Viktor, you currently have a big presence in the Belarusian IT industry, but how did you get into IT? What role did your father play in your life and your decision to go into business?
My father, Mikhail Prokopenya, was a physicist and academic. He worked at the Belarusian State University and Belarusian National Technical University. My mother worked as a mathematician. The period just after the Soviet Union fell was very difficult in Belarus; therefore my father went into business, while my mother trained as an auditor.
My father taught me a lot about business and life. I am very grateful to him for the amount of time he spent with me. He was my best friend. It is thanks to my father I began working with computers as a hobby alongside my studies as a teenager.
After my father was killed in a car accident in 2000, I realized that I had to support my family and turned my hobby into a profession.
You started working to help your family. You continued to study when you worked. Do you like studying? Why?
I’ve always studied a lot and I continue to study all the time – it’s a good way to develop as a person.
I attended Gymnasium No.2, which is one of Belarus’ top schools. My father encouraged me to enroll in an experimental program to study for two high school diplomas at the same time. I took classes at Gymnasium No.130, and at the Minsk Institute of Management. I was one of only a handful of children to graduate from the dual track program, which was later discontinued by the state. I finished both programs, obtaining top honors (a ‘gold medal’) from Gymnasium No.2 and winning several state Olympiads.
On graduation in 2000, I enrolled at the European Humanities University, and in 2004 I received a bachelor’s degree in computer science, specializing in web development.
I attended the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics (BSUIR) from 2004 to 2006, and was awarded a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
From 2006 to 2010 I attended the Belarusian State University earning a bachelor’s degree in corporate law.
From 2008 to 2010 I studied at the Leon Kozminski Academy of Entrepreneurship and Management (LKAEM) in Warsaw, Poland. In 2012 I gained a master’s degree (distance learning) in internet marketing from Full Sail University in Florida. I also regularly attend graduate programs at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. I completed a Master’s of Finance at Northeastern University in 2016, and a DBA dissertation in behavioral economics at the Swiss Business School in 2017.
I didn’t even have to do my national service in the Belarusian army because I was continuing to study. I love education and am really good at it. [smiles]
What were your first serious steps in business?
I started to get involved in IT business when I was 15. My first business involved getting jobs from freelancing websites.
I devised a method to bid on multiple freelancing projects automatically, which was so successful that I acquired a corporate entity from my father’s associates and subcontracted large volumes of work to other software developers, making huge margins on jobs for primarily Western clients.
At the age of 20 I had around a hundred developers.
How did you come up with the idea of developing your own products?
I had the idea of establishing Viaden Mobile in order to move into mobile application development. The move followed the launch, in July 2008, of Apple’s App Store. I understood the need for Viaden to move from IT services into developing our own products. In 2009, Viaden opened a mobile application development department, which began focusing on developing mobile apps.
By 2011 the company had released 15 Apps and was described as the largest mobile app developer in the post-Soviet space.
Many apps became real bestsellers. “All-in fitness”, launched in 2010, topped App Store rankings in more than 40 countries. In 2011, apps developed by Viaden regularly topped Apple’s App Store rankings in the US and other top markets.
From development, you took a step towards investment. What did you focus on?
After I sold Viaden in March 2012 I founded VP Capital – a principal investment firm specializing in the technology sector. My first investment was in financial software development – exp(capital). exp(capital) develops ‘market making’ software products for broker dealers and banks. Our clients are banks and financial institutions. In January 2014 exp(capital) was ranked Belarus’ #1 IT company in a list compiled by a Belarusian news website.
Going into the details – exp(capital) is a company that specializes in the development of software and algorithms for high-frequency trading in global financial markets. Its specialty is converting data-driven market sentiment into a tool for prediction. The team excels in gathering data, analyzing it and predicting market fluctuations. They’re ruthlessly consistent at excluding any human influence from trading decisions.
What projects did you invest in?
VP capital also invested in real estate through VP Capital Real Estate, which is one of the largest private owners of high street Real Estate in Minsk at the moment.
VP Capital’s portfolio includes technology companies, including American space startup Astro Digital, German Dronefence, specializing in safety network development, Piper – a developer of the Raspberry Pi 3 educational computer kit PiperEDU, Capital.com – a fintech company that develops trading software solutions, Camera First — a game and app development company that designs and creates mobile products based on the augmented and virtual reality technologies and mobile app developer Banuba.
Banuba takes the lead in the sectors of augmented reality and artificial intelligence. During the past year, the start-up managed to create cutting-edge mobile algorithms. Mobile
capabilities are frequently limited by devices, thus, hardware development and augmented reality technologies together are quite promising spheres. As the powers of mobile devices
advance, Banuba will be able to deliver more state-of- the-art solutions. A great team of top computer engineers and mathematicians is their biggest asset.
Belarus is developing the Decree on Digital Economy Development, which will provide unprecedented conditions for the development of the IT industry in the field of block technology. What is your impact on changing Belarusian IT legislation?
During his visit to our IT companies in March 2017 (Banuba Development and exp (capital)), President Aleksandr Lukashenko expressed his support for the idea of the law.
We spoke with the President about the fact that the current legal framework of the High-Tech Park does not allow modern IT business models to operate and that improvement of the framework could bring more innovation to the industry and escalate its economic growth.
If Belarus were to support it, we would have the chance to become one of the new hubs in this promising new sector.
What makes Belarus a really interesting place to develop an IT business?
I like the idea that blockchain is the new internet. I’m delighted to say that Belarus can become the first country in the world to establish a fully comprehensive regulation of this technology, including mining, ICOs, cryptocurrencies exchange and turnover, smart contracts and much more.
At the same time, blockchain regulation will be backed by the great legal framework of the High Tech Park, which allows four basic freedoms: free movement of services, IP, capital, and labor. It is also important to note that HTP residents will be exempt from VAT and tax on profits. Instead, they pay 1% of gross revenue to the HTP administration.
All this can make Belarus a really interesting place to develop an IT business.
Viktor, on the wave of all these changes please could you comment on the main technological trends?
I believe that augmented reality will create huge economic value and will help to develop the computer devices of the future. The heads of large IT corporations discuss this frequently and are putting huge investments in this direction. A large number of talented people work on solving these challenges. The camera may become the new keyboard, to create new human/computer relations without using the interface. There is a theory that the majority of a human body can be a mobile device, not necessarily unified. One brain may have several bodies and one person can simultaneously appear on several continents.
And I want to say that the world is global. State borders and other limits are the paradigms of the past. Belarus has free internet, access is available for almost all of the country’s population, modern communication standards are implemented, IT companies enjoy rather liberal legislation towards their activities, the boundaries are open. That is why we may talk about world trends and also of Belarus as one of the countries where they will appear.
Because the Belarusian IT sector is on the rise. Look how many IT events are constantly happening in our country. There is no other industry in Belarus that has experienced the same. I believe that Belarusian specialists can actively participate in the development of the machine learning trend.
Do you think that we will soon face a much higher level of cybersecurity problems? According to Deloitte, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks will become more frequent, larger in scale and harder to neutralize.
Cybersecurity, certainly, is one of the biggest challenges created by the technological progress of the last few decades. Military strategy says that people often prepare themselves for a war that has already happened, instead of preparing to face a new war. I think DDoS may be a good example.
It is also highly possible that machine learning algorithms will manage to decrease the DDOS threats by dozens and even hundreds of times, as happened with spam.
As for biometrics and the new generation connection trend I am sure that the Belarus won’t be left behind, given that Belarus has just implemented the fourth-generation communication network, 4G, global automation has already significantly changed the labor market.
It is interesting that at almost the same time as Deloitte’s forecast, the news broke that the famous investor in hi-tech projects Elon Musk has created a company that will develop devices for the direct connection of the human brain and computer. Today, there is no doubt that soon we’ll see a mind-controlled mobile device without keyboard, mouse or touchpad. The next 50 years are going to be really fascinating.