A former executive of Apple and Google: Ukrainians are like the people I worked with in Silicon Valley in the prime of the 2000s

Interview with a resident of the Kyiv IT Cluster

Kyiv IT Cluster spoke with its resident Andy Baynes who was an executive for 17 years at Apple, Nest, and Google. Now he is CEO and co-founder at GT.

Andy Baynes shared why he chose Ukraine as a vector for his company. He talked about the current state of the IT startup ecosystem in Ukraine and how his company can significantly improve it.

How Ukrainian developers caught my attention

I started working for Sony International in Germany. Then Apple headhunted me, and I went to California in the early 2000s. In my first year with Apple, we launched the first-generation iPod. After 11 years, I left this company and made my way into Nest. I helped build Nest from its earliest stages and then we sold it to Google in 2014 for $3.2 Billion. It was at this point I became familiar with Ukraine.

We were competing quite aggressively in the home camera market, with our Nest smart cameras sitting alongside our other Nest products, like the smart learning thermostat. There was a disrupter on the market from Ukraine called Ring. That caught my attention, and I started to see how advanced their engineering was. And what they were doing with things like facial recognition, motion detection, night vision and so on.

By 2018, I left Google and co-founded GT. The main attraction for me was just the engineering talent and the strength of the quality. What makes Ukraine important is not so much the number of developers but their quality. This is particularly important when we’re discussing modern-day engineering, where we’re looking to develop more complicated architecture. So things involve much more sophisticated – data science, machine learning skill sets, or any learning algorithms. That can only be done with a particular mindset of engineers. Ukraine just seems to produce that type of brain naturally.

We at GT call that mindset a Constructive Engineering Conflict. It was the same mindset that was part of our early Apple culture when Steve Jobs gave us very difficult problems to go and solve. And the way the top engineers would solve them is by battling out the constraints against each other until something is forced out as a solution. But it's always the case when you're trying to solve really tough engineering problems.

Andy Baynes, CEO of GT

What do Ukrainian product tech companies lack and how GT can help

Why do product tech companies usually fail? The common reasons are a lack of access to capital, talent, and a lack of experienced leadership.

At GT, we want to be a one-stop shop for all three of those and be able to fund early-stage companies. Our company will focus on international companies considering coming to Ukraine that will bring capital. The second is that our executive team can plug into the early-stage company and provide that leadership layer.

Then the third is an easy one to solve in Ukraine: having the right engineering talent. Ukraine has one of the three solutions but doesn’t have all three. So, GT wants to be the place that brings all three of those under one roof. It would be better to understand that funding doesn’t yield much if founders don’t address the other two issues.

At the moment, Ukraine doesn’t have an inheritance of seasoned executives who have already had experience building fast-paced startups in a highly competitive global environment. Hence, it needs to build a mentorship layer with senior directors, vice presidents, advisory teams, and consultants. This is something that I would love to take a role in this country. The old system should disappear if we want to create a new ecosystem for Ukrainian startups.

GT sees itself as crucial in building that mentorship layer, but it will take some time. That’s why we invest so heavily in bringing foreign companies to Ukraine, which has helped fill that gap.

A reliable legal component is a shield for the Ukrainian startup ecosystem

It’s important to understand where to start in the country to create an attractive environment for international investors, companies, clients, and professionals. And we need to create an international-friendly jurisdiction and legal framework in Ukraine. It will make it safe for foreign investors to invest in Ukrainian tech companies and foreign companies that want to be in Ukraine.

We need to move to a model where banking and judiciary support stability, and it’s strong enough for people to have the confidence to transfer large sums of money in Ukraine.

It’s essential to very quickly build up a layer of legal professionals. Today’s law students need to come up through the ranks, not necessarily being experts in Ukraine law, but they should know international commercial law. It will help them learn how to build more funds, what commercial contracts need to be built around that, and how to protect intellectual property.

If we don’t have that legal layer in Ukraine, the money will be kept outside of the country and fed in in a trickle feed. And I want to help build up this expertise and create that solid commercial layer for the money to land on safely.

So, one of the initiatives I started in Ukraine with my friend in London, who is one of the UK’s top lawyers, is an evening law school for Ukrainian law students. We have a faculty of around 20 of the top judges, barristers, and commercial lawyers in the UK. And now some top UK and US universities want to get involved and help Ukraine with this. It’s just a drop in the ocean, but it’s a start. But these initiatives can help stabilize Ukraine’s image as a safe place to pour money into.

When I just started meeting Ukrainian students, talking to them and realizing that these folks are just like the people I worked with in Silicon Valley. They have the same appetite for learning, the same curiosity, and the same ambition. Silicon Valley is a bit softer now, but Ukraine still has that.

The secret of the GT's success that will help change Ukraine

Two key factors make GT a successful company: a strong team and a network. But we also have a vision, and our company is not just about making money. This is about growing something that will make a difference in Ukraine. That’s going to solve some of the tough product challenges out there. That’s a mission we all have, from our newest recruits to me. We all believe in this mission.

At GT we’re super excited to be a member of the Kyiv IT Cluster, which is an important part of Ukraine’s next growth stage.

About GT

GT provides clients with offshore product teams from CEE, a product development studio & data science services.

GT was founded in 2019 by people with backgrounds in startups, Apple, Nest & Google — but, what’s more important, it’s a company that cares, supports, and takes responsibility: and we’re proud of that.

Follow GT today

Discover new opportunities, networking options and education benefits. Welcome to Kyiv IT Cluster!

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