On Monday last week, Twitter users woke up to broken links and pictures. The micro-blogging site soon fixed it and cited “an internal change” as the cause.
However, it was later revealed that the site went down because Twitter, which Elon Musk bought for $44B last year, had only one site reliability engineer staffed on its new paid API for developers project.
The unique ways in which Twitter’s website is breaking lately is a case study in itself but also shows the fragility of tech products and services.
When Twitter, now owned by the world’s richest person, is struggling to keep its services stable, imagine running a tech product or service from a warzone.
Well, not to anyone’s surprise, Ukraine’s tech ecosystem has not only shown resilience but is thriving in the face of uncertainty.
This resilience of Ukraine’s tech ecosystem and its show of strength is not an anomaly but is part of design and preparedness.
Resilience comes from preparedness
At the start of the war last year, Oleksandr Kosovan, CEO of MacPaw, a company building Mac utility applications, wrote in a blog post that the company has been preparing for these circumstances.
While Kosovan immediately focussed on the safety of his peers, he now says more than 70 per cent of MacPaw’s team is in Ukraine now.
“They are either working from MacPaw’s office in Kyiv or other cities in Ukraine,” says Kosovan.
MacPaw’s preparedness is no less than that of a country on a war footing.
With its products being used by 30 million people in more than 180 countries, Kosovan says their risk mitigation plan helped them get through the first weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
“We prepared the business to work fully autonomously or with minimum human support if needed,” he says.
The risk mitigation plan also included MacPaw factoring in potential loss of physical assets as a security threat to the business.
At the start of the war, MacPaw products were in code freeze mode, which meant that its engineers did not make any changes to the product.
Kosovan says, “When the team got to more safe places and was able to get back to work, we started making updates and big releases again.”
Not every company, however, is operating from Ukraine. IdeaSoft, a Ukrainian software development company, has its business team and R&D team operating from Europe.
“We have some team members who got back to Kharkiv when the situation stabilised a bit,” says Ann Datsenko of COO IdeaSoft.
Like MacPaw, IdeaSoft had a business continuity plan in place in the aftermath of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Datsenko adds, “The core team was actively involved in all BCP activities 24/7 for the first weeks of the war and helped to evacuate and coordinate dozens of employees and their relatives.”
The software startup also created a custom mental health support programme for its employees. Datsenko says some clients began considering Ukrainian companies as high-risk vendors and “started cutting teams or projects.”
Daria Yaniieva, Investment Director at Sigma Software Labs, says they had to adapt to a new reality but were quickly able to develop a proper strategy and became fully operational in just two weeks.
“Moreover, 70 per cent of our staff resumed their work within just a week after the outbreak of the war which is a great example of how resilient and determined Ukrainians can be,” adds Yaniieva.
TechUkraine‘s Director Nataly Veremeeva says “tech companies in Ukraine are financially successful, well-connected with the rest of the world, have global outlook and strategic thinking” and this makes them resilient in adversity.
A changed tech landscape
The resilience of Ukraine’s tech ecosystem also shows the changed landscape. While other industries got severely affected due to a lot of damage to physical assets, the service of Ukraine’s tech industry managed to keep most of the contacts with clients.
The tech companies were able to organise quality delivery even from bomb shelters. “Partly it happened due to the incredible organisation of UA tech companies,” adds Veremeeva.
She says Ukraine’s tech community is used to working in a challenging and unstable environment and attention from the international community helped bring new business contacts and investments.
According to a report published by Lviv IT Cluster, 44 per cent of the sector’s employees noted change in their work while 27 per cent changed the place of work.
The report also highlights how new forms of work, including remote work, part-time employment, and unemployment also appeared after the war.
Amidst the changing tech landscape, Veremeeva highlights that the tech sector continues to be one of the pillars of Ukrainian resistance by offering support in the form of money, technology, tech specialists volunteering in the cyber army, and developing new solutions that overcome imminent threats.
“Our biggest achievement over the past year is the strong faith in our strength and future victory and ability to deliver important messages to global communities, the support of which is critical for our common future,” she says.
Blackouts become a challenge
All the tech executives agree that winter and electrical outages because of the result of Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian cities and civil infrastructure became one of biggest challenges for businesses.
Kosovan says they prepared three different contingency plans for different scale and duration of blackouts.
“The blackout emergency procedures vary according to the duration of the electrical outages: up to three days; from three days to two weeks; two weeks and longer,” he says.
From installing a generator for backup power and several uninterrupted internet access points to water reservoirs to overcome disruption of central water supply, MacPaw took measures to become autonomous.
The company even created a calendar of scheduled blackouts to get advance notification. “In the case of blackouts lasting three days or more, the question of productivity will take a backseat until the situation with the energy supply stabilises,” adds Kosovan.
IdeaSoft COO Datsenko says they supplied employees with special equipment to keep their hardware and internet working for several hours during a blackout.
They also equipped all their offices with generators while Sigma Software Group offices got Starlinks from SpaceX for stable work during blackouts.
A thriving tech ecosystem
Ukraine‘s tech ecosystem has always been prepared for the inevitable and trained for a change.
Their resilience gets capped by a thriving tech ecosystem where new tech companies are being formed and existing ones get funded.
In late February, Deus Robotics, a Ukrainian startup specialising in warehouse robotics engineering and software development, announced raising $1.5 million in seed funding from SMRK VC.
Volodymyr Lukianenko, on the other hand, started a new IT company called SheltSoft. He says the war was not a deterrent for them to start a new IT company and it allowed them to unite their efforts.
“Ukraine is a land of possibilities, even now despite all these disturbing circumstances,” says Lukianenko, COO and co-founder of SheltSoft.
He says the circumstances do make it harder at times to concentrate on the work, especially when Ukraine continues to face shelling from Russia.
For situations like these, Lukianenko says Ukraine’s tech companies have built a distributed team that can support each other.
“When there’s an air raid alert in Ukraine and we cannot fully dedicate ourselves to work – we can rely on our colleagues in Poland. They can quickly pick up another’s team tasks and substitute them if needed,” he explains.
Within a week of the war, MacPaw went from code freeze to releasing a Slack bot called Together App and a wartime product called SpyBuster, a free app for macOS and iOS to help people protect their data from cyberthreat.
“We responded to the Russian invasion by putting our experience and knowledge into creating new useful products for Ukrainians,” explains Kosovan.
Role of tech companies in rebuilding Ukraine
TechUkraine’s Veremeeva says the country’s tech community has a vital role in rebuilding the society.
To rebuild Ukraine, she says there is need for great maturity, global outlook, ability to plan and think strategically, European mindset.
“I personally think that participants of UA Tech have with no exaggeration become the new intellectual elites of the country, that Ukraine will severely rely on when rebuilding,” she says.
Daria Yaniieva, Investment Director at Sigma Software Labs, notes, “As technologies are penetrating every aspect of our lives we’ll definitely see the emergence and rise of hundreds of new promising startups and product companies that will shape not only the future of Ukraine and Ukrainians, but they will impact the whole world.”
She also highlights the $3.8M donated by Sigma Software Group, its partners and employees to help the Ukrainian army and refugees. MacPaw, according to Kosovan, has donated $6.3M to help Ukrainians since the war began.
Another key player in rebuilding Ukraine with its tech ecosystem at the centre is Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation.
Established in 2019, the Ministry of Digital Transformation was formed to transform Ukraine into a digital society or what its President Volodymyr Zelensky calls “State in a Smartphone.”
“The mission is to build the most convenient state for citizens and businesses in terms of receiving public services. Make the state a convenient service for everyone,” says Alex Bornyakov, the Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine and Head of the Diia City project.
Bornyakov adds that digitisation of Ukraine continues despite rocket attacks and a full-scale war with Russia. However, the vision has changed to make technology essential for the military to achieve results.
“The ministry’s vision is for Ukraine to become a military-tech centre of Eastern Europe and to share its products with the world,” adds Bornyakov.
The post-war Ukraine is hard to imagine while it continues to keep Russia at bay but there is inkling of that future.
Bornyakov envisions Ukraine as the most digital and convenient country in the world.
He says, “The future of Ukraine will involve one of the best tax systems in the world, innovations in the defence industry, and an ‘Iron Dome’ of its own.”
Future of Ukraine’s tech and startup ecosystem
Kosovan sees Ukraine becoming the place in Europe where innovative businesses and technologies are created.
“After Ukraine wins this war, we should rebuild our country by investing in future industries and high-quality education,” he says.
He says venture funds should invest in innovative and ambitious Ukrainian IT startups to help Ukraine advance into a growth economy faster.
One such investor is SMRK Venture Fund, which only invested in Deus Robotics but also invested an additional $1M in Ukrainian startup Esper Bionics.
Datsenko wants to shift the focus to the pool of skilled developers and business owners who have persisted in developing innovative projects, products, and startups despite the ongoing war.
She adds, “The country is fast becoming a progressive hub for web3 technologies, and our talented developers and managers are well-equipped to drive product and project development.”
Yaniieva asserts that the full-scale war had a negative impact on Ukraine’s tech ecosystem. She sees an evolving industry with huge developments in military tech and healthtech.
Veremeeva has not only seen Ukraine’s tech startups take roots but also grow and become resilient during the war.
She says Ukraine’s tech and startup ecosystem is preparing for future growth. “The most important is to make the investment climate of Ukraine more transparent and welcoming, so that the new wave of startups with critical solutions get enough funding to develop their ideas,” she says.
A lot has been done to propel tech education but Veremeeva wants to see more investment and reforms being done in creating an opportunity for tech education countrywide.
At TechUkraine, they are helping set up frameworks and systems that will allow further innovation and growth of Ukraine’s tech ecosystem.
The journey of Ukraine’s tech companies and entrepreneurs is as remarkable as that of its war-time leader and the people.
They have not only shown great resilience and will to face adversity but are also placed to make big changes. Ukraine’s tech ecosystem might be thriving now but post-war, it could become the most transformative globally.