Kyiv. Beginning of February 2022. Big crowds on the roads, dozens of business events, theater and music premieres per day, long queues in cafes and restaurants. Somewhere in the background, from the American news, listening to the threat of war, Ukrainian entrepreneurs did not believe either in the reality of the missile attack or in the minimal level of invasion. The city, as well as the whole of Ukraine, lived a full life.
February 24, 2022. Almost no one came to the office that day, and if they did – to pick up and deliver laptops and office equipment to employees. From 5am the banking system was paralyzed, with queues of hundreds of people in supermarkets and hundreds of cars at petrol stations. On that day, Ukrainian entrepreneurs did not feel the threat of war, but actual war, and faced the reality of a rocket attack. Somewhere in the background, from the news, Russian plans to conquer Ukraine in three days were heard. That day it was as if life stopped, and there was neither work nor war in the war.
December 2022. Kyiv, big crowd. Sometimes it is even possible to see an electric car with a generator. Conferences are held in shelters and places with easy access to the shelter. With the sound of the generator, it is possible to drink coffee, have lunch or enjoy dinner. The sound of generators can be heard from almost all offices – there Ukrainians continue to do business or open new companies. A smartphone is not only for communicating with friends, family and clients, but also for receiving warnings about missile attacks. Getting a warning means you have to run for cover. Teams can work from different cities in the EU, USA or Ukraine, regardless of time difference, need for more electricity and other obstacles. Indeed, the war experience revealed the super-ability of Ukrainians – a kind of Ukrainian anti-fragility. Invincibility.
Even now we can find different ingredients of Ukrainian invincibility:
Ingredient no. 1: “Create as if your whole business and your life depended on it”. When it comes to the whole business, there is no time for numerous meetings, conversations, thoughts and negotiations. It is possible to rethink the entire business concept, reconfigure the production line, and sometimes relocate both business and production.
For example, a pet food company started by volunteering to make mini-pack cans for people living in shelters and successfully launched a line of canned meats for military personnel and people living in shelters or with limited access to electricity. A year ago, such a transformation was incredible, and today it is an experience gained.
Ingredient no. 2: “All limitations within, but not without.” Are you operating with limited electricity and internet access? Running an international business from a country without a functioning airport? Before 2022, this seemed unrealistic, but now it is only an external condition. Courts are working, sometimes lawyers are preparing for court hearings by candlelight or riding the subway, which is a kind of shelter during rocket attacks. Moreover, universities and business schools welcome new students. This is because external circumstances do not affect internal matters.
Ingredient no. 3: “Flexible business = resilient business.” Every company reviews its own activity, the values it creates and the new needs of customers. New needs appear almost every day. New needs mean new business ideas. For example, the lack or limited access to electricity creates a need not only for generators, but also for flameless heaters, energy bars or food cans, reflective elements of clothing for movement in dark places. What was the fashion industry before the war was the production of body armor and reflective elements.
Ingredient no. 4: “Individualism is good, but unity for a meaningful idea will lead you to incredible results.” Before 2022, many Ukrainian companies practiced an individualistic approach. Today, competing restaurant owners buy generators from clubs. Moreover, a well-known ketchup producer in Kherson orders ketchup from their main competitor. The war created a new type of competition – survival and progress together for the sake of the main idea, the victory of Ukraine.
Attorney Mariya Ortynska, founder of IPSTYLE, a patent law firm in Kyiv, is currently studying for her LL.M. at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.