The Russian Trade Delegation has its headquarters is a 1970’s style building hidden in a leafy lane near Highgate woods, North London.
I was due to attend a trade delegation of Russian Cyber-Security companies.
Russian hackers. The week before, I’d been researching the creation of fake social media profiles and had been following a long string of forum posts by a nameless Russian Hacker on the BlackhatSEOworld forum. A strangely compelling live log of his journey building (and ultimately selling) huge numbers of fake Facebook accounts.
This event, however, was a government sponsored promotion of the Skolkovo foundation. The Skolkovo foundation is a huge planned startup town just outside Moscow aiming to have 1400 startups by 2020, across multiple different sectors complete with shared laboratories and its own university, Skoltech.
Ilya Sachkov, CEO of Group-IB explains threat detection
All of the companies pitching here were not so much startups, as scale ups. They already had some big name clients, primarily Russian-sphere focused, but eager to grow Western connections.
So it was all about pitching trust. Some succeeded, and some missed the mark of British sensitivities.
Ilya Sachov CEO of Group-IB, opened with a story about how a movie company had approached them with a script about cyber security. His company does threat detection – not software to protect against attacks, but proactively following and detecting the agents that might. Some months later, they apprehended a number of criminals and were able to filter through their assets. This turned out to be the very organisation that had financed the movie company. “We now have a new level of internal paranoia” said Ilya.
Sergei Kolakov, of the Skolkovo foundation put the case:
“Countries that build good knives know best how to defend against them. Our cyber security companies typically begin in penetration testing. Once they’re trusted with that, it becomes much easier to sell product into corporations”
Others pitched enthusiastically the features of employee monitoring software. Perhaps missing British big brother sensitivities in an unashamedly Russian way. A question from the audience about whether it was legal to monitor employees quite that much led to the following response: “…don’t worry…there is checkbox you can untick”
“…don’t worry…there is checkbox you can untick”
So just how much business goes on between Russian and British Companies? One of the British attendees from Ixcellerate, a data centre with facillities in Moscow, talked about the changes. “There are blacklists of people you can’t deal with, but there are good people doing good business everywhere. Those blacklists have stretched a little since 2014 [the annexation of Crimea] but everything still continues.”
Paul Graham of world premiere startup incubator Y-combinator lists five qualities that he looks for in entrepreneurs. One of these is “naughtiness”. In his words:
“Though the most successful founders are usually good people, they tend to have a piratical gleam in their eye. They’re not Goody Two-Shoes type good. Morally, they care about getting the big questions right, but not about observing proprieties.”
— Skolkovo Foundation (@sk_en) June 15, 2016
After the Skolkovo pitches were over, one entrepreneur leaned into me.
“Did you know Kim Philby came here, to this building?”, he said. Kim Philby, former head of MI5, was of course a Russian spy. For inspiring trust in corporate clients, this was, of course, utterly inappropriate. But for reckless entrepreneurs, this was a uniquely bonding comment.