From Superman to Bill Gates: How One Lecture Inspired an Entrepreneur to Dream


“Imagine: I see a fully paralyzed man with colossal will and incredible charisma. This man, Christopher Reeves, Superman and an idol for millions of Americans, sits in an unsophisticated wheelchair and can’t even talk normally,” shared Dr. Alex Kosik, a former orthopedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery. Kosik is also a serial entrepreneur in life science and medical technologies who has co-founded and mentored a dozen startups.

“I thought as I looked at Reeves, ‘What if I could build something to help hundreds of thousands of paralyzed people in the world live life fully?'” He points out that in the U.S. alone, there are over 200,000 people with this type of trauma.

That was a Eureka moment for Alex, who came to the U.S. as an exchange student and happened to attend Reeves’ lecture.

“His magnetism, his Superman spirit prevailed,” he said. “That moment has inspired all of my work since then.”

Alex started to think of the ways technology could help people with these types of disabilities. How could they continue to realize their potential, if nothing in their bodies except for their minds work?

“At some point I realized that spinal trauma represents more than physical trauma — it leaves a disabled person no chance to remain socially active.” I thought, what can I do with my skills and abilities to help these people? recalls Alex.

There was only one solution – connect the person to a computer. That’s exactly what Alex and his team did: they invented a device with a computer chip that can be moved by a person’s tongue. Thanks to the Alternative Handsfree Computer Management System, a disabled person can fully control a PC, most consumer electronics, and a wheelchair, and can make and return phone calls. Unlike other similar technologies on the U.S. market, it didn’t need to be connected to the teeth.

Alex called the device Gravitonus, with the first prototype in 2005. Unfortunately, though, Superman did not live long enough to use it – Reeves passed away in 2004.

After the prototype came out, events started unfolding quickly. In 2005 Alex’s company won the START Fund business competition and first place at a Stanford competition. Thanks to the Intel Capital Fund, Alex’s team took part in IBTEC at the University of California. Alex confesses, “Everyone was incredibly excited about this project! We received the highest awards.”

Yet the moment when Bill Gates shook his hand and awarded him the “Humanitarian Award” at UC Berkeley for his invention, he felt he was “in seventh heaven.”

Photo: Alex Kosik and Bill Gates, 2006

Sounds like a Cinderella story? Well, not quite.

Despite various attempts to crack the market and get the necessary venture capital, the project had to be frozen. “We were very close to creation of our own software for this device, but there is nothing you can do when there’s no funding.”

The company survived a number of turbulent years. Alex used his personal, family and friends’ funds to support his business. Little by little, he received some angel investments and then finally venture capital, until the company stood on its own two feet.

As any entrepreneur knows, perseverance and the capacity to step above the failures defines a real entrepreneur. Despite experiencing such enormous emotional and financial setbacks with the Gravitonus, Alex and his team decided to go further and use their creative energy to develop new products.

After much thought, brainstorming and countless sleepless nights, Alex’s team (his brother, his father, and him) came up with a new market-friendly product – a super ergonomic workstation. «My father is an experienced orthopedist, traumatologist and expert surgeon. We created this product without any external support!»

Today, Alex’s company is the only company in the world which produces fully customized workstations. He has numerous clients from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Currently, Alex resides in Fairfax, VA, and manages and mentors over 20 startup projects, including 8 projects in the IT sector. However, as he points out, Gravitonus is a special project for him. He’s also actively involved in supporting science and commercialization in Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa through CRDF Global, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through grants, technical resources, training and services.

Top 5 Tips to Succeed in Your First Startup Venture

What can help a young entrepreneur? How should one prepare to become successful in the startup world? What if someone doesn’t have an invention? What skills do you need to succeed? Alex shared these following five important tips for young entrepreneurs:

1. Generate the best idea you can. This should not be an idea for the sake of having an idea. You should know that there is a market for your idea. There are many inventions collecting dust on library shelves. You need to be able to monetize your project, instead of receiving dozens of patents and going nowhere.

2. Find an experienced mentor. Every new startuper needs this. Without a good mentor, nothing will happen. And this shouldn’t be an MBA professor with no field experience. Theory is a great thing, but if a teacher hasn’t had failures, blood and sweat, you can’t learn anything from him. Look for someone with 10-15 businesses under their belt.

3. Be ready for risk-taking. Financing and great brains are not enough. “If you are not a risk-taker, forget about the startup world, and go to a business school to get your MBA. If you can’t step over your failures, there is no entrepreneur in you,” Alex says bluntly.

4. Be flexible. You can’t insist on keeping everything static in your startup if you are seeking venture capital. For example, when Alex introduced an interesting foreign company to Silicon Valley to shop for venture capital, it didn’t work out, because the company’s leadership wasn’t flexible enough. This was a promising company which produced ultra-long term batteries for smartphones. However, when a venture capital firm offered to support them, on the condition that they replace the CEO because the startup owner was not experienced enough in managing a business, they flatly refused, and the deal didn’t go through.

5. Believe in yourself. Nothing will work without that internal confidence. Period.


Alex Kosik co-founded and has been Chief Executive Officer of Quantum Cure Inc. at Quantum Potential Corp. since January 2012. Mr. Kosik is Founder of Gravitonus and has been its President since September 2012. He cofounded SBS Public Company in January 2007 and serves as its Chief Strategy Officer. He has been a Mentor of Quantum Potential Privately since January 2012.

Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog ( for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.


Ignore Skeptics: 4 Tips on How to Make Your First Startup a Million Dollar Success


Igor Shoifot

What makes or breaks a startup? How can you produce a million dollar idea? What’s the biggest secret to a successful venture?

I asked Igor Shoifot, a successful Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, to share some useful tips for young startupers. Igor likes to call himself a “viral gardener of purely organic dreams.” So far he’s started over a dozen companies, so he knows a bit about the subject.

Igor’s resume? His 12 start-ups include, the largest indy photo site (5-10M users, 2B photos), as well as profitable ventures in games, education, VOD, VoIP and publishing. Igor was also CEO of Microsoft WebTV’s largest portal, EpsylonGames (6% of WebTV traffic). He founded and sold “vInternship” to Manhattan Institute. Together with TMT Investments Fund’s team, he invested in Wanelo, Backblaze, Wrike, ShareThis, Gild, and many others. He is also Chairman of the Board of Happy Farm incubator, teaches at UC Berkley and University of San Francisco, and is a shareholder in 50 other startups.

Igor thinks there are too many skeptics around. “They all ask in disbelief – ‘What, you created a startup? Why would you bother?’ and want to go surfing instead.”

“To become successful,” says Igor, “you need to find a balance between ignoring skeptics and listening to experts.”

There are entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, and that the reality of life. You need to listen to those who know what they’ve done. You need to understand first what a person is doing, before you follow his or her advice.

So, here is Igor’s expert advice:

1) Focus: You need to maintain extreme focus to deliver a quality product. There are always unsuccessful inventors and innovators who can’t bring their ideas to market. Microblogging, for example – many people assert that Twitter invented it. It didn’t, but it succeeded because its team was obsessed with their unique approach to going viral.

2) Growth: “If you can’t clearly define how you’re going to advance your products and grow, or what you’re going to do when you get the money, you don’t have a chance,” Igor says. It’s true: many young startupers believe that you just need to come up with a brilliant product, and that’s all. They ignore the basics of marketing and supply and demand.

Igor uses the example of YouTube: “At the beginning, this was a terrible product. It crashed all the time. Others, like VimeoDailymotion and Veoh, for example, were technically stronger, but YouTube succeeded because their team worked 24/7 and came up with tags, videochannels, profiles, categories, other products. In other words – they worked for the client.”

“Let me repeat,” he says. “Winners are those who focus on growth. I have yet to see any startup team that did not succeed after hard work and mega promotion.” That’s encouraging, isn’t it?

3) Create an amazing team: This is always important in business, but especially so for startups. Igor laughed: “In the classic action movies of the 1970s, the good guys go out and get the best team, and then blast the bad guys. You need to do this too!”

Hire star employees. But what’s a star employee? For Igor, it’s not the resume – that’s just the starting point. It’s what they can do for you, and how motivated they are. Igor says for startups, you need to hire three specific “monsters”:

  1. Technology Monster
  2. Design Monster
  3. Sales Monster

4) Plan an exit strategy from the start: Consider when and to whom you’ll sell your company. Don’t focus only on making money, but on fitting into a needed niche in the industry. Igor pointed out that it’s very difficult to sell even the most successful company. If major industry players already have a similar solution, they won’t bite. Focusing on the eventual sale will shape your company strategy from the very start.

So, next time the skeptics knock on your door, or in your head, look to those with experience and success. Remember to focus, plan for growth, build the right team, and consider your venture’s exit strategy.


Igor Shoifot isThe Dude at TMT Investments, Chairman at Happy Farm Incubator, co-founder at Fotki, adjunct at Berkeley, UCSF. Learn more about Igor here.

Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog ( for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.


One Skill That Every Visionary Leader Must Learn: What Hannibal, Napoleon and Clausewitz Can Teach Us About Strategic Intuition



Image: NPR.ORG

There is one skill each visionary leader needs to master.  It’s synthesis.  The ability to connect the dots.

Steve Jobs famously noted, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

What does it take to come up with a brilliant insight? How do you find solutions to your most pressing challenges?

Professor William Duggan, the author of the bestselling book Strategic Intuition, writes that, in a nutshell, strategic intuition is made of a wide combination of factors, including deep knowledge of the subject matter, understanding of the historical context, and the ability to place disparate facts together and assemble them into a whole.

 Strategic intuition solves a mystery through masterfully connecting unrelated pieces of information into one single answer.

As we now realize, the astonishing ideas of military geniuses, mathematicians, business leaders and famous politicians come from the combination of existing information that was internally processed to produce new insight. 

 Be it Alexander the Great, Da Vinci, Newton, Napoleon or Einstein, these great leaders and scientists discovered pieces of precious information and synthesized them in original new ways.

What Do Messi, Neymar And Northern Virginia’s Best Plumber Have in Common?

But beware of subtle differences, warns Duggan. While everyone at least once in his or her life has experienced that gut feeling called intuition, there is also such a thing as “expert intuition.” For instance, you surely have seen examples of expert intuition in great sportsmen and craftsmen. Consider Messi or Neymar, the World Cup superstars of Argentinian and Brazilian soccer. In Brazil they call these players “craque,” the super masters of the game who can decide the fate of any match.

Expert intuition is based on experience and swift reaction and recognition of patterns. It happens within a short time frame. It’s always based on considerable experience and mastery of skills. Neymar and Messi know perfectly well where the ball and defender are going to be in an instant of a second. And they deliver each and every time.

Or look at the most amazing plumber I’ve ever met, a guy named Abe. Wearing grey overalls, and spotting pencil mustache, Abe is fast and efficient.  He looks in my basement, and immediately exclaims: “Look at this pipe here. The guy who came before me had no idea what he was doing.” Like David Copperfield, he takes out his beaten toolbox as if it’s a magic box, gracefully pulls out the instruments and fixes the pipe in no time. “I’m trained as a civilian engineer, but I love having my own business,” says Abe. “When you need an expert, call me.”

Just like Messi, Abe quickly assesses the situation by looking at familiar patterns and seeing where the problem lies. Now that’s what you call expert intuition.

Finding Your Elegant Solution

Dr. Duggan argues that strategic intuition differs from both “gut” intuition and expert intuition. It comes much slower, but it always connects the dots. It can come in the middle of the night and with a flash of genius deliver you a solution for the long-standing challenge you’ve been “sleeping on” for a while. Most of the time it happens in new situations, says Duggan.

Our mind works extra hard to analyze a problem from all possible angles, and you need to be open to allow other auxiliary information and cases to enter your mind to create a unique solution. 

In other words, strategic intuition does not equal the linear thinking which sets the direction from point A to point B.

Strategic intuition always produces what Matthew May, the author of The Elegant Solution, calls “the singular and deceptively simple idea with huge impact that lies beyond the enormous complexity of the challenging business problems we all face in our companies.

When your mind surfs its wave of strategic intuition, the flash of insight comes like a gigantic lightning bolt to melt the pieces in one clear map of action. Suddenly you see a complete picture – all at once, like the puzzle your daughter just assembled from various unconnected pieces.

Your brain has amazing capacity. Imagine it as a mega library with terrabytes of information on each shelf, and perfect labeling in place. Think of strategic intuition as that kind librarian who redirects you toward your “aha” moment.

Against The Odds: Learning From Hannibal’s Strategic Victory

Be it a scientific breakthrough, military victory or business solution, the “aha” moment is worth gold. Consider the Battle of Cannae. Back in 216 BC when Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general and one of the greatest military geniuses the world ever conceived, faced the enormous challenge of battling the 90,000-strong Roman army, he needed strategic intuition to survive. The Roman army at the time was the most advanced military machine in the world. Roman legions exuded stellar training, fine military techniques and superb fighting spirit. The Romans decided to crush Hannibal’s army with overwhelming force. Rome’s best generals, officers and soldiers faced a seemingly motley crew of Spaniards, Gauls, Numidians and Carthaginians, half the size of the Roman army. An easy victory was within reach.

Yet when Hannibal assessed the battlefield, his flash of insight connected his knowledge of Roman strategy thought and his experience that Roman generals tended to be overconfident. Hannibal came up with a truly elegant solution. He used the astonishing numbers of the Roman army to his advantage by leading the superior Roman infantry force into a trap. He placed its less capable force in the center, and directed them to slowly retreat sucking the massive Roman forces into the internal bubble. Confident in their victory, the Roman troops took the bait, and quickly advanced crushing Hannibal’s infantry. It was too late when Roman generals noticed that such a swift advance negatively affected their formations. The troops lost cohesion, were squeezed and surrounded by Hannibal’s cavalry and effectively defeated.The Battle of Cannae became synonymous with total victory.

What helped Hannibal, Napoleon, Suvorov, and other great military commanders defeat much superior forces? Luck? Errors of enemy generals? Territorial advantage?

Four Strategic Points Every Leader Should Explore 

Duggan suggests that we study the works of Carl von Clausewitz. In his classic work On War, Clausewitz wrote about strategic intuition and laid out four criteria:

1. Examples from history. Strategic intuition draws on the knowledge and experience of all of history far and wide, all stored in the shelves of the mind.

2. Presence of mind refers to a clear mind, clear of all expectations and previous ideas of what you might do or even what your goal is.

3. The flash of insight. In a free mind selected elements from various examples come together in a new combination.

4. Resolution or resolve and determination. You not only need to see what to do but also be ready to do it. The flash of insight carries with it the force of action that propels you forward, but you need the resolve to push on and make your strategy happen.”

Duggan argues that Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, perfectly understood that the key to your strategy is your ability to be flexible and use your expertise and knowledge of history to your advantage in every given moment. He cites Napoleon, who said: “I never truly was my own master but was always ruled by circumstances. The greater one is the less will he must have as he depends on events and circumstances. Instead of seeking to control circumstances, I obeyed them. I bent my policies to accord with the unforeseen shape of events.”

In my view the second point of Clausewitz is the most precious piece of advice in the digital age – the ability to be present in the now. Today your presence of mind is worth more than gold. To quantify what you’ve already experienced: the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of information per day.

As Eric Schmidt, ex-CEO of Google noted: “Between the dawn of civilization through 2003, about 5 exabytes of information was created. Now, that much information is created every 2 days.”

Having presence of mind means staying flexible and receptive, just like Hannibal’s army. Prepare to be fluid. Or as Bruce Lee put it, “Be water, my friend”.

“Make It Your Art”: Simple Steps to Nurture Strategic Intuition At Your Business or Non-Profit

Every non-profit or business leader should be able to synthesize information and stitch pieces together to form new solutions.

 Still again and again, we see top managers who follow the beaten path. Yes, the standard formula does produce near-term predictable results. However, ask yourself: is this how my organization will deal with rising competition? Are we just trying to protect our niche, or do we want to go farther and create “blue oceans”?

Compare yourself with visionary leaders of today. Amazon, Tesla, Grameen Bank, Charity: Water and Twitter went beyond and connected the dots based on deep understanding of customer feedback, creation of powerful logistical/technological support and reading society’s megatrends.

How, then, are you supposed to connect the dots? You can start from some simple steps to nurture your and your organization’s strategic intuition.

1. When faced with a challenge, or looking for an elegant solution for your business or non-profit, research what your top 5 competitors are doing to solve a similar problem.Is it a specific marketing campaign that set the tone and wowed the customers? Or was it an innovative strategy that created a win-win solution?

2. Don’t limit yourself to researching just your current competition. Go back in history and across different industry fields to learn how industry legends made their companies successful. Learn their bold moves and apply their management strategies to your situation.

I asked Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, how he was able to connect the dots so successfully repeatedly, and Tony said that there is no substitute for meeting many people from different backgrounds and constantly reading various books and articles. “I think most people like being creative. And I think of being open-minded as a form of creativity.”

3. Foster a listening culture. Synthesis requires understanding the whole picture. It requires that every participant of a particular meeting is able to intelligently comment on discussed ideas and provide vital links between disparate views. Synthesis demands good listening skills and asks for your undivided attention. Ask your meeting participants to experiment with leaving their devices aside. See what happens when you have a room full of engaged listeners!

4. Encourage a creative exchange of ideas. Surely, your organization has its own Elon Musks and Jack Dorseys. All you need to do is to create a healthy environment where every idea is appreciated and discussed, where listening and prototyping become the springboards for successful initiatives, where everyone with an innovative knack is appreciated and valued.

Matthew May suggests, “whatever your work, make it your art, your canvas, and your sandbox. All sorts of good things happen when you do.”

Are you ready?

So, after you’ve thoroughly researched what other greats in your industry did in a similar situation, considered parallels in other industries, listened, and fostered the creativity of everyone around you, you should be ready to unleash your resolve. There should be nothing in your way. Because before you know it, your mind or your team will have a solution for you.

What dots have you connected today?

Writing the Blog Article of Your Life: How One Idea Can Get You Hired by a Top Silicon Valley Venture Fund



Photo: Max Skibinsky with the author

Every year a few thousand startups are incubated in Silicon Valley. Few of them will succeed; the rest will decay or outright fail. Yet there always seems to be room for one more billion-dollar company. Besides appearing seemingly out of nowhere, the most radically successful startups are also the most unpredictable ones. What force seems to create these massive sources of wealth that initially look like “bad ideas” to everybody beside their founders?”

This is the beginning of a famous blog article by Max Skibinsky. It may be hard to believe, but because of the ideas raised in this blog entry, Max was offered a partner position at Andreessen Horowitz, a top Silicon Valley Venture Fund. Whether you are interested in startups and angel investing, or you’re just beginning your experiments with blogging, this article will help you to assess what it takes to write an influential blog entry.

During a recent trip to Palo Alto, I asked Max to share the story behind writing this blog article, as well as provide some useful tips for my LinkedIn readers on how one can create a very successful article.

Max’s Breakthrough 

A great article must come from a great idea, right? Where do you find your great idea? Ask yourself: what is the one thing that you can’t stop thinking about? What drives you? What wakes you up in the morning? 

For Max Skibinsky, a graduate of Moscow State University and the founder of a dozen successful startups, it was an obsession about why startups succeed or fail. He had an idea about this, drawn from a mathematical theorem called the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem

Max believes that “Gödel’s theorem is not really about our limits: it’s about possibilities always waiting to be discovered.

In the article, Max argues that similarly to strict formal mathematical systems which “always contain proof of their own incompleteness, the very act of formalization of reality undertaken by big established corporations will always contain within itself the seeds of its future disruption: true yet currently unprovable statements of the successful startups of the future. 

Every startup will start in a totally unprovable, unpredictable new domain they can discover only empirically, by building and launching something with no assurances of success.

“A new startup cannot be invented in the library of our past knowledge and existing systems,” explains Max. “It will always require an intuitive leap of faith or passion to cross the chasm of unknown and unprovable… Human intuition, unbound by limitations of pure formality, will always push forward, find new domains, and leverage the amazing powers of software formalization to bring the fruits of new knowledge to the rest of the civilization. Your intuition, just like your powers of formal deduction, is all you need to join in,” concludes Max. 

The article impressed Andreessen Horowitz’ partners and led to a series of intensive interviews with Max. While Max’s extensive startup experience and work with angel investors obviously helped to make an impression, his ideas expressed in the article were the key to his great success.

Now stop for moment, unplug your analytical reasoning, and think: where does your intuition take you? What is your one incredible idea? Is it your new social venture that you want to launch? Or a new international project that excites you? Whatever it is, put it down on paper, so that you can see it, study it, understand it and eventually build it.

The Genesis of the Idea

Max began his odyssey of writing this article by giving a guest lecture at Singularity University in California, the mission of which is to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

When Max gave his lecture, he spoke at length about the Gödel Theorem applications.

“I was fascinated with the fact that each startup comes and fills an unformalized niche and then begins to formalize it. Microsoft formalized its own niche – personal computers. Then, out of nothing – Google. And what happens next? Should we believe that these new IT giants will monopolize the whole world for eternity? Nonsense, because there are eternal possibilities around us. That creates an unlimited cascade process, because the mathematical process is permanent.”

After his talk, he realized he was on to something.

“All of a sudden, I noticed that this part of my lecture created the largest resonance among my audience. I thought, why don’t I work on this part and polish it further?”

It took Max another three years to develop an entirely new lecture just based on this part.

During these years that Max was giving this lecture, he noticed some particular patterns among his listeners. “Some of my listeners could not get it, they simply could not make sense of this. However, almost half of my audience were stunned and excited.” 

The effect of Max’s lecture was such that some of his students would say: “Max, your lecture blew my mind, and now I’m rethinking my whole startup life!” Singularity’s students are in fact quite diverse in expertise and education, and yet they were in agreement that this lecture helped them reassess their understanding of the world.

Max began receiving requests – where can I read about your theory? Are there any articles or printed materials?

“In this very moment I understood that I had no choice but to write that article.” Ultimately, over 100,000 people read the article — a phenomenal result for a dry mathematical piece.

8 Useful Tips on Blog Writing Process from Max Skibinsky:

I asked Max to share his advice on writing an engaging blog, and here are Max’s tips for your next amazing blog post:

1. Focus on your core professional skills. What makes you special? What differentiates you from others? 

2. Based on your expertise, find an interesting idea that will appeal to your focus audience.

3. Do not try to please everyone – write for those who would appreciate your content.

4. Sharpen the angle: dig deeper into the story. Find something unexpected.

5. Come up with your personal interpretation. Don’t be afraid to be bold.

6. Ruthlessly edit your draft. Leave only what matters.

7. Don’t wait years for perfection – it will never come. Publish your article.

8. Learn from feedback and continue to explore.

Do you need an elegant mathematical formula to have a great blog article? No, but you do need to be true to yourself and your core. Share your thoughts and ideas with the world.

Put it out there and don’t count the views – just keep on writing.

You might be on to something incredible…

Max Skibinsky is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor & start-up mentor. He is currently a Partner with Andreessen Horowitz. Max was founder and CEO of Hive7, a social gaming company known for its smash hit game “Knighthood” that has grown to 6M players on Facebook. In 2010 Hive7 was sold to Playdom/Disney. Later Max become one of the co-founders of Inporia that secured funding from YCombinator, SV Angels, Clearstone & NEA to launch number of consumer products that used machine learning algorithms for online and mobile e-commerce. Max is also a resident mentor of 500 Startups. Max holds a Master’s degree in theoretical physics from Moscow State University. When not designing, brainstorming, advising, and building startups, Max can be found flying in the general vicinity of Palo Alto airspace.

Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and rainmaker. He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog ( for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.