Ukraine’s unicorn AirSlate has an office in Russia, no plans to shut it down

Since the beginning of the full-scale war, more than 1,000 foreign companies have left the Russian market. Many Ukrainian businesses have also withdrawn from the country. Their position is clear: it is impossible to work and pay taxes in a country that bombs your native land and kills people for nothing. But not all of them have done so.

The Ukrainian company AirSlate, which has a large office in Ukraine, a $1 billion valuation, and $130+ million in investments, has an office in St. Petersburg. And even after almost five months of the full-scale war in its country, the company has no plans to dismiss the local staff.

AIN.Capital talked to the company’s management as well as former and current employees about this situation.

About the company

AirSlate (formerly called PDFfiller) is a well-known Ukrainian project. In June 2022, the company announced another round of funding and gained unicorn status. Its product is a workflow automation service, it has over 100 million users, 900,000 clients, five offices in different countries, and a staff of more than 900 people. During the period of the corona crisis, the project managed to increase its revenue by 65% and raised a total of $130 million (including the recent round) from big investment companies such as Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, General Catalyst, HighSage Ventures, G Squared, UiPath Ventures, and the US investment firm, operating in Ukraine, Horizon Capital.

The company was founded by investor Semyon Dukach and his friend, entrepreneur Vadim Yasinovsky. Borys Shakhnovych joined the team later. At first, the service was used for the creation, editing, and signing of PDF documents online. Later, many options were added — from a payment system to document generation and digital keys.

AirSlate and Russia

After the full-scale Russian invasion, many AirSlate workers in Ukraine had several questions for the management that can be summarized as follows: Why does the company continue operating in Russia and paying salaries and taxes there? These questions show that many employees were serious about it, including leaving the company as an option if the company would continue to work in Russia.

On March 22, 2022, the co-founders Shakhnovych (CEO) and Yasinovsky made a team call and commented on those questions. During the call (AIN.Capital has a video record), they mentioned the following theses:

  • The company condemns the Russian aggression and helps relocate or evacuate its employees, pays aid, and keeps paying salaries to those who went to the army. At the same time, discussing “political” subjects in public or at work is prohibited till the end of the war. The CEO said that during this call. He also said that the questions under Q&A regarding the Russian office are uncomfortable and violate the corporate culture.

“Any attempts to appeal to the management to publicly take one or another side will be declined. If the employees’ political unity and the company’s political alignment are more important to you than your actual tasks, you chose the wrong company; you built the wrong career. So join a political party that reflects your point of view,” Shakhnovych said during the call.

  • The company doesn’t plan to fire the Russian staff. If other members of the team are not Ok with it, they should go themselves. 

Many team members didn’t like what they heard. The company’s stance on that is discussed, for example, on DOU. Also, several anonymous sources confirmed it to AIN.Capital.

“I’d noticed the first red flags before I went off to another company. For example, when we were looking for a DevOps for our team, after some time, we were suggested to look at the candidate from Moscow. I was deeply offended and said that that was unacceptable. I was going to have the talk with an HR specialist and ask why they even thought of such an idea, but it all sort of faded. There were many people loyal to Russia, especially in the HR department,“ says an ex-team member who left the company several years ago.

Another staff member, who worked at AirSlate till the war started, confirmed to AIN.Capital that the decision to leave the company was connected to its management stance on the Russian office:

“The only reason to go was that despite numerous appeals from the staff to shut down the Russian office, Borys Shakhnovych and Vadym Yasinovsky publicly stated that they support all the team members from Ukraine and Russia and that they are not going to fire the Russian employees. Anyone who does not agree with that should not work at an IT company and should join the political party instead.“

There are team members who speak in support of the company. For example, the DOU discussion featured some comments on “unhelpful hate” toward AirSlate, for the company has blocked Russian users, makes donations, and helps its team.

“It is beginning to look like a completely vatnic company [Editor’s note: vatnic is a supporter of Russian propaganda), and in fact, it just is not so,“ says another AirSlate employee.

AirSlate does help its team and donates money for humanitarian efforts. According to the company’s statement, it has donated more than two million since the war started.

What are AirSlate’s plans

The company still has the Russian entity ООО «СПБ ФИЛЛЕР» with a revenue of 165.9 million rubles in 2021. The AirSlate management says that it is in the shutdown process. But it does not mean that the company won’t have staff in Russia anymore.

Answering AIN.Capital’s question, the company stated that, in fact, ‘there is a very few developers in Russia, less than 2% of the company.’ There are 900 people working at AirSlate, according to its website, so 2% means a couple of dozen work there. Before the war, the headcount was higher, up to 50 people. Some sources say that Russian team members were partly relocated to other countries.

“As a company, we have decided to limit our involvement with the Russian Federation, and are in the process of ceasing business operations there,“ said the company representative.

But Russian staff will remain — it is a matter of principle. Dozens of people keep working at AirSlate and paying taxes there. The company’s management believes that not all Russians are the same and that the amount of taxes paid in Russia is disproportionate to what the company is contributing to Ukraine through taxes, salaries, and donations.

After the talk of AIN.Capital with the company, its management held another call with the whole team. They were once again reminded that it is forbidden to talk to the press, and they have to stop discussing the shutdown of the Russian office and the layoff of the Russian team.