usually moves as a product — from profitable to profitable. Or as Pavel sees fit at the moment.
- «explosion point» be? If you work on it, as you say.
Now the project is going through the stage of settling workflows. Yes, technically the system is not yet decentralized in terms of management control. I’m not talking about smart contracts, I’m talking about social mechanics, which, by the way, drowns part of the community. First of all, the technical part, especially Mitya Goroshevsky at TON Labs. We have a long-standing personal conflict for many reasons, in particular — a completely different approach to management. When it is clear how this works, when there are several effective groups, not one or two, but 10-20-30, then everything will go faster and faster. I don’t really believe in the revolutionary potential at one moment — 10 million users, and at second — 100 million. I believe in smooth, planned development, and this is the normal way. And at each point, something will be missing.
- Do you think there is a chance for Free TON to become the new Ethereum?
Is it necessary? I don’t think so. The volume of the cryptocurrency market compared to the off-chain is negligible. It’s still a drop in the bucket. Even the capitalization of all bitcoin is hundreds of times lower than the real economy, and there is a place under the sun for dozens, hundreds and even thousands of projects, given the well known distribution, where 80% of the resources go to 20% of the participants of any system — this is Pareto’s law.
And in this case, the capitalization of the project will be sufficient: it will grow, attract attention, etc., etc. If we are talking about such a utilitarian thing as the token rate, then the top 50 guarantees at least 2-3 dollars per TON Crystal.
- Do you think that it’s possible to achieve this in 2-3 years?
Yes, of course!
- Great. And who stands out most for you in the project as a person?
Nobody. This is both a plus and a minus of Free TON, there are no leaders comparable in scale to Buterin, Durov and other ideologues. There are no such public speakers and visionaries. I mean, there are visionaries, but they are not very public, they do not stand out much, and they are little known outside of Free TON. These are quite local leaders, and I have a rather utilitarian approach, I don’t really single out anyone.
- As you know, the Chinese community has launched its own version of TON. What is your opinion about this project?
First of all, all those who followed know that there are two entities: the first is TON, made on Ethereum and traded on at least a couple of exchanges, and there is a second — a certain project, somewhere in the depths, which is either being done or not. In February, March and April 2020, all the participants in what became Free TON, Chinese TON, New TON (which we hear less about now) were in the same chat — TON community foundation which I created. And it was the conflict in this chat that led to the appearance of different TON. I believe and will continue to believe that it could be resolved in peace if we were all slightly different people. I’m sorry it didn’t work out then. Perhaps I should have come out as an ”evangelist” for Free TON and sided with it, but I personally didn’t like the style of discussion of some of the participants in what is now Free TON, so I just got offended and demotivated, as I said at the beginning.
- Back to Combot. Tell us about your future plans. Perhaps there is more detailed information? Are there any plans to integrate with other communities?
Integration with others is possible, but not massively. The fact is that some crypto projects noticed the integration with Free TON and asked to do the same, but for their chats (types, send, wallets, etc.). We, of course, will not crush other cryptocurrencies as massively as Free TON, because it is simply ugly to do so. We signed up for Free TON and intend to focus on it.
Perhaps we will make such white labels for individual chats, for our own cryptocurrencies. It is clear that Cardano does not want to distribute Ton Crystal in their groups. They’re competitors. It is logical that they disable this integration in their chats, but it is also logical that they want to use their crypt there. Of course, it is also beneficial for us to give them their specific currency, but technically this is not as easy as it seems… As for more specific plans, as I said: first the wallet, then the staking.
- Do you think the new cryptocurrency law could affect Combot?
There are many new laws. Now the Cabinet of Ministers has introduced another new law on equating cryptocurrencies and electronic assets with property, which entails income tax, etc. Any law in Russia can affect Combot, as well as any other business. But again, this is Russia. Every law has a loophole That is, everything will depend on the right of application, and not on what is prescribed in the norms of the law.
If the executive branch and regulators start running after small businesses, controlling everyone’s rights, well, we’ll figure something out. We will withdraw from russian jurisdiction and ban russians from using crypts, etc. Unfortunately, this will have to be done by everyone, we are too small as a business. I would say Combot is even a micro-business, and while they will be chasing the largest ones, everyone will have time to prepare, and in case of something, leave the jurisdiction of Russia or stop working with Russian users, if it is really needed. Now it is impossible to predict something, and even more so to influence it.
- How do you generally feel about the regulation of cryptocurrencies not only in russia, but also in the world?
As they say, If I can predict the future, I’ll live in Vegas. The crypt may win, or it may lose. At least, in the form in which many people want to see it. Cryptocurrencies, blockchain, digital rubles, digital dollars, digital yuan, etc., etc. will be used. This is and will be, but it is not at all what crypto-anarchists dreamed of and most of the different blockchain communities think about.
Frankly speaking, so far I’m betting that the state will win this fight, because they have enforcement on their side — enforcement of laws, enforcement of rules. The crypt cannot force anyone to comply with its rules, but the state can. Secret service agents will enter your house, and that’s it, your crypt is over — whoever has a baton is right. But let’s remember the gold rush or the wild west, some of the aesthetics of the fronter, low-regulation border areas where the laws are written by those who live there. I mean, crypt and blockchain are still some kind of fronter, a space where the laws are blurred, or they don’t exist, or they are set by the community, but sooner or later the state comes and puts things in order.
- So you think that cryptocurrency can be very easily suppressed by the state?
In the form in which everything is developing now — yes, of course.
- And what can be done so that the state has less influence on the cryptocurrency?
The apocalypse, the Third World War, the destruction of the institution of the state in its current form, global crises-there are no other ways. But there is another element — geopolitics, which will conditionally sponsor and support Durov in the war with America, as well as conditional TON as an instrument of influence on America, on American society, but at the same time not allow it to be used in Russia. That is, the use of the crypt and the crypto community as an instrument of a geopolitical game, a hybrid war. Perhaps it will go in this direction. Something like the way the media is using it now.
- Do you keep cryptocurrency personally, such as TON Crystal or something else?
TON — yes, but about the rest without comments.
- You run a lot of projects, including community courses. How do you manage all this?
I don’t! For example, i didn’t have time to finish the courses, i don’t have a diploma, they already hate me (smiles). Of course, I don’t have time. I have a family, a wife, nephews, no children of my own yet, but I hope that soon they will be. All this also takes time. I just reduce the number of activities or involvement in some projects.
My way is to quickly rush between projects. Recently, I try to practice the principle that one project does not take more than 3 months. This is the period in which you are obsessed with the project, when you run into it. One project, when you do many things, should not last longer than this period. Then — the stage of relaxation or rest. In my case, this is the phase of switching to another project. In Free TON, I specifically do not get involved maniacally, so as not to burn out. You need to have a maximum of 1-2, rather even one project in which you can exist for a long time without burning out. And the courses are gathered against the background of some big project, ended in 3 months and switched to something else.
- Do you have an idol? What inspires you? For example, for Pavel Durov, judging by his style, this is Neo from the Matrix. Maybe you also have a totem or idol?
No, I don’t admit it. Don’t make idols for yourself.
- What inspires you?
Curiosity, new information that can be applied and synthesized. I am inspired by the win-win scheme, when everything is good and everyone makes a profit. And when such schemes come up, I’m just over the moon. And to do this, you need to collect a lot of information. And you have to understand the anatomy to find out how people’s motivation and the features of their thought process work; and into economics — how best to calculate compound interest, even in smart contracts: how can one smart contract communicate with another and how much can it cost? You never know where a win-win idea will come from. This is certain hacking, but grocery and social one.
- What are your life values? Perhaps you have some kind of global goal that encourages you to work and be inspired?
It used to be vanity. I wanted to be the coolest community specialist in Russia, or maybe not in Russia, but then I realized that vanity is not very well monetized and it is impossible to earn money on it, except for applause.
Greed has replaced it — I just want more money (smiles). But I know very well what I spend it on, because I am a person who easily received and easily gave. The more resources you have, the more you can help those who deserve it, give someone a boost, motivate them. It is very cool when there is an opportunity not to be petty, not to tear off the shirt from the heart.
I have great respect for those who are able to spend their last money on volunteering or charity work to the detriment of themselves and their family, but I am not from this category of people. I believe that the feet should be warm, and the tea should be full, and now a well-fed person can already help others… My goal is to help others. First of all, money, because I can earn it. Roughly speaking, I will not do charity work myself, but rather give money to those who will do it more effectively.
- What do you wish for the audience?
The best wish in the crypt is Hodl!
Prepared based on the results of an interview published in the freeton.org blog.