The business case: How Ukrainian startup Quarks is dealing with the war

Kyiv-based Quarks CEO Ivan Rolik shares the story of what steps the company took in the days following February 24, 2022, and how the business has survived under extreme circumstances.
The business case: How Ukrainian startup Quarks is dealing with the war

February 24 is the day that once and for all changed the usual and understandable structure of the life of every Ukrainian, crossing out any planning, goals, and strategies. The whole country was faced with complete incomprehensibility and a huge number of problems for which it was completely unprepared. 

And our IT company Quarks was no exception. We create products and technology in the Social Discovery and online dating field. Our flagship product Kismia is the largest Ukrainian platform for online dating operating in 20 countries and has over 43 million downloads.

Exactly one year has passed since the full-scale invasion. And if I were asked to briefly describe it, I would talk about a meaningful reassessment of priorities, awareness of one's fears, expanding the limits of one's own capabilities, a deep understanding of what we are capable of, personal growth, and maturity.

We managed to recover and keep the team after the two-time drop in sales, despite the war and the general state of the economy in the country.

Team Safety

Even before February 24, we carefully followed the news and listened to the forecasts, doing everything to be as prepared as possible for the military scenario, which we called "Hopefully not needed." There are about 185 people on our team, and most of them worked daily in the Kyiv office. And already in the first hours of the attack, we organized evacuation buses to the office and took part of the team and their relatives to Western Ukraine.

Later, when the team spread around the world, we faced certain difficulties in the operational component of the work. It was extremely important for me to develop openness in the company and create conditions of maximum trust and support, where everyone could become more autonomous in decision-making and take responsibility for themselves. And it worked. In practice, a crisis period requires quick analysis and decision-making, thanks to which a strong team is formed and, most importantly, trust in a new corporate culture.

In general, we have not stopped working since the first days of the war. When the shock of the start of the military attack wore off, part of the workers who were in relative safety (more than 70 percent) began to return to work and actively engage in volunteer activities. According to Steph Du Plessis, an international expert on creating an effective corporate culture, adult people in an adult corporate culture know the main thing — not just to find the meaning of recovery and adaptation, but to create the meaning of work.

Already at the end of spring 2022, we noticed a general trend of specialists returning home. Most of our team returned to the Kyiv office, despite the current threat of a repeated large-scale offensive, constant mass shelling, and blackouts. Now we have adapted to the new conditions and have a fully autonomous office and shelter.

Business indicators

At the start of the invasion, we immediately shut down access to all product apps and platforms for Russia and Belarus. We also temporarily stopped the platform in Ukraine. In times when there are constant explosions outside the window and rockets flying overhead, online dating is not an urgent need — accordingly, our indicators have dropped significantly.

Thus, at the end of March, the company lost 55 percent of its turnover, 65 percent of its margin and fell into negative equity. We were reorganizing the business and focused on getting our financials back on track as soon as possible and surviving.

In order to save the company, we focused our efforts and product potential on developing our presence in other regions, primarily developing the UK, US, and Tier 2 markets. It worked — thanks to this decision, we gradually managed to recover and save the team.

Crisis strategy: the main points that made us successful.

  • Pause in 90 percent of strategic directions
  • Open communication in the team
  • Transition to short tactical planning

In such crisis conditions, working in six-month intervals was no longer relevant for us. Therefore, in order to maintain a certain pace and flexibility, we started planning a week in advance — these were almost overnight decisions, then switched to 2-week sprints. This is how we worked until the moment of achieving our goal — to steadily reach zero. And after its achievement, we adjusted to a 3-month goal setting.

What we achieved during the year of the war?

  • Thanks to the rapid entry into other markets, in six months we have already compensated 70 percent of the losses
  • To demonstrate the investment attractiveness of the Ukrainian IT sector to the world, as it is currently one of the strongest
  • To maintain a strong team where everyone is dedicated to creating more than we have already done for the business and the country

Over the past year, the world has seen the courage that is in the DNA of Ukrainians. And we continue to work in order to speed up the victory. I know that we will definitely succeed.

This article is part of's highlighting of remarkable Ukrainian startups on the one-year anniversary of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Read more ...

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