How I kept my Kyiv business afloat as Russia dropped bombs around my homeland
- Alina Kachorovska launched her Kyiv, Ukraine, footwear and accessories brand in 2013.
- Two years ago, she restructured certain systems to streamline the business.
One year ago, the Russian military fired missiles into cities across Ukraine, marking the beginning of the Russian invasion of the country.
Alina Kachorovska, 34, was living in Kyiv when the bombs hit and spent the next two weeks in bomb shelters with her husband and two young children.
"Everything stopped. You thought that you lost everything in a second," said Kachorovska, the founder, CEO, and designer behind her eponymous footwear and accessories brand, a favorite among Ukrainian fashion lovers, adding: "We restarted ourselves. We restarted our lives. We restarted our businesses."
Kachorovska launched the company in 2013 and employs 150 people today, she said. Throughout the past year of war — in which more than 200,000 people have died and more than 8 million have been displaced — Kachorovska has kept her business afloat thanks to strategies like a streamlined communications system, assembly-line-like project planning, and a sustainable product model.
This is an as-told-to story based on an interview with Kachorovska that has been edited for length and clarity.
Becoming a CEO
The most difficult part of growing my business was becoming the CEO. I think it's the most boring job that a creative entrepreneur could have.
I went back to school to study finance to ensure I could be the best CEO I was capable of being. Since then, I've created habits to lead the company correctly.
For example, Mondays are my designated CEO days and we have a board meeting to talk about exact numbers, key performance indicators, sales, and annual plans. These regular meetings help us understand our performance and, when the crisis struck, told us exactly where we stood.
While we do have an annual sales plan, we are absolutely ready to reshape it because of the circumstances. This flexible strategy includes replanning campaigns, products and launches, and business opportunities every week and month.
Building systems to streamline the business
Even with CEO responsibilities, it's been important to find time to stay creative because that's my strength and passion. It might seem impossible that I have time to be creative right now. But it's because I spent two years before the war building systems inside this business, including road maps, internal processes, analytics tables, and project-planning tools.
Founders all around the world need to systemize their businesses so they can scale. But as a founder during wartime, I've found that especially necessary because we don't have time to experiment.
One of the best changes we made ahead of the war was creating a new communication system: We cut down from dozens of messaging platforms and chats to just a few in Microsoft Teams. Also, COVID-19 forced us to communicate completely virtually for the first time. With that, we established clear expectations and policies that we've continued to use during wartime while employees are around the country or world.
We also reorganized the team structure to ensure everyone's jobs were clearly defined.
These changes have allowed the team to spend less time wondering about to whom they should bring their questions, what their tasks are, or what we should prioritize.
A sustainable business model
One characteristic of our business that has been crucial during this time is that we do not have any extra inventory. Every day, the factory — located in Zhytomyr, Ukraine— produces goods, and the next day they're sent out to the customer or wholesale partners, or they're on our stores' shelves.
Everything is produced based on analytics about product success, what our customers continually buy, and consumer trends. This strategy helps limit waste and excess cost, which we didn't realize would be so important until the war started.
Additionally, with any new project, product, or innovation, we have an assembly-line-like process so I know exactly how far along everything is.
Every day, we continue to improve these processes. But making the change to a more-streamlined business 2 ½ years ago is what has allowed us to sustain it during the war.
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