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I am a Ukrainian entrepreneur with two companies based in Ukraine. My team and customers have been greatly impacted by this full-scale merciless war, but I am pleased to say that 80 percent of my team continues to work full-time and business remains strong.
How? I did not prepare for war – I could never have imagined this. But I did build my businesses to be resilient. Now those preparations are proving their worth. I want to share the most important seven things we did.
But first, some context. I founded Redwerk in 2005; it is a software development agency specializing in SaaS products. We spun out a separate company, QAwerk, in 2015. It provides software testing and quality assurance. Before the war, my teams were distributed across Ukraine and abroad, and we have R&D offices in Kyiv and Zaporizhia. Today, some members have fled Ukraine. About 20% have either joined the country’s armed forces, are volunteering to support the country in other ways, or have dropped to part-time. But most remain working.
My business stands thanks to the years of hard work and my team’s continuous dedication toward establishing a solid business. Here are our building blocks.
1. Streamline Remote Work
For a digital agency, I see no point working from an office 9 to 5. We worked remotely long before the war and even the pandemic, and have grown into a fully distributed company.
Flexible scheduling has been key in working through the war. Pre-war, our employees might not start their workday until 2 pm Now that some of my teammates have to hide in bomb shelters because of air raid warnings, everyone works as many hours as possible and whenever there’s a window for focused work.
I established these policies to help my team find work-life balance. I wasn’t preparing for the war. Let your people work unusual hours, trust them to do their best work when it suits them, and you’ll surround yourself with the most loyal and invested teammates.
Work is a great cure for disturbing thoughts about a war. It helps us worry less and preserves mental health.
2. Use The Cloud
People need a fully-functional infrastructure that’s readily available for them to jump into and continue their work.
All the critical infrastructure, such as Jira, code repositories, backups, should be in the cloud. If I had some of the infrastructure on-premises, it would remain under the constant threat of physical destruction.
Most trusted cloud infrastructure providers offer built-in security and data availability controls for speedy disaster recovery.
3. Nurture Client Relations
It is the dark hour that reveals the true value behind your partnerships. Committed customers will support you without a second thought.
From the moment the world learned about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, most of our customers reached out and offered tangible support, be it a team bonus, reassurance in further cooperation, or ample time to relocate and adapt.
But this did not happen by itself. It happened because we always prioritized understanding our client’s expectations. At Redwerk, hardly a discovery call goes by without asking what’s on the prospect’s wishlist, what engagement models they prefer, and what milestones they hope to achieve.
Pay attention to how your client meetings go. If you’ve never had a laugh with your client, or if you feel overwhelmed rather than excited, that’s a red flag.
Instead of trying to win all the clients, focus on attracting partners with the same work ethic and outlook as you do.You want to work with people who prioritize results and team dedication over precise estimates and fixed prices.
4. Stay Agile
The year 2020 has taught me something important about change: It is more important to promptly react to changing conditions than it is to stick to a continuity plan.
As a result, the moment we learned about Russia’s troops heading to our borders, we knew we had to devise a Plan B immediately. We surveyed our team to understand their views and readiness to relocate.
Manage employee expectations and be transparent from day one. We clearly communicated that while we’re in this together, each member is responsible for their safety. It was not feasible to relocate the entire team in a centralized way; some care about elderly parents, and others wanted to fight or reconnect with their relatives in western Ukraine.
To motivate my team to take action, I gave out relocation stipends in advance, with zero bureaucracy. People just needed to show up, take their cash, and use it to protect themselves and their families. Office managers shifted priorities toward providing logistics assistance.
5. Diversify Finances
Capital management takes time to master, but the very first thing you can do is think of ways to diversify your financial resources. A government in the state of emergency may limit the amount of cash withdrawn and restrict other financial operations.
It makes sense to look beyond international fintechs like Wise and save up some crypto. Thanks to savings in several wallets and global payment systems, it’s easy for us to pay salaries to relocated employees and cover imminent war emergencies.
My emergency fund was ready both in crypto and cash to guarantee all-time access to the money.
6. Keep Hiring
I believed this during the pandemic and will emphasize again now: Don’t lay off your employees. When a crisis strikes, conservative businesses think of ways to cut costs, and downsizing often tops their list. My strategy is different: Use this opportunity to attract top talent and grow your team.
Despite the war, we keep hiring! While engineers generate income, marketing and sales reps can be requalified into lead gens, content creators, or volunteers creating awareness of the situation among foreign partners. This way you help both the business and the country.
7. Think Globally
All the tech companies who worked exclusively in Ukraine are now in despair. There’s no time to penetrate a foreign market. Employees also need to be retrained: English proficiency or cultural awareness may not be strong.
If your business is only tailored to a local market, research what geographies may benefit from your expertise and think of additional services you can offer.
Our clientele is global, yet it took us 17 years to build that reputation and win clients from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. About 70% of our prospects come by word of mouth, which isn’t something you can achieve overnight.
Business continuity requires doing your job well every day – as a founder, employer, and human. There is always something you cannot be ready for. My team and I are learning and acting as the situation unfolds.