10 Ukrainian Founders’ Stories on Leading Web3 Businesses During the War and Bear Market

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Since the start of the russian invasion, Ukrainian Web3 founders had to help their employees relocate and keep businesses afloat in such emotional and stressful times. While making tough decisions and saving their and their employees’ lives, some also broke a leg in business development. I talked to eight badass, brave Ukrainian founders about their ways of leading Web3 companies during the war and bear market.

Victoria Loskutova

Victoria is a badass tech, Web3 writer, event organizer, and rebel that stands for underrepresented communities.

*Writing the word “russia” (“russian” and “moscow”) from a small letter is a new trend due to its state terrorism actions towards Ukraine and Ukrainians, and the author supports it.

Thousands of lives were ruined by the russian invasion of Ukraine in February. Deadly crimes of rushists made millions of people flee the country. Among all the horrible events and circumstances, Web3 founders had to help their employees relocate and keep businesses afloat in such emotional and stressful times. While making tough decisions and saving their and their employees’ lives, some also broke a leg in business development. I talked to eight badass, brave Ukrainian founders about their ways of leading Web3 companies during the war and bear market.

Dyma Budorin, Founder and CEO of Hacken

Dyma Budorin is a cybersecurity expert and crypto economy influencer with 14+ years of managerial expertise in the accounting business (The Big Four) and cybersecurity. He is a certified member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). In his professional auditing career, Dyma methodically climbed the ranks of the Big Four to become a Senior Manager at Deloitte. He served as an Audit Counselor in Ukrspetsexport and Deputy CEO for Strategy and Development at Ukrinmash.

In 2017, Dyma decided to channel his immense experience in auditing and business development into Web3, a growing global phenomenon at that time. Dyma establishes Hacken – a cybersecurity auditor with a vision of transforming Web3 into a more ethical industry. As the company’s Founder and CEO, Dyma is responsible for leading the team of 88+ talented specialists and providing a vision of the future. Dyma’s contribution to Web3 is widely recognized. In 2021, he joined the list of the top 50 Ukrainian IT entrepreneurs. Dyma consults the Ukrainian government on the adoption of a virtual economy. He is a regular participant in major Web3 cybersecurity events as an invited speaker.

“Undoubtedly, the most vital real-world change for our company has been russian unjustified and unprovoked aggression against the sovereign nation of Ukraine, our homeland. We helped 70 team members safely evacuate to Western Europe two weeks before the full-scale invasion. We offered $4,000 to workers who left the country and $2,000 to those who relocated within Ukraine and helped find accommodation,” said Dyma. “As experts, we provided aid in cybersecurity to the Ministry of Digital Transformation and National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. In addition, we launched Liberator – Hacken’s app with 100K+ downloads that allows users to lend computing power to distributed denial-of-service attacks against russian propaganda sites.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that “dozens of employees at Ukrainian cybersecurity startup Hacken fled their war-torn country and found refuge about 2,000 miles away in Portugal. Since then, they have managed to keep their business alive and are now supporting cyber operations against russia. The company moved its main office from Kyiv to Lisbon, with stops in between.”

Hacken’s offices are now in Lisbon, Portugal, and Tallinn, Estonia. Dyma says, “Hacken will be very strong after the Ukrainian victory in this war, there is no doubt. Regarding the bear market in crypto, industry leaders recognize that our products are vital regardless of market conditions. What effect does the bear market have on the cybersecurity field? Projects generally do fewer audits and launch fewer bug bounty programs with lower rewards for found bugs.” 

“Nevertheless, big and reputable Web3 projects, those with large capitalization and those that care about their security continue to do regular audits, pentests, and bug bounties. So the demand is still there,” added Budorin. “Our security coverage is expanding, and we keep evolving core products while focusing on our main goal — transforming Web3 into a more ethical industry.”

Vadym Hrusha, CEO and Co-Founder of Trustee Plus

Vadym Hrusha is an entrepreneur and IT specialist with sixteen years of professional experience. As an active participant in the crypto community since 2013, he attended many events in Ukraine and worldwide. Vadym is the head of the Blockchain section at the most prominent Ukrainian offline conference dedicated to the Internet – IForum. Hrusha is also the organizer of the international conference – Money of the Future – showcasing innovations in financial technology. Vadym’s primary focus now is Trustee Plus. It is a crypto neobank he co-founded as part of Trustee Global, an ecosystem for working with cryptocurrencies that includes a vault Trustee Wallet with half a million downloads since its launch in May 2019. The company has 20+ employees.

Trustee Plus is a crypto neobank offering a full range of services and crypto-asset management tools. It combines the bank and platform, where users can buy and sell cryptocurrencies using the card. Using Trustee Plus, anyone can transfer their assets using a phone number, even if the recipient has not yet installed the app. The product was released on July 15th, 2022, and gained almost 4K users in a month. It’s easy to manage its account from a smartphone, and, in addition, it has zero fees with excellent transfer speed. 

“During the first week of the war, the team was disorganized and out of order. We made daily phone calls, checking that everyone was safe. Some of our employees were right in the fight zones, so we had to relocate them to Vinnytsia as soon as possible,” said Vadym. 

“The first thing we did was shutting down all operations with the russian ruble. We developed a tool for donating in crypto, started helping people from the occupied territories to make money by trading cryptocurrencies, transferred part of our income to support the army, and volunteered. In about two weeks after the war started, we were back to work fully,” added Hrusha. “The situation in Ukraine deeply saddens us, but we are doing everything we can. Our goal is to help Ukraine restore peace, keep our people well by protecting monetary values, support the economy and bring our victory closer.”

Dzmitry Leukavets, Founder and CEO of waka

Dzmitry Leukavets is the Founder and CEO of waka – a bonding app – who made Ukraine his home after disturbances in Belarus in 2020. He has six years of experience in the blockchain industry, led marketing campaigns for blockchain startups, and published research cited by Yahoo, Binance, and Investing.com.

“Immediately after the protests in 2020, I had to leave for Kyiv because of the threat of reprisals. Most of my friends also moved to different countries, and I had to establish social connections in a new place. There were no applications for finding friends then, so I decided to make my own and created waka. Kyiv and Ukraine became my second home, where I founded my first startup, found the love of my life, and made dozens of new connections,” said Dzmitry.

waka is a digital sandbox for finding friends and dates. It was born in Kyiv a year ago due to increased loneliness and lack of social bonding opportunities in the digital world. It has incorporated gamification techniques to remove the burden of breaking the ice and finding friends and dates. The team has assembled the Bonding DAO from seven projects and hundred fifty researchers and industry professionals to find the solution to the problem of loneliness and build a metaverse of socialization projects on the NEAR blockchain. Today waka has 70K+ registered users, $180K of funding from six angel investors, and a $40K grant from Near Protocol and Human Guild.

“We help people find friends based on interests and preferences – meme swipes, horoscopes, personality tests, anonymous chat mechanics, etc. The product consists of a web application (where all the gamification takes place) and a messenger bot (for authorization and push notifications). We have 50K+ (today 70+K) users, and you can try waka in Telegram now,” wrote Leukavets in his article about waka, adding stats and explaining why gamified dating is cool and becomes popular fast.

Even before the war, the waka employees worked remotely, but most of the team and a significant part of the app’s users were in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. The war became a massive challenge for the project and its creators. 

“We had to relocate urgently, lost a large round of investments, and our users had no time for dating. waka had to cut the costs to stay afloat, revise the roadmap to focus on essential features, and quickly learn how to do product marketing in Europe. However, all the stressful steps turned out to be important: we managed to significantly increase the metrics and come to the monetization of the product much earlier than planned,” stated Dzmitry.

In terms of the bear market, Leukavets says that “compared to the war, it does not seem to be something extraordinary. Having been working with blockchain projects since 2016, I understand that it (bear market) is necessary to weed out all the hype from the market. The main achievement of waka during this time was monetization testing with a $2.07 CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) purchase, which is fifty times lower than the market average. This successful experiment proves that waka’s model can sustain itself. It puts us on the way to finding PMF (Probability Mass Function) and validates our long-term strategy. Our model is similar to Roblox, in which creators create paid content rooms, and we share the profits.”

Anton Vaisburd, Head at Near UA, Co-founder of Datrics, GP at SID Ventures, GP at tnx.ventures

Anton Vaisburd has a background in analytics, machine learning, management, and business consulting. He worked at Barclays, a UK corporate bank. His investment banking department at Barclays Capital decided to locate its third global ODC (Offshore Development Center) in Kyiv and opened it with EPAM Systems as a partner. Anton co-founded Datrics, raised over $2.5M in investments, and joined YCombinator. 

Later, Anton and his team started the creation of the Ukrainian community hub NEAR UA in partnership with the NEAR Foundation. 

NEAR UA is a regional hub, community, foundation, project accelerator, product lab, and job aggregator for developers in the NEAR ecosystem. The venture division of NEAR UA includes a product laboratory that finances projects built on NEAR. The hub’s team implements projects on the NEAR protocol and holds events for the community. Hackathon For Ukraine, for instance, drew attention to large-scale problems and focused on the cultural sector of Ukraine in the context of the war. One of the relevant global cases was NEAR Space with the support of NEAR Ukraine. This event was part of the Ethereum Community Conference (EthCC) and attracted 1500+ experts and enthusiasts.

“We realized that we should do what we do best, namely, create products,” Anton Vaisburd shared. “We try to work harder because the better we work, the more we can pay taxes and support Ukraine.”

Some of NEAR UA’s team works in Ukraine and others in EU countries. In connection with the war, the company launched a thriving activity in Portugal to enable Ukrainians to stay in the community, get the necessary communication and find new work opportunities. 

“On the one hand, we are an independent and commercial organization,” Vaisburd says. “On the other hand, we are a regional center and a community of people building on the NEAR protocol. We help our employees to flee Ukraine, build a laboratory of products, and are deeply connected with the core as a whole ecosystem.”

The company’s top management had to relocate people to Portugal efficiently and quickly and make difficult decisions. “Of course, we hoped it would be possible to return to Ukraine quickly,” he adds. “As a result, we managed to gather around ourselves a community of people and other founders and continue our work. In general, I think we manage to go through all this with honor.”

As for the bear market, Anton thinks that “it is more difficult to interest and attract people, but any bear market weeds out all the “husk.” Only those products that are worth it remain on the market, raise money no matter what, and solve problems.”

Olesya Solomina, Co-founder of New Climate

Olesya Solomina has an extensive experience in crypto marketing, business development, and fundraising. She has worked in biodiversity forest restoration and carbon markets for over four years. Olesya is a co-founder of New Climate – the first-ever plant-2-earn Metaforestation project.

New Climate was founded in January 2022. The team of nine has encountered the inability of small forest businesses to produce carbon credits on the voluntary market that was initially, in fact, intended for small companies but became only affordable to big landowners due to high registration costs. So the idea was to create an alternative on-chain carbon market in the Metaverse. More than two hundred workplaces were created and more than forty types of plants planted.

“Our team is primarily Ukrainian. Everyone was at home when the full-scale invasion began. A part of the team gathered immediately and left Kyiv together as a caravan. The work was halted for the first two months. We evacuated our kids, managed our lives in new circumstances, and helped volunteers. Some team members have already returned to Ukraine, and some have never left. The entire tech team and art department are in Ukraine right now. I am in Portugal for the safety of my two little kids,” said Olesya.

Olesya shared that in their business, everything is divided into offline and on-chain. While on-chain at New Climate is greatly self-organized, establishing online work with the foresters is one of the hardest. 

“Part of our work is educational – we teach foresters biodiversity and its importance. Many of them only had experience with manufactured technical forests, which is different. Working via Zoom calls was a challenge at first! The most important thing for us now is attracting partners, and we are focused on cooperating with them and product development. We’ll use the revenue from the sold NFTs and metaverse trees to plant a new forest. Plus, we are creating new revenue streams,” shared Solomina. “The low market gives us opportunities to prepare well. Our goal is to create a market-ready product with the functioning infrastructure before the mint date, and there is a lot more work to do.”

Dmitriy Kotliarov, Co-Founder of DeXe Network

Dmitriy Kotliarov has lived in Kyiv since 2008. He has always been passionate about trading and got into crypto in 2016, starting with mining like many at that time. With his experience building the private institutional social trading platform Bill Trade, Kotliarov soon noticed significant inefficiencies in DeFi trading that he could solve by creating a decentralized platform accessible to everyone. Together with his co-founder, they built DeXe Network

Essentially, the goal was to bring to DeFi trading the professional tools previously only available to CeFi traders. Dmitriy and his team expanded the original vision into an entire ecosystem of integrated products. These include free social trading tools like Wallet Info and Wallet-to-Wallet Copying, the spun-out 111PG anti-bot service, the Kattana trading terminal, which has already processed millions of transactions, and more.

In the past six months, the DEXE token has been added to Coinbase Custody, where institutional investors can access it. It was also listed on Huobi. The team collaborated with Binance Exchange several times and even sponsored a Binance meetup in Kyiv before the war. 

“DEXE is the first Ukrainian project to be listed on Binance, and we are very proud to represent Ukraine on this biggest crypto exchange,” said Dmitriy. “Our headquarters are in Kyiv, which was a terrifying place to be in the first weeks of the war. People anticipated russian troops to bombard it heavily and try to invade.”

Kotliarov shared that the team had to work around the curfews and bomb sirens from shelters. “My co-founder and I felt a big responsibility for our employees, so we helped them move to safer Ukrainian regions. Since many of our team members are men and there was martial law forbidding men from leaving the country, the goal was to keep them and their families as secure as possible in Ukraine. We also provided financial support. Each of us was and still is involved in volunteer activities to help the refugees, the wounded, and others devastated by the war.”

Dmitriy is sure that showing the world the resilience of the Ukrainian nation in every aspect of life, including blockchain development, is vital for helping the world understand the spirit of the Ukrainians and their contributions to the world, even in the face of mortal danger. 

Igor Stadnyk, Founder and CEO of INC4, PembRock Finance, Minerall.io

Igor Stadnyk has been in software development for more than fifteen years and got into crypto in 2016 by mostly mining Bitcoin and Ethereum. He is now the Founder and CEO of INC4PembRock Finance, and Minerall.io. Igor is a top-rated domain expert in developing blockchain and high-load systems. In addition, he has vast experience in team management with a successful track record and spent over fourteen years creating projects for clients in different industries, including advertising, trading, telecom, IoT sector, and others.

“Given the tremendous growth of DeFi, NFTs, and decentralized systems as a whole, our cool team of blockchain developers at INC4 started creating new dapps on Ethereum. I was later introduced to the NEAR protocol and was really impressed by its technical prowess and fast-growing community. This was the basis for the development of PembRock, the NEAR ecosystem’s first leveraged yield farming platform,” told Stadnyk Crypto News Daily in his interview.

Igor’s INC4 team counts 70+ employees. Before, it was an outsourcing company, but now they concentrate on its own product development. 

“We have offices in Kyiv. At the beginning of the war, we supported our employees as much as possible and helped the displaced ones find and pay for housing. For the first three months, we helped employees with rentals. Previously, the team was concentrated in Kyiv, and now we are scattered across Ukraine and Europe (Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and other countries),” stated Igor. “Many employees left for safer Ukrainian regions, but now most returned to Kyiv. At work, everything is stable at the moment. We never stopped working after the invasion, and the projects continued to develop. But the first week was tough – not everyone could work in such conditions.”

Igor Stadnyk added that they “constantly help physically and financially” as a team. In April 2022, at the Bitcoin conference, he collected donations for doctors in Mykolaiv instead of selling his company’s products.

“The bear market certainly affects the industry, but it started after the war, and we were ready for it. For example, we managed to conduct an IDO for PembRock Finance just during a hard fall. Now we pay a lot of attention to the project’s development because the markets are changing, and it is vital to be successful both during bear and bull markets,” added Igor.

Elena Krykun, Founder of Hot Killers

Elena Krykun is the founder of Hot Killers, a marketing agency specializing in the crypto market. Previously Elena co-owned a social consulting agency, Paragraph, and was the President of JCI Ukraine in 2012.

Hot Killers, a crypto-marketing agency, was created in 2017. It provides community-based marketing and business development services: from the project genesis to the IDO funds accumulation. With the help of the Hot Killers team, their clients have accumulated $50M total. The core team has more than twenty members located in seven countries. Hot Killers developed over eighteen projects, including EnvelopLocalTradePureFiArtwallet, and others.

“When the war started, part of the team was in Ukraine – in Kyiv and Dnipro in particular. On the first day of the russian invasion, we gathered in a bomb shelter in Kyiv and spent a week there: ten adults, two little kids, two dogs, and three cats. We were looking after our kids and entertaining them while continuing the work, organizing funding and cyber attacks on the russian websites,” stated Elena. “We tagged the most popular places in moscow with more than two thousand photos of killed Ukrainians on Google maps and left more than 100K comments and messages about the war.”

Elena shared that some Hot Killers’ clients are foreigners, so they never halted operations. Due to the decentralized governance, they didn’t stop the working process when one or more team members became temporarily unavailable. By juggling work tasks between the departments, every employee could solve all relocation difficulties. Some team members have decided to stay in Ukraine for personal reasons.

“The bear market completely changes marketing. All these years, we have been offering solely community-based marketing. In the new conditions, we have gone deeper with this technique by controlling each process step, from the product packaging to the go-to-market strategy. Companies have to check their communities’ reactions to every move. We have created several robust solutions and established new partnerships,” added Krykun.

Valentin Sotov, Founder and Product Owner of AMBER

Valentin Sotov is an entrepreneur with a career in marketing and art. AMBER’s story started the moment when Valentin met Andreas Kobal, his current CTO, at the cafe in Mukachevo, Ukraine, on December 3rd, 2021. That evening, Andreas was holding a presentation of his e-Zakarpattya blockchain project. The presentation impressed Sotov – it coincided with his product vision so much that it was hard to believe. Inspired by a common idea, they were able to gather a solid team and start development.

AMBER metaverse is a free-to-play blockchain game and platform for virtual worlds with various game modes and a play-to-own economy. The team’s mission is blockchain mass adoption and creating a seamless transition to Web3 for Web2 users. The entire economy is based on using an AMBER token to buy a game pass, which allows the user to earn rewards in the form of virtual property.

The project is only six months young. The team had to grow the business during the war, relocation, and all the stress involved. But despite all the horror and emotional turbulence, they already achieved excellent results. Amber built MVP and created more than fifty partnerships within the blockchain ecosystem; developed a unique Smart NFT avatar technology and a module that allows embedding NFTs in any visual space; launched the mint of the Smart NFT avatar collection. The team counts fifteen strong professionals that top management is proud to have onboard.

“We felt the approaching danger; you could feel it in the air. I didn’t want to believe the invasion would happen, but we all intuitively packed our backpacks on the evening of February 23rd and mentally said goodbye to our hometown. The following day, we woke up to information about the beginning of the war, got ready, had coffee, and got into the car. Later our tire broke, so we had to find another car fast,” said Valentin. “We left for Romania. As it turned out later, this was the only border with no kilometer-long queues. We were fortunate to pass through two hours before the border closed and escape to Hungary.”

Later Valentin and his team found out about the Ukrainian crypto community gathering in Lisbon, Portugal, so they ended up in this sunny place on the edge of Europe. Amber’s core team resides in Lisbon, and other team members are scattered globally.

“Of course, the bear market is a big problem for all blockchain projects, but we do not lose heart because, as history shows, it is in such markets that the most exciting and promising projects are born. We are confident that we are one of those projects because if we manage to get through the hardships of war, the project will bloom after the bear market ends. AMBER to the Moon!” stated Sotov.

Yehor Havrylenko, Co-Founder and CEO at EvaCodes

Yehor Havrylenko is a serial Web3 entrepreneur. He purchased his first bitcoin in 2016, soaked in everything he could on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, and launched EvaCodes.

EvaCodes is a full-stack blockchain development agency that provides blockchain development services and builds Web3 products. The company’s services include providing the development of cryptocurrency, smart contracts, tokens and tokenomics, dApps, DeFi and fintech products, digital banking products, NFT marketplaces, real estate blockchain platforms, crypto trading bots, and other products related to the blockchain industry.

EvaCodes is headquartered in the USA and has development hubs across Poland, Estonia, Ukraine, and Armenia. By 2021, the company has developed and launched more than fifty projects.

“The war generally did not affect our business, as our customers and products focus on the European and US markets. It was emotionally challenging for the team and me, especially in the first days of the invasion. We donated to the Ukrainian army, supported those employees fleeing Ukraine financially, helped them relocate safely, and tried to help the others who stayed in the country in any way possible. Currently, our team primarily works remotely from Ukraine, the EU, the US, and Asia,” said Yehor.

During the first six months of the war, “EvaCodes, a full-stack blockchain development agency focused on providing blockchain development services and building Web3 products, raises a $500,000 round from the Web3-oriented hypra fund,” as reported to AIN.Capital.

Havrylenko says, “Bear market or “crypto winter” this time is much warmer than the previous one. Despite the fall of the crypto market, VC venture funds have become even more active in investing in Web3 projects despite the fall of the market. As a result, on the contrary, more customers have become in our business, and we hope that the current trend will continue in 2023.”

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