Translation and Transcription of Urban Space Radio Interview with Anton Skrypnyk, CEO and co-founder at KindGeek Software, on the program trUSt.
O – Olha Perekhrest, the host.
A – Anton Skrypnyk, the guest.
 – are used for commentaries from the author of the transcription
O: Hello to everyone. I hope that it is your useful habit now to listen to, think, and speak about trust every Wednesday. It is program trUSt and its host Olha Perekhrest. And my today’s guest is Anton Skrypnyk a co-founder of the company KindGeek. Hello, Anton.
A: Hello. Hello to everyone.
“We have 4 values. The first one is trust, then, transparency, social responsibility, and the sense of beauty.”
O: Every time, I ask our guests what do they think about trust and how trust manifests in their lives. And I want to start our conversation with a question, how do you think what position does trust have in professional relations: between workers, between employees and managers, and between the company and clients.
A: It should have a key one. And in our company, it has. We have 4 values. The first one is trust, then, transparency, social responsibility, and the sense of beauty. And we had chosen these values before the founding of the company. It could be said that it happened on the first day of founding. Why did we? Because they [values] allow us to develop relations with our clients harmoniously. Our company [also] provides services to startups. And respectively, startupers are the entrepreneurs who have perseverance and desire to change the world. Communicating with them means communicating while relying on the same space of values they do. And here, everything starts with trust. If to answer more broadly about professional life, we often start our partnership without any agreements, relying solely on trust. Shake hands, start working with clients, and then, sign the contracts that lawyers require more than we do. And it is very efficient. It accelerates management of the business, accelerates relations, helps build high-quality and lasting relations. Everyone understands that we exist in the same “coordinate system,” that we have similar goals. It’s from the clients’ perspective. As for the employees’ perspective, our partners, we have quite a “flat” structure, which is close to holacracy. And here, trust is a key element because it is impossible to manage everything on your own. You have to delegate, and delegate means to entrust. Without it, you will transform into a micromanager who will control every detail without exception. And, you would not last long. Therefore, we trust people, we entrust them [with opportunities] to win and make mistakes.
“Values are not just the words written on the wall. They are action.”
O: You say that trust is one of the values of your company. So, in this case, can it be considered that trust is a value that sells? That helps you conquer new clients because you say, “trust is our value”?
A: You see, it is “yes” and “no” simultaneously. It is “yes” because, without this value, we would not have a possibility to communicate with clients in the same dimension, in the same language, regardless of the fact that it is English [in which we communicate]. Communication is action. Values are not just the words written on the wall. They are action. And the question, what is behind these actions? I will provide one simple example. We have a good employee, a project manager who was employed while studying at a university. So it happened like 2.5 years ago when he just arrived at our company. They came to us with a question, “My developer on the project got sick. What should I tell to the customer?” And I ask them in return, “What should you tell in accordance with our values?” He tells, “Well apparently that the developer got sick.” I answer, “Yes. There is nothing you can do about it. Respectively, tell that the developer got sick and think how it is possible to compensate it the other way.” And there is a lot of such examples. They happen all the time. A client arrives, we make a deal that we will be at the office at 9 PM, and they arrive at 8 PM because they got confused with the time. So, you arrive at 9 PM, and the client has had an hour to communicate with the workers in the kitchen. And afterward, the client informs us during the meeting “You know, everything you tell me to know, it is the same that the workers have told me. So you have complete transparency and trust them.” And it is cool. They [clients] witness it in relations; they feel it in actions. Therefore, it would be difficult to sell without trust, but there is another factor to it. Assume, you have sold, you have entered into an agreement with a client, but afterward, you have long relations with them. And they would not be possible without this value. Why we have put trust in the first place? Unfortunately, in our society, there is a lack of trust. That is why we emphasize that it is very important.
“…you feel that it is artificial, that it is not for real”
O: Is it possible to imitate trust? Well. ok, you are providing an example that the customer arrives and talks to employees in the kitchen for an hour, and then, happy and inspired, talks to you. Where is the guarantee that coworkers have not created such an image purposefully, demonstrating how everything is amazing in your company?
A: I think, that every lie is easy to feel on the level of interaction of voice and movements. So it is impossible… a human will feel that something is wrong. When you communicate with the boys and girls who have finished neuro-linguistic programming courses, you always have a feeling that something is wrong, somewhere is a lie, somewhere inside is a “splinter” that does not get out. This person smiles, asks you in a kitchen how do you feel, what do you do, etc. However, you feel that it is artificial, that it is not for real. I think that other people try to imitate it, but it is apparent from the first seconds.
O: Do other Lviv IT companies treat their clients, partners with trust, in your opinion? Or is it your unique or rather principled choice that others do not take?
A: I think… Not think. I am sure that they do. The only factor that most of the companies do not put it [trust] as their official value because they… It would not be possible to answer this question shortly.
“For some people, it is difficult to realize that trust accelerates relations, gives more chances…”
O: We are not in a hurry, so you can make a long answer. [smiles]
A: The situation is as follows. If there is a client or a manager, who evolved in their thoughts and professional life for a long time, they will have a “professional shift,” and their values will become more complex: teamwork, the value of excellence (is one of the values of SoftServe as far as I remember). And they understand these values because they are more senior. They realize that their value consists of many bricks. And they do not even question whether there is the value of trust. In reality, the new people that only arrive at the company or for whom it is the first job, do not emphasize trust as something of particular importance. They may lack that brick.
That is why we have started with “axioms” before going to more complex values, to theorems that are being built on axioms. So, we have chosen our axioms as 4 values. This is one of the reasons why beginners’ values do not work well. Because there is a gap between people who create values, people who identify and communicate with them, and people who have to use them. Complex values are complex in use. It is the same reason why not anybody can quickly prove a theorem knowing 4 basic axioms. Is it difficult to prove a theorem? Just spend several hours on it. But not everyone can do it. In the same way, not everyone can use complex values. And people have troubles with the basic ones. If people did not have trouble with the basic value of trust, we would not sit right here right now and talk about trust.
For some people, it is difficult to realize that trust accelerates relations, gives more chances, when you trust people, have a credit of trust just because you like them, just because they sit in front of you, just because you may have future cooperation or may not have, but you still trust them. You trust their words, you do not double-check them. Doubtlessly, there will be occasions when you will receive burns. But these occasions will be less, less frequent than stories of success when trust helps you.
“They realize that their value consists of many bricks”
O: How do you think where is the origin of these basic axiomatic values, like trust?
A: Family. Society. You see, for eighty or so years, we [people of Ukraine. Anton is referring to the USSR era, which ended in 1991] has lived in the space of distorted values, during which the value of survival has become the main value for a person and a family. And the values of survival are opposite to the values of the rest of the developed world. These values dictate you, “protect the family; protect yourself; don’t trust people at first: test them, analyze them, et cetera.” Respectively, when one acts in accordance with this space of values, these values reflect in their children and communication with their children. Therefore, some generations need to pass until this situation will change, but it will change, there is no other way around.
O: However, as far as I understand, this trust was cultivated in your family considering that you put trust as the value of your company and that trust originates from a family.
A: Yes. My father is a former engineer and a current entrepreneur. Oh sorry, now he is not an entrepreneur but a People’s Deputy of Ukraine at Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament], unfortunately [jokes]. When you are in the family of intellectuals – my mother also worked with finance, math, and calculus – then you, by default, have deeper values than the ones from other families with other priorities. It is difficult to analyze this situation on the run as I have not thought about it much.
“…new workers adapt and realize that trust is very important as well as sincere communication…”
O: Is another environment capable of substituting a family in the regard of cultivating values? Perhaps, school, friends?
A: Of course, school, friends, university, workplace. Any social structure, which has certain dynamics, can demonstrate positive examples and substitute values. That is what we are trying to do in our company. As I have told you before this conversation that I have discussions about trust 8-9 times a day because we voice it during every job interview, during every conversation regarding professional growth. We are talking about it all the time because it is important; you have to implement people into this space of values, you have to cooperate with them effectively. And it is possible. Repeatedly, we were witnessing how we were “scraping the ice of” a person, and, as a result, we observed the person in a new light. So, often, the workers come from other companies and approach sincerity with extreme caution because they think that they will be punished, fired for something that goes the wrong way. And very often, everything goes the wrong way, and it is very important to have relevant information in order to react accordingly to those things. As time passes by, new workers adapt and realize that trust is very important as well as sincere communication regarding the situation that goes in the wrong direction so we can react to it properly.
“…it was difficult for me to give sincere feedback to people”
O: I have just imagined myself to be a worker who has to inform her managers about the things that went wrong, and I have realized that I would be afraid to make a confession.
A: And this is a standard part of our daily routine. We always communicate sincerely, and it happens during every meeting. For instance, the meeting regarding professional growth goes as follows. I, or our People Partner, ask an interviewee what they do and don’t like about the company and also give feedback regarding what we do like and don’t like about their work. And this builds other relations and impacts the working process so you can tell what is wrong, what can and should be improved. And a company or a team should react. Or you realize that you don’t have a complete understanding of the situation, and others can give you pieces that you lack, so you realize that situation slightly different than you have imagined.
Also, we always conduct projects’ retrospectives, during which a whole project’s team meets (it’s 5 to 12 people), and everyone voices what is wrong with a project, or perhaps the fact that somebody lacks competence or other working process moments. And everything is communicated sincerely. Of course, it is difficult. Of course, it was difficult for me to give sincere feedback to people, to tell them directly, “In this situation, you acted not the way we expected you to act. Here, here, and here, you can perform better.”’ But then, it becomes a part of the culture, a very effective part that is aimed at development.
“…the cooperation with foreign clients is another kind of school in which you always learn and inherit culture”
O: I want to slightly push our conversation in another direction. I don’t know whether you have heard this stereotype that I have heard from different people from different environments that in Lviv, there are people from IT and the rest. The workers of IT companies, according to some people, are detached from the real life of the city, from its issues, et cetera. Have you ever confronted it? Or, have you ever thought about the necessity of integration of IT sphere into the city.
A: The majority of IT companies work with clients from abroad, from the US, from England, from Israel, from Germany, from Sweden, etc. Mostly, it [software development in Ukraine] started with the cooperation with the US in 1998-2002, when we had not the concept of management, project management, entrepreneurship. And we have imported these skills via cooperation with our clients. We had imported them quicker than they appeared in universities. Apparently, the detachment exists because each company’s culture brings people closer to the global challenges and to the global space of values. Such a difference exists for certain. On the other hand, we all do not live in a cave, we all always interact, so I would not divide people into IT- people and not IT-people. I don’t like it. I communicate with friends who are far from the IT-sphere. I have a good friend who works as Chief of Learning in the fire service. The other good friend is one of the best craftsmen who install filters, boilers, etc. I don’t have any problems communicating with them. I hope they don’t have any problems with me either [both laugh]. But I understand why it happens. It happens because the cooperation with foreign clients is another kind of school in which you always learn and inherit culture. And when you are in Lviv, even if you have not ever been abroad, you, for certain, are perceived differently as you are not from the Moon but at least from Canada just because you communicate with the Americans or Canadians every day for an hour or two. It affects.
O: So, is it just the presence of another experience?
A: Yes-yes. It is a banal presence of another experience, another communication, another space of values, which invades us through Skype [both laugh].
“I start my first lecture by asking who already has a job”
O: You are also a lecturer in two Universities. Tell me why did you become a lecturer? Why did you need it?
A: I thought about our value of social responsibility and where did it come from. We do not live in a cave, it’s first. Everyone has an inner motivation that makes them do something. I and my partner created the company because we wanted to be the platform for changes for our employees and clients. For us, we created the company because we wanted to have more possibilities to have a positive impact on the city. Before we opened this company, we had successfully failed the previous one. It is a different story, but it was a traditional startup with investors, clients, etc.
For six years, I have been a lecturer at Lviv Polytechnic National University. Why? Because I saw that we have a lot of very intelligent people who require proper guidance. I start my first lecture by asking who already has a job (it is third-year students. I also conduct lectures for the second-year students but, usually, I ask the third-year ones whether they have a job) Usually, 10 people out of 120 pick up their hands. Afterward, I say “ok, the aim of this course is to create an opposite situation, so only ten people at worst would not have a job.” Because, unfortunately, traditional education will not give you as much as practice will. And my next step after the lecture is over, is to send a CV template that each student has to fill in and send to 20 – 30 companies and get a job interview. It is a simple action.
I began by coming to schools and speaking about global challenges, about the digital world and its possibilities, that it is not mandatory for everyone to become a software developer, that there are a lot of different roles in IT. Then, I realize that it was not really efficient, that I want to teach more systematically. And then, appeared a possibility to substitute my father who was a lecturer at the Polytechnic. Then, appeared an open course that I took and realized that I manage to do it. It was Project Management, then, Teamwork, and then, People-Computer cooperation. And at Ukrainian Catholic University, I became a lecturer at Cycle of Software Development, where we in one course, in 4 intense days, give the understanding of all roles that participate in the software development, and their dynamics. A result should consist of the development of the project from the level of the idea to the level of product implementation. And students defend their projects in English. All practical people defend in English, always.
O: Do you, in any way, monitor what do students think about you? What impression do you make?
A: I don’t. I may ask the ones who come to work at our company. Everybody precisely knows that I cannot make jokes [both laugh]. I just joke badly not that I don’t know how or do not try [laugh again]. But I joke badly. I think, they like [lectures] because I do not force them to visit, and they still visit it. It is their decision. I do not flag who has come to the lecture and who has not. They are free to choose.
“I want to have sincere communication so we could be on the same level regardless of different experience and knowledge”
O: Whose attention, respect, trust are more difficult to obtain: students’ or grown-ups’, partners’, clients’, workers’?
A: There is absolutely no difference. The same conversations, the same dynamic. Firstly, we do not practice addressing each other formally. On the job interview, we ask whether it is ok to communicate without formality. If yes, we will proceed, if not we will stop it. And the same with the students. They have a clear understanding that they can finish the course early very easily by addressing me formally three times [the host laughs]. Why? Because I do not want a distance between us. I want to have sincere communication so we could be on the same level regardless of different experiences and knowledge. But sooner or later they will come to work at our company or create their own companies or we will interact somewhere else. And they should be prepared for this moment and for the fact that they are already grown-ups and they are capable of doing cool things. I want that there are more people who want and can do cool things, cool projects.
Another reason why we created the company. We created it during the peak of Russian aggression [against Ukraine], and everyone told us that we made a mistake that we would not have clients, that we would owe people money, that we should not do that. We had a lot of conversations of such a type. But we realized that it was one of our answers to Russian aggression to make our city and our country more economically independent and strong and to create more working places to give people more possibilities to earn money.
“…very few manage to work with startups effectively…”
A: Because we see that it is not effective in other companies. I will give you an example. Let’s take a project manager. Typical development of the project manager in IT is “I was a cool developer. I have become a cool team leader. I have reached the limit of my development, but I want to grow further, so I will become a project manager.” Most of the time, a company loses a cool developer and receives a bad project manager. And we try to break through this cycle. So, we overthink this position for the third time now. We started with describing it, describing the routine. We hired two beginners, two of the best students, and one girl, Oksana, who was a Business Developer and decided to switch to project manager. And we encouraged it because we clearly understood what we required from a project manager and the way of a person’s development. As a result, we have project managers with unique qualities. In fact, very few manage to work with startups effectively because startups always have troubles with time and a very limited budget.
The majority of startups do not even last half a year. And we have startups that finished a D round of investments. The first one was with Sequoia Capital; the second one with Israel; the third one with Alphabet, the fourth one with Samsung; the fifth round does not disclose information about investments, but it gathered 50 million dollars of investments. And it is quite serious growth as for two years. So, two years have passed since the clients came to us with an idea of whether we can develop them an “Uber-style application” to the current progress and they double their profit every month now. And we have six or seven similar examples, where we worked with clients starting from the phase of the idea and helped them avoid mistakes that we had made with our startup. Respectively, the project managers who work in such infrastructure receive unique qualities. They are more flexible, more creative, more comprehensive, and cross-functional. They can perform business analysis, marketing, they can sell and communicate. Not everyone, of course, goes through all these stages of transformation with us because for some, especially for ones who are with us since the beginning, it is difficult to adapt to changing prerequisites for a position. The objective reality changes so they should continue learning and developing. However, two of these people handled the situation very well. Currently, we hire new people regarding relevant requirements.
“They can learn something from us, youngsters; we can something from them, experienced ones”
O: Do you trust your competitors? And are you ready to conduct with them mutual projects?
A: We conduct and trust. And this is one of the reasons why we have an IT cluster. Overall, we receive and give a lot of help to our competitors. In fact, we are not competitors. A banal example – London. We have visited Ukrainian Week in London last week. This was an event organized by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Financial Time to talk about the UK – Ukraine cooperation. A lot of Ukrainian companies were sponsors of the event. We were invited because we are known and trusted. There were 4 Ukrainian companies: SoftServe, N-iX, Perfectial, and KindGeek. On one hand, we all compete a bit for our clients. On the other hand, I would be happy to be able to compete with SoftServe for example. This is a company with 6000 people. Or even N-iX, which has 1000 people. Regardless, we have great cooperation, exchange of thoughts, energy, and ideas. They can learn something from us, youngsters; we can something from them, experienced ones. We always have formal and informal communication, in cafes and during discussions. We help each other quite a lot.
“… together you push through everything to reach your dreams. “
O: You have mentioned the IT cluster, and in my opinion, the Lviv IT cluster is a good example for a lot of other environments, not only IT ones. Different players can unite for the sake of mutual goals. Do you think other Lviv environments can unite in similar clusters? Is it needed?
A: Yes. There is already a Tourist Cluster. I hope that there will be a Medic Cluster. It would be cool if we would have an Education Sector where universities would unite to develop better programs and cooperate more. There are universities that are oversaturated with applications, while there are establishments that have more free space and classrooms. Lviv Polytechnic, for example. They [university] can unite to create courses and programs together. Lviv would benefit from this. Historically, Lviv was segmented, meaning that there were a lot of different unions of different spheres. Fortunately, it lasted through the USSR occupation. I think such unions are within Lviv culture. We can observe it now. As soon as the number of different establishments will raise, they will unite quite automatically. Because it is interesting. We also can create the Cluster of Clusters [the host laughs]. This is how it happens. We have such an informal “party” where everyone knows everyone. We only have enough time to say hello to each other. Even this recent Trust Event was visited by the representatives of all Lviv communities. Everyone came up with some creative things regarding trust – breakfasts, other events that bring up trust. If people will ask themselves, why these successful (though I would not like to use the word successful, I would rather say a little more successful) people talk about it then maybe we should think about it as well. Why don’t I want to speak about success? Because we all are still very poor in comparison to the world. We would be able to claim that we are rich if we would decide to and build a 100-story building. Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to do it without external investments. That is why I would say a little more successful, lucky. Again, this is not really about luck but about trust. Here, the first person you start to trust is your business partner. You entrust him/her with your dreams, while he/she entrusts you with theirs. And together you push through everything to reach your dreams.
“Choosing your business partner is not simpler than choosing your life partner”
O: Honestly, it does not sound like a conversation about business partners but rather as a conversation about relations between people in love: you entrust each other with your dreams and move together to reach them.
A: Yeah, it is actually like that. Choosing your business partner is not simpler than choosing your life partner. Similarly, you have to think about the development of your relations, about mutual goals and dreams as you do with your husband or wife. And you have to understand each other deeply with your business partner, the personal goals of one another, and whether they coincide. Otherwise, nothing would happen.
“And start trusting yourself it is a first step to change for the better and stop self-deception.”
O: To summarize our conversation, I want to ask you the last question because we are running out of time. Regarding the Biennale of Trust, it is the first event of such a kind in Ukraine, and it will happen in Lviv. Do you think it has something to do with the fact the Lviv lack trust so we have to talk about it, or, perhaps, we have enough of it to share the experience with others?
A: We have more of it than other cities [Ukrainian], but we do not have enough of it in comparison to London, New York, San Francisco. I think these are the cities that should be an example for us. Again, I perceive it all intuitively. I don’t have objective numbers, except our success rates with people we relocate from other cities. I don’t want to specify here, but, is everything ok with Kyiv. We don’t have difficulties with people we bring from Kyiv to Lviv, while people from some other cities we relocate from require a lot of time to adapt. They need half a year or a year to start a dynamic interaction in the same way the citizens of Lviv or Kyiv do. It is easy to integrate people from Ivano-Frankivsk; they have a high trust level in their city, I would compare it [Ivano-Frankivsk] to Lviv. Therefore, the Biennale of Trust should become a center of change for Lviv, then, Lviv for Ukraine, spreading the thoughts as an avalanche so people start thinking about the matters. Everything starts with a word, with a thought, and a word is a thought. Perhaps, somebody will become more successful than they are now because of it. One should reflect on him- or herself, look at oneself in a mirror and, foremost, start trusting oneself. Often, our people do not trust even themselves and practice self-deception. And start trusting yourself it is a first step to change for the better and stop self-deception. Just look sincerely at a mirror and accept yourself. I am who I am. I like certain things about myself and don’t like others. But ok, I won’t lie to myself about things I don’t like. I don’t deceive myself regarding how “cool I am.” And then, you can trust others.
O: Do you trust yourself?
O: Did it take you long?
“If we have more objective external feedback, it would be easier to progress”
A: It did not happen in one day. We are masterful and frequent in our self-deception. We spent time in our illusions. We have an outer locus of control instead of an inner one that is required to realize that you are not ideal so you have to work on yourself. Again, it may be due to the fact that we lack objective external feedback. If we have more objective external feedback, it would be easier to progress. However, it is comfortable for everyone to avoid giving you feedback. Perhaps, only your closest-closest friends will tell you that you are wrong here, that you are completely wrong here, so change yourself. And feedback will be if we will trust one another and will not afraid to give feedback. Why they don’t give feedback? Because they worry that they will not be heard. Feedback does not always have an aim to do damage. And we always react to it with hostility.
“We don’t fire people who make mistakes. We fire people who make mistakes and do not conclude about those mistakes.”
A: So, you criticize (people call it a critique, not feedback) someone, and it’s over, now you are in a conflict with the person. Even though it is not a critique but a saving ladder: “just grab it and make conclusions.” We don’t fire people who make mistakes. We fire people who make mistakes and do not conclude about those mistakes. They do the same mistake three times in a row. It means that you do not think about your mistakes. You don’t analyze and don’t act accordingly after you received feedback.
“Not everyone would be willing to comprehend it right from the start”
O: What qualities should you have in order to give feedback not a “critique” so you are perceived properly?
A: You should reflect. My mother taught me important wisdom, don’t tell people things you would not want to hear yourself and in a manner that you would not want to experience yourself. Think, be your own medium of communication. So, “I had a certain issue, and this is the stuff that helped me, so it could help you as well. Maybe, you do not notice it.” Just think how would you want to hear the same things addressed towards you in a way that would give you space to analyze the feedback. If so, you would be able to analyze your intended feedback more deeply and would be able to propose to a person the first steps that are required to change. This is how you approach a coworker with feedback… ah, not only a coworker, a friend as well. That is. Not everyone would be willing to comprehend it right from the start, but they would not take offense at you if you would provide it in a constructive way.
O: I thank you. I think it is a good and constructive point to end our conversation. I remind you that our today’s guest of the trUSt program was Anton Skrypnyk, a co-founder of the company KindGeek and that this week, in Lviv, will happen a Biennale of Trust so everyone will be able to check-in reality everything that we’ve been talking about for several weeks: how to trust people; how to feel trust. And we will meet again next week.