Kirill Rebrov is a CEO/CTO and co-founder of https://demografy.com/, Florida-based customer segmentation AI startup. Demografy is a privacy focused data marketing platform that uses machine learning to predict demographics from masked names. This protects consumer privacy and provides businesses with private data regulation compliance while getting vital marketing information on customers. Kirill sees Demografy’s mission in redefining the data marketing industry which is based on non opt-in consumer data use and private data reselling. His team believes that it is possible to make both things possible – protect consumer privacy and help businesses in their hunger for data. Kirill’s 12+ years background in software development as developer and tech lead helped build patent pending technology behind Demografy. The bootstrapping nature of the startup also requires him to contribute to marketing activities of the company.
Besides tech part of the company he supervises marketing strategy and helps his team in marketing activities. Being an initially tech person, this required Kirill to expand his skills in different areas. Although learning new things is his passion. He believes that being an expert generalist – possessing a wide breadth of knowledge in different fields – is a vital trait for a successful entrepreneur. For that reason he loves to take new roles and expand his expertise. As a result, besides the role of software developer, he worked professionally or for his own projects as content writer, UX designer and marketer. Having a view on problems from different perspectives helps in finding solutions tremendously. Having experience in different professions also improves expertise in each of them because of the ability to see things from different angles and boil the problems down to its most fundamental parts which cannot be achieved by having narrow expertise.
Kirill’s all time goal has always been to develop something new and make an impact on the whole of humanity. To develop something that nobody did before. Demografy and challenges involved while developing it became his passion for this single reason. His long term goal and passion is to take on artificial general intelligence because he believes this is the number one single invention that will change the world forever. Besides his startup Kirill loves his family and struggles to be the best for both his family and entrepreneurship with family being first. His family is also a source for inspiration and motivation. And, as always, he believes that both things are possible.
Where did the idea for Demografy.com come from?
The idea behind getting demographics from names was initially very simple. It was born while developing customer sign up form on one of the projects where I was a team lead. There was a “gender” field along with the first and last name. Nothing special. And this trivial boring form led to the thought like “it would be easier for users to enter only names and get the rest of the fields pre-filled”. Proof of concept of detecting gender by name was completed the same night. It was too easy, was not new and ambitions started to grow. The turning point between fun project and startup was proof of concept of implementing age group prediction using only names as input. It required learning many things that were new to me and that were non trivial. It even seemed impossible at some point. Later I even became too obsessed by the idea that it was possible which led to several sleepless caffeinated weeks. I was literally throwing spaghetti at the wall day and night. It was not good for the health at all but ended up with working technology prototype and patent application. Additional demographic indicators were added as well. So I have no regrets about that obsession. It was worth it.
And only later I realized the true value of the project. It is not about making things easier and getting useful information from scratch (which it sure does). First of all it is about a shift in the data marketing industry and protecting consumer privacy. We’re on the verge of global changes in private data and data marketing. Privacy concerns are growing, regulation is tightening and the business landscape is changing. So technology should adapt.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Being a family guy and still having a full time day job besides my bootstrapping startup I’m not a great fit for productivity tips although productivity is an important aspect of my life. I spend much time with my family and daily job so I learnt to maintain maximum productivity while sleeping less. But I still experiment with different productivity hacks and don’t have the silver bullet. My ongoing productivity task is to develop habits and tools to take most out of every working hour. I call it productivity or performance multiplier. You can work 12 hours like an average entrepreneur or you can work 12 hours like 24 hours of an average entrepreneur. However my productivity still suffers. My day starts late at about 9 AM (I have an excuse for this). It starts with a light workout, shower and breakfast. Then I spend time with my family. I do some urgent stuff for my startup and my full time job before dinner. Then I work mostly for my startup till supper. The evening is a family time though I work at home so I spend time with family over the course of the day. As soon as everybody goes to sleep I do the rest of the stuff for both startup and job in the night and go to bed at around 5 AM. As a result, the whole day is divided into microtasks so I try to adapt productivity hacks to address this.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The number one pre-condition is you must sincerely love the idea you’re bringing to life. Bringing to life is a hard and intense process unlike the inception of an idea itself. And sometimes this process involves failures. And you can get up after failure and be persistent only for things you love. So first of all you must love the idea to actually bring it to life.
The next thing is unfortunately it’s impossible to bring every idea to life here and now. So the second step is to pick the one that is feasible right now. It doesn’t mean that you should forget about your long term plans and ambitious ideas. On the contrary, you should stay focused on them and think about short term ideas as milestones on your way to the one most ambitious one. For example, Elon Musk didn’t start SpaceX as his first venture. He built the path to it via Zip2 and X.com/PayPal.
And the main thing to remember is that idea is just a beginning. It takes much more effort to bring it to life and it will also transform and change while working on it.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Artificial Intelligence. Or, more particular, Artificial General Intelligence. I believe that’s the number one single invention that is going to change the world as we know it forever. The fundamental difference between this invention and all other inventions in the past and present is that this is the technology capable to create technologies. And most importantly this is the technology that is capable of becoming smarter on exponential scale. All other inventions still require human in the loop. While AGI will cause so-called technological singularity, a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable by humans and irreversible. The technology itself will continue to build new technologies and advance the technological progress. It will be a recursive exponentially accelerated process.
The technological progress has been already advancing on an exponential level over the course of history. It took millions of years for early humans to start using fire. It then took hundreds of thousands of years to invent the wheel. It then took thousands of years for sundial. For the past couple of thousands of years we invented gunpowder, printing press, mechanical clock, optical telescope. The nineteenth century alone gave us the light bulb, steam locomotive, automobile, photography, electric motor, the first rechargeable battery. The twentieth century gave us General relativity, vacuum cleaner, gas turbine, aircraft, electron microscope, radio, radar, nuclear weapon, CAT scans, spacecraft, mobile phone, the Internet, nanotech, biotech, etc. And this is just in a few decades. We’re now on the verge of creating Artificial General Intelligence which will accelerate technological progress even further on an unprecedented level.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m not a very high productive person but one thing saves me from procrastinating – I always get up after failure and stay focused on the main goal. And when I’m totally frustrated and struggling to get up, I think about my family and imagine my main goal for inspiration. One of the core things I learnt is the importance of being resilient and committed. First and main thing I want to say to everybody – YOU CAN. Just don’t stop. Do whatever it takes and you will reach your goals. But never let anybody reject your dream even if you fail again and again. It’s the worst thing you can do in your life. It’s not easy but only strong people fail. But only if they get up after failure and try again. And you also must embrace challenges and hardships. You should not fear them. You should love them because they help you grow and become stronger. Only the most adaptable to change will survive. This is the basic law of evolution so it makes sense to make use of it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Use your time with higher ROI. Use your time more efficiently, learn more, don’t fear or avoid things you don’t love, embrace challenges, use every opportunity to show and grow your skills, use every opportunity to take on different roles and skills to have a wider mindset and expertise. In other words everything that I try to employ today to be more efficient and to do things better. I realize that I could use my time with higher efficiency so there are many things to advise. But if I need to pick the very one, I’d suggest to my younger me to find and get the goal and meaning of life as soon as possible. Because once I got one, I started to strive to reach it and learn everything else in between.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Put all eggs into one basket. It seems totally counter intuitive. It seems right to diversify as much as you can to manage risks in almost all aspects. But there is a trick. If you have all eggs in different baskets you don’t actually care much about each of them. If one egg is at danger, you can easily sacrifice it and you don’t focus on its development. But if everything you have in one single basket you are going to be extra focused on this basket, you will care about it, you will do everything for survival and development of eggs in this basket. It’s about focus and commitment. Good entrepreneur should have extra focus on their business and product. And this is the only way to build the best product and grow successful business. Yes you can lose if you put everything at risk. But this is how this works if you have really big ambitions. And failure will make you only better in any case. Probably this is the biggest difference between a good entrepreneur and a good investor.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I can tell for tech entrepreneurs. I believe that the ultimate goal of tech entrepreneurs is to disrupt the market. Is to make disruptive innovation that will create new values and redefine the market in one or another way. So I’d recommend building something new, something that nobody did before. I had a failed startup attempt in the past and it was caused by not following my own advice. It was a product based on a similar one without any fundamental innovation. So I didn’t really love the project and it’s ultimately failed. We should innovate, we should be pioneers to bring real value into the world and tech community.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
For a bootstrapping startup, the number one strategy to grow was “Sell it before you have it”. We didn’t actually sell our SaaS before we developed it but we started with an early stage technology prototype, pre-launch page, survey and some guerilla marketing tactics to validate the market. We decided to try to get early adopters first to actually validate the desirability. When we generated first leads on the waiting list to prove desirability we only had early stage prototype that had proven feasibility. So now we’re focused on proving the last component of innovation – viability.
So the key advice for lean startups – don’t hurry to scale up. Execute startup iteratively. As a bootstrapping startup you don’t have much resources to complete something tremendous in the short term. And you don’t have time to achieve it in the long term. Time is your main enemy in the beginning. You should be able to do things iteratively and prove your product’s desirability and feasibility at an early stage. So forget about the long term waterfall model and complex project management at this stage. Don’t spend enormous time on writing long business plans, financial forecasts and market research. I had experience of writing a 100 page business plan that nobody read. So focus on your product and direct market validation via surveys and waiting lists instead. As Richard Branson once said “Screw it, just do it!”.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The last failure was a social commerce startup that failed before the launch. The lesson I learnt and the reason it failed is because I betrayed one of my principles – create something new. This product wasn’t innovation, it wasn’t bringing something new and it wasn’t disrupting. I had some features over competition but I had no passion in bringing this product to life because it wasn’t innovation. And if you don’t love something you will never be committed to launch it. But I’m still grateful for this valuable lesson. Every failure makes us stronger.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Honestly, I don’t like giving ideas away. But I’ll try. I have several small ideas but have no time to bring all of them to life. One of them is an on-site bug tracking and collaboration tool that enables users to leave comments and mark bugs on live websites just like in Google Docs. So it’s much easier to navigate and discuss issues.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Well it’s not very recent but it stands out from all other $100 spendings so it’s hard not to share. It’s actually $120 as I recall. Expedited featuring on BetaList. It was definitely worth it since it brought us 61 B2B leads on the waiting list.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Our team currently uses Google suite and Atlassian stack for collaboration, task management and document exchange. The key is to keep things simple. As I said before, forget about the long term waterfall model and complex project management at this stage. Launching lean startups don’t need complex management by definition. Just like for personal productivity, tools should be as simple as possible to become habits and to not consume more than produce.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I actually just started it but the ideas behind this book have framed my mindset for a long time. “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” by Ray Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil is a famous inventor, futurist and technology thought leader. His ideas definitely influenced me. However the biggest value of his ideas is not their influence but how they explain things. It provokes thinking and extrapolation that finally will bring you to similar forecasts. The book will be interesting for many people. For those tracking technology trends and interested in the future. For those who think that technology progress is linear and very slow (you will be surprised how far you’re from true). Or for those who fear the rise of Artificial Intelligence and its threat to humanity. It has an explanation for the former and solution to later. And of course it’s a must have for entrepreneurs with strategic thinking and long term vision.
What is your favorite quote?
Hard to pick only one. First of all, “Don’t save anything for the swim back” – Gattaca movie. This movie and this quote influenced me. I will not spoil if somebody didn’t watch the movie. I’ll only say that this quote is the essence of entrepreneurial mindset. Only complete dedication and commitment will allow to get results and achieve goals. To have one, you should be focused on a goal without B plans for “swim back”.
And I also like “Big things have small beginnings”. It reminds us that everything starts with a first step and encourages us to move forward even in times of frustration and shattering. Your personal progress is like technological progress. It’s not linear, it’s exponential. Each new step forward will bring you more value and will advance you much farther than the previous step. The key is scalability. You’re not just moving forward step by step, you’re also scaling up and each new step becomes bigger. This helps a lot to overcome failures.
- Kirill Rebrov, CEO/CTO and co-founder at Demografy, privacy focused customer segmentation AI startup that uses machine learning to predict demographics from masked names.
- It’s important for entrepreneur to be an expert generalist to solve problems
- You must have hell bent dedication to your goals and values and resilience to overcome failures
- Artificial General Intelligence is the number one trend and invention that will change the course of the history
- Sell it before you have it is a key strategy for launching lean startups