Entrepreneur, Disrupted! War in Ukraine: Elena Lobova

Elena Lobova is the founder of ACHIEVERS HUB, a consulting agency for independent game developers. She is also a co-founder and CBDO of GDBAY, an international networking platform for the gaming industry.  

During her 10 years of experience in game development, Elena has managed a game development outsourcing company, founded and organized a conference in Ukraine, and consulted and advised various companies on business development, strategy, negotiations, and pitching.

Elena enjoys traveling, networking, sharing, and connecting people with great ideas.

Listen to the episode now on all major podcasting platforms!

Transcript

Alex Romanovich: (00:00)

Hi, this is Alex Romanovich at the Global Edge Talk. And today is March 18th, 2022, in our studio. We have Elena Lobova from Slovakia, currently moving from Ukraine through Slovakia, or maybe settling in Slovakia, but welcome Elena.

Elena Lobova: (00:19)

Hi. Hello everyone.

Alex Romanovich: (00:21)

Hi, it’s great to have you in our studio. And today, we are going to talk about your journey with the fact that the war is going on in Ukraine. It’s a full-blown full-fledged war that was waged by the Russian Federation’s occupation of Ukraine. We’ll talk about the disruption that has caused to your business. You are a chief business development officer and co-founder of a company called GDBAY, which has to do with gaming and game development. You are an ex-CEO of a company called iLogos, which is famous for a lot of the game development and game development platform type of integration. And it’s really important for us to discuss your journey, your life. What happens when an entrepreneur like yourself gets disrupted. So again, welcome, and let’s have our conversation. Tell me a little bit about your background. I understand that you have a very interesting and rich background that has plenty of disruption, and we’d love to learn more about that. You can start with your biography.

Elena Lobova: (01:42)

Okay. So I’ve been in the gaming industry for 11 years, which is my entire professional career. I started in 2011 in Luhansk, Ukraine. It was a team development outsourcing studio, and it still is. During the next six years, I worked at this company as a chief operating officer and then chief executive officer. And this company grew several times up to 300 people. We opened other offices all around Ukraine and an office in Germany. Since the company was originally from Luhansk, we also had to go through the war in 2014 that started in Luhansk, and we had to relocate our employees and their families to other cities in Ukraine. So it’s not the first time when I’m experiencing this kind of situation. And starting in late 2017, I am an interpreter, and I have two businesses in game development.

Elena Lobova: (02:57)

GDBAY and the Achievers Hub and both businesses help game developers from around the world access the pool of publishers, investors, different opportunities, access funding, and pitch their games. And basically, we help developers with this business side of gaming, letting them concentrate on the creative side on what they can do best. This company is fully online. So luckily for us, we are able to operate fully digitally. However, the entire team of GDBAY is from Ukraine. We were all based in Ukraine before the war when the war started. And currently, I am the only one who left the country. My other team members are still there in different cities in Ukraine.

Alex Romanovich: (03:55)

How many team members do you have back in Ukraine?

Elena Lobova: (03:59)

Four team members.

Alex Romanovich: (04:01)

Four team members, right? Tell me this is a major disruption; obviously, this is a major disaster. If we can even call it that, how is the gaming? How’s the global gaming community, which is basically very democratic and very interconnected. How is the global gaming community reacting to something like this?

Elena Lobova: (04:31)

Mainly all companies are being very supportive of Ukrainian companies. And during the first couple of days of work, I received an overwhelming amount of messages from the other companies that we worked with, or we at least knew each other. And all of them offered help if we needed it, for example, help is relocation. They helped us relocate the business, relocate people if possible, and like any other help, they could provide. We also sent a newsletter with some useful links on how you can help Ukraine from abroad, donate to different institutions, and some links they could fill if they want to offer something for Ukrainian game developers. And many companies were very responsive and very supportive of this. And the entire game in the industry stands with Ukraine. I can tell it with certainty, and I’m very happy to see that much response from them.

Alex Romanovich: (05:42)

That’s incredible. That’s incredible and wonderful at the same time. Obviously, it’s a big tragedy. People are dying. Infrastructure is being destroyed. There’s a lot of grief. There’s a lot of disappointment, dismay, and stress. What’s gone through your mind right now as you have recently transferred from Ukraine to Slovakia, from what I understand. As you look back on this mini journey of yours over the past two weeks and so forth, what is going through your mind right now?

Elena Lobova: (06:22)

Okay. Yeah, this decision to leave the country was not as easy as it might seem because, first of all, it was dangerous on the road itself. And nobody knows what is more dangerous – to stay in one place and hide in a shelter or to move from one place to another. It took several days for me. And, of course, it was pure luck that I remained safe and alive and healthy. So my day usually starts with checking the news and checking in with my close friends in Ukraine or outside of Ukraine. It takes an hour or so. And yeah, so every day when I wake up, I have to relive this experience again because it takes a few moments for me to realize that it’s happening in real life, that it really is happening because sometimes I still cannot believe that it’s happening with us that it’s even possible.

Alex Romanovich: (07:32)

It’s hard to believe. We live in the United States, and I’m going through the same routine. I wake up, and I look at the news. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and look at the news, and it’s hard to believe that this is happening in real life. That by the time we wake up, there might be 50 more people dead, or five more buildings destroyed, or anything else like that. And it’s just incredible stress. Elena, one other interesting issue I wanted to ask you about it is my understanding that with all the sanctions that have impacted the Russian Federation, Belarus has also trickled into Ukraine as well. So from what you’re saying, you told me earlier that even though the payments cannot be processed for the Russian Federation on major platforms like yours and like Steam and some of the other gaming platforms, you’re claiming that the Ukrainians are also blocked. Is that a true statement?

Elena Lobova: (08:39)

Yes, it is. Like, as of now, it is, and I was really shocked because the entire community of the world supports Ukrainians, but at the same time, some big companies make lives for Ukrainians even harder. So, in addition to dealing with our personal situations, running, hiding in shelters and losing our staff, and so on, we also have to deal with this situation by considering different services. For example, personally, I got my Google pay account suspended because I’m originally from Luhansk because everybody probably understood. And I had my Luhansk address there. And so they asked me to send me some documents to prove where I was living. And I sent them documents to prove that I was living in Kyiv, but still, it’s been almost a week, and they still haven’t brought them back. I talked to support, but it was completely useless.

Elena Lobova: (09:48)

They are just saying some basic phrases. And I know it’s not only me. A lot of people are struggling with this. They are losing their documents. They are losing access to their accounts that the useful work tied to their bank statement to their banks to do their different services. So they’re not only losing their physical stuff, but they also lose their digital stuff. And, also what really surprised me was the recent message I received from one of the developers we work with from Ukraine. He received this email from Steam that they are temporarily enabled to process payments in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. So instead of…

Alex Romanovich: (10:41)

That included Ukraine as well, right? They sanctioned Belarus and sanctioned Russia Steam and other digital services have a difficult time distinguishing or separating one from the other.

Elena Lobova: (10:55)

Right. And instead of supporting our developers who now have to fight for their lives and their safety, many of them lost savings, lost their apartments, and had to flee Ukraine or at least their spheres. They can also not receive their earnings from the games since the payments cannot be persisted. So people at Valve say they’re currently kind of working on this just as people in Google and, and, and other services, but we don’t know for how long it will take. And yeah, I really hope that someone will hear it and maybe can do something to progress somehow quicker because there are people who struggle we were, and with these sanctions, absolutely. 

Alex Romanovich: (11:50)

We’ll make, we’ll do our part in this and contact the appropriate people. And you know, if anybody who’s listening to this podcast and this broadcast, if you can impact this, if you can shed some light on this issue, please contact us as well. We have a contact here. We’ll have context here on the landing page and the part of the transcript of this recording. Thank you for bringing this up, Elena. We’ll try to help you as soon as possible.

Elena Lobova: (12:23)

Thank you.

Alex Romanovich: (12:24)

Yes. Incredible. We sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, and, looking at the news, it might be 30 to 50 people dying again by the morning or five buildings destroyed. It’s incredible stress, incredible distress, and this incredible disruption under these conditions, which are not known to many, I would say 99% of the entrepreneurs out there. How do you move forward? How do you continue to concentrate on work, to focus on the things you have to do? Or do you take a break and wait for something to happen? How do you operate under these conditions?

Elena Lobova: (13:09)

Yeah. Again, we were lucky to have a completely digital business, and we can work, even though it’s super hard to work under these conditions and with all the levels of stress that we are experiencing. But, at the beginning of the war, we actually had an event where we organized an international game job. And I offered my fellow team members if they wanted to do it, because if we canceled or postponed, nobody would ever say a word to us, but all of them, like everyone, said that they wanted to do it anyway. And they want to keep working. So we decided we would keep working. It’s actually a very important thing that we are doing right now for the Ukrainian economy because not many businesses are able to work and able to bring money to the country.

Elena Lobova: (14:15)

But we are. So this is our contribution. We keep working. We keep organizing our online events. We keep selling passes, sponsorships, and so on, and this is how we get money coming to our Ukrainian accounts, pay taxes in Ukraine, and send money to the army and different organizations. So we view work as a way of helping our country, but of course, everyone should understand that we cannot work as much as we did before this. And we should be more kind to ourselves. And our team bumped teammates. We just cannot expect the same level of energy, the same level of efficiency that we had before the war. So like when everything started with our employees, that they could work any time that they feel like if you are able to work 40 hours per week, and even more, for example, to distract from all the events, good.

Elena Lobova: (15:25)

If you can work 20 hours per week, good. If you can work five hours per week, it’s also good. The main priority now, and we also discussed it on the very first team call, is to keep ourselves and our close people safe. So this is the main priority. And we should concentrate on this first. And the second priority is work and volunteering. So, of course, all of us, in one way or another, participate in different volunteering organizations but still, we keep working to keep our business running and to keep bringing money to Ukraine. So this is our motivation, and it’s like we are the part of the fight for our country.

Alex Romanovich: (16:18)

Absolutely. Absolutely. And, of course, the fact that it is a digital business and the community-based business makes it a little bit easier to maintain the business, even though there are all kinds of distractions and so forth. Let’s talk about your sort of emotional and value system-based type of feelings looking so fresh in your memory right now. You see pictures. You see videos. You saw them live only a couple of weeks ago, a week ago. Let’s talk about your value system or the system of valuable items in life. Did that change at all?

Elena Lobova: (17:12)

That’s an interesting question because I don’t think it changed much because there were learnings as to value people, life, and connections, and that’s what I always value. My business is based on connections, on relations between people. And it’s very important right now. And, so I wouldn’t say that my entire value system has changed. Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t think about this exact question much, so yeah.

Alex Romanovich: (17:55)

That’s okay. Don’t worry about it. You know, we can stop right there that that’s totally fine. It was on the list, by the way, but it’s fine. It’s totally okay. I know it’s very early to talk about what’s next because you may not know what’s next necessarily. However, rebuilding the business is not really more of an issue because it’s a digital business, right. So it’s not like you have to rebuild the infrastructure or rebuild the warehouse or anything else like that. Do you think that from your product and platform standpoint, from your solution standpoint, do you think that if you put the head of a product person on do you think that any future releases or any future implementations will be impacted by your experience right now?

Elena Lobova: (18:53)

I think that, of course, we will be more careful choosing the partners we work with because we even have a community-based business, and we work with all kinds of companies. And, of course, we want to make sure that these companies are supporting Ukraine in this war and that they are not in any way connected to Russia, and they are not paying money to the country that is spending them to kill people in our country. So that’s what we are already doing. We are changing policies and how we work with companies that are based in Russia or have Russian entities or are somehow connected to Russia because, of course, we don’t want innocent people to be heard, but also, it’s very important right now to make a statement and to, first of all, be true to ourselves and our country.

Alex Romanovich: (19:55)

Now, you said your community-based business, and I’m sure that in the past, before this war before the war of 2014, there was probably a fairly good size community in Russia for the Russian gamers and developers. Are they still involved? Do you maintain contact with them, or did you completely disconnect from them to support the Ukrainian fight against the Russian Federation and the Russian invasion?

Elena Lobova: (20:31)

So again, it’s very new and happening right now. We are still working on our policies, but what we are doing right now is blocking or at least suspending accounts for all Russian users on our networks. And as for the Russian companies that participate, we will put a statement on our website that all our partners and sponsors stand with Ukraine and condemn Russia’s actions. We send all over dissent this to our sponsors and partners, all of them, not only ration companies. And we ask them if we should leave their logo on the website or if we should delete it and cancel our partnership.

Alex Romanovich: (21:23)

Because in the west, for example, on the one hand, we strongly condemn this war. We strongly condemn the support of this war by anybody, and we strongly support Ukrainians, but as humans, we also worry about the people of Russia. I’m not going to suggest that this is my personal opinion. I’m talking about collective feelings and collective sort of human behavior, which is normal, which is civilized to care for the individuals who are there, who may be, who may feel different, who may feel differently. And yet they’re now being blocked and isolated and so forth and so on. How do you feel about giving them a voice if, of course, that voice is in support of Ukraine, but giving them a voice, or is this too early? Is this too confusing at the moment for you as a company, as individuals, as a set of individuals to even talk about?

Elena Lobova: (22:42)

Well, first of all, the bloodshot should stop. So as long as we are getting more and more messages about Ukrainian children being killed every day, there are 109 up to date. I’m not ready to give a voice to any representatives of Russia on my platforms and resources. I know there are people who also fight for Ukraine fight against this regime in Russia. I know there are people who go to meetings and also risk their freedom and their lives. And we all see them. That’s what I wanted to say, that we see the support of those who support us, but we also see the silence of the others.

Alex Romanovich: (23:39)

Yeah. So this silence is almost equivalent to not condemning this but supporting this. And I know a lot of it is a very difficult and emotional type of phenomenon because, on the one hand, you want to be human. You want to be democratic about those things. We often talk about this in the west as well. On the other hand, I totally agree with you that the feelings of anger, the feelings of total dismay, when you hear the reports of killed children, elderly, civilians bombed buildings, and so forth really takes us to a very different place as humans. And the emotions overwhelm us the emotions, the feelings of belief, but also the feelings of hate, at times anger towards those individuals.

Alex Romanovich: (24:51)

I totally understand that it’s a very difficult psychological problem as well. Elena, I want to tell you that we’re very supportive of what you’re doing. I think maintaining a business during these conditions, during the war is a challenge in itself, and for you to continue to motivate, for you to continue to lead, be a leader during those times, to continue to be a communicator is worth a lot more than doing the same thing during the regular peace conditions. So I want to thank you for being that individual who leads, who gives us examples. I want to wish you all the best. Let’s be in touch. We want to tell our audience that we will have a lot more information about Elena and her company. So you can learn more about this. And if you’re a gamer, I urge you.

Alex Romanovich: (25:53)

And if you’re a gaming company, I urge you to become a member of the platformcontact Elena, contact the platform. I think it’s amazing what she’s doing, communicating to the gamers worldwide. I think gaming is a huge business. It’s growing like crazy, especially now. So thank you for being in our studio. Thank you for sharing your personal and, at times, private feelings and emotions. And we’ll be in touch. Thank you so much. 

Elena Lobova: (26:26)

Thanks for having me. Bye bye.

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Alex Romanovich is the founder/CEO of GlobalEdgeMarkets (formerly Social2B), specializing in ABM (Account Based Marketing), Sales Enablement, Marketing Stack Implementation, and Content Marketing Execution. He is also an Advisory Board Member, and active participant in, TheCMOClub.com which includes nearly 800+ peer Chief Marketing Officers representing Fortune 1000 brands in the USA and Europe.

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