pet cube, which makes connected pet cameras, exemplifies that spirit. In early June, the company’s co-founder and CMO, Andrey Klen, spoke candidly about his own experiences over the past few months, shedding some light on what it’s like to run his company amid the fear and confusion of war.
Here, Klen tells his story in his own words, which we’ve edited lightly for length and clarity.
where I call from
I am in Lviv in western Ukraine. That’s one of the big cities, and I’m traveling back to Kiev in the morning. I had to come here – it was kind of an evacuation. It’s been almost four months and I’m going back home tomorrow. Sometimes we are in between places. We can be in San Francisco or Shenzhen in China. But Kiev is home.
Our company, Petcube, connects pets to the internet. It sounds a little crazy, but it’s true. We sell interactive home cameras for pet ‘parents’ so they can monitor their pets remotely from their phone. You can make sure your pet is okay. You can get in touch with them so you can hear them and talk to them. You can also see them and there are some other interactive features. Our main customers are located in the US; we’ve already sold half a million devices there. But we also sell in Canada, Australia and some European countries.
February 24, the war begins
The 24th was a little crazy. It was an ordinary day. I woke up to my Tinder date. I got up early in the morning when my phone exploded, and I had a few dozen messages that the war had begun. We were in shock for a while. It was really hard to unpack. It’s kind of a surreal experience, something you can’t believe is happening. It was hard to understand. Then I learned that one of the [Soviet] missiles had landed about a mile from me and basically blew up the whole area. We slept through that.
I immediately decided I was going to leave, but it was really hard to get my head around the idea. I went outside to walk my dog. I cooked breakfast. Yet there was a huge conflict. I didn’t want to leave the house.
When you were outside or looking out the window, you just saw people going about their daily business. But you would know that a bunch of rockets just landed in different cities, and the war had started, and troops entered our area.
So I packed my dog. I think I took more stuff from my dog than my personal stuff. I found a friend of a friend going in the direction of western Ukraine. And we were on this road for about 16 hours in this car with random people I didn’t know.
There were no specific travel plans. I just jumped in a car and went. The traffic was terrible. The journey to Lviv normally takes about six hours, but it may have taken us [that long] just to leave the city and the Kiev region. And while I was traveling I contacted one of my colleagues who was kind enough to arrange his house for me. Later I rented my own space.
A shock to the company
Most of our team is still in Ukraine. It was a shock for everyone because we had people in different places on the map in Ukraine. We had an evacuation plan for each of our employees, maybe six to eight weeks before everything happened. But until the last moment, no one wanted to believe that war was about to begin. When that happened, everyone just started moving. And for a week it was super hectic. We didn’t have our regular phone calls, perhaps the most crucial. Everyone was actually trying to navigate to a safe place, especially [our employees] from the eastern regions and from the central parts of the country.
There were different situations. You have to understand that because of the mobilization, men could not leave the country immediately after the outbreak of the war. And some women didn’t want to split their families, so they stayed with them. It’s something very common. Some families without men had to move, so they basically went to Europe – mainly to Poland, Germany or Denmark – and the rest of the team gradually moved to the West.
And there were also people who didn’t want to leave, so that was also an issue. They had some psychological blocks that they had to overcome. It sounds simple on paper, but people have relatives. They have older parents, and sometimes they are willing to leave, but their parents are super against it. They have so many things that tie them to the place. So it’s not that trivial to detach yourself and just go somewhere. We tried to convince them and drove with them to get them to safety. Sooner or later they left.
The whole war situation has essentially affected our personal human potential. But our operations and our production and our sales were not really affected because we manufacture in China. We are a distribution team. We are used to working in the US, Ukraine and China at the same time. So it’s not something we don’t know how to do. It is not a big challenge for us to coordinate and synchronize in this state. So a week or two after the invasion happened, we were back to normal and working normally.
The only adjustments needed were people’s morale, because everyone was doom scrolling and everyone was worried. Everyone was concerned about their families. Everyone was just trying to understand the idea that another country had invaded ours, which is crazy in 2022, and everyone was super concerned in general. It is important to understand that there is no safe place in Ukraine. So every city you’re in, you’re a target, because they’re launching their missiles and ballistic missiles and things like that, so you’re in constant danger. The sirens of the air raids go off at least twice a day.
Even more jobs
Constant anxiety naturally affects your work. It affects your productivity. But on the other hand, people took on more jobs. You have your day job that you have to do to get paid and all, but war really is a collective effort. Suddenly people realize that they have multiple jobs, that they have to volunteer, that they have to put in some effort to help the defensive campaigns. They need to make a phone call to US senators to lobby for our country’s armaments. Either you’re in a situation where you need to come up with a marketing campaign to increase interest in bringing in services, or you need to organize a fundraiser, or you need to crowdfund a drone, or you need to train some people, or you need to go somewhere. .
But you also need to find medicine for your relative and somehow ship it to them. Over there [are] tons of work to do, as a citizen, as an employee, as a Ukrainian. It’s hard, but we also don’t really have much time to think and be scared and worried because there are so many things to do.
It’s important to give people time and space to re-adjust, so we were well aware that we wouldn’t be super effective at our jobs for a while because we have so many other things to do. So no one felt this pressure to do their work duties because we are all in this world together. For the first month, our defense efforts, the war efforts, the volunteer work, all those things were the number one priority.
And everyone has this dedication and understanding that it’s okay, that’s the way it should be. And things are going to be fine. We’ll come back to that at some point, and eventually we did, and now we’re doing it right.
I worry about the fact that hundreds of people die every day, and that’s something I can’t keep up with. It’s crazy, it’s absurd and it shouldn’t be happening. Those are people who die. It’s not virtual remote people who die. They’re people in your Facebook feed. It’s your friends. They are friends of your friends and their families.
And like any decent person does, I want it to stop. That’s probably the first expectation, and the most important expectation we have right now. But I think some people in the world have a different understanding of how we can stop it. There is a camp that believes we should make a peace deal with an aggressor who has already proven that he always wants more.
Then there is another more realistic camp that clearly understands that we have to win – that we have to push the Russian military to the previous borders of the country, the sovereign country, the sovereign state. That would be a solution. We need weapons for that. We need support.
So the paradox I experience is that several countries around the world have the resources to help us, but they are hesitant whether they are struggling with the pro-Russian lobbyists or interests to make those supplies of supplies we have to avoid every day. hundreds of people die.
That’s what really worries me. It gives me chills and that’s why I don’t really sleep at night. Insomnia is crazy these days. It’s hard when the air raid sirens go off so often in the night hours. So you can’t really get a good night’s sleep. I probably sleep four hours a day if nothing bad is going on.
There was this little stretch for seven days in western Ukraine where not a single air raid siren could be heard. During that period we went to the Carpathians for a few days. That was three or four nights of full sleep. And that was great. I loved it.
Frankly, there was another reason for us to go, because around May 9, known in Russia as Victory Day, there was a lot of talk about Russians actually carrying out a nuclear attack. So we thought it would probably be a good idea to move further away from a big city. So we did. And I had a crazy experience on my first night in the mountains. There were railroad tracks near my home in the Carpathians—perhaps 50 yards from my window. And I was really haunted by this nuclear threat. I was super, super nervous. So I went to sleep. And at 4 am I was awakened by a very loud sound of something exploding. I was asleep, of course, so maybe some of that was exaggerated in my perception. But there was a terribly loud noise. And when I looked out the window, the sky was a strange color. It was colored in various shades of blue and yellow and violet. Then this image combined with this huge abrupt sound; For three seconds it got me thinking, OK, I’m done. That is it. That’s the explosion, and that’s it.
I never want to get to another point in my life where I have to experience that.