Dmitry Sholomko, the Director of Google Ukraine, shared with LDaily the intricacies of making business in the IT sector. Dmitry told us about the features of the Ukrainian digital market, and when our country is going to discover the Google products available in the leading world economies.
LDaily: What is Google Ukraine? How long has the company been acting in Ukraine?
D. Sholomko: In fact, we have passed several development stages. If we count from 2005 – the moment when our web page was launched – and that means our presence in the country, then we have been here for 14 years already. I became a Google consultant at the end of 2006. I wasn’t part of the company, I just did my job on demand. It was a temporary project for several months. Finally, Google liked what I had done for them, so they decided to work here full-time. They opened an official office and registered a legal entity in 2007, the first employee (except me) was hired in 2009.
LDaily: How long have you been leading the company?
D. Sholomko: Actually, I’m leading it since 2007. I became a legal head of the company in 2011.
LDaily: How has the company been changing during this time?
D. Sholomko: We started working with several of our key partners and clients. Later, we discovered new directions, formed a PR, policy and marketing teams, we also formed a Cloud team this year.
LDaily: What responsibilities does Google Ukraine have?
D. Sholomko: Generally, our main function is representing the interests of Google in our country. We don’t handle product management in Ukraine. Google has delegated some responsibilities to us, so we can hold speeches as well as help the market on behalf of the company. A lot of work is done by other offices and outsource third-parties companies.
LDaily: How fast does Google respond to the dynamics of Ukrainian realities? I mean something like the legal changes or the imposition of sanctions?
D. Sholomko: Our company definitely fulfills all the requirements of local legislation in any market. This is an important rule of a completely “white” enterprise.
LDaily: Don’t you feel the changes?
D. Sholomko: We adapt our behavior and our services to what is required by law and to certain social requests. It depends on the product type. Some changes are faster, some of them are slower.
Financial changes take place in Ukraine, the sphere is rapidly reforming, there are also huge innovations in accounting. The general possibility of our work depends on such phenomena, so, we quickly react to them.
As for licensing and customs regulation, you know that Google doesn’t sell its phones or gadgets like Google Home officially just because the rules are so complicated that we have no interest in doing that. In case the conditions change or the Ukrainian legislation synchronizes with the EU or the USA, these rules will become much easier and we will be able to do everything faster.
LDaily: Do you mean that Google is interested in our cell phone market, but the company can’t enter it?
D. Sholomko: We can’t state whether Google is interested in something or not. Google has its own vision of where to go, how to evolve globally, what to start and which things are important. Artificial intelligence is our main vector of development at the moment.
Google actually plans tasks based on the global priority. If a market does not meet the company’s requirements, if something in it is not synchronized, or if the working methods in this market are not quite convenient, the company simply won’t enter such a market. Therefore, it’s hard to say whether Ukraine is interesting for Google or not… of course, it’s interesting. More than 40 million people live here, and the market is growing.
The company has done a lot for Ukraine. Google Pay was launched even faster than it was expected. This is primarily due to the fact that Ukraine is a large visible market that is of interest to companies like Google. Another point is that some phenomena are quite complicated from the perspective of laws and rules.
LDaily: How did the ban on Russian resources affect you?
D. Sholomko: We have received a lot of responsibility. Our profits haven’t increased. Maybe someone believes that Google was indulgently happy and had a party with champagne in the office, but it is not so. Frankly speaking, it’s hard to work without competition. What’s more, the responsibility has sharply increased.
LDaily: What projects are at the development stage now? What are your plans for the future?
D. Sholomko: In fact, we never disclose our plans regarding new projects not to create unnecessary expectations and excitement. I have such a plan, a strategic intention that has been around for already ten years. Once I realized how to cooperate with Google and got certain credentials, I put an essential strategic goal – introducing to Ukraine all the Google products existing in the US, the UK, the EU, and the whole world.
In fact, Google has actually launched a lot of solutions for Ukraine. One of the best examples is Google Pay – a payment system that allows you to make payments via a mobile phone. Ukraine has become the 15th country of the world where this solution works. We develop several fascinating startups every year. The launch of Google Shopping introduced this summer was also important for the market.
LDaily: What problems did the company face in Ukraine?
D. Sholomko: The state started paying attention to the digital technology recently. Previously, most Internet companies worked on their own. Nowadays, the importance of technology has increased significantly, certain organizations needed to cooperate with technology companies closer. This causes lots of unease in the workflow of numerous Internet companies.
LDaily: How do you assess the investment climate in Ukraine?
D. Sholomko: From the perspective of investments, the technology market functions slightly differently than the society expects. Many complain that investments don’t go to the country, they don’t multiply and grow. I think this is connected to the opinion of those who believe that investing is bringing a million dollars and building a huge plant.
Actually, Ukraine has a fairly large number of companies that manufacture products, sell them abroad or attract foreign companies’ service interest. They influence the economy and investments growth. From the perspective of working with the technology business, everything is fine and the investment climate is favorable.
From the point of view of the perception of technology by our society, the things are going great too. How does social and business development go? Firstly, there is the technology and active enthusiasts, I mean some community that is fond of using that technology. Secondly, a large group of users emerges, they begin to work actively. Later, all that technology gradually penetrates businesses.
The Ukrainian market is on the stage of active adaptation of technology to business now. The more companies use technology, the better their businesses go. We conducted relevant research a few years ago (hopefully, we will repeat them in the nearest future). The topic was the impact of technology on the economy and business development, as well as its general impact on the business community. Thus, we found out that using the Internet for business purposes affects the GDP growth positively.
I notice that the use of technology is sharply increasing. To my mind, it will last for a few years more. Therefore, I can’t assert that there are some factors that negatively affect the market.
LDaily: Why did you become a member of the board of the European Business Association?
D. Sholomko: This Association is one of the most influential among Ukrainian business communities, if not the most influential one. It follows the strict rules, has serious participants of high-level businesses. If you analyze the members of the board, you’ll reveal that I am the only representative of the IT business. Basically, you will meet quite traditional businesses here: banks, consultants, metallurgists, etc.
I see that my participation in the Board of Directors helps the Association to keep up with the times, understand modern technology and its impact on the economy. This is the main reason why I belong to the organization’s management, though, I spend plenty of time on the main work. This is vital, as it is a fairly effective way to affect the business community positively.
LDaily: How long have you been a member of the board?
D. Sholomko: I’ve been a member for many years already, around four years, it is clearly not my first term. Treat me like an old-timer: only three people in the leadership work here longer than me.
LDaily: Let’s get back to your company. Tell us, please, what was implemented in Ukraine recently?
D. Sholomko: As it was mentioned earlier, we launched Google Pay last year, and started Shopping this year. This is a solution that enables local online retailers to get orders via Google search more efficiently. How does it work? Let’s pretend you want to buy headphones. So, you go to Google and type a key phrase – “buy headphones”. It provides you with stores links, you visit a website of any of them, looking for desirable headphones, choose them from the assortment, and make a purchase. If you don’t like what you saw in the first store, you go back, visit another store and repeat the process described above.
Shopping allows you to see all the headphones you are looking for and to place orders directly in Google search results. This is a useful thing both for users and shop owners. We believe that it will significantly improve the e-commerce service.
In addition to product launches, we carry out several educational initiatives. Our marketing team conducts many different courses for business people, potential users of our services, and for agencies that work with our services and products. Moreover, we don’t just teach how to use Google properly but mentor how to do business.
Among our initiatives and measures being implemented in the market, there is my favorite project called “Digital transformation of Ukrainian regions”. We choose a random region and actively work on its digitization, create the appropriate set of products and services, and demonstrate the importance of technology for everyday work. We often deal with the tourist potential while attracting tourist flows to the specific region. Besides, this is also connected with investment attractiveness, environmental safety, and inclusiveness. There are a lot of such initiatives.
We have taken over 14 areas in 4 years. The last one was the Kharkiv region, the penultimate – the Sumy region. A lot of things have been done. I noticed how positively such things affect regions. We find active people, enthusiasts, professionals, good photographers, volunteers, community representatives interested in the topic, and help them implement projects with certain technologies. It quickly brings tangible benefits to society in a particular region, and it’s also well received by local residents. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of such activity. Here is a simple example. We conducted an expedition of Google mappers to the Kherson region and filmed a movie about the local beauty, including the island of Dzharylgach. A year later, we received a grateful message from the Kherson regional administration’s tourism department. They admitted they had skyrocketed tourist flows.
LDaily: What about your educational projects for children?
D. Sholomko: As for children, there is a very important topic we are actively engaged in – security and safety on the Internet. The Internet is not just fun, happiness and nice things. There may be fraudsters and criminals. The Internet harbors dangers unknown to our society due to the low technological literacy. We are talking about children safety on the Internet. We constantly conduct projects on this subject and train teachers.
As for IT education, we don’t teach children and teachers to code using programming languages. Those who want to obtain such knowledge can master them on their own. We are trying to show them how to provide and use this knowledge better. This applies not only to coding or programming but to the Internet as a mechanism that provides something useful. At the same time, we try to save children from what might be useless or dangerous. So, we use a slightly different approach. We are taking the roles of primary school teachers.
We also conduct online courses and contests that are even localized to Ukraine. Everyone can participate. We have a record number of applications to the Code Week from Ukraine, there are always Ukrainians-winners. Ukrainians are very well integrated into the international palette.
We also continue our major campaign against cyberbullying. Our top YouTubers held speeches and cut thematic videos. The project is called “YouTube Voice for Good”. Many young people suffer from the epidemic of hatred spread throughout the Internet. Although, in my opinion, the problem of teenage cyberbullying in Ukraine is not as burning as in the United Kingdom or the United States. Nevertheless, we must fight it, this must be stopped. These actions will influence the society. That is, we are doing everything to bring more positive things to life.