UAE resident Ilman Shazhaev, 29, is a multitasking techpreneur who has founded and worked on several technology projects simultaneously. Shazhaev, who was born and raised in the Russian republic of Chechnya, came to Dubai just three years ago before the pandemic-induced lockdown began.
"When I moved here, I had already started companies in China, Malaysia, and Russia and had to run and manage my businesses remotely from Dubai," revealed Shazhaev, whose overseas business management experience allowed him to build connections within the UAE.
So within just two months after his arrival, he set up a health tech company to provide services in the healthcare sector. As the UAE economy bounced back post-pandemic, so did Shazhaev. This year in January, he launched Farcana, a blockchain-based gaming metaverse in Dubai.
"My work schedule is often overloaded, but the results inspire me," said Shazhaev, who believes in investing in a few high-quality projects (running 2 to 3 projects is optimal for him) rather than multiple low-quality ones.
Shazhaev considers the best investment in life is education and holds a strong engineering background in AI (artificial intelligence) and DeepTech, which refers to those start-ups whose business model is based on high tech innovation in engineering, or significant scientific advances.
When I moved here, I had already started companies in China, Malaysia, and Russia and had to run and manage my businesses remotely from Dubai
What money rules did you learn when growing up?
In his growing years, he was guided to follow basic money rules like saving, investing money, and, most importantly, relying entirely on himself and the rest he self-discovered.
He spent nine years at universities and combined studies with full-time work for seven years. "I earned my Bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering at the Moscow State Technical University and my MS in engineering at Harbin Institute of Technology in China. I then started my PhD program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University."
"In my first university, I was soon promoted from a lab technician to an engineer and engaged in various projects for private companies and the government. This experience taught me to build connections between science and business, and I succeeded in winning several public grants."
As a scientific and technological assistant to the university's head, he had worked closely with Chinese tech businesses and set up an accelerator program for Russian start-ups, aiming to get them ready for investment quickly, so they could launch in China and find business partners there.
Which projects were you involved in, what have you learned from them?
In 2017, Shazhaev set up OneBoost – a digital asset management company that supplied mining equipment and built data centres in China; then expanded it to other markets and opened branches in Malaysia and Russia.
His extensive background in AI allowed him to do contract work and research for businesses, helping them implement innovative technologies and optimize their operations. His portfolio comprises 50-plus AI and DeepTech implementation projects in firms, dozens of scientific papers, and patents.
When he views a promising innovation with high potential, he creates a business around it. He invested in three companies in Dubai.
"The first was Acoustery, a health tech company doing research. It leverages AI for the early recognition of respiratory diseases with a 95.2 per cent accuracy. The second company I invested in is OneBoost — the mining data centre I moved from Russia to Dubai."
In total, Shazhaev launched five start-ups; two aren't active at the moment, while the other three are operating successfully.
My work schedule is often overloaded, but the results inspire me
Lesson: Timing is key for start-ups, as time is a non-renewable resource
He realised timing is essential when preparing to launch a messaging platform — one of those companies that aren't operating now.
"Instead of bringing it to the market and attracting real users, I put too much time into smoothing all the creases and trying to make it perfect. However, now I understand that I should have rolled out our first working MVP, let the public test it, and collected the feedback to make further upgrades."
In January 2022, he launched Farcana, a blockchain gaming project that marries AI, DeepTech, and metaverse: a technology he believes, will reform the digital space in the next 10-20 years. (Metaverse is a universal virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.)
"A big chunk of the personal and business lives would move to metaverses. From asset management to studying and networking to meeting your friends over dinner, more industries are considering transitioning to the metaverse."
"We have to start somewhere, and gaming is a perfect place to start. At the initial step, development is on the list of the main expenses in game development. For initial funding, I had the support of private investors who had invested in my other projects. One of the main goals of Farcana is to transfer assets, interactions, and values of Web2 gaming to Web3."
The world of Web 1.0 was largely static and about providing information. With Web 2.0, the web became dynamic and social. With Web 3.0, the web will become smarter and more distributed than ever before.
Web3 is a way to redistribute ownership of the internet, with the whole point of Web3 being getting ownership and decision-making away from a small group of people, into the hands of the community.
How was your experience of setting up and relocating your businesses to Dubai?
He moved all businesses to the UAE, considering this place is strategically located and offers convenience regarding taxation, business management, and organisation.
Shazhaev said, "All public-private partnership (PPP) processes are streamlined, so starting a business in Dubai is more straightforward and faster than most other legislations."
"Relocation expenses were the first issue I had to handle before I could start local HQs. However, my companies generated enough profit, so it wasn't a problem."
"With our data centre business OneBoost, the necessary expenses were making visas and insurance for the employees. Many visas required passing the certification, which took extra time and money. Besides the office, we had to relocate all the production, i.e., construction of mining equipment and facilities, which was also very costly."
Shazhaev shares two business rules for start-ups
Rule #1: Adhere to growth perspective but invest in what will give real value to your product
Shazhaev said that when running a start-up, it is likely, that it will take some time to start getting profits, and before you do, it's essential to be consistent, stick to a growth mind-set, and not be intimidated by failures.
"You will need strong assets, such as high-profile specialists, but stay cost-effective simultaneously. My crucial takeout was to invest only in what gives real value to your product. I believe that one should stay sober and stand firmly on the ground so that one can resolve any issue most efficiently."
Every business person is a trouble-shooter; therefore, by monitoring one's physical health and well-being (and fixing them, if needed), you can ensure being 100 per cent prepared for any challenge, he added.
Rule #2: Select investment projects in industries where you have expertise, passion
Shazhaev prefers to focus on industries he has expertise in or is passionate about. He said, "If you don't have many skills and knowledge in the sector you want to enter, then maybe it's not the best idea to invest your time and money into it."
"In most cases, relying on your personal experience, research, and connections works much better. At the same time, if you are passionate about something you don't have expertise in, numerous open sources and tools for self-development and setting up a business are available."
Talking about his experiences in launching Farcana in less than six months, he said it was pretty challenging, especially in the declining crypto market and the generally immature ‘GameFi’ industry. "We've witnessed substantial market players crumble in just a few months, their user base lost, and their token price crashed. I believe we got a lot from this experience."
Rule #3: Ensure business model is sound enough to survive even when fame and hype fades
He added that it doesn't matter how big your project is; fame and hype fade, but if you have a robust, sustainable business model, you can stand strong in the most adverse conditions.
"From the very start, we decided to shape our product for long-term and sustainable development. High-quality gameplay, nice graphics, a stable money model based on our patented protocol, and the implementation of adaptive AI-based VR technologies are the key pillars we relied on while preparing our go-to-market strategy."
He admitted that transforming a start-up into a middle-sized, and then later into a large company, requires major changes to all processes, including operations and structure of the business.
"Many projects rely on building fundraising strategies but lose their focus on product development. At the same time, investing in building a viable product and at least a minimal user base is critical for sustainable crypto projects. The rest- even fundraising or marketing- will be much easier if you learn how to design a good, well-balanced product and gather a strong team."