In the midst of a relentless invasion, steering a tech startup toward growth is a daunting task. Picture air raid sirens blaring an average of twice every 24 hours, and yet, against all odds, OBRIO, a Ukrainian startup responsible for the popular astrology app Nebula, has managed to achieve a staggering 250% growth.
In an exclusive interview with TNW, conducted from his Kyiv apartment just before the turn of the year, Alex Fedorov, the founder and CEO of OBRIO, shares insights into the challenges of running a company amid wartime conditions. He reflects on the twofold nature of the process, emphasizing the initial phase when the war erupted. “You have to set up 24/7 communication channels with the team and stay connected as much as you can, so that you as a leader can support everyone whatever they may need,” says Fedorov.
Despite the ongoing global pandemic, OBRIO’s team was already prepared for hybrid operations, a silver lining amid adversity. The company strategically shifted its focus to longevity and stability in the face of moral, emotional, and financial pressures brought about by the conflict. “We stopped all our R&D, because we understood that there was a lot of moral pressure and emotional pressure on our people,” explains Fedorov. “And also money wise — it brings a lot of risk. So we just focused on setting up a stable business.”
This strategic shift has proven successful for OBRIO, with its astrology app Nebula boasting an impressive 30 million users worldwide. The app has consistently earned the coveted title of the #1 lifestyle app on both the Apple App Store and Google Play in the US, Canada, and Australia.
Delving into the essence of Nebula’s success, Fedorov attributes it to two key factors: a robust team of motivated professionals and the vast market potential within the astrology niche.
Nebula, tapping into humanity’s age-old fascination with astrology, combines traditional practices with modern technology. The global astrology market, valued at $12.8 billion in 2021, is predicted to reach $22.8 billion by 2030.
Nebula consists of two main components. The first is a familiar horoscope feature offering daily affirmations and predictions based on users’ birth charts. The second is a unique marketplace for “advisors” who provide services such as tarot readings and personalized guidance. Fedorov assures that the advisors undergo a rigorous vetting process, emphasizing Nebula’s commitment to maintaining high standards.
With over 250 consultants and an additional 70 hired in recent months, Nebula’s advisor feature stands out as a key differentiator. Interestingly, Fedorov notes that 98% of queries on the app are relationship-related, underscoring the enduring importance of human connections in people’s lives.
While many astrology apps turn to AI for readings, OBRIO maintains a human-centric approach, refusing to substitute artificial intelligence for the empathetic understanding and advice that human advisors provide.
Surviving the war is not enough for OBRIO. The company aims to scale by two and a half times in 2024, focusing on Nebula’s marketplace as its core product for the next two to three years. With over 120 employees and an ARR of $50 million, OBRIO’s commitment to its team’s well-being is evident in its investment in therapy for those affected by the war.
OBRIO’s support extends beyond its internal team, as the company embraces flexibility in working hours and encourages time off to accommodate the challenges posed by air raid alarms. Furthermore, OBRIO channels 3% of its first payments each month to the Genesis for Ukraine charity fund, reinforcing its dedication to supporting the country during these challenging times.
As the Ukrainian tech sector weathers the storm of Russia’s invasion, OBRIO stands as a testament to resilience and innovation. Regardless of personal beliefs in celestial influence, the company’s success is intrinsically tied to the success of Ukraine, embodying a sense of social responsibility that goes beyond the realm of business. The unwavering commitment of OBRIO and its team showcases the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian tech community amidst adversity.