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Victoria Gerukh (uTrigg): falling bombs cause our business engagement to increase 500%

Our interviewees are Victoria Gerukh (uTrigg), Denys Okrimenko (Time for Machine) and Dmitry Norenko (upSWOT). Their stories perfectly show that despite the war, cooperation with Ukrainian startups is still possible and attractive.

Global fintech player – upSWOT

It is hard to call upSWOT a startup because the scale of its operations definitely puts it on the scaleup level. The company was created on the basis of American and Ukrainian capital, but it was founded … in Warsaw, within the Poland Prize program! So from the very beginning the startup is also connected with our country, although it currently operates from Kyiv, home of upSWOT’s CEO, Dmitr Norenko. It operates uninterruptedly, also during the siege of the city.

The company is well established in the market, providing services to more than fifty financial institutions and banks, including Mastercard, OnDeck and Raiffeisen Bank offering them services to build customer loyalty in the financial sector. However, the data collected by upSWOT not only serves to build good relationships with banks, but also, which was the initial impetus for building the company, helps companies get better financing terms with those banks.

The idea for the business was born out of the founders’ experience – all of them previously worked in positions in the banking sector and saw how difficult it was to get favorable credit conditions for small and medium-sized companies. Based on their experience, they saw that the problem lies in the lack of trust of banks towards small businesses, which in turn is mainly due to the lack of data about them. So they created a solution – a platform that collects and sends to the bank, with the consent of entrepreneurs, data from their activities.

They developed their solution and business model by taking part in three acceleration programs on three continents: the aforementioned Poland Prize, but also Berkeley Skydeck and Startup Chile.

The new “Mattel” – Denys Okhrimenko’s startups

Denys Okhrimenko, founder of Time for Machine, owns three companies, each creating toys, but with different profiles: Time for Machine makes “toys for adults” – models of original vintage vehicles, assembled from hundreds of components and stuffed with electronics.

The second, Paglcorp, creates lightweight but ecological, because they are built from recycled materials and are free of plastic blocks for building houses, ships, vehicles, etc. The third produces anti-stress magnetic rings. Time for Machine is an extension of the Ugears idea (Denys has been in the toy business for 10 years; before he started his adventure with the aforementioned projects in 2017, earlier, from 2012, he co-founded and was a shareholder of Ugears, which also operates in Poland, where he created wooden models). There he created models made of wood, here, more precise and giving more possibilities projects made of metal. Fingears relaxation rings are the result of a challenge from a colleague – he asked Denys to come up with an interesting product out of magnetic gears. Paglcorp, on the other hand, came about as … an idea to expand the business of a friend who owns a packaging factory.

Currently, Denys is looking for an investor. The company sells its products, among others, in Poland (products available in Empik) and the United States, but is looking for opportunities to increase the scale of sales and further investments in R&D. As Denys himself told us: – “I am looking for a strategic partner who would like to create together with me a ‘new Mattel’ – a consortium of companies in the toy industry.”

User emotions counted – uTrigg

Victoria Gerukh (CEO of uTrigg) and Alexander Zamotaiev (CTO of uTrigg) met while still studying chemical engineering, then their paths diverged for a few years: Victoria worked as head of online marketing for AstraZeneca, among others, and Alexander did research work at a French university. When they met again after Alexander’s return from France, they decided to start a boutique webstudio together, Galanix IT. They invested all the money they made at Galanix into their new joint business, uTrigg, and managed to grow it from an idea in 2019 to a bootstrapped sales launch in 2021.

Their solution – a SaaS tool for behavioral emotion analysis between users and companies – has garnered widespread interest that has resulted in numerous awards. Here are some of the list of those that Victoria sent me: TOP-10 startups selected to participate in Space3ac accelerator (Poland Prize funding), TOP-10 startups in Ukraine , TOP-50 startups in Vietnam, TOP-20 martech startups in Eastern Europe (2019)

uTrigg boasts on their website 30% increase in conversion and 50% increase in customer retention using their solution.

Prosperity, war and more work

They don’t want to talk about war. They don’t want to go on and on and on about the fear, the flight, the suffering of themselves and their loved ones. In the course of the conversation, however, I had to ask not only, as above, about what my interlocutors managed to do, but also about the risks associated with their current activities, still conducted from Ukraine, in order to bring you, their potential collaborators, closer to the conditions in which they currently operate. What is unusual and very difficult for us, living in a country where peace prevails, to understand, the founders of the startups emphasized that the aggression of Russia and the associated fear for tomorrow did not paralyze them at all, but gave them, unexpected for themselves, new layers of commitment to their work. As uTrigg founder Victoria Gerukh told me: “Work is the best medicine for us, it’s what gives us the strength to survive bombings after bombings. Without it, we would have ended up in a mental institution long ago. These strong words clearly show that the reality in Ukraine does not destroy, but strengthens the business of Ukrainian startups, which at the moment are focusing all their attention on improving their solutions.

The reality of uTrigg

And the reality that my interviewees faced is extremely difficult. The CEO of uTrigg, Victoria Gerukh, fled from Kiev to Lviv, from where she runs the company. This is what she says about what happened and how her company works in the new reality:

Before the war we got into the Polish gas pedal Space3ac, our goal was to develop an extended version of uTrigg and this we managed to do before February 24. Also we managed to start with sales in our country, Ukraine. However, the war has drastically changed our plans, now we focus only on foreign customers. Our team already consists of several dozen members, some of them have left Ukraine, but some of them can’t do it – they have to take care of elderly members of their families). Despite this, we work non-stop and are super-productive – by focusing on our work, we chase away what we see outside the window.

The reality of Time for Machine

Denys Okrimenko has the production halls of one of his businesses, Fingears.com, in a small sub-Kyiv town, the name of which, for sure, before the war, not many of you would have known; now, unfortunately, everyone does – it’s Irpin. However, it was possible that they were not damaged: “The town was occupied and blocked, but finally yesterday we could go there for the first time. Fortunately, the halls are standing, the machines are left. Production of our magnetic rings can start up again.” But he adds that supply chains have broken down because of the war, and Denis is considering whether to move production to Poland: “A container ship with components for our plants was supposed to arrive in Odessa on February 25, because the port was blocked we had to reroute the transport, eventually we managed to get it to Poland. At the moment I am trying to decide whether to transport the order to Ukraine or to produce in your country.

Fortunately for Denis and his employees, he is running three parallel businesses in the toy industry, some of whose production and warehouses are located outside Ukraine: “At the moment I am working on three projects: timeformachine.com, fingears.com and paglcorp.com. Most of the team has stayed with me in Ukraine, but for example my COO, Diana, has been working for us since the Russian aggression started from the United States, several employees are in Poland. We have Time For Machine and Paglcorp production in China, warehouses are located in Poland, China and the United States.

Добрий ранок Poland!

My interlocutors want to enter the Polish market or they count on establishing cooperation with Polish investors. As Victoria, CEO of uTrigg before the war tells me, they have already taken the first steps towards this goal: – We participate in the Space3ac gas pedal, we got into the Poland Prize program – at this very moment we are trying to enter the Polish market. We see a huge potential in your e-commerce market – despite numerous similarities between Ukrainian and Polish online commerce markets, the latter has much higher expected revenues: for Ukraine, before the war, the expected year-on-year growth for 2021-2025 was 97.42%, with a value of $12.24 billion in 2025. For Poland, admittedly, only 62.7% year-on-year, but with a value more than three times higher than for Ukraine – $42.3 billion in 2026.

Denys, as we mentioned earlier, is counting on getting a partner who would like to build together with him a “new Mattel”. In turn, from what the CEO of upSWOT tells us, he has broader plans in our country: – At the moment we are focusing on the North American market, but we plan to introduce our solution to Poland by the end of the year. We have strong relationships with Alior Bank, BNP Paribas and mBank, but look forward to establishing more.

“Bombs make us give more”

Finally, I asked my interlocutors about how the new, difficult reality of Victoria, Denys and Dmitry’s businesses is perceived by their customers, what fears, which must surely arise, do they report most often?

Dmitry, upSWOT: – Our clients want to know if our team is safe and if they are able to focus on continuing to build the company. So I want to say at this point, with full responsibility for my words, that it is. Despite our anger and sadness, we are determined that the war situation will not destroy what we have built with such commitment. We have families to support, so for us the continued success of upSWOT is not only a matter of ambition, but also our ability to provide for our loved ones. Secondly, I want to emphasize that as much as 70% of our team works from outside Ukraine, and many of them did so already before Russia started its aggression.

Denys, Time for Machine: A lot of our customers, obviously, were showing their deep concern about our situation, about whether we were safe. Fortunately, that’s already the case at this point, everyone working at my startups at this point is in safe places, although, as with many Ukrainian companies, we also have employees who are fighting for our country on the front lines. Fingears’ customers are waiting for the delivery of the ordered rings, but they know the situation and are calm – we have discussed the available options with them and together we are considering moving the production to Poland. However we need to raise funds and apply for certification to do this.

Victoria, uTrigg: What certainly builds customer confidence in our company despite the war is the fact that all our servers are hosted in EU clouds. Most of our customers approach us with an incredible amount of empathy. It surprises them that we can deliver despite the situation we are in. How is this possible? The answer lies in our deep need to banish thoughts of war from our minds and focus on something else. In fact, work-wise, uTrigg is our medicine – without our startup, we wouldn’t have been able to mentally withstand all the cruelty going on before our eyes every day long ago. We feel especially strongly about how important uTrigg is to us when we hear the sound of bombs exploding in our neighborhood. In those moments, the saying “When you can give something back, you feel alive” gains real meaning.

If you are an e-commerce specialist or run your own online store, please recommend us to your business partners for consideration. If, despite the war, we are able to deliver 100% good, ready-made, creative product, what can be a better recommendation of the quality of our work and commitment?

uTrigg is offering its solution for free to Ukrainian startups and small businesses (you can support this project here) and is holding a fundraiser for those fighting on the frontlines. Time for Machine is planning a fundraiser on Kickstarter, some of the money raised will be donated to support Ukrainian refugees in Poland. It also pays all its employees, regardless of how much, how or if they work at all (employees who are fighting on the frontlines). UpSWOT also participates in collections for compatriots who have fled to our country (such as this one), but as Dmitry Norenko tells me, their main goal is to keep jobs for their employees, helping them relocate to other countries/safer regions of Ukraine: “Our team is our top priority. We provide so much to Ukraine and the Ukrainians through whom we have built the success of our business.” upSWOT is also trying to give employment to Ukrainians who have also lost their jobs when leaving their country.

Ukrainian startups are not just another interesting business partner. We should remember that cooperation with them, is also a chance to support Ukraine itself.

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