First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Arseniy Seroka: Everything is well, thank you. Nobody got sick, however, lots of the plans that we had we also canceled.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Serokell.
Arseniy Seroka: The idea to create Serokell came to my mind as soon as I graduated. I didn’t want to sit in the office or work for someone, and I was very fond of the functional programming language Haskell. I didn’t manage to find a remote position with this programming language (it’s rather a niche, you see). One time, I was talking with my friend from Riga Jonn Mostovoy. At that time, he had a project, I had a project, and we decided to do it together and split the money. And so it went. After 2-3 months, we already hired the first employee.
In the first two years, it was the word of mouth to generate us clients, but now we have a whole marketing department and more than 60 people working for us. We are still 100% remote, our team works from different cities and countries, and the company itself is registered in Estonia.
How does Serokell innovate?
Arseniy Seroka: At Serokell, I wanted to create an environment where innovation and creativity are part of our daily tasks. We love complex and non-standard tasks; every project we develop makes us invent new ways of applying computer science to solving the client’s problem. For example, we have won a TON competition inventing an asynchronous payment channel that was better than the solution offered by 50 other teams. We also have our own research lab, based at ITMO University. One of our team members, Vlad Zavyalov, works full time to improve the Haskell main compilator GHC, making it a better instrument for the whole community. We encourage our developers to participate in conferences and give lectures.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Arseniy Seroka: I think that the IT industry, in general, was less affected by the pandemic than any other field. We were already working remotely for 5 years when the thing started, so there was no shocking transition for us.
The projects that we work on right now are also heavily on the IT side, so both psychologically and financially, I would say it was easy on us. However, we feel for businesses that face difficulties coping with the crisis. We even started distributing our internal time and resource management tool for free because it helps organize the work process, and not everyone can afford an expensive subscription.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Arseniy Seroka: The main thing I’ve learned: it is important to adapt. You know the virus changes and adapts to the changing conditions, and so should you. In every crisis, positive moments can also be found. If you smartly build your business – have a diversified team with different skills, work with multiple clients, store a 2-3-4 month anticrisis fund just in case, you will be fine. Following this logic, we managed to grow during quarantine and hire more people rather than going down.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Serokell in the future?
Arseniy Seroka: Pandemic was (and still is) a stressful time for all of us, but it’s important not to lose focus. I have ambitious plans for Serokell – I want it to grow and innovate, take more interesting projects, and attract more amazing people to work for us. During a crisis, even if you aren’t facing any difficulties, people around you do ― you have to slow down. But you do not have to stop. We are augmenting the team, taking new projects. My outlook for the future is positive ― COVID is not forever.
I think to reduce the anxiety that you have to stay connected and do what you love. During quarantine, in addition to daily standups and other work meetings, we had weekly online parties and game nights. It was very inspiring to get to know your team better on the distance. And we always have a lot of work to do ― if you cannot go outside, make the most out of your indoor experience.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Arseniy Seroka: There are only a few functional programming firms in the world. This approach to programming demands high qualifications and a desire to master a new way of thinking. Therefore, there are many more tasks for FP developers than they can handle. I am all up for friendly competition, but for now, I would say that we occupy a solid niche and our positions are quite confident.
Your final thoughts?
I would like to wish every reader not to give in to negative thoughts. As they say, when one door closes, another one opens. I personally know people who managed to keep afloat and develop their business during the pandemic or open one from scratch. The hard time will pass, and it is important what you will be left with.
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