Notes from the Freedomland – 1st issue – Kharkiv and GitLab

First edition of my newsletter and the cool history of GitLab founder who went from programming noob to a multimillionaire founder while not leaving Kharkiv.

Notes from the Freedomland – 1st issue – Kharkiv and GitLab
Photo by Maksym Pozniak-Haraburda / Unsplash

Hello, dear readers.

My name is Mykhailo Sapiton. I'm a deputy editor-in-chief at Forbes Ukraine and have reported on the Ukrainian technology scene for more than five years. What does that mean? I've covered almost any prominent startup founded by Ukrainians or with solid roots in Ukraine. That list includes Grammarly, Gitlab, AitSlate, People.ai, Revolut, Petcube, Jooble, Ring, etc.

This is the first edition of my newsletter. Why did I bother to launch one, and what value will it bring you? These are tricky questions to address from the start, but here is my overview.

There is no better time to tell the world about advances we – Ukrainians – made in the technology sector. For now, this country is in the spotlight due to the bloodiest war Europe experienced since WWII. But for the last decade (at least!), it was behind the curtains of major tech innovations you all knew. In simple words: Ukraine is not some weird spot on the map. And I will try to explain it in the most nuanced and exciting way.

I called this newsletter Notes from the Freedomland, for now at least. It's also my way of finding comfort in these troubled times and beyond them. I've never imagined that I would launch such a venture in response to the war – this blog was previously a home for my writing about books and productivity. But here we are.  

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Disclaimer: my English is far from perfect, so there might be mistakes, inaccurate wording, and lost thoughts. I hope for your understanding, and I can assure you that the quality and clarity of the newsletter will improve with every new issue.

Let's dive deep into the first story – the incredible journey of a nerd from Kharkiv who made progress from learning programming to listing his company on the NASDAQ in a decade. First, let's talk about GitLab.

What is GitLab, and why does it matter

The name Kharkiv in the recent week may start to look familiar to you. It's  Ukraine's second-biggest city, and it earned an unfortunate surname of "Stalingrad of XXI century" due to the heavy shelling from the Russian army. They target civilian districts and administrative buildings.

Before the war, Kharkiv was a massive hub for outsourcing companies, crypto-projects, and startups. According to a recent Kharkiv IT Cluster report, the city hosted around 45 000 IT workers and 510 companies. They brought together a revenue of approximately $1,5 bln in 2021 alone.

Kharkiv also hosted one of the most impressive startups stories in the history of independent Ukraine. It all started in 2011 when a young Kharkiv National Automobile and Highway University student named Dmytro Zaporozhets managed to earn a spot at the outsourcing company Sphere Software. But, unfortunately, at that point, there were no indications of future success – Zaporozhets, who studied as an automobile engineer, just graduated from programming school and was still studying in uni.