Journey to the Center of the Web: From Satellites to Cybersecurity
As a young man growing up in the USSR, Alexander Galitsky signed a vow never to speak to foreigners. Later on, he created a company that offered network security solutions for corporations that looked to keep their own secrets safe.
Alexander Galitsky, who was named “Technology Pioneer” at the WEF in Davos, started his career as a satellite software designer. Under the mentorship of Gennadi Guskov – one of the designers who made it possible for Yuri Gagarin to become travel to space – Galitsky managed to quickly further his career. By 1987, he was the head of a department with almost 1,000 employees and a $400 million annual budget under his management.
However, as the Soviet Union was coming to its end, the government had to freeze the funding for Galitsky’s projects. Although Gennadi Guskov chose Galitsky as his successor at the Scientific Production Association, the Ukrainian scientist decided to make it on his own in the waning days of the Soviet regime. In 1992, Alexander Galitsky established his Elvis+ company which very soon welcomed Sun Microsystems Inc. as its major investor. In 1998, Alexander Galitsky stepped away from the daily management at the company to work on the TrustWorks project.
Construction of satellites at the beginning of the career
In 1979, around the time Alexander Galitsky began his career, the U.S. was developing the Keyhole (KH-11) satellites. These satelities took digital photos and transmitted them to earth instead of having to parachute the film to the ground for the photos to be developed.
With the same goal for the Soviet satellites in mind, Alexander’s mentor Gennadi Guskov started a special project in 1979. The project took a couple of years to complete and required the participation of a software expert. That is how Alexander Galitsky’s biography took a turn when he was “invited” to join the project in 1981.
Alexander explained that refusing the invitation might havedamaged his career, as this was more of an order than an offer. It was also implied that he would get a pay raise and other benefits, which was a good motivation in itself.
Still, 40 engineers out of the 80 “invited” were hesitant to be part of this project as they were to be sent far away from home, either in Kuybishev or Baikonur in Kazakstan.
The hardware was already there, but they were yet to develop the software, which took longer than they initially expected. Over time, Alexander Galitsky got promoted to lead the software team. In 1985, he suggested they rebuild their current computer architecture as he found it inefficient. This was how he got the task to develop a new generation of satellites and build a new computer family. Very soon, among other things, Alexander was working on a new low Earth orbit communication system. Alexander Galitsky’s visit to the U.S.
In March 1991, Ronald Sagdeev arranged for a Soviet-US space exhibition of achievements in science and engineering. Sasha was invited there as a speaker. That was Galitsky’s first ever visit to the US.
Shortly after that, in April 1991, Galitsky was included in another group going to the United States. The Americans initiated an idea of holding a seminar in Washington on ways of eliminating space debris and delivering a series of lectures at their universities. Thus, Sasha read lectures and led discussions at the University of Maryland.
At the same time, Sun Microsystems Inc. invited Galitsky to visit their offices in Silicon Valley. By that time Sasha was already acquainted with the founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy and the director of the science office John Gage. There he also met Sun’s Chief Network Officer – Geoffrey Baehr, who later became Galitsky’s partner in Almaz Capital. Sasha came to California and his experience there made him realize that there was an entirely different business and high-tech world. What impressed him most was the openness of people who were excited to show him their achievements. He also liked the way people organized their work to develop technology products.
Upon his return, he took part in a meeting at the government level where they discussed the future integration of the Soviet Union into the global high-tech market. He was promised that by September 1991 he would have everything he needed to start implementing his ideas. However, the events of Perestroika in August of the same year put an end to his plans.
Alexander Galitsky’s visit to the U.S. made him think about his own work. He realized that engineers had been too single-minded and secretive about their work in the Soviet Union. They were building the best tech for the space program, but they were not allowed to think about applying it anywhere else. The U.S. economy was moving forward thanks to its investors and Silicon Valley, which Galitsky really appreciated.
What is common between a space engineer and an entrepreneur?
Alexander says that he sees a certain similarity between his experience as a space engineer and an entrepreneur, which is about having an idea and finding money for it. As an engineer, he didn’t have to pitch his ideas to dozens of investors, but he had to knock on every door to reach the top officials and then wait for their decisions. If they gave him the money, he had three or five years to get the results. If he did get the results, they increased the funding and gave him creative freedom.
Galitsky says that it was similar with Elvis+, which was always in Sun Microsystems’s shadow. At some point, he realized that he was coming to Sun with his ideas like he did with the ministries before. In 1995, he tried to pitch his idea of a distributed firewall, but Sun Microsystems rejected it. It was a major disappointment for him, because he knew that his ideas required money, but at the time, he only had a vague understanding of how venture capital works.
And then, when he again met Esther Dyson, a well-known American investor, whom he knew from 1991, he learned that there are a lot of issues to consider in business, such as product management, networking, marketing, etc. You must have an understanding of how to develop your product, stay within the budget and deliver results on time.
Alexander Galitsky’s professional advice
Alexander Galitskygives the following advice to other entrepreneurs, “Before you even start, you need to consult with people who understand the business you are trying to get into – you need to find your perfect business model. Sometimes, when people are focused on making something, they overlook many important issues. What you need to understand is that you should be able to prove to a venture capitalist that your idea is actually implementable and that it is not just a cool thing to make.
Pay more attention to people who have experienced failure than to those who have succeeded. Winners tend to only give optimistic tips. You will probably find the story of a guy who knows what kept him from winning the Olympics more insightful than that of a champion who will tell you what you need to do to win. Eat healthy, train more… People who are familiar with failures never forget their sad experience and can offer you helpful advice.”