Tech & the Media in Moscow, Russia

On 30th October 2013, the Tech in Media project, organised by RIA Novosti [a Russian news agency]  in Moscow, introduced its participants to the professional approach of the coverage of innovation and venture capital issues in the media. Richard Muirhead from Firestartr was invited to share his knowledge and experience as an entrepreneur and investor with Russian journalists and bloggers. He shared the stage with Mike Butcher, journalist and editor of TechCrunch Europe and a leading figure in the global startup community.

Watch the conference here and read Richard’s thoughts below.


The media is now owned by the consumer and the consumer now drives IT, even business IT.

In 1987, a 15 year old boy travelled to Moscow for a weekend trip with his Russian language class. ‘Geroi Nashevo Vremeni’ or ‘Hero Of Our Time’ was his favourite Russian novel he had read. He marvelled at Red Square at night, he sold some jeans, he avoided the temptation of highly-affordable, pepper-flavoured vodka.

In 1988, on a trip organised by an importer of personal computers to the Soviet Union, he returned to attend the maths-physics summer olympiad. He stayed in the wonderful wood-panelled highly functional and compact MGU student rooms, he compared physics exam papers with the professors, he enjoyed Soviet marojonoye, he travelled by train to Sochi sharing a sleeping carriage with hanging sausages, he was spoilt by the seaside with Pepsi and watermelon and struggled with his derivatives classes even more than usual now they were conducted in Russian.

In the mid nineties, he returned once again to help western companies expand their operations in Russia in fields as diverse as insurance, pharmaceuticals and Coca-Cola.

But then in 1996, he chose the Internet over Russia as the arena in which to seek his fortune. Some might say he could have become very rich had he chosen Russia, although he could have also become very… injured.

Now more than 25 years later, that little boy inside of me was thrilled once again to have another chance to return to this great country with its incredible history, culture, resources and people. In particular I was happy to play a small part in unlocking the opportunities for improving the state of the world that Internet-fuelled innovation brings for every individual on the planet.

But it is not without some irony that I find myself attempting to explain to the Russian journalists and students seated in front of me the power of the consumer and the ‘radically transparent’ future of collaboration and crowd-sourced genius for both corporations… and governments.

My Internet adventure has enjoyed the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The good fortune to be able to collect my first computer, a Sinclair ZX81, from the hands of Sir Clive Sinclair himself in 1981 at the age of 9, to timing that led to the IPO in 2000 of Orchestream, the company I co-founded with my brother Charlie, at a peak valuation of $1.4bn just as the Internet bubble burst. And now the growing success over the last year of Firestartr, a collective of entrepreneurs and angels.

When I got together with my investment partners at Firestartr we wanted to focus on a need we felt others were overlooking. We wanted to help entrepreneurs get from seed stage to Series A and propel them beyond. Way beyond. The regionally focused accelerators and incubators sit on one side of us and we hand off to the best venture capitalists the world has to offer on the other. We absolutely believed we had to do something entirely different: connect entrepreneurs to the folks that can help them the best, do it fast and do it well. And naturally, get them the capital they cannot cope without. We think we are building Firestartr around some of the principles that define the most successful corporations of the next generation: data, transparency, rapid experimentation and focus. And we are super excited!