Conversation with Yaroslav Morozov. Universe CEO On Formation, Ideals, Mistakes and Plans
15 dec, 2023
This is a text that will tell a story of the company’s founder and CEO Yaroslav Morozov. It wasn’t easy to gather Yaroslav's whole experience from a junior iOS developer to the CEO of a company which products are used by around 55 million people in 180 countries. And a blog has definitely felt too narrow for it. But, hopefully, through this text you will be able to get a closer feeling of his energy and our culture.
Yaroslav Morozov, CEO Universe
The story begins
History of the Universe company began in 2018. At the time I worked as a Tech Lead and had a strong desire to start my own business.
I'll start by saying that entrepreneurship has always interested me: I was involved in logistics and customs clearance of cars from Europe and the USA, and in reselling used computer equipment from eBay in Ukraine. And later, when the startup boom began, everyone decided IT was their calling. I also wanted to join this field as I was a big Apple fan. I was one of the first iPhone owners in my hometown, Vinnytsia.
To realize my idea, I took a risk and, having completed all other tasks, came to Kyiv with the key goal of finding a job in IT without having relevant experience.
I spent my days simulating a work schedule: I’d wake up, have breakfast, get dressed and study from 9:00 to 19:00. During my studies I developed my first application, something like a motivational diary. This app would send the users a daily dose of motivation, and they couldn't see it in advance. I really liked it; I’d even attached advertising and was earning $100 per month.
After completing my course, I freelanced for a bit and then started looking for a job, but even back then I realized - successfully passing an interview is an art. I approached it in a very structural way: I have read three books on how to pass interviews in IT companies and would send my CV to everyone I knew with any relation to IT for feedback on how to compile it right.
Such thorough preparation brought results: I immediately received three offers from different companies, but Genesis appealed to me the most.
At that time, Genesis had only three iOS developers and I considered myself the weakest in the company. It was my motivation to become better at it, and I worked up to 15 hours a day. Gradually, I learned to see the 360 functioning of the business in IT, understand the aspects of marketing and product. In 1.5 years, I became a Tech Lead (working with 2-3 developers). It was also then that Genesis launched the first IT school for employees, and I dreamed of passing selection. After completing the training, I realized I’d already had enough knowledge and decided I could start my own startup.
I went to Genesis management with the news that I was planning to leave the company, but I wasn’t planning to do it in one day. I was ready to find a person for this position and to onboard a new developer. My discussion with the CEO ended with a proposed opportunity to collaborate on the new projects in the Genesis ecosystem and to explore joint development models.
And so began the story of the future Universe.
I was clearly aware that I did not have enough expertise in content and design creation, but I had strong development skills. So, after market analysis, I decided to focus on creating innovative utilities where I could effectively use my technical skills and solve user problems.
Again, it all started with a challenge. Five years ago, together with a backend developer, we decided that if we launched our first application in two days, Universe would be born.
How I see it – we did it!
The space theme is very dear to me. That's why this name has appeared, as it symbolized perpetual possibilities and infinity, characteristic to the universe of different products, skills and approaches people take and which I wanted to merge in one team. Ambitiously and boldly.
At that time, I was the first one at any position. And now we have grown to a team of over 80 people.
Universe team, year 2020
Universe team, year 2021
Universe team, year 2023
How to go from 100 downloads to 55 million
It was a lengthy process. Nothing works in a world without effective marketing. 250,000 websites and 1,000 applications enter the market daily, so it was necessary to create a product that would meet user needs in a significantly better way and to creatively promote it. Like no one had done before.
But you should use them to your advantage. It's an experience. Most often, mistakes happen due to poor homework. Sometimes it’s not having done thorough analyses; sometimes having missed how many players control the market...
When the first downloads of ScanGuru reached 1-2 million, all ambitions took off into space.
But we also don't always do our homework perfectly. At the beginning, we did not analyze enough all the ways our products could be used in, and did not take into account that people often use products for dishonest purposes you couldn't even have thought of. We had to quickly fix our mistake and decided to close one of the products.
The main thing that helps cope with the stress
Sports in which you can't turn on your brain. Like squash. And all hobbies I pick are also those where I don't have to think.
Authorities in the tech world
I really like the Sequoia Capital fund, which invested in Airbnb, Whatsapp and so on. I'm a sincere fan of Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. And the whole PayPal mafia.
Books that helped on the journey
"Cracking the Coding Interview" by Gayle Laakmann McDowell
“Who: The A Method for Hiring”, Geoff Smart and Randy Street
“The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, Ben Horowitz
What Ukrainian product inspires you?
Number 1 is definitely Monobank. And I'm also a fan of "Planeta Kino," although I rarely visit.
About goals and plans for Universe development
Universe in 5 years is a Ukrainian unicorn with a corresponding rating. It's a thousand people team, and new directions and businesses are being built in this "hub" of Universe by our colleagues who have grown to CEO positions.
For everyone who wants to enter IT
Boldness wins, not intelligence. I always feel like I'm not smart enough to build something, but if I try and have the courage, I will definitely do something.