'I Just Want To Save a Life’: For LA Startups With Tech Staff in Ukraine, the War Hits Close to Home

Pat Maio
Pat Maio has held various reporting and editorial management positions over the past 25 years, having specialized in business and government reporting. He has held reporting jobs with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County Register, Dow Jones News and other newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
'I Just Want To Save a Life’: For LA Startups With Tech Staff in Ukraine, the War Hits Close to Home

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The invasion of Ukraine by Russia may be taking place more than 6,000 miles from California—but for some in Los Angeles’ tech and startup world who rely on Ukraine’s deep pool of tech talent, the conflict is hitting close to home.

Over the past week, some L.A.-based startups have found themselves trading phone calls, text messages and emails with their Ukrainian contractors, many of whom are huddled underground in subways seeking refuge from Russian attacks. Some have heeded their country’s call to arm, picked up rifles and joined the war effort.

“I want to keep the company going,” Petro Kovalchuk, founder and CEO of Lviv-based software development company Lvivity, told dot.LA in a video conferencing call from the western Ukraine city over the weekend. “My job for the company is to save [its 50 employees] and keep their families in a safe place.”

Petro Kovalchuk, CEO and founder of software development company LvivityPetro Kovalchuk, CEO and founder of software development company Lvivity.

Image courtesy of Lvivity

Kovalchuk said Lvivity works with several startups in the L.A. region—none of whom he identified, citing confidential non-disclosure agreements about the work it performs. While Russian forces have yet to attack Lviv, the 33-year-old founder said he has rushed for shelter in his apartment building’s underground parking garage amid occasional air raid sirens and the sound of explosions in the distance.

“Just support us—we don’t need NATO, or your people here,” said Kovalchuk. As a member of Ukraine’s military reserves, Kovalchuk said he’s already been called up for service, though he doesn’t yet know where he’ll be deployed. “We are able to fight like Ukrainian spartans.”

In interviews, executives of L.A. tech companies who contract out work to Ukraine spoke of the stress and panic they have felt while scrambling to help those workers get out of the besieged country.

“I’m pretty stressed; I slept three hours last night,” Timothy Li, CEO of Irvine-based lending platform Alchemy Technologies, told dot.LA on Sunday. He said roughly two dozen of Alchemy’s contractors in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv were hunkered down in subways to escape Russia’s onslaught.

One of Alchemy’s workers, according to Li, has a family member who delivered a baby in the subway on Saturday evening. Li said he’s been communicating with the workers via the Telegram messaging app and is trying to send them money to help pay for food and escape to neighboring Poland.

Alchemy’s staff in Kharkiv includes software experts, engineers, graphic designers, quality assurance engineers and sales project leaders. “Even my personal assistant is there,” Li noted. “I’m not at work anymore. I just want to save a life.”

While far from his primary concern, Li said the conflict has forced Alchemy, which is currently raising a $25 million Series A funding round, to adjust its operations. “Everyone here is taking on the additional workload,” he said. “This is horrible. This isn’t even about work; this is about basic humanity.”

U.S. firms have increasingly tapped Ukraine’s skilled tech workforce for services in recent years—drawn both by difficulties in finding the tech talent they need stateside and by lower labor costs abroad. As the situation in Ukraine escalates, local Ukrainian community leaders are lobbying for an expansion of the U.S.’s H-1B visa program that would allow U.S. employers to accommodate those forced to flee the country.

Multiple L.A.-based tech companies reached by dot.LA for this article declined to comment on their operations in Ukraine, citing fears of retaliation to both their workers in the country and through cyberattacks targeting their own businesses.

Hawthorne-based Launcher managed to relocate its staff from Dnipro, Ukraine to a new office in Sofia, Bulgaria.Image courtesy of Launcher

In a public note last week, Max Haot, founder and CEO of Hawthorne-based aerospace startup Launcher, said the company was “providing all of the necessary support we can think of to our team, partners, and their families and communities in Ukraine.” Launcher, which is developing rockets to deliver small satellites into orbit, has a subsidiary office in the central Ukraine city of Dnipro, once a center for the Soviet aerospace and defense industries.

As tensions between Ukraine and Russia gradually escalated in the weeks leading up to the invasion, Launcher managed to relocate its Dnipro staff and their families to a new office in Sofia, Bulgaria and paid for their relocation expenses, Haot said. (Six members of its 16-person team in Ukraine decided to stay in the country, he added.) Haot noted that one of his previous startups, Livestream, had pursued similar measures in 2014—relocating its Ukraine team members to Montenegro after war broke out with Russia.

Yet another L.A. entrepreneur who has expressed concern for their tech staff in Ukraine is Spencer Rascoff. The Zillow co-founder, who now leads venture capital firm 75 & Sunny, said last week that one of his startups, Recon Food, relies on a software development team in Kiev. (Disclosure: Rascoff is the co-founder and chairman of dot.LA.)

“They are great people and have been terrific partners,” Rascoff wrote on Twitter. “Hoping for the best for these friends.”

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‘Commerce at The Curb’: LA’s Rideshare Debate Heats Up

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Connie Llanos, Jordan Justus and Gene Oh
Justin Janes, Vizeos Media

Three years ago, Los Angeles went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, cities like L.A. are struggling to hold on to pandemic-era transportation and infrastructure changes, like sidewalk dining and slow streets, while managing escalating demand for curb space from rideshare and delivery.

At Curbivore, a conference dedicated to “commerce at the curb” held earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles, the topic was “Grading on a Curb: The State of our Streets & Cities in 2023,” a panel moderated by Drew Grant, editorial director for dot.LA.

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Plug In South LA Accelerator Launches 4th Cohort to Double Down On Black and Latinx Communities

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Plug In South LA Accelerator Launches 4th Cohort to Double Down On Black and Latinx Communities
Provided by Plug In

Last week, Plug In, a South LA accelerator program, announced the launch of its fourth cohort. The deadline to apply is March 24 and the program will begin in April and end mid-July.

While Plug In got its start by helping South LA’s tech ecosystem, the company is not limiting the talent pool to local companies. Instead, Plug In is widening its reach by allowing startups from across the nation to participate. The 12-week program is focused on finding founders in the health care, digital media, edtech, climate and sustainability sectors.

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How the 'Thrift Haul' Boosted Secondhand Ecommerce Platforms

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
How the 'Thrift Haul' Boosted Secondhand Ecommerce Platforms
Evan Xie

If you can believe it, it’s been more than a decade since rapper Macklemore extolled the virtues of thrift shopping in a viral music video. But while scouring the ranks of vintage clothing stores looking for the ultimate come-up may have waned in popularity since 2012, the online version of this activity is apparently thriving.

According to a new trend story from CNBC, interest in “reselling” platforms like Etsy-owned Depop and Poshmark has exploded in the years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. In an article that spends a frankly surprising amount of time focused on sellers receiving death threats before concluding that they’re “not the norm,” the network cites the usual belt-tightening ecommerce suspects – housebound individuals doing more of their shopping online coupled with inflation woes and recession fears – as the causes behind the uptick.

As for data, there’s a survey from Depop themselves, finding that 53% of respondents in the UK are more inclined to shop secondhand as living costs continue to rise. Additional research from Advance Market Analytics confirms the trend, citing not just increased demand for cheap clothes but the pressing need for a sustainable alternative to recycling clothing materials at its core.

The major popularity of “thrift haul” videos across social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok has also boosted the visibility of vintage clothes shopping and hunting for buried treasures. Teenage TikToker Jacklyn Wells scores millions of views on her thrift haul videos, only to get routinely mass-accused of greed for ratching up the Depop resell prices for her coolest finds and discoveries. Nonetheless, viral clips like Wells’ have helped to embed secondhand shopping apps more generally within online fashion culture. Fashion and beauty magazine Hunger now features a regular list of the hottest items on the re-sale market, with a focus on how to use them to recreate hot runway looks.

As with a lot of consumer and technology trends, the sudden surge of interest in second-hand clothing retailers was only partly organic. According to The Drum, ecommerce apps Vinted, eBay, and Depop have collectively spent around $120 million on advertising throughout the last few years, promoting the recent vintage shopping boom and helping to normalize second-hand shopping. This includes conventional advertising, of course, but also deals with online influencers to post content like “thrift haul” videos, along with shoutouts for where to track down the best finds.

Reselling platforms have naturally responded to the increase in visibility with new features (as well as a predictable hike in transaction fees). Poshmark recently introduced livestreamed “Posh Shows” during which sellers can host auctions or provide deeper insight into their inventory. Depop, meanwhile, has introduced a “Make Offer” option to fully integrate the bartering and negotiation process into the app, rather than forcing buyers and sellers to text or Direct Message one another elsewhere. (The platform formerly had a comments section on product pages, but shut this option down after finding that it led to arguments, and wasn’t particularly helpful in making purchase decisions.)

Now that it’s clear there’s money to be made in online thrift stores, larger and more established brands and retailers are also pushing their way into the space. H&M and Target have both partnered with online thrift store ThredUp on featured collections of previously-worn clothing. A new “curated” resale collection from Tommy Hilfiger – featuring minorly damaged items that were returned to its retail stores – was developed and promoted through a partnership with Depop, which has also teamed with Kellogg’s on a line of Pop-Tarts-inspired wear. J.Crew is even bringing back its classic ‘80s Rollneck Sweater in a nod to the renewed interest in all things vintage.

Still, with any surge of popularity and visibility, there must also come an accompanying backlash. In a sharp editorial this week for Arizona University’s Daily Wildcat, thrift shopping enthusiast Luke Lawson makes the case that sites like Depop are “gentrifying fashion,” stripping communities of local thrift stores that provide a valuable public service, particularly for members of low-income communities. As well, UK tabloids are routinely filled with secondhand shopping horror stories these days, another evidence point as to their increased visibility among British consumers specifically, not to mention the general dangers of buying personal items from strangers you met over the internet.