10 BULGARIAN TECH ENTREPRENEURS TALK: PART 1
WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN YOUR MARKET SEGMENT WHICH OCCURRED AS A RESULT FROM COVID-19?
Interviews with 10 Bulgarian tech entrepreneurs which were part of the Bulgarian channel on RE:Connect 1.0 on 07 January 2021. The interviews are conducted by Sylvia Pavlova MBA CMC, Founder PropTech Bulgaria and Eng. Adriana Taskova, PhD
PROPTECH | Georgi Demirev, Co-Founder appraiser.ai & оцениме.бг
Since March-April 2020 we see the Residential sector recover. Prices are going back to their pre-Covid levels and their growth continues similar to other asset classes. The same cannot be said for rental properties where we have actually seen a decrease in prices, and now it takes longer time to rent out the property. For example, in Sofia last year it took 20 days to rent an apartment, and now it takes more like 40 days.
Moving away to Commercial properties, there we see the biggest impact of Covid. There are large vacancies both in retail areas, and offices. For me personally, it will be interesting to monitor how this will go forward. I would expect that all trends related to remote work will remain after the pandemic. It will be interesting to see how the office segment will react. As for the retail, we expect to see more shorter-term renatals and more flexible arrangements.
PROPTECH | Liliya Bozhilova, Co-Founder & Project Manager LLV Technology
We operate in the Residential segment. What we noticed stemming as a result from Covid, is the growing awareness of companies that such software solutions as ours are useful a lot, both for managing, and communicating with their clients. We also observe a surge in online payments. A third trend we observe is that our clients’ clients, or the end-users, pay more attention to our clients’ activities. They become more proactive. In the summertime of 2020, a huge number of repairs in the buildings were inititated. There was a boom in such activities as compared to previous years. We explain this as a natural result from the fact that people had to stay much more at home, and they used this time to improve their surroundings.
We can also say that there is no increase in inter-company indebtedness.
PROPTECH | Lyubomir Yanchev, CEO MClimate
The pandemic was a booser for our business. We see a lot acceleration of IoT, especially in office spaces. We see 2 main trends. First, controlling the energy based on how many people are inside the building. It obviously doesn’t make sense to heat up the building if you have like 100 people and only 2 are willing to go to the office. The second trend that we see is related to ensuring the health and well-being of the occupants. It translates to IoT especially by tracking the air-quaility index and the CO2 levels. Other trends are people counting, knowing how occupied the office spaces are. This is also valid for residential. We also see some companies offering health solutions to their employees while they are at home. What kind? Employee index is one of them.
PROPTECH | Mitko Tsonev, CEO and Founder Valkrea.House
We observe different kind of developments the past several months. While people have to stay at home and work from home, they need to feel more comfort. And they also feel the need to change their environment. We observe a big increase in air-quality solutions as well as energy-efficiency ones ordered for homes.
MOBILITY | Anton Sotirov, CTO Sesame
At 2 of our companies we deal a lot with people, and people interacting with cities. In the mobility sector we see a serious decrease in using public transport. There is quite insufficient number of digital solutions in Sofia for buying and using tickets. The problems we faced when dealing with the consequences from the pandemic related to visiting public places and retail stores. However, we see a huge rise in business going online, such as e-commerce stores; there is a significant increase in logistics and delivery type of services. It became obvious that the only way of growing business is via going online.
HEALTHTECH | Ivan Yosifov, Founder & CEO Naicoms
The technology we have been developing is telemedicine. Telemedicine for those who doesn’t know what it is, it is technology connecting patients and doctors regardless of their physical locations. We had been promoting our tech solutions for more than 5 years, prior the pandemic. At that time everybody reacted, ‘Yes, yes. This is the future. An amazing technology. This is the future.’ But somehow the ‘future’ stayed always in the future. And nobody was willing to say, ‘OK. Let’s start.’ Then the pandemic came. The difference before and after 2020 was like a razor blade. People started calling me on the phone, ‘You are developing great technology there. When can we start? How?’ Patients asked, ‘We want to connect with doctors while we stay at home.’ Doctors said. ‘We want to connect with patients while we are at work or at home.’ The technology is here and it is very well accepted.
PROPTECH & TOURISM TECH | Boris Pavlov, Founder Flat Manager
You can easily say it has been the toughest year in Tourism and Hospitality from a very long time. What we saw was an unprecedented decrease in reservations. In May we had 95 % of the reservations cancelled, and no new ones were made. Certainly, it was valid not only for us, but especially hotels around the world. It was a truly terrific spring for us. Little by little things got improving. Probably, the situation will not improve till 2022 or 2023 depending on how optimistic we are, but in the summer we noticed some trends which possibly are here to stay. I’ll talk about a few of these. The first one is a sort of obvious, but we noticed it in our reservations as compared to reservations at larger properties or hotels.
People now prefer smaller, more secluded places. That means appartments or even houses. There was a huge spike in searches for houses like guest houses. The more secluded, the better. Such properties significantly outperformed large hotels. Why do people book them? Because they are just afraid, want to limit their contact with other people, with staff that works around. At hotels you might have hundreds of people which service you, and they might have the virus. So, people were looking for such separated places.
Another trend which we can consider natural, was that people started looking at destinations which are close to their home, where you can go by car, and the travel time wil be no more than a couple of hours, and on top of this, preferably without crossing any international borders.
These are two trends which will continue in 2021 and 2022.
Sylvia Pavlova MBA CMC, Founder PropTech Bulgaria: What about the trend of Space-as-a-service and changing the purpose of locations?
For example, converting restaurants, lobbies of hotels into co-working spaces. Just because people need to stay close to their homes, but nevertheless, they need to go to work and meet somewhere for business purposes. Such small co-working spaces are supposed to appear close to where people live, in residential areas. Prognoses are that people from different companies are going to work in such co-working spaces. Not just as we see it at the moment when we have whole teams of one company working together at a co-working space. There will mingle different people from different companies wherever it is necessary, and whenever it is necessary. How do you observe this trend in Bulgaria? Is there such a trend?
Boris Pavlov: Yes, there is. There are hundreds of large, beautiful hotels that stay empty. There are no tourists, no business travellers. All that they do is they try to transform the space. Quite a few hotels managed to introduce the ‘work-from-a-hotel’ service. This is something which is very difficult. I realised that when we introduced this service at a local 5-star hotel in Sofia, Bulgaria. They had all these wonderful beautiful appartments which stayed emply, and at the same time they have to pay their staff. And this is why they were open to all these new ideas. This is the good thing about Covid; that businesses are ripe for disruption right now. They introduced the serive of having an apartment to be booked as a ‘home office’. We called it ‘5-star home office’. We advertised it a lot, but at first we didn’t get any reservations. Obviously, people didn’t understand such a service. We have to educate the customer first and then to expect some revenues. But even on the technical side it was much more difficult to imagine it. When we talk about ‘hotel office’ people are going to arrive in the morning and leave late at night. While usually when you arrive at a hotel you check in at around 2-3 p.m. and you are expected to sleep over the night, and leave on the next day around 11 a.m. The software which hotels use, the hotel software management solutions out there, they even don’t have an option like that. You can only book for a night. So, we used an online shopping solution, something like a shopify plugin for WordPress, to come up with a software which can be applied in these cases.
That’s very interesting, all these tech challenges which we experienced, and this is a consequence from Covid and the new ways we use space. Probably, this is not going to last, to be honest. Hotels are not built to be offices. If we start turning hotels into offices, what we are going to do with the actual offices. They are out there and they are vacant right now.
As for co-working spaces, there more than 220 000 co-working space around the world, if I am not mistaken. We have plenty of them. The problem is they are not very close to where people live. I think the future of the co-working space is a smaller, boutique space. The freelancers, the digital nomads, they will work at co-working spaces which are in residential buildings.
Everyone in hospitality right now is focused on how to make the experience of guests safer and safer. Safety first.
HEALTHTECH | Georgi Kadrev, CEO Kelvin.Health & Imagga
If you just take IR alone, and forget about healthcare in general, many things are changing just because many people stay at home. They use more live streaming, they consume a lot of content online. Going back to medicine, we observe a trend of automation of various types of imaging analysis. We innovate in 2 ways. It is not only that the solution is remote, it’s telemedicine, but we use a relatively cheap and affordable thermal camara, thus generating a relatively new type of image diagnistics. This medical imaging is not the same as the one you get when you go to hospital, though we plan to extend in that area too. It is a very rudimentary, but still very informative, type of medical imaging. It is a whole image, not just a number you get. Many other companies develop solutions in medical imaging because in order to manage the number of patients, the processes get automated. We both automate and introduce a new paradigm in how people get examined.
Sylvia Pavlova: What’s the direct application of Kelvin.Health for people who stay at home, kids at school, or employees at offices?
Georgi Kadrev: There are two aspecs in general in the IR technology. If we talk specifically about Kelvin.Health, it is in the area of preventive medicine which can be applied in vatious context. The most natural one is at home. People can get examined about their inflammation status. For example, you might get infected with a certain disease, but you don’t have any symptoms on the surface. However, the inflammation process going on may be very severe. In order to have the full capacity of Kelvin.Health unleashed, you have to be naked above the waist. But if you are at a public space, or cannot go to a specific room, still parts of your body can be well-segmented, and types of inflammation can be detected, everything that is visible, not under your clothes. This is an extension of the traditional people scanning in buildings. The technology has existed in the last 30 years. But most camaras try to measure your absolute body temperature and say if you have fever. And this is not the case with our technology. When you have fever, this means that the disease has progressed a lot. In contrast, our approach helps to be a bit more preventive, as it detects inflammation before it escalates on the surface.
If we talk more in general about scanning of imaging, just as it is the case of Imagga, we can very precisely scan people in large groups. For example, people who enter office buildings, scan the whole mass of people, and detect which ones have inflammation processes going on inside, at least in their upper body. We can do this with very affordable hardware. You don’t need a camara that costs tens of thousands euro, but just your mobile camara. This makes our solution very affordable for the mainstream.
PROPTECH | Kamen Kaludov, Founder & CEO WeboBook
We have launched our first project, bg.estate, which is designed for producing virtual display and views of real estate in Bulgaria even before any mention was made about Covid-19. It was our aim to habituate both client and agent into the practice of doing virtual walk-arounds thus cutting the standard figure in the property supply equally to sellers and buyers. It was down the course of turning this into the common practice – speaking of which, it was really a door-to-door work – that the client/buyer has got to ask the broker to be provided virtual views of the property of interest so that time is saved on doing in-person tours of not just a single property in supply. Thus, keeping themselves convenient at home, at the office, or even at the beach, clients are given the ease and comfort to visit tens of properties, therefore shortlisting
and paying in-person visits to just the ones to have lived up highest to their expectations. On a similar note, Covid-19 has come to push to the forefront the whole process of turning this into the routine practice. Given physical contacts restrictions much alike travel limitations, this has turned out to be the one nice alternative to bear most in common with paying a physical visit to a real property, yet keeping free from the Covid-19–related risks.
READ the full version of all 3 interviews in
BULGARIA: PropTech Mapping Report 2021, 3rd edition which is coming very soon. Stay tuned!