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I just gave $1,000 directly to a Ukrainian family. Here's how you can too.
How the startup world is responding to the crisis in Ukraine
It’s easy to feel helpless when faced with an unprovoked war.
The death and destruction can make our day-to-day dramas seem like mere distractions.
It’s hard to know where to even begin to help.
But one thing that I love about people in the technology industry is that they’re a practical bunch. When the pandemic was spreading, companies like Salesforce and Flexport sprung into action to bring masks to the United States. Silicon Valley operators got the ear of the White House and acquired masks from China.
The world faces a new crisis. I’ve spent the past week or so catching up with people in the startup world who are trying to help Ukraine.
During the pandemic, Alex Iskold helped raise $3 million for families in need through a program of connecting financially comfortable Americans — many of them in Silicon Valley — directly with people in desperate need of money.
Now, Iskold — who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine at 19 — is running that playbook again with the “$1K Project Ukraine.”
The idea is simple: send $1,000 directly to Ukrainians in need — specifically mothers with children looking for financial support.
The other night, I took the most direct action I could find to address the suffering brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: I transferred $1,000 to a woman that I’ve never met who lives in Dunaivtsi, Ukraine.
The $1K Project gave me Yuliya’s information and I sent her the money on the payments tool Wise.
“Unfortunately, even if the war ends tomorrow the project is going to exist for months, if not years, because of the damage and displacement,” Iskold told me.
Iskold — managing partner at 2048 Ventures and a former managing director at Techstars — describes his thinking behind the $1K Project in classic Silicon Valley fashion: “I’m a huge network / graph theory nerd, and I always felt like systems that have centralization have bottle necks,” Iskold told me. “Self-organizing systems can move so much faster.”
The group has gathered over 60,000 applications from Ukrainians looking for financial help. “On a daily basis we’re getting thousands and thousands of applicants,” he said.
So far, the $1K Project for Ukraine has helped more than 3,200 families and raised more than $3.5 million. Yahoo! committed $450,000 to the $1K Project. Investor Matt Ocko just donated $100,000. Technology investors Fred Wilson, Chris Fralic, Jeff Richards, and Elizabeth Clarkson have all donated. But there’s far more demand for support than there are donors.
The $1K Project is eager to get more corporate donors in addition to individuals. I know some of the readers here run companies, sit on boards, or have the sway to get their employers to donate. Feel free to reply to this email if you want me to connect you with Iskold.
In terms of vetting recipients, the $1K Project says:
The volunteer team has previous experience vetting and with fraud detection. They leverage an on-the-ground network to help with vetting and ask for the families to share information to triangulate the information they shared on the form including photos and a description of their surroundings. Additionally, families need to have Ukrainian bank cards that accept the local currency.
Giving directly is extremely easy.
Just click this link, fill out the Airtable form, and the $1K Project will be in touch with the information you need to send the money across the world to a family in need. You can check out the team behind the effort here.
Other ways to support Ukraine
Thanks to investor Tomasz Swieboda for the list of causes.
Running a startup during a war
Last week, I spoke with Lidiya Terpel, the founder of the Ukrainian jobs board company Skyworker. She’d recently left Kyiv and was living with her co-founder in Warsaw, Poland.
She told me that before the war started she — like many Ukrainians — was somewhat skeptical of the American government’s insistence that Russia would really try to invade the entire country. The day Russia invaded Terpel’s mom called her at 5 a.m. to alert her to the attack.
“I don’t know why all of my circle of friends, they heard about the beginning of the war from their moms. Every mom has a locator in their heart from something bad,” Terpel said.
Of the 15 employees working for her startup, three have relocated to Poland. Most of the men aren’t allowed to leave the country and have moved to Western sections of the country. One of their employees is stuck living in occupied Russian territory.
Terpel says that she’s struggled between wanting to focus on the Ukrainian war effort and building her startup in order to keep money flowing to her employees — who are often financially supporting several other Ukrainians.
For the first ten days or so after the invasion, Terpel and her colleagues had a call everyday. But instead of talking about their product pipeline or other workplace tasks for the day, they debated “which town is most safe, who can relocate in which town.”
“I was so focused on the volunteering and this feeling inside me that I should help people — to tell the truth, I forgot about my business,” Terpel said. “I was previously so focused on Skyworker — people said I can’t see anything else — it’s like my child.”
Now she’s hoping that American companies will continue to hire Ukrainian tech workers despite the fraught geopolitical situation. Terpel says she’s spoken to companies that are apprehensive about hiring Ukrainian workers and others who are proactively recruiting them as a way to give back. But companies are accepting a far smaller percentage of Ukrainian workers on her platform since the invasion, she said.
Terpel said that after the war the world would need to invest billions into Ukraine to help the country rebuild. “We lost a lot and to recover this economy, all these buildings, all these factories… we will need a lot of money,” she said. One starting point would be to hire Ukrainian workers.
Body armor for the Ukrainian Army from a Los Angeles-based Ukrainian food pick up app founder
Stas Matviyenko is the founder of Allset — a 100-person food pick up app. Matviyenko moved to Los Angeles several years ago.
He moved to the United States from Ukraine but many of his employees still work back home.
Much of Allset’s sales team and research and development efforts is based in Ukraine — about 80 people altogether.
Before the war started, the company decided to draw up a plan for what would happen if Russia invaded. “In the U.S. people were more worried than Ukrainians,” Matviyenko told me.
The company identified certain employees who are critical to keeping the app up and running. They relocated those employees to Europe and Western Ukraine. “We kind of forced them,” he says. “The rest of the team — we told them to prepare emergency bags and if something happened, they should be able to quickly move,” he said. “The HR team prepared all the transportation and booked all the hotels.”
“As soon as we agreed on everything and told that to the company, the next day Russia attacked Ukraine,” Matviyenko said. “We had everything ready and most of our people were able to quickly relocate. We don’t have anybody right now in hot zones.”
The company has shifted its focus to maintain its service rather than pushing new updates.
“Right away, we told people that if you have any military experience and want to join the army, feel free. You will keep your place and your pay — we only had one person who had military experience and he mobilized on the third day,” Matviyenko said.
Matviyenko has been trying to do whatever he can to help the Ukrainian war effort from the United States. He’s helped pressure American companies to halt their Russian services. He’s worked to organize a team of developers to run denial of service attacks against Russian websites. He went to a military store in Los Angeles to buy equipment to send it to the Ukrainian army. He’s been pressuring investors to donate to the war effort.
“If I could raise millions for Allset, I think I can do a similar job for the country,” Matviyenko said. “However, that appeared harder than raising VC money.”
He created a pitch deck, but said that many investors were overly cautious and preferred donating to UNICEF and the Red Cross. “They’re not buying body armor,” he said. “That’s not going to work.”
So he created a QR code for the U.S. restaurants that Allset serves. The company is helping to raise “critical medical and humanitarian supplies as well as non-lethal protective equipment directly to those in Ukraine who need it most.”