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Dmitry Grishin is the co-founder, chief executive and chairman of Group Ltd., one of Russia’s largest Internet companies, as well as an investor in startups via his fund Grishin Robotics, which focuses on consumer robotics.
On his recent visit to New York, Venture Capital Dispatch talked to him about robotics investments, his assessment of the Russian government’s control over the Internet and his plans for , including the challenges of dealing with piracy at newly acquired Russian social network Vkontakte.
On robotics startups:
Mr. Grishin launched his $25 million Grishin Robotics fund in the summer of 2012. At the time, most venture capital investors deemed this sector a realm of “science fiction, ” he said. Now there are real deals, real investments and real exits, Mr. Grishin said, referring to the broader related sectors such as hardware, connected devices, the Internet of Things, and wearable technologies.
“Every VC is now calling me, ” he said, including those who refused to talk two years ago.
He says that the fund has invested $6 million in eight startups, all of them based in the U.S., with six of the eight being based in Silicon Valley. He originally expected a wider geographic distribution, but Silicon Valley gets the practicalities of how to create robotics businesses better than others, he said.
Increasingly, Mr. Grishin said, he sees that “the average check is growing” and “there are more and more co-investors.” He recently invested in interactive toy maker Orbotix Inc.’s $15.5 million Series D round, for example, which is a later-stage investment than his many earlier deals.
But even as the number of deals increases, “the number of unsuccessful companies is also growing, ” Mr. Grishin said. Many sectors related to robotics, such as hardware and Internet of Things startups, have manufacturing delays and trouble with distribution, he said.
On Russia’s Internet regulations:
Russia passed several laws this year that increase the government’s authority over Internet service providers and the content that may appear on the Web. On Sept. 24, Russian politicians went a step further, advancing the implementation of a law that would require information about Russian users to be kept on servers inside the country.
“The speed of regulation increased, ” Mr. Grishin said.
It is unclear how the law will be implemented. “If the company won’t do it, what will happen?” he said, adding that he doesn’t know if noncompliance would carry a penalty fee or would lead to blocking of the service provider. That makes it hard to predict how the law would impact ’s business, Mr. Grishin said.
Overall, the government, Mr. Grishin said, is evaluating different models of Internet regulation, such as the approaches taken by the U.S., China and the European Union.
“The Russian government is looking around, ” he said. “They will come up with their own model.”
On ’s plans:
’s global depository receipts are traded on the London Stock Exchange, but the majority of voting power is held by USM Holdings, an entity controlled by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov.
The Vkontakte acquisition brings more users, but also problems such as piracy. The social network is on a list of “notorious markets” where pirated digital material is readily available, according to the U.S. Trade Representative.
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