In the Network | Forbes
Translated from the original article by Forbes Bulgaria Published on 3rd of April 2020
When it comes to lighting in office spaces, it is accepted to use cold light, as it is closest to the living room and makes people happy and energetic. However, Emil Shekerdzhiiski hates cold light and for more comfort puts warm lighting in the premises of Networking Premium, a stylish shared workspace in the center of Sofia. Without the slightest intention of investigating the effect, cards show a significant increase in the time people spend in the evening in the office compared to Networking Premium in downtown Tel Aviv, where it puts cold light. According to him, people are in no hurry to leave because they actually feel at home. With the warmth of the wooden floor, the fireplace in the lobby, the designer sofas, the two open kitchens where fresh food is cooked every day, the PlayStation console play area and the Networking Premium nap places in Bulgaria look more like a luxury home than an office.
"I lived here for almost a year and I was happy. I have everything - eating, drinking, restaurants in downtown Sofia. There is a place to put the collection with the guitars and a grand piano, says the co-founder and CEO of Networking Premium."
He makes his dreams come true to do more than a shared workspace - a social club for talented and creative people, with many events and a hotel for nomads. For him, this means more dating, more fun, more collaboration, which "ultimately leads to a happier and more productive work environment."
On one of the walls he holds a poster with 326 companies from the Unicorn Club, valued at one billion dollars. His wish is to have at least three presented in the customer list. There is already one - the Bulgarian office for payment services of Revolut is located on the second floor of the building of "Rakovska". He is furious that he missed the American startup Lime, which enters Bulgaria with shared electric scooters: "They needed storage space for the equipment and we could not react quickly."
Of all things, he is most excited about the opportunity to pass on his experience as an entrepreneur from Israel to the Bulgarian startup ecosystem.
Image by Forbes Bulgaria
Born in Bulgaria, Emil Shekerdzhiiski is the son of emigrants - a Jewish father, a mathematics teacher, and a Bulgarian mother - an art teacher. He grew up in Israel and, after graduating in physics from university, found a lucrative job teaching nanoelements to employees and customers at an American corporation. Although the salary is high and he travels around the world, his thoughts are in his personal project with a platform for creating a website. He has always wanted to work for himself and tries to do it at home after work, but it becomes difficult - when he comes home, his brain automatically switches to rest. Then he thought of the nice offices in downtown Tel Aviv, which were empty in the evening, and rented a law firm for little money. "It was very bright inside, like day. I broke the psychological fatigue threshold and managed to work in two places very effectively for a long time," he says. The platform fails to grow as a business, but brings him as much income as his salary. This gives him the freedom to become a freelancer in the corporation and continue with his own business.
In 2014 Emil Shekerdzhiiski invested part of his savings in an apartment and office in Sofia due to the good property prices and in several startups for mobile applications. Two of them are successful - Record Your Life (makes a digital recording of conversations) and Scrambler (works as a personal secretary on the phone), which "enters the top apps for Android.". With the third - to analyze the activity on Facebook, is a disadvantage. It also has stakes in LYNX, an information security company that develops biometric printing, but it is active only in Israel and Russia. These startups use WeWork's shared space in Tel Aviv and spend the day there. When one of his partners, Ophir Englin, decides to rent two floors in a neighboring building, the two see the potential to make it a shared workspace. At the time, they didn't realize that "the rent in this area of Tel Aviv was insanely high, as was the tax," this subsequently reduces Networking Premium's profits.
"The advantages are that I come from an entrepreneurial background in Israel and I know how to work to have a successful start."
Emil Shekerdzhiiski insists on repeating the project in Sofia, where he finds an unfinished six-storey new building on Rakovska. They buy it with Ofir Englin in parts from the creditor, but not the whole. They also attract a third investor, Trifon Mihailov, who is one of the first tenants in Networking Premium.
Shekerdzhiiski , who has a design flair, designs the interior and sofas, without saving money, "as is done in Israel." . He also includes two open kitchens and hires a chef because "everyone loves to cook for them.". He loves to cook, as do some of the members who also believe that food brings people together. Every Monday starts with brunch.
He tries very hard to show that "Bulgarians can afford this luxury at affordable prices" (slightly above average), but until the place is revived, it keeps rents lower than the market ones.
Like any new, different, interesting and luxurious place, Networking Premium attracts its audience. In the evenings and weekends, when the premises are free, the place comes to life for events of Samsung, HP, Mastercard, Legrand IOT, TEDx. "There are a lot of event rooms, every hotel can be a host, but they were looking for a place to impress their guests like we have." he says. Even after the first big event, the Nextblock conference ended with a party, Shekerdzhiyski hired an event manager and invested in sound equipment, which he rented out. This type of activity brings him income and leads new clients. In less than two years, the capacity of jobs for 120 people is filling up and the waiting list is growing.
"If the startup is successful, access to money in Israel is relatively easy."
This year the partners are investing in two new centers - Vitoshka with 30 seats and a second at Hristo Botev and Pirotska with 100. “We have seen that the business operates in smaller shared locations in more locations. People like to be close to their homes." says Emil Shekerdzhiiski. Networking Premium membership gives you access to all locations. Some of the members use all three locations in one day, traveling with the company's electric scooters parked in front of the building.
This club atmosphere is very popular with the nomads who visit Sofia. From the conversations with them, Shekerdzhiiski learns about their difficulties in finding a place to stay. It is expensive in their hotels, and it is difficult for a foreigner to sign a free rental agreement. He immediately saw a business opportunity by offering them something between Airbnb and a hostel, in the upstairs apartments. He relies on the fact that Sofia is in the top 40 in the world for the most visited cities by nomads because of the good internet, security and mainly because of the prices, and this will guarantee a flow: "We provide a solution for those professionals who want to stay a little longer in Sofia and at a better price."
Its big goal is to make the Networking Premium network a hub for developing startups. "My advantage is that I come from an entrepreneurial background in Israel and I know how to work to have a successful startup," he said. "In Israel, young people's dream is to work on their own project, because they hear about successful exits every day."
Every month he organizes a hackathon - a competition for startups, and the prize is a free place for work and mentors in Israel, where they can find business angels. "If the startup is successful, access to money in Israel is relatively easy," says Shekerdjiiski.
He is also a business angel of we.porn - a platform in the porn industry where fans upload faceless content and the user can put whatever he chooses. The founders - very high level programmers and entrepreneurs - use blockchain technologies for payment and security.
He says he's proud of the startup's success, but he's not proud of the industry, which is actually among the most profitable: "The classic porn model is in decline, and they offer more authentic content that has potential."
Another project is developing under his attention - voccess. This is an application that shows what is the optimal profession for everyone. The founder Elitsa Kostova is a career consultant for children and youth and has a minimal product that can be tested. Shekerdzhiyski admires her work and thinks that she "will push this project with her nails and teeth", as he does with his own.