Anatoly Popel, СASES CEO: “Our wish to support people, encourage them to continue working, and not stop their development despite the war”

Kyiv-based startup CASES is a social network and EdTech for Ukrainian creative industries that generates opportunities for learning and career development. The community helps creative professionals to communicate, share experience, promote their services, and assists companies in finding the necessary specialists in this field.

The team comprises over 20 creative talents, led by Anatoly Popel, Valeriia Yakovenko, Serhii Anistratenko, and Anton Suprun. The platform has more than 69,000 students in total; at peak times, about 10,000 of them are studying simultaneously.

We talked to the СASES CEO Anatoly Popel about education in creative industries, why it should have its own social network and how the war influenced Ukrainian startups.

TechUkraine: How did the war affect CASES?

Anatoly Popel: The war has shifted our priorities. We used to spend more time developing infrastructure for businesses.

But now we feel that focusing on educational products is far more important. After all, this is what we can do to help our Ukrainian community right here and now.

Because today, helping the community is our number 1 priority. We try not to forget business indicators, but supporting people is still the basis of our work. We understand that there is little we can provide, but even an opportunity to take people’s minds off things for a short time is something. In some cases, we know that the courses really brought people joy or helped them find a job. But even just giving people a break from the news for an hour is fine.

This is how the Creative Practice Marathon social project was conceived, where we publish lectures and master classes from industry experts literally every day. It has several goals. The first one is supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine, volunteers, and everyone who draws our victory closer. Neither the CASES team nor the Marathon speakers receive any fees. Instead, we encourage viewers to donate at least a minimal amount of money to charitable foundations. 

The second reason why we created the project is our wish to support people, encourage them to continue working, and not stop their development despite the war.

TechUkraine: Do you think your product is topical now?

Anatoly Popel: When the full-scale war broke out, we analyzed the situation and agreed that our product seemed untimely. Back then, the creative industries seemed to have lost their meaning. Who needs design when guns are roaring, and houses are exploding? However, we believed our product could help people survive constant anxiety.

We still didn’t think it would be in demand. We expected to get 1,000 registrations at most.

But it turns out that education at this time is a powerful way to calm yourself down.

We were supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine and the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. As a result, our community grew exponentially in only a few months. People really needed these courses. And later we realized that what we do is really necessary. After all, many people have lost their jobs, and it has become challenging to find new ones.

Our courses provide skills that help people get offers and earn money when many businesses are closed or downsized. It is actually very valuable.

TechUkraine: When and why did you choose to develop the startup in creative industries?

Anatoly Popel: We feel the pain of professionals and companies in the creative industries because we have been in their place ourselves. 

Before CASES, the core of the team used to work as part of POPEL marketing agency. Since 2009 we’ve been building this business and have sought answers to various important questions throughout our history. Where to get new orders? How to attract talented professionals? How to access foreign markets? How to promote our services? And many others. 

Over the years, we have gradually found those answers. But we have seen that these issues are still relevant for many businesses in our industry. So we wanted to create a platform to help our industry grow better and faster than we did as a creative business. At the same time, the market of creative industries is extremely rich and promising. It accounts for about 3% of the global GDP and combines many industries, from IT to design. In general, we love creative industries and share the view that the development of society as a whole depends on how this area is developed in the country.

There is a direct connection between the creativity level of a society and the general level of said society.

TechUkraine: Why did you decide to merge EdTEch with a social network?

Anatoly Popel: First, we created our educational activities to encourage the emergence of qualified professionals. In particular, we held massive «Internships»: free educational design initiatives in which up to 650 students took part simultaneously.

However, we saw an issue with our work: studying was not directly integrated into the labor market, so often, after finishing the course, people did not understand what to do and how to start a career.

At that time, 95% of students considered the beginning of their careers as the goal of their studies. So we wanted to make a system with an integral process: from education to employment and further career development. 

At the same time, because of our love for creative industries, we created online media and regularly held professional conferences called CASES.

Through this product, we got acquainted with brands and almost everyone from the creative gang of Ukraine.

So, at some point, we realized we could be a platform for young professionals and businesses. And over time, an ambitious idea to create a social network with an EdTech component came up.

TechUkraine: But how exactly does this combination work?

Anatoly Popel: Similar to how LinkedIn profiles work. People and businesses register and create profiles where their history is recorded. Every course, every job, every portfolio work. Professionals and companies can be subscribed to and followed. But if we talk about how the educational component is integrated in the social network, then the key point is user profiles.

The idea is that our courses are in fact, the verification of certain theoretical knowledge or skills. You can write in your resume that you know how to work with, for example, Figma or Webflow. But is it so? The courses are an opportunity to confirm that this person does, in fact, possess these skills. And having a set of skills attests to mastering an entire profession. And thanks to this, we can quickly find candidates most relevant to the employer’s request in the student base.

TechUkraine: Do you already satisfy the employers’ requests?

Anatoly Popel: Selectively, on the proof-of-concept level. The results are remarkable. We found most of our team’s new specialists on the platform. And we are very satisfied with them.

TechUkraine: By the way, where do these courses come from? Do you outsource them?

Anatoly Popel: No, we create them ourselves. The thing is, to us, courses are more than just content. They are about verifying certain things. Proof of the level of knowledge and mastery of skills. We are not yet ready to entrust them to someone outside the team. It’s a rather complicated process, but we feel it’s necessary.

TechUkraine: What are you already teaching? How many courses are there on the platform?

Anatoly Popel: There are courses on graphic design, UX/UI, web design, and we are in the middle of launching the front-end direction.

We already have about 11 courses in total. And ten more are in development.

TechUkraine: Are you not planning to branch out?

Anatoly Popel: We are planning to work with the topic of creative industries for the time being. I think there will be more IT courses within a year. A separate large vector of work is creative entrepreneurship.

TechUkraine: The website states that you provide access to courses for UAH 250 per month. Why such a price? It is much cheaper than other courses.

Anatoly Popel: Before the war, the subscription was UAH 550, but we have lowered the cost. Yes, it is much cheaper than most rates on the market, and this has been a problem for some time. People did not believe that courses could simultaneously be affordable and high quality. But we chose this model deliberately.

Our mission is to develop and support creative industry professionals and companies. And it is crucial to ensure that all people, anywhere on Earth, have access to quality, relevant and effective education that will help them apply themselves and their talents later on.

Many courses offer studying for 5,000-7,500 UAH per month. But even before the war, we felt that this price was too much for beginners. And lots of people just do not have access to education. 250 UAH is a much more affordable price. In addition, all our lessons are online, which means you can learn from anywhere. And since we have automated many things in our educational process, a person can start studying anytime.

TechUkraine: But these are purely theoretical courses?

Anatoly Popel: No. It’s both theory and practice. Our students are doing homework, getting grades and reviews.

TechUkraine: How many students do you have?

Anatoly Popel:

We have more than 69,000 students in total. But at peak times, about 10,000 of them were studying simultaneously.

TechUkraine: How do you plan to scale the product?

Anatoly Popel: So far, our key priority is community support, so scaling is related to that. In the near future, we plan to bridge the gap between the Ukrainian market and customers from abroad. To do this, we continue to create new courses so that people can enhance their skills even further. We are also working on the possibility of applying these skills and knowledge.

Our ambitious goal is to combine educational opportunities and a freelance marketplace in a single interface where students can immediately find work.

We are moving confidently in this direction and have already started processing the first trial contracts. We hope that soon people get the opportunity to apply their talents almost immediately after studying.

TechUkraine: And what about creative businesses? Do you plan to work with them?

Anatoly Popel: Yes, we do. We see the platform as a meeting place for professionals and businesses. And creative companies are already actively using the platform, mainly as a media. But ultimately, we want CASES to be something more to them. Actually, when the freelance and job marketplaces become operational, we think that companies will find them very interesting.

Due to how we build these platforms, they will be able to close vacancies swiftly and efficiently.

TechUkraine: Do you plan to enter foreign markets?

Anatoly Popel: Yes. But somewhat later, and we’ll probably go there to find customers for the community first, as well as partners.

We have already signed the pilot contracts, and now we are gradually building a network. 

We believe it is a very important area of work because it’s a kind of self-realization for the community. At present, the subject of integrating into the Western markets is of great importance to us, and we are actively working on it.

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