What happened after a Moscow-born Seattle tech CEO closed a big Russian engineering operation in solidarity with Ukraine

Sergei Dreizin is co-founder and CEO of software program engineering firm Akvelon, primarily based in Bellevue, Wash. Born and raised in Moscow, he moved to the U.S. in 1992, after the Soviet Union’s collapse, getting his pc science diploma from the College of Minnesota earlier than going to work for Microsoft within the Seattle space.

Sergei Dreizin, Akvelon CEO and co-founder. (Akvelon Picture)

However he maintained private connections to Russia, and Akvelon established a big engineering operation within the nation — numbering about 800 folks, or greater than half the corporate’s workforce. Akvelon had places of work in three Russian cities: Kazan, Yaroslavl, and Ivanovo.

Akvelon additionally has 300 folks in Ukraine. Its largest workplace is in Kharkiv, the place Akvelon co-founder and COO Constantine Korovkin studied pc science. Kharkiv has come underneath heavy assault on account of its proximity to the Russian border.

On March 11, Akvelon shut down its operations in Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However that was only the start of the story, as Dreizin defined in a latest interview.

Proceed studying for highlights, edited for readability and size.

Take heed to the total dialogue on the GeekWire Podcast beneath, or subscribe to GeekWire in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you pay attention.

What brought on you to make the enterprise determination that you simply did?

Sergei Dreizin: It turned painfully evident that the autocracy had grow to be tyranny. I nonetheless bear in mind the Soviet Union, and I understand how it really works, what the following step goes to be. So we made the choice to close down Russia and relocate all people who’s keen and capable of relocate to different international locations.

What was the fast impression while you shut down the three Russian places of work?

Shock. The individuals who work for us, they’re largely of their 30s, so that they grew up after the Soviet Union had fallen aside, and so they have zero private data of what it’s wish to stay in a Soviet Union-like nation. It’s actually arduous to persuade them that issues are literally going to worsen. And it’s going to get progressively worse within the course of closed borders, and so forth. A few of them are electing to remain behind.

So what has occurred to these 800 people?

Now we have about 60% of people that have elected to maneuver and about 40% of people that haven’t. … Once more, they don’t bear in mind, with the Soviet Union, you couldn’t simply go and journey someplace. You needed to get an exit visa. Ultimately it would occur [in Russia]. As a result of should you management the narrative, you need to forestall folks from going to different international locations and seeing the way it actually is.

For these workers who’ve left for different international locations, do you suppose they’re taking a look at this as a short lived or everlasting relocation?

I feel all people hopes it’s momentary. However on the identical time, them being good folks, I feel they notice, till the folks in cost in Russia change, it’s not going to vary, it’s solely going to worsen.

After which for that 40% of the workforce that stayed, are they technically nonetheless Akvelon workers?

No, we don’t work in Russia anymore. We imagine very strongly that when a tyrant loses a conflict, and I’m certain it’s going to occur, all the cash that they’ll get will go into two issues: repressions of their inside inhabitants, and constructing extra weapons. In order that’s what’s going to occur in Russia, and we don’t need to be a part of it. Completely not.

What’s the standing of your workforce in Ukraine?

In Ukraine, we have now just a few places of work, however the largest workplace is in Kharkiv. The town has been bombarded indiscriminately utilizing heavy weaponry. All of our people who may depart have left. We nonetheless have individuals who stayed behind who’re principally combating both within the army or in militias. And we have now individuals who stayed again, volunteering to assist both in medical or nevertheless they’ll. However most people have moved to Western Ukraine. We’re paying all people.

Inside an Akvelon workplace in Ukraine previous to the Russian invasion. (Akvelon Picture)

What has this carried out to your small business?

Many of the purchasers are extraordinarily supportive, right down to telling us, bill us even should you don’t work. Some purchasers even have given us more money to assist relocation efforts. We left some purchasers, as a result of they stated, nicely, we’ll be high-quality in Russia, we don’t care. So these purchasers we parted methods with. However most purchasers are extraordinarily supportive, starting from Microsoft to massive corporations to small corporations, they’ve all been nice.

Has there been a disruption in timelines on tasks?

Yeah, there’s clearly been tasks that we’ve fallen behind on. If you concentrate on a 40% attrition charge, we misplaced near 300 folks. It’s fascinating, as a result of plenty of the parents who left Russia labored for inside corporations, so there’s a flood of individuals in Armenia and Georgia who’re in search of jobs. We’re in all probability hiring 100 folks a month, possibly extra. However there’s undoubtedly disruption.

The place do you suppose it’s going to go from right here?

If in 2008, when Putin invaded Georgia, or 2014, when Crimea obtained snatched, there was a response like in the present day, this is able to haven’t occurred. However any capitalism is cynical, proper? So the massive query is, how a lot endurance do the sanctions have.

The truth is, the Russia that I knew and cherished ceased to exist on the twenty fourth of February. This can be a totally different nation, and you can begin fascinated about it within the sense of Germany in ’39 or ’38. And the individuals who stay there, most of them are brainwashed to the purpose the place it would take years to unbrainwash it.

What plenty of People don’t notice is that this isn’t a conflict that simply occurred elsewhere. It’s not Somalia. It’s not even Iraq. It’s folks with the flexibility to destroy the world.

What sort of takeaways would you need to put on the market for the bigger neighborhood, particularly within the enterprise and tech neighborhood?

I’d actually hope that folks truly spend an hour or two and go analysis. Kind in Bucha, sort in Battle in Ukraine, and see what’s occurring. It’s not a restricted battle. It’s not a disagreement between two Slavic international locations. It’s an actual conflict. There’s actual atrocities, there’s doubtlessly genocide occurring, there’s youngsters being killed.

I feel that if folks knowledgeable themselves, they might notice the size of destruction and scale of what’s occurring, after which they in all probability would need to do one thing about it.

See this submit for extra info and hyperlinks to native Ukrainian help organizations, printed by Dreizin’s Akvelon co-founder, Constantine Korovkin.

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