Vladimir Smerkis’s Path: From R&B to Reinventing Economy It’s freaking hot outside. The kind of hot that makes everything literally melt away, the kind you can’t hide from. Still it feels like as soon as Vladimir Smerkis entered the room, the temperature rose, as if you were sucked into a parallel universe, a clot of soft, thick and very warm energy.
Vladimir has built quite a name for himself in Russian blockchain field and it all began with a childhood dream to become a DJ on the radio. “As a kid, my school day mornings were spent getting ready while listening to my favorite radio show. Hosts would always gleam with cheerfulness talking on air to a bunch of important people and folks from all over the country would try to get through with the call. DJs seemed like an exceptional “breed” of Gods. I wanted to become one of them”, – he admits.
The dream eventually came true. In 2015 Vladimir created a show called “Silicon Dali” (a rhymed paraphrase of “Silicon Valley,” one of his favorite TV series, that literally translates from Russian to “silicon distances”) that was broadcasted on one of the major Moscow radio stations. The concept of the show was to sit down and discuss trivia, current events and plans for taking over the world with all influential entrepreneurs and business people in the field of IT, AI, AR, ML, DLT and all sorts of other almost unrecognizable but hyped innovative abbreviations.
Vladimir Smerkis, Managing Partner, Tokenbox
Some might think that Smerkis got too lucky, but the path to the radio was winding and thorny.
“I had this friend in college who used to call me an opportunist. Not sure if he meant it as a compliment. But it’s true, I was always looking for opportunities to express myself through any tool available in areas I am passionate about or my new hobbies, trying to catch the next big thing… “, – remembers Vladimir.
From digital to IT: launching and managing personal R-n-B media to VP for international business development in Mail.ru Group (one of the largest private internet companies in Russia); online marketing for alternative TV to managing events for Red Bull. His career had so many twists and turns, one would have easily gotten vertigo trying to follow it.
“Developing new skills is crucial, as well as applying them wherever appropriate, of course. Thought, above all, focus is a must.” – the notes of determination appear in Vladimir’s voice as he shares his wisdom.
He learned the importance of focus the hard way.
“I had this idea of a network for private blogs, like a net of websites packed with niche content. The plan was to grow it as a traffic source and use it for affiliate marketing and advertising. I’ve launched successful websites before. Writers and budget were in my hands along with a great bunch of related knowledge and experience. Easy-peasy. A money-pot project on the side. However, lack of focus proved to be a deal breaker. After a year or so of spending a little fortune on this venture: investing in content, marketing, design, etc., I had to admit the failure, learn from my experience and move on to the next adventure until I find THE ONE. Listen, I may not be the smartest, or the funniest, or the most social man in the world but I am always getting the most use out of the skills I have and never give up trying”. – he nods to emphasize the point.
“Having accumulated all that experience, I came to several conclusions. First, it’s not only about the quantity anymore. It’s not about, for instance, launching another online pet food store, but more about rethinking the concept on the whole new level, like Alibaba did at the time. Second, whatever I do, it has to deal with inspiring people, making a real change. I am deeply disappointed in those who program themselves to be a failure from the very beginning and I want to have a chance to change it, at least for a little bit”.
Giving his little speech, Smerkis got more and more passionate. He looked cozy, but trustworthy and firm. Dark brown eyes, infused with occasional sparks of kindness, chinos and very casual red shirt – you can easily imagine him sipping sangria at the loud and crowded tapas bar somewhere in Barcelona or in the meeting with ingenious blockchain youngsters at the hottest San Francisco coworking space.
After landing the project on the radio, Vladimir got to meet a handful of brilliant Russian innovators and, as expected, was soon introduced to the concept of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
The team, from left to right: Viktor Shpakovsky, Managing Partner, Tokenbox
Pavel Salas, CEO, Tokenbox, Vladimir Smerkis, Managing Partner, Tokenbox
He admits that this market is one of the riskiest to have ever existed. Smarkis knows that 99% of folks who decided to purchase crypto did it the wrong way, at the wrong time and at a crazy price. He understands that lots of new projects and ICOs launched within the last couple of years are just attempts of getting rich quickly by scamming some unfortunate immature retail investors.
“I vividly recall the story of the team who changed their ICO landing page content to “Penis” after the campaign ended, – he explains.
“It’s just glitter dust of the overhyped market. The wind will blow it away leaving only the gold bars: great projects with capable teams, clear vision and strategies. It’s still an amazing market full of possibilities. There are thousands of really valuable companies to be created, and dozens of thousands of well-paid working positions to be filled. Even now the industry is in its infancy. Remember old-school television? Many years ago you had to approach the device, plug it in, switch it on (using your actual hands!) and pick one out of 2-3 channels you had. Now you can just ask an artificial intelligence helper to switch on any channel out of thousands and it will do. If we compare, blockchain is still in the “plug it in using your hands” television era. Blockchain media, exchanges, wallets – anyone can start small with infrastructural projects. Have you ever wanted to change the world and make an impact? Here’s your chance. Do it NOW”.
“Back in 2015 blockchain was a very geeky thing to discuss and Bitcoin seriously lacked trust among the general public. But, I got hooked and then I went and talked about it with dozens of my friends, who managed to build wealth around the new tech after the chat – some launched their media, some invested in upcoming projects, some ran their own ICOs and built crypto businesses. I feel delighted to have been some sort of catalyst for all those beautiful things to happen. I showed them how blockchain will change the world and changed their lives for good”, – smiles Smerkis.
At the same time, he decided to scale the impact giving the birth to the idea of The Token Fund, one of the first tokenized crypto-assets funds in the industry. With system managed by professionals, it will require just a couple clicks for you to efficiently invest in a bunch of well performing cryptos. Full transparency, all the investments are trackable and the fund brings more significant returns than any traditional financial institution could boast about.
Launched in 2017, the fund was quite a success. Many large money managers inquired white-labeling of the system in order to adapt it for local markets, including companies from Switzerland, South Africa, etc.
“We’ve built a robust community around the project. I’ve met numerous people and learned a lot within the last two years. The volume of all fund-related communications greatly exceeded the volume of all communications I’ve encountered within the course of my whole life. We are in demand and I can physically feel it. I also feel the real decentralization of it. When you and your developers and analytics team sit somewhere in Moscow having daily meetings (virtual and offline when possible) with your customers, suppliers and partners from all around the world: from India to Estonia to South Korea to Gibraltar. It’s a thrill.” – the man describes his excitement.
“We want to expand, to make a step towards mass adoption. So, the project is evolving. We launched Tokenbox – a multi-fund, which unites portfolio managers and investors. It’s an easy entry point into a crypto-ecosystem with lots of great perks we’ve worked at – partnerships and integrations, an ability to white-label the strategies, easy contribution to ICOs (with huge bonuses), our unique rating system, etc.”- Vladimir explains his primary focus for the future.
“We had to close the fund for new contributors at the moment and fully dissolve it by the fall of 2018.” – He stretches his legs and suddenly gets up to get an electronic cigarette. We’ve been talking for a couple of hours now.
“You are not allergic, are you?” – he cares to ask handing me the device to smell from the distance, so I can evaluate the probability of any anaphylactic shock reactions. The smell is weird, but not life-threatening. Taking the first whiff he continues:
“It wasn’t easy to let go of the Token Fund. It had more than a thousand active investors. But we want to scale the impact we are making plus be as legal and as less risky as possible. To make things work we had to think of a new structure”, – Smerkis goes into more details and outlines his future strategy.
For investors, Tokenbox will become a centralized fiduciary for funds transferred to chosen money managers. Funds-wise, Tokenbox is a software solution like a paved road to a crypto market or a way to get more new customers: seamless integration with crypto exchanges, the opportunity for crypto-fiat transactions, white-labeling, etc.
All the traders and portfolio managers registered on the platform will be using Tokenbox’s license for their activities, yet, they will never have to touch investors funds.
“From now on we don’t manage the money, but we are in charge of monitoring all the processes to flow securely and all the parties involved to be legitimate. Even though the actual investing option on Tokenbox will be available only by the end of 2018, we’ve already had more than a hundred applications from various portfolio managers including some big names and majority (about 70%) are from the European Union. The target for the end of the year, when the working platform is supposed to be launched, is around 10-12 money managers – the crème de la crème.” – proceeds the entrepreneur.
The alpha version of the platform was launched in June 2018. Available functions are very limited – you have registration, KYC module and referral program. Though, there’s more to come in Beta in July 2018: wallets, advanced security features and, hopefully, further surprises.
I asked him how old his mom was.
“69”, – he seemed riddled. “No, she didn’t purchase TBX tokens”, – answers my next question.
“As soon as the Tokenbox with all it’s new functions is launched by the end of the year, I intend to call my mom, ask her to register on the platform and finally invest in digital assets. She is not tech-savvy, to be honest. When she had to log in to her email account, she used self-written guidelines (…click the E icon (that’s what she calls the Internet explorer on Windows), type gmail.com in the address field at the upper part of the browser, etc.) and I work on Tokenbox with my mom in mind. I want her to be able to use and benefit from the product I am creating,” – elaborates on the topic Vladimir.
“We are for mass adoption, striving to create a simple tool for investing in digital assets: easy enough for non-tech retail customers, but sophisticated enough for institutional investors in terms of security and functions.” – Smerkis clarifies his main goal. “Though, there’s no easy way. For instance, we are still not open to work with the US and Singapore players and but we keep having endless conversations with local lawyers to find a solution. Also, there’s always a risk that one day in some country some central bank will release a statement not recommending to work with crypto assets, and as an elective activity we’re currently using our influence and connections to push a financial relations digitization program through to the government. If we are able to innovate the standards of international exchange starting small from Russia and CIS, that would already be an immense step forward towards crypto adoption”. He stopped for a second. “Nobody can predict the outcome of an action. Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant deed can lead to massive results. And I think… No, I am quite sure, we have a real chance to produce this results”.
The meeting was over. This energetic man with a broad smile accompanied me to the exit. (Hi aws smiling not because he was happy to see me go, he smiles 95% of the time). We shook hands. They were soft and warm. Seconds later he disappeared in the depths of Tokenbox office, getting back to never giving up the attempts to inspire, make a change and scale it up.