The COVID-19 pandemic taught the world how to work from home, but Russia’s war in Ukraine has taught the employees at Delfast, a Ukrainian e-bike startup, how to work from bomb shelters, while on the move and under threat of violence.
The usual priorities of a startup – securing venture funding, researching and developing new products, finding product-market fit – haven’t exactly been put on hold, but they are now much lower on Delfast’s to-do list. Since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in late February, Delfast’s top priority has been to see its Ukrainian team of 30 safely evacuated from the most dangerous parts of the country.
When not focusing on sales, marketing, R&D and customer support, Delfast’s smaller team of seven employees based in Los Angeles has been pleading with U.S. politicians and the European Commission to supply Ukraine with anti-aircraft missiles and fighter jets that could help Ukraine gain back some control over its air space, and, hopefully, put a stop to this war.
Delfast’s co-founders, Daniel Tonkopi and Serhiy Denysenko, say they have always believed in safeguarding the future. When they founded Delfast in 2014, originally as a delivery company, Tonkoply and Denysenko knew that providing couriers with green transportation options would be critical to the company’s operations.
The most important thing for an entrepreneur, and in general for any leader, is to protect the team and be completely honest with them during a tough time. Daniel Tonkopi, co-founder of Delfast
The founders soon realized that a bike with the power, range and battery life their couriers needed didn’t exist, and so they set out to build one. In 2017, backed by a Kickstarter campaign that saw the company raise $165,000, the startup began manufacturing a bike to fit its needs – one that promptly won the Guinness Book of World Records for the greatest distance traveled on an electric motorbike on a single charge.
More recently, the Delfast Top 3.0 e-motorbike won Forbes’ fastest e-bike of the year in 2022 after the company announced some serious upgrades to the vehicle during CES.
We spoke with Delfast’s co-founders to discuss what it’s like running a startup during a war, how the startup is considering breaking into new business verticals, and the importance of always having a Plan B.
The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.
Note: Serhiy Denysenko’s answers were translated from Ukrainian by a member of Delfast’s team for TechCrunch.
TC: Serhiy, you’re on the ground in Kyiv. What’s your day-to-day like?
Denysenko: Every morning starts with a check-in on Slack with all the colleagues. It’s important to keep in touch and know that everyone is fine, or as fine as is possible right now.
Besides my work as a COO, I’ve been helping with volunteering, getting supplies and medicine to people, and this is something that pretty much every Ukrainian is now doing. I had my family relocated to Hungary, so I feel more or less safe, and I’m just trying to work as much as possible and do my best in every possible area, whether that’s supporting the company or supporting Ukraine in general.
How are you managing your team through this crisis? What’s changed?
Denysenko: We got used to working remotely during Coronavirus times, so we have our task tracker, where everyone can see his or her task. Every Monday, we have an online Zoom meeting. Previously we only had these meetings at the executive level, but now during the war, we are gathering all together, just to see each other’s faces and ask how they’re doing, how’s everyone feeling. Just to talk with everybody.