Serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and visiting professor at Columbia University, Martin Varsavsky made the cover of ‘Forbes’ for his groundbreaking research, development and subsequent business in fertility. His fixation with the future is born from a love of science that informs his work in technology, healthcare and mobility.
Where does your forward-thinking approach stem from?
My dad was an astrophysicist, so I am very much in tune with what’s happening in that world. Business is maybe five to 10 years behind and if you love science, you can imagine the way things are going to be. But you can also see too much into the future. One company where I lost a lot of money was the first cloud-computing firm in Europe; it was too futuristic. There is a fine line between what you see coming and what you can implement.
How are you able to predict things and stay ahead of the curve?
I make a living out of imagining the future and building around it. There is an intuition. People will say, “How do you know?” And the answer is, “I don’t really know; it’s an educated guess.” I was one of the first investors in fibre optics and wi-fi, and in solar and wind energy. I see a new technology that captures my imagination. I imagine the ubiquity of the technology, I speak to other people and build a company around it. But first it’s learning.
“I make a living out of imagining the future and building around it”
People who look ahead and deal in progress are often optimists. Do you consider yourself one?
Yes. And in spite of all the problems we have now, they’re nothing compared to those that people were facing a century ago. Think of the gains we have made in the past 100 years. A person who was born then had no antibiotics, no air travel, no smartphones, no TV. But they had a lot more things than those who were born in 1820. The world has been getting incrementally better. I am not afraid of climate change, for example, because I believe that we will find a solution. I’m not saying that it’s going to be an easy way out but I don’t think it will be the tragedy that some people think it will. The world faces challenges but I think that they can all be solved. I don’t believe in post-apocalyptic predictions such as artificial intelligence taking over the world. And that’s because I’m fundamentally optimistic that even if those dangers are real, we’ll find solutions to them.