How Arkadium, A Forbes Small Giant, Survived A Russian Invasion And Rose To New Heights
Jessica Rovello and Kenny Rosenblatt met when they were working together at a tech company. By 2001 they were dating, and it went so well they decided to start a company together to develop online games. It has since grown into a small powerhouse that creates visual and interactive content and games for digital publishers and brands such as Microsoft, the Washington Post and CNN. The company’s latest product is InHabit, an innovative online tool that enables publishers to integrate interactive infographics into their news stories.
“Our mission is to create infinite possibilities for our partners and ourselves by reinventing content,” Rovello says. That is, they create new content like InHabit, or put a new twist on evergreen games like mah-jongg. Today, Rovello serves as CEO of Arkadium while Rosenblatt is president. They were married in 2004.
In 2005, they opened a gaming studio in Ukraine, where the cost of doing business was substantially lower than in the U.S., and it eventually grew to have 100 employees. The company was growing healthily—Arkadium had received a $5 million Series A investment in 2013—when the Russian Federation invaded the Crimean Peninsula, then part of Ukraine. That was more than a small bump in the road, since the U.S. soon announced sanctions that made it a crime for American companies to do business in Crimea. “We were either gonna survive or we weren’t,” Rovello says.
Arkadium ended up finding a solution by moving the studio, with all its employees who could make the move, to Krasnodar in southern Russia. “It’s not that often that companies have to move their entire staff from one country to another,” Rovello says. But the move succeeded, she adds, and it taught her to view setbacks as opportunities that haven’t fully explained themselves yet. The opportunity in this case was to solidify her company’s values. Who they are and what they stand for, she says, “became clear to us, and that became clear to the employees, and I think that’s part of the reason why we bounced back so well.”
Arkadium offers its benefits such as paid volunteer days, quarterly bonuses (tied to profitability and individual performance) and personal-development budgets of $750 a year. In the summer of 2018, the founders bought out their Series A investor to resume sole ownership. Rovello credits their employees’ commitment to the business for making it not only survive but thrive: “Our employees are not cogs in a wheel. They’re integral to the success of what makes the company work, and they know that,” she says. That is part of what made Arkadium one of the 25 honorees on Forbes’ 2019 Small Giants list of companies that would rather be great than big.