#011 – Roman Zomko – Transcript

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Roman Zomko

Early compromises in technology lead to significant business issues further down the road. Obviously, when you’re a startup, you just need to put something together to go out on the market. But then, once this picks up and if you get investment or if the business is bootstrapping and you achieve significant success, and start building on top of it, due to these quick solutions, there’s a thing called technical debt. This increases the cost exponentially in the maintenance of the software and makes it much harder to scale and add additional functionality and so on.
What’s up, everyone? Welcome to another episode of the Bricks and Bytes Podcast, your go-to for all things construction tech. Knowing where to start with building software can be difficult, and the key question is whether you do it in-house or hire someone externally to do it for you.

Today, we speak with Zonko, CEO of Impressit, a premium digital product agency offering turnkey product development from initial planning all the way through to deployment. If you’re enjoying our podcast, please check us out at www.bricksbytes.show and give us a follow on your favourite podcast platform. You are listening to the Bricks and Bytes podcast, where we take you on a journey in construction, technology, and business. All right, let’s get this episode started. 

Cool. So Roman, all the way from Ukraine, Lviv, our guest today. So tell us a little bit about you. You have a master’s degree in international economics. Yeah, that’s true. Thanks. Thanks so much. So yeah, my background and my studies are in economics, even though I barely remember anything out of that, probably maybe some concepts of macroeconomics, because the dean of our faculty was giving us lectures on that topic. And yeah, so that’s the only thing I remember briefly. But probably I chose this speciality more for the international part, not the economics part. So yeah, I was into, let’s say, international everything since then, and as far back as I remember. That’s one of the reasons why I speak English well. And yeah, that was the main reason why I decided to have my degree in that speciality. Economics was just a way to make the degree look credible. 

Right, right. But it is useful. And now for the role of the CEO and co-founder of your own venture, it is useful to understand, let’s say, on a high level, the basic principles of economics and so on. We also had some other studies in digital marketing, for example. Obviously, my main university was in Lviv. The lectures there were a little bit behind the newer trends in digital marketing. But I had a short study in the Czech Republic at the university in Zlín. And it’s a brand new university. I think they launched their university in the early 2000s. So they have young professionals giving lectures there. And we had, you know, really interesting courses there. So I believe that, even though it was a short-term study, this gave me more experience and more useful, let’s say, knowledge compared to almost six years in a more, let’s say, traditional university. 

Cool. And economics is not a strong point of mine, but I know mine would be itching to ask some questions, but he can’t ask them today. So I guess I will, I can ask you if you think economics helps you in any way running a business, and maybe it’s just a yes, no, answer? More no than yes. So people, let’s say, I’d say that, you know, understanding how to work with people and interact with people and let’s say understand them is more important in running your business compared, you know, to purely, let’s say, theoretical knowledge of cash flows and all that stuff. So actually, being out and gaining experience always trumps theory. 

And so, what in your background made you jump into where you are now, which is Impressit, and you categorise yourself as a premium digital agency? Right. So as I mentioned, the international part was always interesting for me. During the later years in the university, I started looking for my first job. Obviously, I was looking for an opportunity to utilise my skills, and I realised my main skill was communication. So, yeah, I was looking into different options, and I decided to go for probably the least attractive financially-wise option, but the most interesting in terms of opportunities that it could bring, and it turned out to be the right choice. 

So I started working as a sales manager in a small web studio. I don’t even call it a software company because it was like, really, seven people, you know, renting out a very small space, far from the kind of office that now I have at Impressit. But let’s say, you know, starting that studio, they were just starting to work with international clients. So it was 2014, I think. And yeah, that’s the year when the first significant crisis broke out between Russia and Ukraine. So when Russia interfered, let’s say, in the internal affairs of Ukraine and annexed Crimea and invaded part of the Donbass region. 

And yeah, that studio had some clients in Russia, and obviously, they immediately stopped doing any business with Russia then and started looking at the international markets. And since they didn’t have salespeople proficient enough in English and also just any experience in other markets, they started looking for a person who would step by step build out some network in the US and Europe and the UK. 

That’s how I started my journey in the digital product space, and over time, I gained more experience and industry knowledge. Eventually, I co-founded Impressit with the aim of providing premium digital product services to clients globally. And that’s where we are today, offering turnkey product development from initial planning all the way through to deployment, with a strong focus on quality and customer satisfaction. 

So they found me without any experience, but with a lot of enthusiasm to build my path through it. And a year afterwards, I’m already not, I would say, a regular business development manager, but now head of the sales of this company. I brought, you know, probably within the first six months, I brought more business to them than they had in their previous three years. So yeah, and we started growing quite rapidly. And four years from then, I co-founded Impressit together with Andrew, my CTO, who is the technical co-founder. And yeah, so that’s in 2019, started the history of Impressit. 

Cool. And obviously, if we haven’t mentioned already, you’re based in Ukraine, and it seems to be quite a popular option for people for outsourcing software because I think of the very limited amount of people I know that have a technical background. They always mention to me that they have outsourced to Ukraine in the past, which is quite interesting. So, of the companies you work with, are they mostly SMEs, small-medium enterprises, or are they mostly startups, or do you work with huge companies? What’s the spread? 

So yes, obviously we started with startups. These were our first customers, and when we were just starting, our first customer, who gave us the boost towards establishing a presence and growing as a business, was from Sweden. He had his startup idea, and we helped to implement the prototype and then the first MVP product. He gave the name to the company – Impressit, which comes from “impressive” and represents the attitude towards exceeding expectations and delivering really great results. So when we demoed the prototype to him, he didn’t expect to see any prototype; it was just at the estimation and quote stage. He was just looking for assumptions. And we not only showed him the quote, but also demoed a prototype of how his product could already look like and function in real-life conditions. That just blew his mind, and he said, “Guys, I’m impressed.” So that kind of feedback, we’ve since then tried to hear from every client, but also from our team as well, because you can only deliver really good results if the team who’s working on the project is also passionate about the work they’re doing and striving to deliver these great results. 

So speaking about Ukraine in general, yeah, it’s really good that we have an overall positive impression and reputation as a tech nation. This comes from good education, which goes back centuries. Some of the earliest universities and colleges in Europe were here. And over the last century, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, there were a lot of R&D centres located here. And that’s how this developed into now, let’s say, a software-focused nation, building really complex solutions. And if my data is correct, every fifth Fortune 500 company has teams in Ukraine. So they either work directly with engineers in Ukraine or work with companies similar to us who provide software development services to them. 

That’s very interesting. Yeah, cool. And obviously, our podcast is mostly based around construction and PropTech. And we actually met at a PropTech event. So, of these businesses, like what are the reasons, specifically in our industry, why would they use an agency like yourself to perhaps dip their toe in the world of software or even develop a bigger, maybe internal tool or perhaps something they can sell B2B to other people? So that’s, by the way, one of the reasons why we decided to focus on PropTech as one of our industry focuses is that businesses don’t always have their own technical capacity in-house, especially in PropTech. They are usually founded by real estate specialists who know that the guys from Impressit gave them the initial knowledge of how it’s being done. 

Furthermore, by partnering with an agency like Impressit, clients can tap into a wealth of experience and expertise that our team has gained from working on various projects across different industries. This cross-domain experience enables us to bring in innovative solutions and best practices from other sectors, thereby helping our clients stay ahead of the competition and adapt to new challenges more efficiently. 

Also, working with an agency like Impressit provides flexibility and scalability to businesses. As the project requirements change or grow, the agency can quickly scale up or down the resources allocated to the project, ensuring that the clients always have the right amount of support without having to worry about hiring or firing internal staff. This can be especially valuable for businesses in the fast-paced PropTech sector, where market demands and technological advancements can change rapidly. 

Lastly, working with a software development agency can help clients save both time and money. Instead of spending time and resources on recruiting, training, and managing an in-house team, clients can focus on their core business activities and let the agency take care of the technical aspects. Additionally, the cost of outsourcing software development to a country like Ukraine is often more affordable compared to hiring an in-house team in countries with higher living costs, such as the UK or the US. 

In conclusion, partnering with a software development agency like Impressit offers numerous benefits to businesses in the PropTech sector and beyond. From access to top-notch technical expertise and experience to flexibility, scalability, and cost savings, outsourcing software development can be an effective strategy for businesses looking to innovate, grow, and stay ahead in today’s competitive market. 

As for the typical lifecycle of a project, it really depends on which kind of team a specific person ends up working with. We can help people in the very early stages, even if they just have an idea or need help with a specification. We understand that briefing a technical team can be quite difficult, especially if you don’t have the experience, since technical teams work like a computer, following the exact instructions given to them. Our approach aims to be flexible and supportive, ensuring that we can adapt to the needs of each client and help them through every stage of their project. 

Some engineers are very direct and understanding. We try to build our team with people who have a better understanding of business concepts because those engineers who are very technically focused may not be the best ones to hire, as they will be focusing on technical excellence. While it’s important for the product to be as ideal as possible from a technical perspective, technology is not what makes the business. The product needs to go out to the market and serve its purpose for the end customers and users. At every stage, there should be a different approach toward building the product. 

If we’re working with startups at a very early stage, they need to deliver the product to the market as soon as possible. In such cases, we take a more simplified approach towards building technical solutions. If it’s already a running business and they need to deliver additional functionality to their clients, or they had a prototype or set up an offering using existing services and now want to put everything under one roof for a seamless product, then it’s a different approach. We need to be more cautious, plan out development in the longer term, and make sure we don’t harm the business in any way. Essentially, we focus on laying more fundamental groundwork to ensure a solid foundation on which to build all the functionalities that the client needs. 

And yeah, so basically there are two main kinds of engagements that we work with customers at different life cycles. One is scope-based, where we have a clear scope which we estimate for our clients, giving them a timeline and budget indication. Once we agree to work together, we start with thorough planning and design a roadmap according to which the project is delivered. But when we work more as a joint effort, typically with more established companies where they might have their own technical leadership, we basically augment their technical team and work together long term, iteratively improving their product, developing new solutions, and so on. So there are these two main engagement types. 

As for a minimum size project, we don’t have any minimum bars because, in my experience, any small idea has the potential to grow into something big. We can work on very basic projects to help clients get an idea of where they could develop their technology or push their business towards. So as long as it matches with our expertise, that’s one of our key principles – we never take on something which is out of our experience. If we see that the kind of project or work that the client needs is outside of our expertise, we’ll say it as it is. But if it’s a good match and we can actually deliver value, even by putting together a really quick prototype with very limited technology behind it, we’ll be happy to do that. This can help the client to go to investors and raise the round to build the full product. Because that sets the relationship and trust, and you never know what kind of results small joint work can bring later down the road. It always starts with an initial interaction and grows into something beautiful. 

Regarding the question that Martin had, I think we covered why there is so much talent in Ukraine, which is primarily due to the good education. So in the last few years, many things have happened. In Ukraine, we even have a joke that we survived COVID, and now we’re unlocking the next level, wondering what the next challenge will be. But despite all odds, we’re growing as a business. During COVID, which affected all industries, we were quite lucky to work on projects that were not heavily reliant on the things that COVID canceled. As I mentioned, we worked with a networking company in London, and everyone needs internet. Their priorities shifted because for networking companies, commercial clients make more business compared to residential clients. So they shifted their focus more towards residential clients but still continued to grow the business as planned. They even expanded their network faster because during COVID, there was a significant time when London was in complete shutdown. 

Regarding the six vacancies on our website, we are indeed a growing business, and we plan to continue growing in the next few years. We aim to keep delivering value to our clients and expanding our team with talented individuals who share our passion for software development and exceeding expectations. As we take on more projects and continue to establish our reputation, we hope to attract more clients from different industries and continue our upward trajectory. So during the time when streets were empty due to COVID, the networking company in London found it easier to receive permissions for construction works compared to when there was a lot of traffic. In a way, it was an advantage for them. During COVID, tech companies were already quite familiar with the concept of working remotely and using different means of communication more frequently. So there wasn’t that much of a difference for the tech industry. 

However, other industries started to recover faster after the initial uncertainty caused by COVID. There was a time when everyone was in standby mode, and articles from March or April 2020 predicted that the economy would completely crash and painted a bleak picture. But as it turned out, people and businesses adapted, and we saw a significant increase in creating new technology across all industries. So the COVID situation had both good and bad effects. On the positive side, it led to a lot of movement in the startup environment, with many companies raising significant funds, which was good for investment. However, on the negative side, it heated up the labor market significantly, causing salaries across the whole tech industry in all countries to skyrocket. In Ukraine, during 2021, there was a 50% increase in the average salary of technical engineers. 

This answers one of the frequent questions about why Ukrainian software services are not as cheap anymore. First of all, Ukraine was never focused on being cheap but rather on being a quality-focused destination. Now, when comparing the cost of hiring onsite in the UK to working with an agency in Ukraine, the expenses are similar. However, if you’re looking for contractors, they are still significantly more expensive in the UK than in Ukraine. So there is still a commercial reason to go with a nearshore solution. 

So, there are several challenges currently facing Ukraine and its tech market. Despite the recession and the negative effects brought by the pandemic, new companies are still being launched and investments are being raised. This shows that the tech market is still going strong and adapting to the situation. 

The current conflict in Ukraine is another challenge the country is facing. From the outside, the situation may look dire, especially with news of bombings and other acts of terror carried out by Russia on Ukrainian soil. However, Ukraine is a large country, and while the eastern part is affected, the rest of the country is working hard not only to sustain a sufficient business environment but also to do more. 

What Russia has done is provide Ukraine with all the motivation it needs to succeed as a business, as individuals, and as a country. Every individual is working as hard as possible, not only to provide for themselves but also to donate to important initiatives and help the armed forces repel the invaders. This strong sense of unity and determination is driving Ukraine forward despite the challenges it faces. 

Has it affected your business much? I guess you do target international, so I’m guessing it’s not. But were there any implications in terms of, like, perhaps staff you have? Or even your own situation? 

Yeah, given the circumstances, I think we’re quite fortunate because, first of all, we’re based in Lviv, which is in the very western part of Ukraine. As you might have heard, Lviv has become quite frequently mentioned in the news because it has become a significant hub of humanitarian aid. Lots of supplies are coming to Lviv and so on. But since we are based in the western part of Ukraine, we’re not as badly hit as some other cities or regions. 

Still, we managed to keep together as a team and as a business, again, due to the unity and the culture that we set right from the beginning. We’re always contributing to maintain a cohesive environment and haven’t lost any of our teammates due to any reasons. We helped to move some of the guys who were outside of Lviv. We had one of our teammates in Kiev, and during the most intense times, we moved him and his family to Lviv. So, team-wise, everything is fine. We even grew our team over the last couple of months, and with clients, it’s a similar situation. 

We were very close with them during, let’s say, the usual work on their projects. So we just became even closer once the work broke out. I had daily emails across, like, the whole, all of our clients, updating them on the situation. Teams were working even closer with their clients, both to make sure that we deliver on our commitments and to reassure them that we are safe and able to deliver. So yes, not only did we maintain 100% of our clients, but we also signed three new deals within the first month after the war started, which is quite incredible. I’m still really grateful to those businesses and individuals who, despite obvious risks, put their trust in us. We continued delivering good results, so we made sure that they didn’t regret their decision. 

As for my entrepreneurial journey and the number one thing that makes a difference or gives me the most significant success, I think it’s in how you can interact with people. One thing that I’ve learned from my previous career, which helped me as the founder of my own ventures, is the skill to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to understand how your decisions and interactions will affect them, and what kind of response you can expect from your teammate or your client, and so on. 

So, just being, let’s say, quite understanding and sensitive to these kinds of things. Mm-hmm. That’s empathy. Emotional intelligence is the word, right? Yeah, I was missing this nice term. Don’t worry. Off topic. 

Now, if I had an unlimited budget and could invest in any sort of technology, business, or trend, I would have to be biased regarding this when answering this question, considering what’s happening in Ukraine right now. I believe we need to invest in education first and foremost, as well as some sort of means of distributing true information and providing access to information for all individuals. That’s the kind of technology I would invest in because information is the number one resource in the world. Having access to this information would probably give a lot of possibilities to those individuals who don’t have these possibilities at the moment. 

That’s quite interesting. One reason is obviously to counteract fake news, but another reason is that information usually comes from more intellectual people. 

So, what I’m trying to say is that the information comes from people who provide it, and they are actually a lot smarter than the majority of the population. It’s easy for populations to just believe exactly what they see, and I think governments, especially, play on that and know that. In a way, you’re saying that the information coming out of Russia is totally untrue and wrong versus what’s actually happening. 

The problem with why this wrong information is so easily consumed by the local population in Russia is, of course, one reason is that they have been getting this kind of information for a long time, so they were prepared for this kind of propaganda. But second is education – the more people are educated, the better they are at critical thinking and determining whether the stuff they hear is actually true or not, or maybe it’s better to check with other sources. 

Mm-hmm, sure. Okay, so apart from work and family – do you have a family? Yes, I have a wife and a five-year-old boy. Ah, lovely. Very nice. What’s your favorite hobby to do? My favorite hobby is everything related to speed, wheels, and engines, like mountain biking. During the summer, I ride my bike more, and in the winter, I have skis and a snowboard. 

So, yeah, I’m quite into cars. I don’t have enough funds to become a collector of interesting or exotic cars, but I’ll get there eventually. Not yet. Yeah, you’ll get there for sure. 

All right, cool. To wrap up, if you want to find out more about Impressit and maybe even me, definitely visit Impressit.io. We’re also trying to update our social media accounts on LinkedIn and Instagram frequently. LinkedIn is more focused on professional updates about different trends, our services, the businesses we work with, and how we bring value to them. On Instagram, we share more about our “inside kitchen,” with content about our team and our activities. 

Also, an interesting solution that we created comes from our experience working on different projects at various stages. What we saw during all these years was that early compromises in technology lead to significant business issues down the road. Obviously, when you’re a startup, you just need to put something together to go out on the market. 

But then, once the business picks up and if you get investment, or even if the business is bootstrapping and you start seeing significant success, you end up with a thing called technical debt due to these quick solutions in the beginning. Technical debt increases the cost exponentially and makes maintenance of the software harder to scale and add additional functionality. 

That’s why we implemented a solution called the Startup Kit. It’s basically a really good foundation layer, including server infrastructure, code architecture, CI/CD, and all sorts of environments that developers need, built in the best way possible. We offer this to startups and businesses so they can use it efficiently, and it helps fast-track the development of new products. We also have pre-built modules that help build functionality much faster. This is something new that we have recently launched, and we already have our first clients using it. The estimated value is months of saved development time and thousands of US dollars in direct development costs. So yeah, that’s a new kind of solution that we offer to our clients. 

Awesome. All right, Roman, thank you very much. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of the Bricks and Bites podcast. If you’re enjoying the show, please feel free to rate, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. We really appreciate it, and we’ll catch you in the next episode. 

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