“One of the most promising countries for IT investments is Ukraine,” successful international investors and managers of large companies state. Ukrainian IT-specialists work in the world’s biggest technological corporations and companies. What challenges do companies face when opening development centers in Ukraine? We talked about this with international investor Rustam Gilfanov, who together with his partners, founded one of the largest IT companies in Ukraine – Lucky Labs.
– Rustam, is Lucky Labs your first experience in creating IT company?
Rustam Gilfanov – No, I have been managing IT projects since early 2000s. My partners and I invested in various technological projects in different countries. But Lucky Labs really was the first big undertaking. We founded the company in 2006.
– Earlier, Lucky Labs reported that its largest office is in Kiev. Is that still true?
Rustam Gilfanov – Yes, Lucky Labs’ main and largest office is located in Kiev. It employs more than a thousand people. Most of them are developers. In addition to Kiev, there are also smaller offices in several other cities of Ukraine, in Cyprus, Malta, and Latvia.
– Experts say that Ukraine is a rather complicated country for doing business. Unstable political situation, and for the last few years there’s a military conflict. Don’t you think that the level of risk to work in this country is too high?
Rustam Gilfanov – It’s a difficult question. Yes, in Ukraine, as in any other country, there are many nuances and difficulties. But high human potential compensates it all. Ukraine is one of the few countries that has retained the STEM method for teaching the younger generations. Here schoolchildren are taught to develop analytical and critical thinking. As a result, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Ubisoft and other technological giants seek to get specialists from Ukraine. They are forced to seize specialists one by one, and create conditions for relocation. This is their strategy, but it is disputable. We thought that when creating a new company, it would be nice to have easier access to the best specialists. Over the past years, I have repeatedly made sure that the decision to locate the development office in Kiev was the right decision. Here is a very high human potential. As for all the other factors that you mentioned … Yes, today Ukraine is in a transitional period. But my partners and I are witnessing progress and improvement of the situation for the business, so we do not lose faith in Ukraine.
– Mr. Gilfanov, tell us about the main activities of the company. What products do you develop? What kind of services do you provide?
Rustam Gilfanov – When we started working, we based on the fact that we have access to good personnel. At the same time, we immediately focused on outsourcing and took on any projects. Over the years, our specialists have implemented hundreds of projects in various fields. Over this time, priorities have emerged. Lucky Labs’ most interesting and promising projects are related to financial technologies, payment systems, server administration, development of mobile applications and games. Usually, outsourcers do not have to choose which areas to engage in. Supply and demand rule it all.
– Do you have other projects that you manage other than Lucky Labs? Maybe not only in Ukraine?
Rustam Gilfanov – I haven’t managed Lucky Labs’ operational work for a long time. Today I am just an investor in the company and participate in some strategic sessions related to its development. We have managed to form an effective professional team that lives its own business and puts all the best in it. I continue to invest in technology projects, mainly in the UK. Recently, I have been very interested in financial technologies, gig economy, video streaming technologies.
– On the Internet, there are articles that state that, among other things, Lucky Labs is developing software for gambling. Is such activity gambling? Does it bother you that in many countries gambling is prohibited?
Rustam Gilfanov – Outsourcing of gambling application development is not gambling. Indeed, part of our projects are related to the development and maintenance of software for companies that are engaged in the gambling business. These companies operate in the legal field of countries where gambling is allowed at the legislative level. We understand the responsibility such activity imposes on our company. We do everything to ensure that Lucky Labs’ products are used exclusively within the legal framework of the countries where they appear.
– Nevertheless, in Ukraine, law enforcement agencies have repeatedly shown interest in your company.
Rustam Gilfanov – Yes, in 2016, searches were conducted in the Lucky Labs office. Of course, it ended up with nothing, because we are not engaged in illegal activities. As I have already said, we treat Ukrainian anti-gambling legislation extremely responsibly, and none of our clients are engaged in such activities in Ukraine and we do not provide access to internet gambling for Ukrainians. Officials who sanctioned searches are now at the center of corruption scandals and suspected of illegal enrichment. Moreover, during that period, searches were been carried out in more than 30 IT companies throughout Ukraine. Of course, the situation had a negative impact on our work. In particular, the searches served as the reason for the temporary imposition of sanctions on me and my partners. After some time, law enforcement officers figured out that there were no facts behind the suspicions that provoked the searches. This was the reason for the lifting of the sanctions, originally mistakenly imposed on me.
But, you see, these situations are relatively rare. In addition to your question about risks, we comprehend that the country in which our company operates is going through a difficult period. We hope for change for the better, for better protection of business, so we accept risks. I see great potential in Ukraine.
– On the net there is information that in addition to the main activity, your company is involved in publishing books for children, supporting student start-ups and other charitable activities. Is this how you see corporate social responsibility?
Rustam Gilfanov – You can call it differently. The fact is that social projects have become part of our company’s activities and the lives of our employees. For many years we have been working with Ukrainian charitable foundations that help orphans. Probably, that’s when the charitable activity of the company began. A few years ago we decided to focus on the advancement of young people, on expanding the horizons of adolescents. This is how LuckyBooks project appeared. For two years now we have been engaged in publishing and free distribution of popular science literature for teenagers in Ukrainian. There is high demand for books in Ukrainian that children lack. Our project provides a very significant share of all new editions of Ukrainian non-fiction, designed for teenagers. We are the only ones who finance the work of beginner authors and scientists on manuscripts. We provide well-known publishers with translations of books into Ukrainian, their printing and free distribution in the libraries on the East of Ukraine.
While publishing and distributing books, we look at the state of libraries in Ukraine. Many of them have not changed since the 80s. Then the company joined the project to create an open space in the country’s children’s libraries as part of the Libraries of the Future Project. The target audience of all these projects is schoolchildren. We decided to go further, and more recently, Lucky Labs began working with students. This year, the company became a partner of the network of academic business incubators. The project is aimed at developing youth entrepreneurship and supporting talented students who offer and implement extraordinary ideas and start-ups. We intend to further expand our social initiatives.