Scaling a startup from a bunker: Read our war story 👈
Scaling a startup from a bunker:
Read our war story 👈

Scaling a startup
from a bunker
: A true
founders story

How we survived, relocated a team, and scaled our startup under never-ending missile attacks.

The below photo was taken at 2am on Feb 28th. I’m celebrating my 26th birthday in a bunker with my co-founder, Stacy. I hadn’t slept for 40 hours and was suffering from COVID symptoms. But I had a reason to be happy. That day, we successfully relocated 6 more of our people from under-fire Kyiv to a safe place. Amidst the chaos, this was a small victory worth celebrating.

(with my co-founder Stacy and our dog, Moris)

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Roman Sevast, the founder of Awesomic. We match awesome companies with cosmic designers. 20 months ago we launched our startup, went through the Y Combinator S21 accelerator, and raised $2.5m from top US investors. We built a profitable multi-million dollar business, and became renowned as one of the fastest growing early stage startups in Ukraine in 2021. Things were going great.

But just over 3 months ago, things changed.

Russia started their full-scale invasion of Ukraine at 4am, Feb 24th. My mom called me at 7am and said: “It’s started, run away to a safe place”. But I had been preparing for this day to come. My suitcase was already packed. We had an emergency plan in place.

After mom's call, I called Stacy and we started executing our plan. We went into autopilot mode. There was no time to dwell on our thoughts. The safety of our company’s 100+ people became our top priority.

As we are a remote-first company, we had folks spread across the whole country. The majority were located in cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and some of them even in Mariupol, which were under attack from Russian missiles.

From the very first day, I started receiving photos like this, from my team members:

This bomb fell on a balcony of our designer’s next-door neighbor. Luckily, it didn't explode. Otherwise, he, his wife, and his children would be dead.

The whole world was in shock at the events that were unfolding. So were we. Just a few days before the war started, we were working from a Helicopter meeting room in a beautiful office in the center of Kyiv:

In the space of just 24 hours, our lives were flipped upside down. We went from enjoying the normal startup life to discussing survival tactics. Our workplace became bunkers or whatever shelter we could find. The usual excitement of working in a startup turned to a constant fear for our lives.

Here’s a look at how the lives of our team changed overnight.

Oleh, the first Awesomic designer. He’s been forced to relocate twice due to the Russian aggression (2014 from Crimea, 2022 from Kyiv).

Pavel, Graphic Designer

Artem, Engineer, 19 years old. Working in Kharkiv

Liza, Illustrator

Michael, Community Lead

Dmytro, Tech Lead

Anastasia, Illustrator

As a company, we had to act, and we had to act quickly. But as you can expect, we hadn’t experienced anything like this before.

Nevertheless, we defined 3 main goals as a company:

1) Ensure the safety of every teammate (completed)

2) Help Ukraine win (in progress)

3) Grow our startup (a never ending process)

Goal 1 - Ensure the safety of every teammate:

We rented a lot of apartments in safe locations across the country, so that our people could relocate quickly:

Here’s me and Stacy with Nika – our award-winning designer. She previously worked on 3 projects that won Red Dot Awards (like an Oscar, but for designers). We met Nika at 11pm during curfew hours. We gave her keys to an apartment for her and 4 of her relatives. Otherwise, they would be all sleeping in the car after a stressful day of travel across the country.

It took us the whole of March to relocate everyone. The biggest problem was with those who were trapped in Russian-occupied cities. We were especially worried about our women. 64% of Awesomics (our people) are females. Some of them were forced to hide underground for weeks from Russian soldiers, because of the high risk of rape. Despite these horrific circumstances, they continued working on their tasks, designing new visuals, powering on through the chaos. I asked them to rest and take care of themselves & their relatives, but they told me that work kept them mentally stable.

Thankfully, we are relieved to say all 168 of our folks are in safe locations right now.

But our help couldn’t just stop at ensuring their safety. We had to do more. We were determined to provide as much assistance as we could for our people. We rolled out a number of emergency measures to help:

We told our people – in case they need any additional financial support, just ping us and we’d send cash (on top of salary) to help out.

We quickly built up a team of psychologists to help with PTSD and covered 100% of these expenses.

We introduced unlimited covered days-off, so that people would be able to take care of themselves & their families as much as they needed.

We introduced a “Send Gift” button as a new feature in our product, which allows customers to directly send $$$ donations to designers. So far, almost $30k has been donated to our designers (a huge thanks to our generous customers).

Goal 2 - Help Ukraine win:

We donated 1,000,000 UAH ($35k) to the charity fund “Come Back Alive”, which bought 496 armored vests for the Ukrainian soldiers:

Additionally, we issued ~$50k in design grants to Ukrainian charity organizations to help them spread the word about their important work.

One of our designers joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces and we provided him & his group with the equipment needed.

Goal 3 - Grow our startup:

Once we realized that every one of our teammates were relatively safe, we started working on saving our business and continuing its growth.

It was vital because our competitors were working at full scale this whole time, without distraction.

So, even war is not an excuse not to grow.

On Feb 23rd (the day before the war began), we had around 100 full-time employees and contractors. By the end of May, we had grown to 168.

We raised an additional $750k investment in an Emergency fundraising round. I want to express my most sincere gratitude to Michael Seibel (YC, Twitch), Jared Friedman (YC, Scribd), Pioneer Fund, Flyer One Ventures, John Moyer, Jonathan Tang, Karen Bergman, and founders of Sleek – Daniel Baum, Palmer McCutcheon, Adam MacEachern. They showed belief in Awesomic and provided critical support during a time of need.

Where are we now? We’re trying to return to some sense of normality, despite the war continuing on around us. Most of us are temporarily relocated to safe cities and countries. Some folks are even back in Kyiv.

We are continuing to build and grow! We’re releasing new features (including our recent Slack integration) and building our community of designers - we’re aiming to grow to over 500 Awesomics by the end of the year.

So, that’s our startup’s war story (so far). These three months have changed a lot for us, but one thing has remained unchanged – as long as we have Wi-Fi, a table, and a laptop, we'll keep on making world-class designs for our customers.

In case you need a logo, a website or any other design help – feel free to reach out Awesomic.

Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)

How we survived, relocated a team, and scaled our startup under never-ending missile attacks.

The below photo was taken at 2am on Feb 28th. I’m celebrating my 26th birthday in a bunker with my co-founder, Stacy. I hadn’t slept for 40 hours and was suffering from COVID symptoms. But I had a reason to be happy. That day, we successfully relocated 6 more of our people from under-fire Kyiv to a safe place. Amidst the chaos, this was a small victory worth celebrating.

(with my co-founder Stacy and our dog, Moris)

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Roman Sevast, the founder of Awesomic. We match awesome companies with cosmic designers. 20 months ago we launched our startup, went through the Y Combinator S21 accelerator, and raised $2.5m from top US investors. We built a profitable multi-million dollar business, and became renowned as one of the fastest growing early stage startups in Ukraine in 2021. Things were going great.

But just over 3 months ago, things changed.

Russia started their full-scale invasion of Ukraine at 4am, Feb 24th. My mom called me at 7am and said: “It’s started, run away to a safe place”. But I had been preparing for this day to come. My suitcase was already packed. We had an emergency plan in place.

After mom's call, I called Stacy and we started executing our plan. We went into autopilot mode. There was no time to dwell on our thoughts. The safety of our company’s 100+ people became our top priority.

As we are a remote-first company, we had folks spread across the whole country. The majority were located in cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and some of them even in Mariupol, which were under attack from Russian missiles.

From the very first day, I started receiving photos like this, from my team members:

This bomb fell on a balcony of our designer’s next-door neighbor. Luckily, it didn't explode. Otherwise, he, his wife, and his children would be dead.

The whole world was in shock at the events that were unfolding. So were we. Just a few days before the war started, we were working from a Helicopter meeting room in a beautiful office in the center of Kyiv:

In the space of just 24 hours, our lives were flipped upside down. We went from enjoying the normal startup life to discussing survival tactics. Our workplace became bunkers or whatever shelter we could find. The usual excitement of working in a startup turned to a constant fear for our lives.

Here’s a look at how the lives of our team changed overnight.

Oleh, the first Awesomic designer. He’s been forced to relocate twice due to the Russian aggression (2014 from Crimea, 2022 from Kyiv).

Pavel, Graphic Designer

Artem, Engineer, 19 years old. Working in Kharkiv

Liza, Illustrator

Michael, Community Lead

Dmytro, Tech Lead

Anastasia, Illustrator

As a company, we had to act, and we had to act quickly. But as you can expect, we hadn’t experienced anything like this before.

Nevertheless, we defined 3 main goals as a company:

1) Ensure the safety of every teammate (completed)

2) Help Ukraine win (in progress)

3) Grow our startup (a never ending process)

Goal 1 - Ensure the safety of every teammate:

We rented a lot of apartments in safe locations across the country, so that our people could relocate quickly:

Here’s me and Stacy with Nika – our award-winning designer. She previously worked on 3 projects that won Red Dot Awards (like an Oscar, but for designers). We met Nika at 11pm during curfew hours. We gave her keys to an apartment for her and 4 of her relatives. Otherwise, they would be all sleeping in the car after a stressful day of travel across the country.

It took us the whole of March to relocate everyone. The biggest problem was with those who were trapped in Russian-occupied cities. We were especially worried about our women. 64% of Awesomics (our people) are females. Some of them were forced to hide underground for weeks from Russian soldiers, because of the high risk of rape. Despite these horrific circumstances, they continued working on their tasks, designing new visuals, powering on through the chaos. I asked them to rest and take care of themselves & their relatives, but they told me that work kept them mentally stable.

Thankfully, we are relieved to say all 168 of our folks are in safe locations right now.

But our help couldn’t just stop at ensuring their safety. We had to do more. We were determined to provide as much assistance as we could for our people. We rolled out a number of emergency measures to help:

We told our people – in case they need any additional financial support, just ping us and we’d send cash (on top of salary) to help out.

We quickly built up a team of psychologists to help with PTSD and covered 100% of these expenses.

We introduced unlimited covered days-off, so that people would be able to take care of themselves & their families as much as they needed.

We introduced a “Send Gift” button as a new feature in our product, which allows customers to directly send $$$ donations to designers. So far, almost $30k has been donated to our designers (a huge thanks to our generous customers).

Goal 2 - Help Ukraine win:

We donated 1,000,000 UAH ($35k) to the charity fund “Come Back Alive”, which bought 496 armored vests for the Ukrainian soldiers:

Additionally, we issued ~$50k in design grants to Ukrainian charity organizations to help them spread the word about their important work.

One of our designers joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces and we provided him & his group with the equipment needed.

Goal 3 - Grow our startup:

Once we realized that every one of our teammates were relatively safe, we started working on saving our business and continuing its growth.

It was vital because our competitors were working at full scale this whole time, without distraction.

So, even war is not an excuse not to grow.

On Feb 23rd (the day before the war began), we had around 100 full-time employees and contractors. By the end of May, we had grown to 168.

We raised an additional $750k investment in an Emergency fundraising round. I want to express my most sincere gratitude to Michael Seibel (YC, Twitch), Jared Friedman (YC, Scribd), Pioneer Fund, Flyer One Ventures, John Moyer, Jonathan Tang, Karen Bergman, and founders of Sleek – Daniel Baum, Palmer McCutcheon, Adam MacEachern. They showed belief in Awesomic and provided critical support during a time of need.

Where are we now? We’re trying to return to some sense of normality, despite the war continuing on around us. Most of us are temporarily relocated to safe cities and countries. Some folks are even back in Kyiv.

We are continuing to build and grow! We’re releasing new features (including our recent Slack integration) and building our community of designers - we’re aiming to grow to over 500 Awesomics by the end of the year.

So, that’s our startup’s war story (so far). These three months have changed a lot for us, but one thing has remained unchanged – as long as we have Wi-Fi, a table, and a laptop, we'll keep on making world-class designs for our customers.

In case you need a logo, a website or any other design help – feel free to reach out Awesomic.

Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)

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Working Through War: Follow Our Story

Yes, this isn’t your typical newsletter! Get updates from the Awesomic
team as we battle through the everyday challenges of the war.

Working Through War: Follow Our Story

Yes, this isn’t your typical newsletter! Get updates from the Awesomic
team as we battle through the everyday challenges of the war.

Links to help Ukraine:

Donate Directly to the Ukraine’s charity funds:

Direct help to the Government of Ukraine.

The US based funds:

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Scaling a startup
from a bunker
: A true
founders story

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Working Through War: Follow Our Story

Yes, this isn’t your typical newsletter! Get updates from the Awesomic team as we battle through the everyday challenges of the war.