Boyko Iaramov is the co-founder and CEO of Campus X, an integrated ecosystem for innovative companies and talent and a leading coworking hub in Southeast Europe. In addition to his role at Campus X, Boyko is the co-founder of Telerik Academy, which is a tech education organization that trains and grooms the digital builders of tomorrow and is part of the Campus X ecosystem.
Learn more about Boyko’s journey to founding Campus X and the coworking company’s mission to unite all factors necessary for business success in our latest interview.
How did you first discover coworking?
While scaling Telerik — a software company we started in a small office in Bulgaria and managed to grow to a global leader with over 800 employees and 130,000 customers, including 450 of the Fortune 500 organizations — I learned many invaluable lessons.
That journey helped us identify the key prerequisites for companies’ success: access to talent, a curated community, a physical hub, and access to capital. Our goal was to bring all of these elements together under one roof. From state-of-the-art coworking spaces and a community of like-minded professionals, to the talent and capital, these are the driving forces behind businesses’ accelerated growth.
My partners and I believe in the power of the community and people. After all, it is people that make companies, not vice versa. We are dedicated to sharing the lessons we’ve learned and contributing to the development of other aspiring companies and the local ecosystem through Campus X and as mentors and investors.
When was Campus X founded?
Campus X was established in April 2018. As mentioned, we set out on a mission to unite in one place all factors necessary for companies’ success: 1) modern and flexible serviced office space and major coworking hub, 2) carefully curated community, 3) access to capital and leading experts, as well as 4) access to talent and upskilling programs.
In the past two years, we’ve greatly expanded our capacity and community — from just one building and 300 workplaces in 2018 to four buildings and more than 1,500 workspaces in 2020.
We offer shared and private office spaces, which can accommodate between two up to 100+ people, as well as flexible plans for freelancers and digital nomads. This is coupled with beautiful common areas, premium meeting rooms, outstanding amenities, and enterprise-grade services that companies of every size and stage can afford.
But we’re much more than a physical space – we are a true partner to our members. Since creating Campus X, more than 700 members have joined. They come from over 50 different organizations – established corporations and publicly listed enterprises, scale-ups, and fast-growing startups – both local and international.
To help them accelerate their growth, we have signed a series of strategic partnerships. For example, to create a bridge to funding and a network of seasoned mentors and investors, we collaborate with the two leading Bulgarian VC funds — LAUNCHub Ventures and Eleven Ventures — which are both based onsite at Campus X, and many international funds and Angel investors.
We are also partnering with one of the ‘Big Four’ auditing firms PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for legal and tax services. Furthermore, we know that talent is the backbone of every successful company. Therefore, we collaborate with the first and leading tech-ed organization in Bulgaria, Telerik Academy, which trains Master Junior Tech Talent and helps companies upskill their employees.
In May 2020, we welcomed onsite our human capital strategic partner – the HR consultancy company BICA Services. We’ve also joined forces with leading digital marketing agencies again onsite at Campus X, who help companies bring their marketing to the next level.
We’re humbled that our efforts have been recognized by the Central European Startup Awards (CES), who awarded us the Best Coworking Space award in Bulgaria in 2019 – just a year after the launch of Campus X, and we look forward to the ceremony this year.
How would you describe the community at your coworking space?
With meticulous selection, we make sure members share common values and virtues and are all eager to contribute to the entire ecosystem. Our community consists of smart and like-minded experts, entrepreneurs, and innovators, who are eager and open to share their expertise and help each other on the way to global success.
We are offering much more than just modern private and shared offices to our members. Even though we are proud of our facilities and infrastructure, we know that buildings don’t make companies successful – people do. That’s why we focus on creating a coworking ecosystem that nurtures knowledge sharing and innovation between its members.
What would you say are the key characteristics of the coworking scene in Sofia?
Bulgaria’s capital has rapidly accelerated its development in recent years and emerged as a leading startup, innovation, and R&D ecosystem. In fact, Sofia made the list of Europe’s best tech hubs and ranked as the top Digital Riser for Europe and North America.
The city attracts international companies and investors with its strategic location, favorable taxes (mere 10% flat corporate income tax), competitive business costs, as well as its qualified and talented workforce.
Global IT R&D leaders such as SAP Labs, VMware, IBM, CISCO, HP, Bosch, the World Bank, SUSE, and many others already operate big R&D centers in Sofia employing thousands of highly qualified professionals. At Campus X, we have already welcomed several big global companies, which managed to quickly set up offices in Bulgaria and seamlessly grow their teams.
For example, the global business consulting and publicly traded company Wipro joined our community along with the leading software company HashiCorp, and the revolutionary Dutch mobile bank bunq, which opened their first offices in Sofia.
Moreover, Sofia’s startup ecosystem is buzzing. Around 2,000 Bulgarian startups were created between 2013 and 2018 alone. In late 2015, Forbes magazine ranked Soﬁa in the top 10 cities worldwide to launch a startup. Meanwhile, fDI Fintech Locations of the Future 2019/20 ranked Sofia as the most cost-effective fintech city worldwide.
We’re very proud of Campus X’s community of fast-growing Bulgarian startups and scaleups. Just a few examples include the data-driven OKRs software company Gtmhub, which closed a $1.2M seed and $9M Series A financing rounds, led by investors, including the Campus X-based and the biggest Bulgarian VCs Eleven Ventures and LAUNCHub Ventures, while accomplishing 400% ARR growth year-over-year.
Another example is the fast-growing coworking software platform OfficeRnD that raised $3M in funding (led by investors, including LAUNCHub Ventures), and grew their team by sourcing Master Junior Tech Talent from Telerik Academy. These two companies are just a small part of a wide range of successful member companies, who make a global impact in their field and a great example of the synergy in our community. Yet another testament of the power of coworking.
What has the market in Sofia been like in 2020?
Despite the expected hit on the economy due to COVID-19, Sofia has the potential to adapt quickly to crises. Our first-hand experience as part of Sofia’s ecosystem shows that tech companies transitioned swiftly and effectively to a hybrid work mode during the initial pandemic timeline.
Now, many of our member companies have already returned or are considering a safe return to the office/hybrid models (work from home and onsite work). Campus X is supporting them each step of the way.
We have gone above and beyond in meeting all local and global recommendations to ensure maximum safety for our members. At the same time, we’re thoroughly focused on supporting our members’ business continuity and success during these turbulent times.
What are three key ingredients of operating a successful coworking space?
Firstly, creating a powerful community that operates by shared values and virtues – collective success, transparency, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. Our team lives up to these values. Our members share these values. They lie at the heart of everything we do. We believe that by helping each other, we can grow together as a community and as human beings, thus empowering the entire ecosystem.
Secondly, putting people first. We have always strived to ensure the wellbeing, safety, and success of our member companies. Therefore, we have implemented the highest standard of protective measures during COVID-19, while remaining 100% focused on ensuring business continuity and helping companies navigate through these turbulent times.
Thirdly, providing companies with everything they need for success in one place. We do that through our four main pillars – the physical hub with modular offices, where everything is taken care of; the easy access to leading junior and senior talent; the diverse coworking community, which consists of 50+ companies; and the bridge to capital.
How have the effects of COVID-19 impacted your space?
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has posed unexpected challenges to all businesses and people. Yet, we believe that this collective experience has pushed us to reimagine existing processes and emerge stronger as a community.
First and foremost, we continue to be a trusted partner of all our members, helping them each step on the way in these dynamic times. With that in mind, we have instituted several waivers to support their undisrupted business continuity.
In addition, our community’s safety and well-being have always been our number one priority. Therefore, we have implemented the highest standard of safety measures to protect our members.
Unexpected circumstances like a global pandemic have a positive side, too – they challenge us to act fast and with the utmost attention to detail, pushing us to think out of the box and instill creative solutions. That is what we did at Campus X. Going above and beyond to ensure our community’s safety and business continuity.
During this period, we’ve also launched two brand new offerings, which offer maximum flexibility and safety – our Flex Drop-In and Virtual Office plans. Furthermore, we’ve made our terms even more flexible, offering a free trial any five days within a month.
Finally, we’re happy to see the positive results from of all our efforts; despite the unusual external circumstances, most of the companies remain part of Campus X. Some companies have even grown their teams in this period and with the start of the autumn season, we observe a rising number of new member requests coming from both companies and individuals, who are eager to join our community.
What changes have you made to make things safer and more efficient for members post-Covid?
Our top priority has always been to ensure the wellbeing of our member companies and their teams. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has directly translated into “health” and “health measures,” but even prior to that we have always had a laser focus on this – creating a comfortable, productive, and safe environment.
To provide a safe office experience in the new normal, we are constantly going the extra mile. We have acted fast and worked hard to implement safety measures, which go beyond local and global recommendations.
These include high-class air disinfection with premium UVC lamps, air purifiers that greatly improve the quality of air and safely eliminate airborne viruses, rigorous cleaning and disinfection, carefully planned well-being guidelines and signage, on-site PCR tests conducted by a leading lab, and many more. (More information about the safety measures at Campus X is available here).
Ultimately, it’s our mission to ensure the highest level of protective measures and peace of mind for our community, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of coworking even in these unusual times.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to open a new coworking space?
First, I would really challenge the true motivation of starting a coworking space. For us, it was a natural continuation of the lessons learned growing a four men company to a global leader with hundreds of employees. What that journey taught us had everything to do with how we wanted to transition that knowledge and empower the next successful companies to focus on their core businesses. As such, we let someone else worry about all the operational, administrative, and logistical overhead.
This is a very different motivation than someone entering the coworking space from a purely real estate perspective or overhyped (prior COVID-19 and now as an alternative to conventional office space, post-COVID-19) business segment.
The first approach builds around the explicit desire to mold your coworking operations to the specifics of the clients you are looking to house under your roofs. The second welcomes anyone that subscribes to the economical benefits of moving to a coworking space.
These are two distinct and very different motivators. Where would each coworking founder stand – is a personal and strategic choice that has to carefully be assessed prior to setting up your operations.