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“We make Toyota and BMW. We don’t make Daewoo Lanos”. — an interview with Kyrylo Soliar, CEO of a Ukrainian outsourcing IT company


I’m Serhii Soloviov, CEO of Solve Marketing. Today I’m going to talk to Kyrylo Soliar, CEO of Solar Digital

What we will discuss:

  1. the impact of the no-code trend on the web development industry;
  2. how much website development costs;
  3. where Solar Digital finds clients;
  4. trends in the IT hiring market;
  5. two cool ideas for a startup; 
  6. comparison of Ukrainian and European services. 

And other interesting topics.

— Kiril, we have known each other for many years, but there will be people among our readers who do not know about you. So now it is the time to tell them what you do.

Hello everyone, I am Kiril Soliar, the founder and CEO of Solar Digital, which is almost 6 years old. We have 2 types of activities: 

  1. We work as a software solution company.

Solar Digital is a Ukrainian outsourcing IT company that develops custom web and mobile applications. We make various e-commerce projects, marketplaces, online media, brokerage portals, etc. Clients come to us when they need to do something personalized according to their processes. They are not satisfied with templates. 

  1. We work as a creative design agency.

That is, we are a team of designers who do all digital design, from branding, illustrations to creative promotional websites and large and heavy design systems.

— Cool! You can provide training on self-presentation 🙂

I have practiced this over the past month, because now I am conducting various interviews. That’s why it’s already ingrained in my mind. 

— What are the most significant changes in your business since February 24? Apart from the fact that we started communicating in Ukrainian 🙂 

This is a change that makes me very happy. More and more of my friends from Russian-speaking Odesa are voluntarily switching to Ukrainian. Especially considering that they have been speaking Russian all their lives. I am very positive about this 🙂 

Speaking about the company’s operations, we continued to work without a single day’s pause, even under bombardment and sirens. My guys and girls even worked in the subway in bomb shelters and successfully delivered projects. 

My team are my heroes! 

I am very proud of them, their attitude and the fact that they are coping despite all the challenges of life. 

And the most important change is the magic pendulum. I am now doing what I had been putting off for years before the war. We were always focused on client projects, so we didn’t have enough time for our cases. Now, as you can see, we are finally publishing them. We also started developing a new version of our website. 

All the time we were getting clients only through inbound channels. Of course, it’s good that we were approached 🙂 Now we are building outbound channels. For this purpose, we are building a separate department, and now I am conducting interviews and hiring the right specialists. 

Therefore, I can say that all these challenges have given us an acceleration to develop the company.

— Yes, I often hear this from business owners, namely that the war has forced them to accelerate and do what they have been putting off for a long time. 

Besides, we are, of course, trying to help the country. Now I’m going to give a spoiler of a new promotional project — it’s a non-profit initiative of our agency. The project is called “Feel the war of Ukraine”. It is a promotional website about the war in Ukraine for foreigners. Its message: “Try to feel what we feel!”.

By the way, about an hour ago I received the Creative Forces chevron from the Kyiv International Advertising Festival. We also received a shortlist for one of our social projects. So, yes, we can say that we are the creative forces behind the promotion of Ukraine. 

— What do you think about Ukraine? What are the prospects in the country after we win? 

There are many scenarios. The worst is probably the one where we drown in bureaucracy and corruption. But now there is a huge demand in society for real big construction, innovation and accelerated integration with European society. 

Looking at how many millions of Ukrainians are now abroad, this will definitely become a major factor in social integration. 

— So are you betting more on a positive scenario where we can handle everything?

What can we do now? Of course, recharge our batteries with positive energy.

Here’s a question that should take you by surprise. How much will website development cost?

I often hear this question from different clients at the stage of initial communication. And here I draw a parallel and answer: “The same as a car”. Because it can cost $1000, $120 thousand, $350 thousand if we are talking about Ferrari or some other luxury brand. 

It can be a 20-30 page website that doesn’t look complicated at first glance, but the attention to detail requires different amounts of time to create it. 

We can make a simple but high-quality solution for a few thousand dollars, especially if we are talking about a one-page website.

And the situation is diametrically opposite when it comes to an animated website, a complex and creative website that aims to win all kinds of international awards. 

There will be a lot of time spent on design and even more on visual effects, JavaScript, etc. 

If we are talking about large systems, for example, marketplaces, e-commerce or other serious projects with their own business logic, the cost can be $50–$200 thousand or more. Everything is calculated differently there. An example of such a project we have been working with for 6 years is Stark Research.

— I heard you compare it to car brands. To which car company do you compare what Solar Digital is doing?

We make Toyota and BMW. We do not make Daewoo Lanos, Renault Logan, and so on. Our team makes either just a reliable horse like a Toyota Corolla or something very emotional that you can be pleased to use and be proud of.

— I thought you were going to say Tesla. I was wrong 🙂

By the way, what do you think of the design of this car brand? The design community has a mixed attitude towards Cybertruck and such cars.

The Cybertruck is a great object design that turns the pickup truck industry upside down and is a significant competitor for General Motors. 

Tesla cars are a new philosophy, minimalism in the world of automakers. Just as Steve Jobs once created a buttonless smartphone with a minimalist philosophy, Tesla’s design consists of a single button to open the trunk. Everything else is a solid screen.

— I agree! You mentioned minimalism. I recalled the no-code trend. For me, this is something from the world of minimalism. Please tell us, how does no-code affect your business? Doesn’t it destroy the web development industry?

Not at all. There is an example from the digital marketing sphere when every year some experts say that SEO promotion will die. And other SEO specialists joke about it, because SEO continues to work steadily and generate revenue for companies.

It’s the same story with no-code, because it doesn’t destroy the work of web agencies at all, but, on the contrary, gives new opportunities.

I feel very good about it and recommend small projects not to do custom development, layout, and a technical part, but just to make a website with the help of designers. Everyone will benefit from this:

  • the client gets a website with fewer bugs in less time and at a lower cost;
  • the designer can directly control and influence the final result.

No-code gives us new opportunities in website development. We use Readymag in our work and are very satisfied with this solution.

In my answer to one of the previous questions, I talked about the project “Feel the war of Ukraine”, which was made on Readymag.

— This is a very cool idea. If necessary, we will join this project. I think there will be a lot of people who want to do it, and together we can do anything. To make such cool projects, you need a proper team. How do you look for people to join it?

To be honest, I don’t have any know-how. I’m looking for people at Djinni. During this war, we haven’t downsized at all because of a lack of work or a crisis. On the contrary, we are expanding our team and hiring people.

I have recently hired a talented designer from Kyiv, a recruiter, and a digital marketer. They joined our team very effectively and efficiently from the first months and are already delivering great results. I am very pleased with them. These three hires were made using the Djinni service.

Then, with the help of a recruiter, we conduct interviews and use the services familiar to an IT company: Dou, Djinni, LinkedIn, and inbound channels.

In general, it was very difficult to hire a person. The IT hiring market was not just red, but crimson — there were more than 60,000 vacancies for 15,000 candidates. A candidate received 3 to 5 offers every day and had to choose the best option.

Now the situation is completely reversed: there are more than 60,000 candidates for 15,000 vacancies. That is, the numbers are the same, but the situation is the opposite.

And it is still difficult to find talent because there are very few people who care.

— Everything is as usual. But if you have a cool company and product, you will find people. And what about clients? Is there a standard method? Where are you looking for clients now?

We still receive inquiries from our website. In addition, after the start of the full-scale war, we started looking for clients on Upwork. We have a separate sales manager who deals with this.

We are currently building three channels to attract customers:

  • Upwork. Now I want to hire another sales manager for this area.
  • We are building a partnership program with various agencies in Canada, Australia, the US, Europe, etc. We already have several projects ordered by agencies from other countries.
  • Outreach through LinkedIn.

We are now creating an ICP and will focus on it in those industries where we have the greatest expertise.

ICP (ideal customer profile) is a description of the company that can benefit most from the product. Examples of questions that will help form an ICP:

+ number of employees in the company;
+ sphere/industry;
+ company budget;
+ location;
… and other questions.

As an example, we have a very extensive expertise in working with projects in maritime logistics.

For example, we are proud of the Stark Research project, and maybe even the whole country. It is a unique and cool solution for the global industry.

Therefore, our goal now is for our company to build relationships with European crypto companies and convey to them that we are not just a body shop outsourcing with cheap programmers from Ukraine.

Solar Digital is an IT company with deep expertise in their field.

—It’s really cool! I can’t help but advise you that expert content will work very well in your field. A properly built content marketing strategy + tools to drive traffic to this content will help you get a stream of requests.

I completely agree with you. We are currently working on a new website, and we are building a semantic core, low-frequency queries, etc. for each industry. Yes, we will need to create a lot of content, which is a very big challenge because it requires time and resources. This process also needs to be organized effectively to cope with it.

— Given your expertise, you will only need to start here. It will go from there, I have no doubt 🙂

I remember that you have a boat in your office. It symbolizes your second project — By the way, how are things going with it?

Things are not good with Sailica. Before the war, most of our clients were from Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainians cannot think about yachting now because of the circumstances. Russians are actively approaching us, but we refuse them because we do not want to cooperate with them. This is our civic position and the position of our foreign bank. That is why we have a 90% drop in sales. Because of this, we are very limited in resources.

Sailica has a difficult path in general. First, there were difficulties because of the Covid, and now because of the war.

— The platform was actively used, which means that it is convenient and people like it. If you wait out this downturn, you can then reorient yourself and enter other markets where Sailica will be actively used.

It is true, we just had high expectations for this season. We assumed that we would do a good job of booking yachts for different clients, get a penalty that we could reinvest in SEO or other marketing channels, drive traffic to our website, etc. By the way, it is really competitive in terms of its interface and convenience. However, we currently have few resources to promote the site.

— I wanted to ask you if you have any ideas for new projects. But if you have few resources, maybe you have ideas but no resources?

This is usually what happens. There are always more ideas than resources to implement them. There are many different new and interesting ideas, but no time to implement them.

— There is a lack of time, resources, and investors. Right?

Yes, that’s correct. For example, we have regular calls with the team. Many of our team members have traveled to Europe, including the girls. They are in Italy, Bulgaria, the USA, Poland and other countries. The girls complain that they get poor quality manicures that cost 50-60 dollars or euros. It’s dramatically worse than the service provided in Ukraine. It looks like a specific business problem. We even joked with them that we could open a chain of beauty salons, digitize it through a certain online resource, and go for it! Because there is a demand for it, a specific pain that we can solve.

I was also offered to create a project to tokenize bunkers. Because the whole of Europe is now afraid of nuclear strikes. Nowadays, marketers are selling housing, noting that a bunker will be built on the territory of the house. This has become commonplace for new homes.

I am personally interested in the idea of tokenizing real estate sales in the European market.

How does it work? Suppose you need $10 million to buy an apartment in the center of Munich or Berlin. But you have $10 thousand.

What should you do?

The total cost of the apartment is converted into the number of conditional tokens. Everyone who buys them gets a share of this asset. Thus, the amount for the purchase of the apartment is accumulated. It is guaranteed that these tokens are backed by real estate and are not fake. The apartments are purchased and then transferred to the management company. Each token holder receives rental income.

Yes. There are many factors why Europe has to adapt to the level of service in Ukraine. And they need to update a lot of things for us to agree to become part of Europe 🙂 Because, for example, they don’t have Nova Poshta, Rozetka, Monobank, etc. They can’t, while sitting in a bar, cut a check for two or three people in Munich. Europeans also cannot pick up the phone, receive/send a parcel in just a day by calling a phone number, etc.

For example, a week ago I had a meeting with my client from Germany. He was visiting Ukraine and I met him. The client brought a copy of a military jacket that he could send for a large batch purchase. So we sent this jacket to the volunteers through Nova Poshta. He was amazed that the process of sending the parcel was very simple and that it was delivered almost across Ukraine in 23 hours. My client even wrote a post about it, where shocked Germans left more than 100 comments.

— Yes, they perceive us a little bit differently than we really are. It seems to me that this progress is due to the fact that we have a lot of competition and, at the same time, people have little free money. That’s why businesses compete on the basis of service, in addition to the main service. If our entrepreneurs are released en masse into the European market, they will quickly take it over in all directions 🙂 

It reminds me of the Chinese entering the international market. They are very skilled in the internal struggle, because the competition there is much higher than ours. Those who cooperate with Europe and the US are just sharks with incredible business skills. But Ukrainians are much closer to the mentality of Europeans. So we will see what will come of it. I can already see how fast and purposeful our people are working who left for Europe during the war.

I will ask you a question that I ask all entrepreneurs. If you could remove one thing from your business, what would you remove? Something that would improve your work.

I would remove the complexity of finding top managers.

— So you have all the top managers once and for all? And who would you like to find first of all right now?

We are now prioritizing a business developer manager, head of a new sales department, CFO, etc. In other words, all those top managers on whom a classic company is based on like a solid foundation. Such specialists are very difficult to find at any time. They also need to be developed within the company, which is one of the main challenges for both the CEO and the business as a whole.

Therefore, if you remove the difficulty of attracting and finding the perfect top managers, the company is simply doomed to success.

— You have such a deep understanding that the team is the main driver of the company’s success. You weren’t talking about clients, products, or legal peculiarities, but rather about the team. This is very interesting!

I really believe in this. You know, there’s a common phrase: “The client is always right”. No, it’s bullshit:)

More often than not, the team is more right than the client. And it would be a mistake to neglect the interests of the team.

A healthy, motivated, and engaged team will ensure that you always have satisfied customers and a thriving business. That is why I believe that in our creative and intellectual business, the team is the main asset.

It is a really complicated and yet important factor, and you can have a lot of failures with it: bad hires, motivation systems, etc.

— I agree! And what is the ideal service for your customers, for which they will stand in line and wait as long as necessary?

Let me give you an example. I would like to come to you and discuss a website. During the discussion, the site would be created, and I could change something right away. And it would change in response to my comments. After the meeting, I would have a ready-made product with a well-thought-out business logic, with all the integrations connected. And I would pay not now, but when I start making a profit.

Yes, it would be very cool. It sounds futuristic — any client would like that.

— Do you think this is possible in the future with the advancement of high technology or is it impossible?

I think it is possible. Even if we take the no-code projects we discussed, they are aimed at this very thing. With their help, you can create both small and custom websites with business logic. The way it is developing now, it will be quite possible in 10-20 years. Especially if artificial intelligence is involved in the process of website development.

— Cool! But we are in a different reality now, so we will focus on what we have. That’s why we start with the technical specifications, then work with mockups.

Especially on our atypical, personal projects.

— Which of your mistakes in the business development that you remember and will definitely never do again? Perhaps with Sailica?

Speaking of Sailica, we started developing it when we were not yachting gurus. We didn’t know all the subtleties and created a system despite a full market. Therefore, if I were to create a new version of Sailica from scratch, we would make it completely different.

— Could this be done with the help of any kind of research? Perhaps hiring an expert?

We did conduct research, surveys. We asked yachtsmen what they would like. But it’s like asking people what kind of car they would like when they use horses.

“If I asked people what they wanted, they would say they wanted faster horses.”

(c) Henry Ford.

And so, in order to create something new, we need to have a deep understanding of this market, and not just rely on those surveys.

— Yes, this is the experience that can be gained only in the process!

We have gone through this process and have already begun to modernize the interface, which gives us wow feedback. Now it is much more convenient.

— It is thanks to this experience that the company will be far ahead because it has gone all this way and built something that works, not something that it thinks should work. And this is priceless, I think.

Thank you very much for the conversation! It was very cool and informative!

Thank you too!

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