An underdog’s story of will and determination

Written by: Samantha Wolhuter

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History defines us. Not only does it keep a record of our past successes and failures but it also serves as a mirror reflecting the people we once were. If you are doing things right, then your reflection in history’s mirror will be constantly changing for the better. We learn, we adapt and then we improve.

WeAreBrain’s genesis comes with its share of history crammed into a small amount of time. 5 years in a business’s lifespan is a long time. But in history, it’s a minor footnote to the larger story.

We’d like to share our origin story with you on the occasion of our 5 year anniversary. We’ve seen a lot, we’ve learnt many things and we have experienced more than most companies experience in a lifetime. Each part of our story has defined us in a special way. And our story is only beginning…

2014 — Life looked fundamentally different

Our founders all come from very different backgrounds, Elvire is Dutch and in 2014 she was a partner at Freelance Consulting firm InterimIC and successfully running her own startups, ietsmooier and Yushift. Jack is from Ukraine and in 2014 he was a C-level executive of a 100-strong nearshore company in Eastern Ukraine. And Mario, born in Germany but a child of Europe, was running his own Q&A Knowledge management startup called Maxperience.

It was in early 2014 that their worlds would become forever intertwined.

Escape through an entrepreneurial pipeline

This is not an article or opinion piece about geo-politics and unless you lived under a rock you will know about Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukraine.

Back in 2014, the place most of us call home was in turmoil. Banks closed their doors, ATMs shut down. All communication lines were controlled by the military and the main exit point, the airport in Donetsk, was completely destroyed. The political situation had become untenable. And effectively Ukraine was at war. The steps we took and the decisions we made during this chaotic and frightening period shaped us. This history has left its mark on us and has in part determined our company DNA.

It was not easy, but as a collective, we put together and executed a plan to start a new life and a new business, taking a leap of faith into a new and uncertain future.

Each of our founders’ plans, ambitious startups and ventures had to take a back seat. The situation forced them to focus not only on getting our people to safety but also ensuring that once the move was made that they could pay the bills. They had to build an income, build a business. Build it from nothing.

A question of will

We could tell you that we sold most of our stuff. That we moved to smaller places and cut down our discretionary spending to virtually zero. We might also tell you how NO bank was willing to give us a bank account (let alone a credit line) even though we had clients ready and willing to pay. Thank you ABNAmro for eventually stepping up!

And despite all of this we will tell you, we never stopped pushing forward.

Some smart people told us that we would never survive the first year. That we can’t compete, that we don’t have enough focus or even know-how. Perhaps that was all the additional encouragement we needed. Dogged determination to prove people wrong is a hell of an additional motivator!

Where we are now

After 5 long, challenging and highly rewarding years we have created something we are truly proud of. We have offices in the Netherlands, Ukraine and South Africa which are operated by 75 of the most talented and loyal people the tech world has to offer. We have developed our services to work across a number of different industries, and we have set up new ventures like clevergig and tur.ai which we are very proud of.

We have been voted in the Emerce Top 100 and are a proud member of DDA, representing the leading digital agencies in the Netherlands. Our Tur.ai platform was selected among the Top 25 innovations in the Accenture Innovation Awards and we won a prestigious SpinAward along with nominations for Best of Swiss Web and Dutch Interactive Awards. Our contribution to female entrepreneurship and gender equality in IT have been recognised by TheNextWomen and EY Winning Women.

5 years on and we are proud of where have come from, to where we find ourselves now. And we are looking forward to the next 5 years — who knows where they will lead us? We can’t wait to find out.

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Last modified: April 17, 2020
Author info
Samantha Wolhuter
Sam is in charge of writing a big portion of WeAreBrain’s creative content. She is a digital nomad always on the go, inspiring us with her words from some of the world's most beautiful locations.
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