Co-founder of Firlej Kastory Family Office Stanislaw Kastory on The Importance of Being Unique
Story by Sandra Kwong Göldi
Stanislaw Kastory, Principal of Firlej Kastory, stands at the forefront of Poland's evolving financial landscape. With a background rooted in rebuilding wealth post-communist collapse in 1990, the focus of the family office was not just on wealth management but on building a specialised investment group, with a primary emphasis on technology.
Positioning himself as more of a venture capitalist, Kastory leads the family office's venture arm, Expeditions Fund. Opting for a diversified approach, the team strategically selects top-notch funds on the market, ensuring unparalleled access to prime opportunities and a robust network, fostering a collaborative venture capital ecosystem.
The core specialisation of Firlej Kastory lies in early-stage deep tech investments, with a sharp focus on AI-first companies, cybersecurity, privacy, tech-bio, dual-use, defence-tech, and quantum computing. Kastory's pioneering approach exemplifies the intersection of family office legacy, technological foresight, and collaborative venture capitalism in Poland's financial renaissance. We were honoured to be able to catch up with him during our Zurich Family Forum.
Could you share some key points that you discussed during your panel chat predicting 2024 and beyond?
Our thematic focus centred on technology, given its pivotal role in steering transformative change. As exemplified by OpenAI's endeavours last year, technology drives the most change in our world and is the swiftest path to innovation. More recently, what we saw just last week was that OpenAI announced two changes regarding PDF documents and voice recognition. That meant that hundreds of startups who were raising capital to develop this technology will stop existing.
At Firlej Kastory, our passion extends to dual-use technologies, those with applications in both the defence and traditional market sectors. There are two reasons why we are passionate about it. The first one is my business partner, Mikolaj Firlej, who wrote a paper in Oxford on autonomous systems; namely, the way you use autonomous systems, the explainability of AI systems in case of war, for example. He got very deep into that area, this intersection of technology, legal considerations, and ethical dimensions that poses challenges intrinsic to AI. Secondly, and perhaps the most important reason is geopolitical, notably the Russia-Ukraine conflict. We’re looking for ways to support the technologies that can be helpful for our allies in Ukraine.
I believe that AI will drive immense change. There will be a lot of bad eggs in the development of AI, but our job is to cherry pick and be able to say which technology is really unique and which is just a simple solution addressing simple problems.
You mentioned that you see yourself as more of a venture capitalist. What criteria do you use to identify promising startups?
We invest in AI-first companies, preferably with a dual-use approach, as I mentioned. Within this framework, we have identified four distinct verticals — cybersecurity, Biotech, quantum computing, and data processing. The latter encompasses the comprehensive treatment of data, ensuring its readiness for AI applications, including organisational transfer, categorization, and related processes. So those are the formal criteria to invest in the sectors where we feel we have the best knowledge and the best access.
When you invest at the very early stage, the most important thing is to be able to verify how good the founder is. Everyone can have an idea, but you need someone to be able to execute it in the best possible way. In our analytical process, we look at the business models and assess the market's scalability. However, the biggest consideration revolves around the trust and belief in the founders' ability to successfully execute their idea.
Can you share examples of startups or innovations in these areas that have particularly impressed you?
The technologies that impress me very much are the ones for the future, which are hardly applicable right now. A notable example is our venture into quantum computing — but quantum computers don’t exist yet. In building software for a technology that has yet to exist, one needs to have a better understanding of what is possible; where science can go; where physics can go. This forward-looking perspective is a great passion for me, witnessing individuals that have ideas that are farther in the future than then we can imagine.
Secondly, we were, of course, aware of the potential of AI for many, many years. However, many people didn't realise how much AI affected our lives before the LLM (large language models). AI will be a base fundamental of everything, and we believe it will gradually become a standard investment focus for every forward-thinking company.
Regarding dual use solutions, there has been a shift in venture capital perspectives. Previously, investing in defence-oriented dual-use technologies was often discouraged. However, the current geopolitical landscape has prompted a reassessment, recognizing that investments in defence can yield positive outcomes, especially when the solutions developed contribute to saving lives.
What advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to attract investment?
My advice centres on two elements: dedication and uniqueness. Firstly, successful founders have full commitment, where the level of dedication involves continuous problem-solving. It doesn't imply working around the clock but rather having the passion to drive founders to overcome challenges and tackle significant problems. This dedication is linked with hard work, forming the foundation of success.
Secondly, ensure that you are building something unique. Avoid chasing trends. Instead, venture into an area where you have the most expertise. Surround yourself with the best co-founders and assemble a like-minded but also diverse team. Varied expertise is pivotal as you need a team that covers the different aspects of building a successful business. The journey of entrepreneurship cannot be done alone. You need good people to build great businesses.