Feb 12, 2024

Alexander Konovalov: The Innovator Bridging Language Barriers in Tech

The art of turning dreams into tech realities with Alexander Konovalov

Alexander Konovalov: The Innovator Bridging Language Barriers in Tech

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Alexander Konovalov's story reads like a script from a movie where the underdog, armed with passion and determination, makes it big. Imagine a young boy in Ukraine, in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse, tinkering with radio electronics, not just as a hobby but as a necessity. This image sets the stage for a journey that's as much about resilience as it is about innovation.

As a teenager, Alexander found himself repairing audio equipment for recording studios. It wasn't just a way to make ends meet; it was a foray into the world of practical electronics, a world that would shape his future. However, in a twist that speaks to the unpredictability of life, Alexander didn't immediately chase his dream into the tech industry. Instead, he took a seemingly divergent path, studying civil engineering in college.

Why civil engineering, you might wonder? The answer lies in the harsh economic realities of Ukraine in the mid-1990s. It's a sobering reminder that sometimes our dreams have to wait while we deal with the world's practicalities. But Alexander’s story is not one of dreams deferred. After earning his degree in civil engineering, he pursued a second degree in economics, followed by an SE MBA. This combination of engineering and economics has equipped him with a powerful blend of technical know-how and business acumen.

From being a student of economics to becoming the financial director of an industrial corporation, and later, the founder of a consulting firm, Alexander has worn many hats. But it's in 2013 that Alexander’s story pivots back to his first love, technology.

Take, for instance, his work with vidby, Alexander’s AI translation and dubbing venture that challenges the way we think about language and communication. It isn't just about translating words; it's about understanding cultures, emotions, and nuances. Vidby's achievements, like becoming the first YouTube-recommended vendor for AI video dubbing, underscore Konovalov's vision and the effectiveness of his leadership.

It's not just about having a great idea or even the technical skills to bring it to life. It's about the willingness to learn, to adapt, and to keep pushing forward, even when the path is uncertain. It's about understanding that perfection is a journey, not a destination.

Alexander’s journey reminds us that sometimes the path to our dreams isn't a straight line. It's a winding road, filled with unexpected turns and detours. But with passion, resilience, and a willingness to adapt, it's a road that can lead to the best of places.

Can you share a bit about your early experiences or influences that led you to become a serial tech entrepreneur and inventor in the fields of voice technologies, e-commerce, and security?

I was brought into this area by the desire to be able to communicate with the whole world in my own language. After all, despite its popularity, knowing English won’t solve this problem. If you speak English, you can only communicate with 15-20% of the world's population.

I believe that my first employer had a massive impact on me when I became the head of the finance department at the age of 20. Two years later, I found myself steering the financial ship as the director of the whole business. This mentor wasn't just about numbers; he taught me to think like an entrepreneur. We had a solid four years together and even became full partners in a couple of new ventures that we eventually sold off. That experience set me on the path to forge my own journey.

Can you elaborate on the inspiration behind Droid Translator and how it evolved into vidby? What challenges did you face during this transformation?

I dreamt of finding a solution that could help me communicate with people from all over the world. Back in 2013, I launched my first startup, diving into the world of video call translation. We were the pioneers, shaking things up by launching the world's first video call service with built-in translation. Forbes even took notice, hailing our technology as a contender against such giants as Skype and Viber. We topped it off by snagging the top prize at the Innovative Breakthrough 2013 Competition.

This win opened my eyes to the vast potential of real-time translation in video conferences and calls. The realization hit me — this niche was brimming with opportunities for a thriving business.

Fast forward to 2018, and our journey hit a curveball. With a team of 120 juggling five ambitious projects, we hit a roadblock. Life threw challenges our way, forcing us to hit pause and temporarily set aside our initial vision. With just five of us left, we faced the Herculean task of tackling financial, legal, and organizational hurdles.

But in 2021, we made a comeback with a revamped idea — introducing vidby. Now, our team of 87 brilliant minds is harnessing cutting-edge technology to finesse and deliver this much-sought-after solution.

Today, vidby is more than just video translation. We're on a constant quest to develop innovative products that empower global communication. Our lineup includes a document translation tool, simultaneous translation solutions for offline gatherings (vidby MeetUp), and online calls (vidby Call Translator).

My journey has shown me just how damaging perfectionism can be for startups. Here in Switzerland, which my team and myself call home, the pressure to be perfect can get pretty intense. But waiting around for a flawless product? That's a dead-end. The key is to launch early and tweak things based on real feedback and user insights.

I've also come to realize the importance of figuring out what works for my business goals, rather than just relying on the opinions of industry experts or the experiences of competitors. Sure, they're sailing in the same waters as vidby, but our success shouldn't be measured solely against theirs. By focusing on our growth and innovation, we're not only being more productive but also charting our own course to success.

With patents in voice technologies, e-commerce, and security, you've made significant contributions. Can you highlight one or two breakthrough moments in your career that you believe had a profound impact on the tech industry?

It turns out that I often start projects that are ahead of the market. For example, my first patent for voice control, which I filed in 2010 before the release of Apple's Siri, was met with skepticism at the time. They said it might be useful but only for people with disabilities. That experience taught me that in the field of innovation listening to experts should be the last thing you do. The same goes for my patents in e-commerce on social media. In 2017-2018, it seemed odd, and everyone thought it was unnecessary. Today, e-commerce on social media is a whole sector of the startup economy. Some patents, particularly in the field of personal safety, have not yet been successfully implemented, although there have been many attempts, including one by us. We lacked sufficient funding at the time, and we plan to revisit this subject later. However, I believe these inventions will significantly change the approach to personal safety worldwide.

Vidby boasts an impressive 99% accuracy rate in translating and voicing videos across 70 languages. What technological advancements or innovations within vidby are you most proud of, and how do you see this technology evolving in the future?

I’m proud that vidby has become the first YouTube-recommended vendor for AI video dubbing. This recognition from a tech giant like YouTube is not just an acknowledgment but a testament to our direction and leadership in the industry. As technology advances, achieving 99% accuracy is no longer sufficient; we're pushing closer to 100%, even in fully automatic modes. A 1% error rate can be significant – for instance, it might mean three errors in a two-minute video. Therefore, we offer a 100% quality mode with augmented intelligence, where a human editor can review the translation. In fully automatic mode, for some languages, we have already achieved an error rate as low as 0.1-0.4%. However, reaching 100% accuracy and literary perfection in translations is still a challenge. The leap from "good" to "perfect" in fundamental technologies is vast, but we're making significant strides in that direction. The recent trends in the AI market show considerable progress in the emotional intelligence of AI systems, hinting at a future where we can effortlessly translate videos, preserving not just the original voices (which we already do through voice cloning) but emotions, facial expressions, and cultural nuances as well. Indeed, exciting times lie ahead!

Given your extensive experience, what advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to enter the tech industry and make a meaningful impact, especially in areas related to AI, voice technologies, and e-commerce?

Success in starting a business is determined by more than just the amount of resources you have. You can succeed with limited resources, or you can fail with everything. The key is to focus on the tasks that need to be completed rather than getting overly attached to your own ideas. Give customers the opportunity to evaluate your product while you work hard to introduce innovative features and improve the user experience. Focus on your startup's growth and innovation rather than getting too fixated on your competitors' activities. Prepare yourself for the long journey ahead.

Your venture addresses the human side of communication through real gifts. How do you see technology playing a role in enhancing personal connections, and what inspired the creation of YouGiver.me?

I often speak about technologies of understanding. But what is understanding? It's a broad concept. Sometimes, to be understood, it's enough to say something, while other times, you need to be seen. Or you must speak with emotion or translate your words. Gift-giving is also a form of understanding technology. We've created a service that enables people to communicate through gifts. This is about new habits that will soon become as normal as sending a text message is today. Instead of texts and a flurry of words, you can send a real gift (like a bouquet of flowers), while maintaining the recipient's anonymity and convenience for all parties involved. Both giving and receiving gifts are delightful and wonderful experiences. We plan to develop this theme next year, and it will also become a part of vidby.

Looking ahead, what emerging technologies do you find most exciting, and do you see any specific areas where you anticipate making further contributions or investments in the future?

Quantum computers and quantum computing are the keys to the next significant leap in technology development. Of course, there will still be many interesting projects and technologies based on existing silicon computers and binary code, but the possibilities of quantum computing are truly astonishing. I would like to contribute to the development of these technologies.

As a CEO and founder, what is your leadership philosophy? How do you cultivate innovation and a collaborative culture within your teams?

We currently have a small team with a linear management structure. Therefore, everyone in our team can freely talk with each other and share their ideas and suggestions. It's important for team members to learn and take responsibility for various tasks. I'm still involved in micromanagement, but step by step, I'm trying to establish processes and delegate various responsibilities.

Considering your remarkable contributions to the tech industry, what legacy do you hope to leave behind, and how do you see your work shaping the future of technology and communication?

I believe the greatest companies are those that foster new habits in people's lives. We have already contributed to making communication in a person's native language a norm and a habit for everyone. Still, we're aiming for more: a world where everyone can speak their language, communicate through gifts, be safe, pay with their time for microtransactions, and forget about traditional access keys and cards. This is particularly interesting, improving people's lives and creating substantial business opportunities. We will see what comes next to be a part of it. In any case, we are not just waiting for the future — we are actively creating it.

Images courtesy of: Alexander Konovalov

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