Ruslan Gafarov on creating Innovation Hub and evolution of tech

Ruslan Gafarov is the CEO of San Francisco Innovation Hub, an innovative infrastructure for supporting and developing entrepreneurs worldwide.  He shares his journey to creating the San Francisco Innovation Hub, his thoughts on AI and its potential impact on the labor market, and the potential of the metaverse.



TB: Tell us about yourself

Ruslan Gafarov: I am the CEO of San Francisco Innovation Hub, an innovative infrastructure for supporting and developing entrepreneurs worldwide. A large part of our audience is Russian-speaking, but we also have clients from other countries. We offer an intensive weekly immersion program where businesspeople and managers visit Silicon Valley to learn from the cutting-edge experience of local companies and transform the business context in other parts of the world.

Within our program, we study business models, management, venture capital investments, and the fundraising process for startups. The second focus of our activity is management consulting. I have written three books on organizational culture, and our team helps companies from different countries implement advanced approaches to team management. The third area of our activity is related to venture investments and making deals with partners.

San Francisco Innovation Hub is, first and foremost, a community that includes entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, corporate employees, and venture industry professionals. We hold events of various scales, from large gatherings to small, closed meetings. Our community also consists of residents from more than 40 countries in Europe and South America who have participated in our programs over the past seven years.

Our participants get the opportunity to understand how management works in large corporations and explore the venture market through meetings with representatives from Plug and Play and 500 Startups. This helps startups launch their companies in America, and investors find interesting projects. As part of the program, we also examine Stanford and Berkeley universities.

All this allows our participants, who have already earned their $1,000,000,000 and realized their dreams, to find new motivation and inspiration for further development. They compare themselves to people who have achieved much more, which motivates them to move forward. The most important thing participants gain from our program is a community of people living in Silicon Valley and other corners of the planet. Communication with like-minded individuals and exchanging experiences helps them expand their opportunities, develop business, and implement innovations.

San Francisco Innovation Hub is a powerful tool for the development of entrepreneurs, providing the necessary knowledge, skills, and connections for successful work on the international stage. We continue to refine our programs and services to maximally contribute to the growth and development of our clients and community members.


TB: Why did you choose this field in the first place? How did you come up with the idea of your current business? 

Ruslan Gafarov: Before moving to the US, I conducted educational and business training sessions in 40 cities across 8 countries. I wanted to go to America to see how business works there. My wife and I visited many US cities for the first time — New York, Miami, Nevada, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and others — all in just three weeks. I came to Silicon Valley and visited Steve Jobs’ garage because I had read all the books about him. I was moved to tears at that moment — here I was, a guy from Ufa, standing at Steve Jobs’ garage. I thought at that moment that a trip to Mars was possible if I, a utility worker, could make it here, to Steve Jobs’ garage. It was simply unreal. Even then, I wanted not only to see it as a tourist from the outside but also to get inside. I sent the following offer to my Instagram followers: “Next time I’m here, I want to create a program like this: go to Google along with other companies and see how people work there, and interact with them. The speakers for this program will be venture investors, startups, and corporate employees…” I didn’t know yet how to implement this, but I already had 100 leaders who wanted to go with me. In the end, ten of them paid the money, and I began to think about how to make the idea a reality. It was difficult, but thanks to the work I had done in Russia, I knew many people in similar fields, and they knew me. In 2018, we finally moved to the US to continue our work.


TB: What are you most worried about right now and why (AI, new technologies, robots)?

Ruslan Gafarov:  Artificial intelligence gives us the opportunity to free people from routine labor, much like how machines once freed horses from burdensome work. On one hand, a huge number of jobs related to horse care and the infrastructure around them were freed up in the labor market. On the other hand, horses have become those with whom we have developed warmer relationships, and we have stopped using them as a means of transportation. The people who used to care for horses retrained and found new jobs.

When I think about artificial intelligence, I remember my first experience driving a Tesla car. It was amazing to simply set the destination, and the car independently took me there without requiring my attention or control. During that time, I could do other things. I then thought that, perhaps, in the near future with the help of AI, I could similarly conduct negotiations where, hypothetically, an avatar on my behalf would communicate according to a specific script. In case of complex questions or unclear moments, the avatar would turn to me for adjustments. Thanks to this, I could simultaneously hold not just one, but dozens of negotiations.

At the same time, somewhere in the metaverse, I can play video games or study the news. Projects like Midjourney and ChatGPT essentially create a new universe where there is a high probability that some extraterrestrial beings reside. Since the metaverse can expand without human involvement, these worlds will spread out in all directions like galaxies. The metaverse will be created by artificial intelligence, and perhaps somewhere in it, we will discover other life forms with whom we can communicate.

When I think about all this, it inspires me, and I want to be a part of it. That’s why we look for and invest in technologies that develop artificial intelligence.


TB: What was the biggest challenge you faced? 

Ruslan Gafarov: One of the biggest challenges when I moved to the United States was understanding the culture of Americans in general and the culture of Silicon Valley residents in particular. There are many smart, talented, and brilliant people living here. They all seemed strange to me because I came from a place where we were taught in school to work in a factory. When we had no questions, we sat at our desks, hands on hands. When we had questions, we were allowed to raise our hands. Any other postures were unacceptable, at least in the early grades. And this formed a certain mentality and culture.

When you come here and see the freedom of choice, exclusivity, tolerance, and diversification, at first, it seems strange, incomprehensible, and even unpleasant. One of the biggest difficulties when moving to Silicon Valley was learning to understand these people and stop paying attention to phenomena that were outside the expectations of how they should behave. At one point, I realized that the people who are here have different expectations. Therefore, if you want to build a team, find partners, or create a product, you must be prepared to move along with people who are outside the boundaries of your expectations.

To do this, first and foremost, you need to work on yourself, stop being irritated by seeing something that goes beyond your understanding.


TB: What was your greatest project? What can you be proud of the most? 

Ruslan Gafarov: Perhaps one of the achievements I am most proud of is my ability to change many different worlds, occupations, and roles: working in criminal investigation, as a taxi driver, in a housing maintenance service, at a bank, entrepreneurship, organizing events in 40 different cities and 8 countries. Successfully arriving in Silicon Valley, I had to change my worldview many times – from a person who worked with locksmiths, plumbers, and painters, to a person who studies Silicon Valley organizations, wrote several books about it, and received high praise from Silicon Valley community leaders.


TB: What was the biggest setback/failure that you faced, and how did you manage it?

Ruslan Gafarov: In 2021, one of the business clubs wanted to open in America. I was one of those who led the opening of this direction, and six months of work in deep depression showed me that, in the format that was proposed for creating such a club on American soil, it was impossible. We spent tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands, and a lot of effort, but it didn’t work out. From this experience, I concluded that culture and principles are very important to me: any projects you open or help with must correspond to your personal principles. If the initial mission of the project does not match your principles, there is a high probability that it will not succeed. And even if it does succeed, it will require a tremendous amount of energy and bring nothing but experience. I am grateful for this experience as it reaffirmed that I should only engage in what aligns with my principles. Thanks to this experience, I understood what the community I would like to be a part of should look like, and we are now developing that community.


TB:  In your opinion, what is the most important thing in building community? 


Ruslan Gafarov: In my opinion, the most important thing for building a community is the top-level rules: first and foremost, the mission. It is essential to understand why this community exists in the first place. The second is the principles, meaning what kind of people we want to see and which ones we definitely don’t want to see within this community. Because a community cannot be equally useful for everyone. A community is something where a very clear choice must be made to include only those who can genuinely bring value. When we built our community, we immediately defined the mission and principles. Thanks to these principles, we see interesting people coming together. And even those who may not initially fit certain principles, still try to adhere to them after reading our principles. All of this allows us to set the right atmosphere at our events. We do not chase the number of participants in our community because quality is more important to us than quantity.


TB:  In your opinion, what kind of challenges we are facing as a humanity? 

Ruslan Gafarov: What if the human brain is the brain of the solar system? And our task now, having gone through certain lessons together, is to come to an understanding of this, to unite and realize that we are a unique phenomenon, and we can solve global challenges that are not even related to the place where we live, the Earth. Perhaps we can think and plan on a larger scale and more ambitiously, creating strategies. But we can only do all this after understanding that we are one, we are like the brain of the solar system. And, undoubtedly, I think that other planetary systems also have their own “brains.” One of the challenges is to first become aware of ourselves to find and recognize other civilizations. This is why we now respect Elon Musk, who has already started thinking about this and implementing his ideas.


TB:  Who is your tech idol? Why?

Ruslan Gafarov: I admire Elon Musk because I believe that he is not just working on developing Tesla, he is not just creating SpaceX and all his other companies, but essentially, within the scope of his various projects, he is carrying out a global mission to help humanity. SpaceX will be delivering cargo to Mars, Tesla will be creating robots or transportation systems to ensure logistics, building construction, and the provision of necessary goods on Mars. Other technologies, such as Neuralink, will help make this more efficient. This is an example of an entrepreneur who has created several new industries that could have been created even by the strongest nation in the world – the United States of America. This proves that a person, even if they are not originally from America, can come here, understand the local structure, and create something greater than what could have been done by the state itself without their participation. In other words, Elon Musk is an example that anything is possible. When I am struggling, when I feel overwhelmed, I remember Musk and the number of tasks that lie on his shoulders and try to compare them to the tasks that I face and seem difficult to me. I ask myself what Elon Musk would say about the scale of these tasks. I immediately feel better, understanding the scale of the problems he is solving. It becomes clear that I can move faster and do more.


TB: Do you have any advice for aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs?

Ruslan Gafarov: First and foremost, it is essential to always remember that America is a country with a great idea, which many nations can envy. In the place where I come from, there is no such idea, while in America, it is clearly expressed and sounds like this: if you can make something with your hands and sell it, then do it and pay taxes. The state will protect you. All the people who have come here are idealistic because they have arrived with a specific purpose, as somewhere else in another country, they lacked an idea or didn’t understand it. This has become the reason they live here in this place.

Understanding this, one can establish relationships with people and organizations much more efficiently and move forward. If you know exactly what you want and have a concise statement about where you are striving and what you want to do for it, it will work. It is essential to understand how to communicate with those who, like you, have recently arrived here, as well as with those who have been living here for a long time, because this is genuinely how it works. That is, it is crucial to have your mission, principles, and be able to briefly talk about them.


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