Aleksandr Litreev of Sentinel and SOLAR Labs: “5 Things I wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO”
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Don’t forget to take breaks and recharge. This one is super simple, but can be hard for me, as the work is always calling. I have to remember that I’m best when I’m taking care of myself.
As a part of our series about 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aleksandr Litreev.
Aleksandr Litreev is Founder and CEO of SOLAR Labs, the world’s leading developer of dVPN technology. The SOLAR Labs mission is to promote free speech, truth, and human rights globally, by empowering all people to have uncensored, untraceable, blockchain-enabled access to the internet via its decentralized applications and consumer hardware products, built exclusively at this time for the Cosmos blockchain ecosystem.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
It started back in 2017, when I started my activity fighting for human rights in Russia. My good friend and I developed a simple & useful service that helped tens of thousands detainees from protest rallies all over Russia. We called it “Red Button.” It was sort of an “Uber for a lawyer.” If you get detained, you just tap one button, and a lawyer goes to the police station where you are being kept to help you.
Since then, many things have changed. In 2018 the fight for freedom moved largely to the Internet, and we started to heavily resist against mass surveillance and censorship in Russia. Back then, I founded Vee Security — my very first VPN company. We were providing services that helped millions of people from places like Russia and Iran access Telegram Messenger freely (governments of these countries didn’t like it much back in time, so they were blocking it).
About a year ago, the fight went to the next level. Russian authorities arrested me in Russia and made up out of thin air several criminal cases against me. Luckily, I fled away to Europe. The Russian regime then started its aggressive crackdown on VPN services, and I realized that it’s time for blockchain — a technology that no government can censor. I thought about how there’s no single government capable of stopping Bitcoin, and imagined: What if we put the same technology as a foundation for a VPN service? That is exactly what we did with my new company SOLAR Labs. We’ve taken Sentinel blockchain as a foundation for our apps, and we made the world’s first truly decentralized VPN service, which cannot be blocked by any government.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Oh yeah. When we were developing a SOLAR dVPN application, Russian state-owned propagandist media RT made an article about us. They told people that ex-teammate of Alexey Navalny is developing a new VPN service which cannot be blocked by the Russian government. They just made up half of the text from nothing- but the most important thing this action they took admitted was that above all else, they’re scared to death of the power of this technology, since it is uncontrollable for them. Furthermore, and secondly, it truly threatens Putin’s regime because it gives Russian people a real, transparent view of what is happening. Many people don’t realize that most Russians in-country have very little idea about the true nature of global events, due to the insane amount of propaganda they’re fed daily by the State.
When the war in Ukraine started and the Russian army invaded Ukraine, the work we do became much more important than ever before. We understood that we need to make a breakthrough through a thick wall of lies & propaganda and let people know that their government is killing innocent people of neighboring countries. This was the moment we realized we were doing something more than a little bit important. We truly are driving change in people’s lives and helping them taste freedom, truth- reality.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Yep. “People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” That is something Steve Jobs said back in 1984 and became my motto for life. My team is not afraid to experiment, to try something new. Back in 2018 people were looking at me like I was crazy — building another VPN service on the market that was already hot and fulfilled by such giants as NordVPN and ExpressVPN sounded like an idea of a person who lost touch of reality.
And now we see where we are with it. And so do they. Our competitors are stuck with old-school technologies that have never changed much since 2000’s and now they’re drowning after being blocked by China, Russia and many others. Our blockchain-based VPN is getting to these markets in which the old players simply cannot compete, period.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m grateful to my mother, a lot. She made me who I am. In addition to her, I’m also extremely grateful to my first business partners, Artem Tamoian, and Ilya Andreev, who took this adventure with me 4 years ago and helped me to develop our very first apps. We made a hell of a lot of mistakes, but mistakes are good lessons, unless you make them twice. After two times, make the mistake again, and it becomes a choice.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting-edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, sure. So we all know about existing VPN services. Both apps and servers are provided by a single legal entity. It creates a single point of failure — nobody knows who they are. Are they truly committed to No Logs Policy or are they secretly selling your data to 3rd parties and authorities? Moreover, it’s much easier for governments to do censorship — they’ll just ban everything from that legal entity and that’s it.
Our technology is different. The “D” in “dVPN” stands for “decentralization.” Our servers, which act as gateways to the internet are managed by community. Hundreds, thousands of servers. Each of them owned by different people, different organizations. That makes a huge decentralized network and censors don’t have a single entity to go after.
How do you think this might change the world?
As our technology is made two protect two ideas: freedom of speech and privacy. I believe that we can help accelerate a shirt towards democracy in such countries that have problems with getting their due to tyranny. The more people can access truth, the healthier the community, both locally and globally!
As for privacy, we believe that it is an essential human right and we saw from Edward Snowden’s leaks that governments don’t think the same. Therefore, we’re here to protect it.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Of course. Any technology can be used for good and for bad. We can treat our dVPN technology as a weapon. Obviously, it can be used by criminals, terrorists and other malicious actors, because let’s be honest: You cannot forbid criminals to possess weapons, because they simply do not respect the law. By prohibiting weapons you’ll just revoke self-defense tools from law-abiding people, but criminals will get it anyway. Same with dVPN. We made it for good — no sense to regulate or restrict it somehow, bad guys will find hundreds of other ways anyway.
It’s also important to note that at least as of now, the use case for our technology is far greater for “good guys” (normal civilians seeking freedom, not bothering anyone), than us seeing tons of examples of bad actors using our tech to do harm. No, sadly, it is closed government institutions of the world that are supposed to represent truth, love, openness and support for their people- THESE are the bad actors We the People currently need protection from. Mindboggling, but true.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. Do not solve non-existing problems, solve real ones. When we just started, our first apps were fulfilled with different features that we were developing for a while. As we found out, no one was using most of them, people were interested in the main feature only. If we knew it before we wouldn’t spend time solving problems that no one has.
2. Develop for yourself, deliver to everyone. The best way to create something people would use is to create something that you would use yourself. Understanding of this simple truth came to me several months after we launched our very first app. To be honest, I’m very ashamed of this one- it was ugly, and I did not use it myself. After I spent a week playing with it we re-developed it from scratch, so I would love it. If you won’t use something you made, why would anyone?
3. Do not promise, just do. Oh, damn, so many times in our early beginning we announced features and apps that we never released on time. It affected user experience a lot and we learned a lesson from it. Way better to announce something when it’s done. That way you always hit customer expectations.
4. “If they’re shooting at you, you’re doing something right.” I don’t mean literally, with bullets. And yes, I realize this is the name of a song title. But here’s the thing, when the work you do is a threat to the status quo, forces of darkness will come at you from all corners. This is something I learned very early on, but I’m putting it here because it’s good advice for others looking to make a global impact with their life’s work. It’s going to get hot the closer you get to truly doing something meaningful. Stay the course!
5. Don’t forget to take breaks and recharge. This one is super simple, but can be hard for me, as the work is always calling. I have to remember that I’m best when I’m taking care of myself.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Aleksandr Litreev of Sentinel and SOLAR Labs: “5 Things I wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.