Lifestyle

This Ukrainian Business Continues to Scale, Despite Missiles, Drones, and Blackouts


What’s it like to operate a Ukrainian business during this time of war?

It’s about constant fear for our close ones, donating and volunteering, and constant hard work. Over the last eight months, our company, CodeGymhas learned to operate under new circumstances. Every member of the team is facing the biggest challenge in their life. For several hours daily some of us don’t have electricity or water, and we often work from bomb shelters, but we are holding on and we won’t stop. We brainstorm, we create, and we release new products.

As the whole world can now see, Ukrainian business and the Ukrainian people are capable of anything. Here is our story.

Can you bounce back quickly?

Before the full-scale invasion started, we were a successful Kyiv-based company with many plans and goals. We already had a popular product, an online platform for learning Java. We wanted to scale it, enter new markets, and grow our customer base. And we had a wonderful office where we liked to gather to talk, and not just about work-related topics.

On February 24, the reality we knew shattered. After the first missile attacks some employees fled the country, and some left Kyiv for other regions of Ukraine. We were in limbo for several weeks. Our team had spread across the globe, but we lost a huge number of customers, particularly Ukrainian clients. To be honest, we didn’t know if the company could survive.

Nevertheless, our top priority was keeping everyone on our team and making sure all our people were safe. We wanted to continue paying our employees because they had to support their families. We had to find new sources of income, react quickly to changing circumstances, create hypotheses, and test them.

There was no hesitation. We were moving as fast as ever before to implement our boldest (maybe some would say the craziest) ideas.

On February 24, the reality we knew shattered. After the first missile attacks some employees fled the country, and some left Kyiv for other regions of Ukraine. We were in limbo for several weeks. Our team had spread across the globe, but we lost a huge number of customers, particularly Ukrainian clients. To be honest, we didn’t know if the company could survive.

Nevertheless, our top priority was keeping everyone on our team and making sure all our people were safe. We wanted to continue paying our employees because they had to support their families. IWe had to find new sources of income, react quickly to changing circumstances, create hypotheses, and test them.

There was no hesitation. We were moving as fast as ever before to implement our boldest (maybe some would say the craziest) ideas.

India or the USA? The sky is the limit!

We entered the Indian market first with our new product, CodeGym Java University. It’s a 12-month course with mentors who guarantee a job offer for every student. Launching this product required a lot of work: improving the platform, preparing the team of mentors , developing and refining the best tools for learning programming (for example, auto-verifications of tasks that students solve and the plugin for IDEA). We hired and trained the team in India and established partnerships with local companies to guarantee employment for our students. We also conduct events that help people choose a profession and learn the basics of programming.

The first group of Indian students is ready to start the journey with CodeGym Java University. We believe in this market. We plan to scale up this project – and our success in India.

Second, we created CodeGym for EDU to help American CS teachers and students. Computer science education in the USA remains underdeveloped today. Only 53% of public schools have foundational CS programs. A main reason is the lack of professional CS teachers. Specialists qualified to teach students programming or prepare them for exams (for instance, the AP Java Exam) mostly prefer to work for IT companies. Quite often, other faculty members (sometimes even sports coaches) have to teach CS classes. And usually, it is a challenge for them.

We decided to change this situation and created a product to help teach CS and maintain students’ motivation. Also, it’s useful for the preparation for the Java AP Exam. The system is already used in 12 countries by more than 3,000 students in 144 learning groups . More than 50 schools have already tried CodeGym for EDU. We are proud that our students win Olympiads and coding competitions.We continue working on our core product, a self-paced Java course.

We hope to multiply the revenue it generates in the USA and European countries. To achieve that, we are developing our brand with the help of one of the most influential creative agencies in the world. And our SEO team is just great. Thanks to their efforts, organic traffic has grown by 2.5 times since the beginning of the year.

And, of course, we continue working on our core product – a self-paced Java course. We hope to multiply the revenue it generates in the USA and European countries. To achieve that, we develop our brand with the help of one of the most influential creative agencies in the world. Also, our SEO team is just great: thanks to their efforts, organic traffic has grown by 2.5 times since the beginning of the year.

At war, people really come first

Behind every one of our accomplishments is an incredible team working at the edge of the impossible. Creating new products is not easy even in normal times. Conducting research, validating hypotheses, developing strategies, designing and making products, promoting them, and continuous improvement are serious tasks that require enormous involvement, a high degree of synchronization, and a lot of effort, creativity, and innovation. It is much more difficult to do this all in wartime, during blackouts, with air raid sirens but without heating, from bomb shelters , under severe stress without very much sleep.

But our team does it. Every day. It may sound like bragging, but I’m extremely proud and grateful to our team members. A year ago, we couldn’t have imagined that we would be so strong. But we are. We are strong, motivated, resilient, and incredibly united. We support each other and create new products together, even though we work from different cities and countries.

It’s really hard, especially in terms of communication. The enemy has recently attacked our critical infrastructure with drones. Ukrainians are without electricity for several hours every day. There’s no clear schedule. Different parts of the same city may experience blackouts at different hours. It’s almost impossible to gather people for an online meeting.

We adjusted by switching mostly to asynchronous communication. We write more than we talk. If someone misses the meeting, we share short notes with them about what we discussed, what insights and ideas we came up with, what decisions we made, etc.

Every employee’s situation is unique. For example, our designer spent several months in a village with a very poor Internet connection. She had to catch the signal and work from where she caught it. One of our developers moved to the countryside with his family and continues working there.

The war has brought tragedy to our team. One of our colleagues died in a shelling. We try to do as much as possible for his wife and two children. We will continue paying his salary for as long as possible and find a therapist for them .

What Ukrainian business has learned from the war

On a personal level, we have learned to be prepared for anything. For example, today, I had three meetings in a row. There was no electricity for several hours, but I was ready. My phone and laptop were fully charged. There was almost no mobile Internet connection, but I have a 4G WiFi Router which can connect to base stations at a distance up to 6 km (in the area where electricity is on).

With time, I have come up with a list of everything I need to continue working productively under any circumstances:

– MacBook, always charged (guarantees 5-6 hours of active work).

– 2 powerbanks (36,000 and 30,000 mAh). They have solar panels and Type-C connectors so I can charge my Mac.

– 2 smartphones with sim cards of different mobile operators.

– 4G WiFi Router (4G WiFi OLAX AX6 PRO) with a built-in battery that can find working base stations at quite a long distance.

– Tourist gas stove with several bottles of gas in case there is no electricity for a long time (I do not have an ordinary gas stove at home).

– Powerful flashlight.

– iPad with a keyboard and a mouse.

– Food and water.

Also, I’m considering buying Starlink and a powerful solar panel, but maybe later.

So, it’s my “managerial toolkit” for the moment. But jokes aside, we came to some important conclusions over the last eight months. Such as the future is highly uncertain. Our essential task is learning to deal with uncertainty. We must always think about different future scenarios, diversify risks, and have a default plan for at least 2-4 weeks.

That’s what we do. We learn daily how to work in a multicultural environment and hire, onboard, and integrate people into teams in other countries. I am proud that we have adapted relatively quickly and that we didn’t lay off people. Moreover, we paid all the salaries, hired new employees, and continued to grow and provide value to millions of people worldwide. I believe, under current circumstances, we can call that a significant achievement.

Alex Yelenevych. Co-founder, Chief Marketing Officer at CodeGym https://codegym.cc/. He leads the product development, being responsible for the marketing strategy and growth. Alex graduated from the National Technical University of Ukraine with a specialist degree at Computer System networking and Telecommunications in 2014. After graduation, Alex has been working for three years in companies like Starwind Software, BlackBerry Ukraine etc, in both technical and marketing positions. Also, Alex is an active member of the Product Management & Startup Community in Ukraine, often speaks at Marketing and Product conferences and is a regular writer at Java related magazines and blogs.



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