Transcription of the interview with Fedor Skuratov
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Transcription of the interview with Fedor Skuratov

On December 4, an interview with Fedor Skuratov, the CEO of Combot, was published in our blog! The interviewer was Polina Vishnevskaya. You can listen to the audio version of the interview here.

Polina: Hello listeners to our podcast. Today we have an interview with Fyodor Skuratov, the CEO of Combot. Hello, Fedor!

Fedor: Good evening.

P.: Are you ready for the interview?

F.: Sure.

P.: It’s fine. Our first question: as always, according to tradition, please tell us about your background, how you came to IT and then to Telegram and Free TON.

F.: Strictly speaking, I did not come to IT. I work in the area of communication mostly, but I am often associated with the IT-sphere since the demand for community managers and our communication direction in general is quite high in the IT environment. For the last 12 years, I have been handling community management. It is a community development methodology, and I have worked in a huge number of different initiatives, projects related to startups, VK and other social networks. In general, I’ve had all kinds of jobs. And at some point it brought me to TON. Specifically, the founder of Broxus led me to TON Labs in 2019. He brought me in because I was quite famous in the Telegram crowd. And in turn, I became known in the Telegram community largely due to the fact that I was once known in the VK environment. Every community led me to start working on some other cool project.

P.: Were you personally acquainted with Pavel Durov or communicated only in chats? 

F.: Yes, we were acquainted personally. But Durov probably has several thousand acquaintances like me, maybe tens of thousands… The fact that I know him does not mean that he knows me well. Yes, he knows who I am, we exchange data from time to time. But, basically, for probably 99% of those who know him, it is a rather one-way exchange: we write something and sometimes receive answers. It is a normal situation. 99% of my contacts, those who think that are acquainted with me, are in exactly the same position. 

P.: Our next question … Do you think Pavel had a chance to launch TON?

F.: Yes, of course, he had. There is always a chance. But, probably, the project was delayed: it was in development for a long time. In general, in 2019, when the SEC and a number of other departments became interested in the project, there was too much hype to get off with a slight fright or a fine, as happened with other projects. Facebook Libra also made some fuss: in general, if it was launched in 2018 or early 2019, it probably would have worked. But the way it happened – no.

P.: Do you have any contacts with the Telegram team?

F.: Well, probably, any developer (and not a developer, but just a person involved in some major projects) on the platform maintains certain contacts with the Telegram team. In particular, I mean Combot. These are utilitarian contacts: for specific reasons, bugs, wishes. If we are talking about the core of Telegram engineers and developers.

P.: Next question. What do you think about Perikopsky and his role in Telegram? The fact is that he recently spoke at a forum in Kazan, together with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. Does it mean that Telegram made some concessions? How do you think?  

F.: Well, firstly, I treat him well, because we once met him in person, and it did not apply to the episode of our acquaintance with Durov. I can’t relate to his role in Telegram, because what Ilya does in Telegram is something that only Ilya, Pavel Durov, and maybe a few other relatives and friends know. I have no opinion on this because I don’t know anything. Regarding the question of speaking.As for the question of the forum presentation, I think that what the audience, or you, or someone else may understand as concessions, I, for instance, will not call concessions. It can be paraphrased. Does it mean that Telegram will begin to issue users’ data to the Russian authorities, after the request from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and so on?  No, it doesn’t. But, of course, there were some public compromises. Pavel and his inner circle, in the person of Ilya, have been broadcasting some changes in their attitude to the Russian authorities. But, it was an exchange of compromises. Telegram was unblocked in return – so Durov cooled things down. And it is understandable because in a situation where you are being persecuted by America and American regulators, you need to unite. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. In other terms, in the world of big politics, and Telegram, one way or another, is already in the world of politics, simply because it is impossible for a service with so many users to stay out of it. So, in this world you cannot exist alone, without allies. So, in this world, you can’t exist alone without allies. No matter how many people would like to see in Pavel Durov and Telegram team cool and independent guys, it is impossible. It is simply impossible. There are only two ways: either you launch 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 it. I think Pavel favours the first option – tactical decision-making. 

P.: Do you think there is a chance for Telegram to join Free TON or to become, for example, a validator?

F.: Well, no one bothers Pavel or someone else from the Telegram team to come in as a validator, their salaries are definitely enough to launch validators. If we mean a coming that some part of the Free TON or Telegram community wants to see – of course, no, in the next two or three yearsNot with the situation in which Telegram remained after the whole story with TON, not with those debts to investors, not with the fact that they need to be paid. When Telegram gets even with all the debts and obligations to investors, then we can talk about them starting to do something. Whether they will join Free TON specifically or reboot their own TON – no one knows, it will be clear in future. As I said, Pavel is a tactician, and as another Pavel from Free TON team likes to say, let’s work case-by-case, that is, start from the situation that is right now. So, at the moment, Telegram will not join Free TON under any circumstances. 

P.: Excellent expression, by the way, the “work case-by-case”. As you know, Durov did not give any comments about the launch of Free TON? Do you think Paul is monitoring it?

F.: Sure! I think he is told from time to time, including some Free TON initial members. Of course, he knows. But I don’t think he monitors it that much. After all, it is not what his attention is focused on.

P.: I see. Why didn’t you immediately join Free TON after Telegram closed?

F.: You mean the closing of the TON. Yes, it’s not a secret. Some people know the story from those who were in TON last year. I was too demotivated, I had a pretty tough conflict with some guys from TON Labs, because I worked there. And, under these circumstances, I found it impossible to support Free TON, I was demotivated, offended, and considered such a launch of the project incorrect for various reasons. Basically, 80% – professional reasons and 20% – because of loyalty to Telegram as a product. And then I was watching from the sidelines what was happening: some of the things that I predicted happened, and some didn’t happen. Most importantly, I realized that there is money in this project, and I thought: “Why not? It is likely to work if you work on it.  “

P.: It is known that Combot recently became a partner of Free TON. What are your plans for Combot to develop Free TON? How much do you believe in Free TON capacity?

F.: I don’t actually believe it, no, it’s simply that if you break through, you can earn a lot of money, not rapidly. I’m not the kind of person who tries to make money the easy way. I believe in long-term investments, long-term prospects, and constantly growing assets. As for Combot, we integrated Free TON into Combot as a means for users to encourage each other. We have created the “send” and “tip ” commands, chat wallets. We make a paid promo in our resources for crystals. We introduced the payment in crystals. In general, we have completed almost the full scope of the works announced in the proposal. We haven’t done a “giver” yet, but we don’t do it purposefully, we want to see how it organically starts up. Because any distribution interrupts organic content. It’s not a good start. And then we have a lot of plans. We will probably make our own wallet, our own staking… A lot of things. It depends on some tactics: what will be right at a particular moment, what will be profitable, what will bring the greatest impact, the greatest growth in both Free TON and Combot indexes. You know, it looks like we have a big “To do” list, and just at a particular moment we look at what is most profitable. In other words, we do not move just from one to another. In this regard, by the way, we are similar to Telegram. It also generally moves as a product – from profitable to profitable. Or, to what Pavel thinks is beneficial at the moment.

P.: What do you think is exactly what Free TON is missing at the moment, where will its “explosion point” be? If you work on it, as you say.

Fedor: Now the project is going through the stage of establishing workflow. Yes, the system is technically not yet decentralized in terms of management. I’m not talking about smart contracts, I’m talking about social mechanics, against which, by the way, a part of the community is speaking. First of all – technical part, especially Mitya Goroshevsky at TON Labs, We have such a long-standing personal conflict for many reasons, in particular – a completely different approach to management. When it is clear how it works, when there are several effective groups, not one or two, but 10-20-30, then everything will go faster. I don’t really believe in the revolutionary potential, in the sense that, you know, once there were 10 million users, then – 100 million. I believe in smooth and planned development, and it is the normal way. And at each point, there will be something missing.

P.: Well, of course. What do you think, is there a chance to become a new Ethereum?

F.: Is it necessary? I don’t think so. I don’t think we need it. You see, the volume of the cryptocurrency market, compared to off-chain, is negligible. It’s still a drop in the bucket. Even the capitalization of the entire bitcoin is a hundred times lower than the real economy, and there is a place under the sun for tens of hundreds and even thousands of projects. Probably, with the well-known distribution that 80% of resources go to 20% of participants in any system, it’s Pareto principle, so there is no need to be a new Ethereum. I would say that if you get into the top 50 in the next three years, the capitalization of the project will be sufficient, it will grow, it will attract attention. In other words, if we are talking about such a utilitarian thing as the token rate, then the top 50 guarantees $ 2-3 per TON Crystal.

P.: You made your point. Do you think it’s realistic to achieve that in 2-3 years for Free TON?

F.: Yes, of course! Certainly!

P.: Great. Who do you think stands out the most on the project as a person?

F.: None. This is a plus and a minus of Free TON, there are no leaders comparable in scale to Buterin, Durov or other ideologists, there are no such public speakers or visionaries. There are visionaries, but they are not very public, they do not really stick out, and outside of Free TON they are little known. These are quite local leaders, and I have a rather utilitarian approach to this, I do not specifically single out anyone.

P.: Understand. As you know, the Chinese community has launched its own version of the tone. What is your opinion on this project?

F.: Well, firstly, those who followed know that there are two essences: the first is a TON made on the Ethereum and traded on at least a couple of exchanges, and there is a second – a certain project, somewhere in the depths, either being done or is not done. I do not know whether it is being done or not. I have a rather simple attitude to the project. In February, March and April of this year, 2020, all the participants of what became Free TON, Chinese TON, New TON (about which we hear less now). were in one chat. The TON community foundation, which I created. And it was the conflict in this chat that led to the appearance of different TONs. I believe and will continue to believe that that conflict could have been resolved peacefully, if we were all a little different people. It was possible and I regret that it did not work out then, but maybe I should have acted as a Free TON evangelist and took its side , but I did not like the style of discussions of some of the participants of what is now Free TON so I was just offended and demotivated.

P.: Let’s go back to Combot. Tell us about the future plans of Combot. Maybe, there is some more detailed information? Is there still something that you did not tell me earlier about the plans related to Free TON?  Is some kind of integration with others planned?

F.: Integration with others – perhaps, but not en masse. The fact is that some crypto projects noticed integration with Free TON and asked to do the same, but for their chats. We will definitely not roll out other cryptocurrencies as we did with Free TON, because it’s just not nice. We have now signed up for Free TON and are going to focus on it. We will probably have such white labels for private chats to suit our cryptocurrency.It’s clear that Cardano doesn’t want to distribute TON Crystal in their groups. They are 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 profitable for us to give them their specific currency, but this is not as easy to do technically as it seems. You need to make addresses and so on, and so on. I don’t know when it will be done and whether it’s done at all, how it will be profitable, that is, it should also cost some of them money, and not the fact that they might not be easier to do it yourself. As for more specific plans, as I said: first the wallet, then the staking.

P.: Good, thanks for your answer. Do you think the new cryptocurrency law can affect Combot?

F.: There are many new laws. But today the Cabinet of Ministers submitted another new law for consideration. It’s about equating cryptocurrencies and electronic assets to property, which entails income tax and so on. Any law in Russia can affect Combot, as well as any other business. But again, this is Russia. “Dura lex sed lex”. Everything will depend on the enforcement, and not on what is prescribed in the rules of the law. If the Executive branch and regulators start running after small businesses, monitoring everyone’s rights, well, we’ll figure something out. We will leave the Russian jurisdiction and prohibit Russians from using crypts and so on. Well, unfortunately, everyone will have to do it, we are too small as a business. Combot is a very small business. I would even say that it is a micro-business, and while they are running after the biggest ones, we will all have time to prepare. In this case, we will be forced to leave the jurisdiction of Russia or stop working with Russian users, if it is too much pressure. It is impossible to predict something now, moreover, it is also impossible to influence it.

P.: What is your attitude to the regulation of cryptocurrencies, not only in Russia, but also in the world?

F.: If I knew how this would affect and what would win… If wishes were horses beggars might ride, as they say. The crypt can either win or lose, at least in the form in which many want to see it. The cryptocurrencies will be used, the blockchain will be used, digital rubles, yuan, dollars, etc. – will too. Of course, it is and will be. But it is not what crypto-anarchists have dreamed about, what most of the blockchain community think about. For now, frankly speaking, I am betting that the state will win this struggle, because enforcement is on their side. The crypt cannot force anyone to comply with its rules, but the state can. When the agents of special services come to your home, your cryptocurrency world will be ended. But let’s remember the gold fever or the wild west, some aesthetics of the frontier, the aesthetics of border areas with low regulation, where laws are written by those who live there. I mean, the crypt and blockchain are the same frontie: some space where laws are blurred, where they do not exist yet, or they are set by society, but sooner or later the state comes and puts things in order.

P.: So you think that cryptocurrency can be suppressed very easily by the state, right?

F.: In the form in which everything is developing now, – yes, of course. When they’ll get around to it.

P.: And what can be done to make the state have less influence specifically on the cryptocurrency?

F.: Apocalypse, the third world war, destruction of the institution of the state in its current form – there are no other ways. Global crises. No, there is another element – geopolitics. Geopolitics is conditionally spontaneous and supports Durov in the war with America and would support TON, as an instrument of influence on America, on the American society, but at the same time not to allow it to be used in Russia, that is, the use of crypt and the crypto community as an instrument of geopolitical warfare, hybrid warfare. Perhaps it will move in this direction. This is how the media is used now.

P.:Well, yes. Do you hold the cryptocurrency personally, like TON Crystal or something else?

F.: I will refrain from answering. As for TON – yes, but no comment about “something else”.

P.: You lead many projects, including community courses. How do you manage all this?

F.: I do not manage actually. For example, I didn’t have time to finish the courses, I don’t have a diploma there, people already hate me. I don’t have time, of course not. I have a wife, I have nephews, we have no children of my own yet, but I hope we will have soon, and it also takes time. I just reduce the amount of activity or involvement in some projects. It’s just that my way is to quickly rush between projects. I try to make one project take no more than 3 months, that is, 3 months – is the classic principle of volunteer participation in projects and a worker. 3 months is a period of an idea and some obsession (the stage of mania when you get involved in a new project). One project should not last longer than three months. You should get together and work. Then – a relaxation or resting stage. Well, in my case, it is the phase of switching to another project. In Free TON, I deliberately do not get involved in order not to burn out. You need to have  a maximum of two or one projects, in which you can exist without burning out at any given time. And projects like courses have been started because of a big project.

P.: I got it. Burnout is a very common problem in our time. So, the question is, do you have an idol? For example, for Pavel Durov, judging by his style, this is “Neo” from “The Matrix”. Perhaps you also have some kind of totem or idol?

F.: No, I don’t recognize idols. No graven images or likenesses.

P.: What inspires you?

F.: Curiosity, new information that can be applied and synthesized. I am inspired by the win-win scheme, when everything is good and everybody makes a profit, and in order to come up with it, you need to collect a lot of information. About people’s motivation…And you have to go into biology to find out how people are motivated, and especially the thought process, and in Economics in terms of how compound interest is best calculated, even in smart contracts: “How can one smart contract communicate with another and how much can it cost? “. You never know at the junction of what such a win-win idea will be born.This is a hacking, but social.

P.: I kind of see. What are your life values? Perhaps you have some big dream that encourages you to work and be inspired?

F.: At first, it was vanity. I wanted to be the coolest community specialist in Russia, or maybe not in Russia, then it changed to greed. I realized that vanity is not very well monetized and you can’t make money from it, only applause, and it changed to greed, I just want more money. But I know very well what I spend it on because I am a person who can easily receive something and easily give it. The more resources you have, the more you can help those who deserve it and motivate someone. It’s very cool when you have the opportunity not to be petty. I have great respect for those who are able to volunteer or do charity work at the expense of their family with their last money, but I am not from this category of people. I think you need to help yourself first, then help others.

P.: That is, according to Maslow’s pyramid, this is the closure of basic needs, right?

F.: No, not at all basic. I have already closed almost the top level of problems, now I will open the pyramid right.

P.: Okay, we’ll wait.

F.: Well, my physiological needs are satisfied, the need for security and protection is satisfied, love and belonging are satisfied, self-esteem needs are satisfied. So I tried to close it for a long time, working with vanity, and now – yes, self-actualization. I prefer to help others, but primarily help with money, because I can earn it. Roughly speaking, instead of doing charity myself, I will give it to those who will do it more effectively.

P.: I think it is very cool. And finally, our last request to you. What are your wishes for the blog.freeton.org community? What would you wish for us?

F.: Yes, the best wish in the cryptocurrency world – Hodl!

P.: Okay, great, we haven’t had such a wish yet. Thank you very much for your time, for your interview!

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