Max Percherskyi is co-founder of Promo Republic, which he established seven years ago. His company services North American Fortune 500 companies with marketing services and this is one of many Ukrainian startups that we spoke with. He and his fellow founders are all Ukrainian and before the war a significant proportion of his team was based in Ukraine.
He has a lot of experience in startups and notes that flexibility and speed are key elements to the success of a new company.
“Basically, if you’re not embarrassed about your first product or what you had when you first went live, then you are going too slow. Perfection is the enemy of startups, you really need to get going, get feedback, improve and keep on going.”
Speaking on the invasion of Ukraine, Percherskyi is passionate about the rest of the world helping Ukrainian startups. When the draconian events from February 24 unfurled across his country, his initial reaction was to secure the safety of team members.
“All the normal business focuses went out the window while we as leaders had to support our team, bringing them to safety, finding ways of sending resources, helping them find their way to Western Ukraine or even to other countries.
“We had to coordinate and find funds to help our team. But then something else happened. Everyone kept on working. Despite the craziness, the moving, the war, they kept on working.”
Percherskyi understood the Ukrainian government was too busy to help businesses, but he also understands that Ukraine will need this lifeline of startups once the war is over. A month after the invasion, his team, now relocated across Europe, began working in earnest again.
“We’ve passed an unimaginable stress test. When it comes to funding I really hope that VCs look at Ukrainian startups and see that we are made of steel that is fundamental to success.”
Fundraising to help people on the move
Iryna Lorens, the founder of Weld Money, has a long history with crypto, first coming into the space six years ago as a trader. Her startup Weld Money is like a credit card for cryptocurrency. Users sign up to the partner cryptocurrency exchanges where they hold a balance. In return, they get a card or app on their phone which acts like a credit card. Purchases are made in the same way as fiat cards with the Weld Money card acting like a zero balance card. Once a day Weld Money then closes off the overdraft, collects the money and charges a fee.
The initial purchases are done off-chain to speed up transactions and minimize costs. The cards are funded directly from balances held on the exchange. It’s fast, eliminates the need for the user to transfer their stablecoins between accounts and there are plans to add more altcoins going forward.
When the invasion started, Lorens wanted to help immediately. She saw how her startup could help get funds to people who needed it. A fund-raising project began, raising $9million in a matter of days, including a personal donation from Vitalik Buterin. Next was the task of how to get the funds to the Ukrainians in need. There was no way the cards, called Unchained Help, could be posted to people on the move, so the app was vital.
“We did KYC to make sure we are sending money to real people, and initially we identified volunteers,” says Lorens. “But quickly we realized we needed to get it to the refugees directly so identified mothers. We agreed to send €25 per person including the children. It’s not a lot but it’s a way of helping these families survive.”
Currently, $6million has been distributed to the mothers, currently a cohort of some 10,000 women.
“We’d like to do more, but we need to be sustainable for those we are helping.”
Aside from directly helping these families, Loren’s project is also introducing a new audience to crypto.
“Now, they are asking how we can find other ways to earn money in Web 3. We are hoping to partner with online gig platforms and other job creators,” says Lorens.
Making VC Funding easier for startups
Other platforms are stepping up also to help. TeQaltas, an investment matching platform, was set up by Ruslan Gavrilyuk, an experienced investor and hedge fund manager in both fiat and crypto. Ukrainian but living in Switzerland, his platform plans to disrepute traditional VC funding routes by eliminating the middlemen, making it easier to match startups and investors – and cheaper.
“While TeQatlas was set up to become an international funding and matching platform, because of the war we are concentrating on getting funding to Ukrainian startups. I’d like to echo Max Percherskyi’s view – Ukrainian startups are now being forged in the fire of war. They will succeed. And Iryna Loren’s brave help will equip mothers and their children with the knowledge that crypto helped them.
“All the world can see the passion and determination of the Ukrainian people, now we are asking investors to back the entrepreneurs looking to keep the country afloat.”
Dyma Budorin, CEO and co-founder of Hacken, a cybersecurity services consulting company, managed to move his entire team out of Kyiv just before the war began. But it’s not so simple as some of his 80 strong employees who did not leave joined the war effort and some who had left went back to fight. Now, his team is back concentrating on the business of cybersecurity.
“We are launching our own cyber security attacks on the Russian Federation; this is how we are being patriotic. But we are also focusing on growing our business, I am accountable for our employees and also our customers.”
Hacken is possibly the foremost cybersecurity firm for Web 3 but balancing work and the war is not easy. Frequently when Budorin is speaking with Ukrainians now they have to leave the call due to air raid sirens and make their way to bunkers for safety.
“We are growing our business and are now actively seeking to hire Ukrainian developers. They are among the best professionals in the world.”
Budorin is conscious that his business is not affected directly by the war so he feels a responsibility to work even harder.
“Ukrainians are showing the world how strong they are – we want the international business community to back Ukraine wherever possible,” he says.