The Success Story of Burgas Coliving or How Friendship, Hard Work and Collaboration Can Set You Up for a Kickass Kick-off
“Coliving is the only industry that promotes collaboration rather than competition.”
This was one of the outcomes I included in my closing remarks at the end of the Coliving Hub retreat back in 2022.
I believe I have been a strong ambassador of this mindset in the industry and remain hopeful that this spirit will go on.
With that in mind, it came naturally to me to offer my full support to my childhood friend, Katya (and her husband Tony), in the process of opening their own coliving in Burgas – my hometown, which I left over 20 years ago. I always considered our town an undiscovered gem for digital nomads and remote workers and was fascinated to contribute to the start of getting that potential to unfold.
Katya and Tony already owned these former communist sanatorium buildings, built in the 50-ties as a place for workers’ recreation holidays near the mineral spring waters and woods with 13 bedrooms and 8000 sq.m. of land around.
In 2020, during one of those long catch-up Zoom calls we got to have with friends during the first COVID lockdown, Katya and I started talking about coliving – a concept they were curious about as they have never experienced it – Katya is an Urban planner by profession,and Tony, ex- senior corporate manager turned craft beer producer and bar owner.
At the time, I was already an experienced co-liver happily locked down for 6 months with 15 strangers from around the world in the legendary Nine Coliving.
After a few conversations and further research, Katya & Tony embarked on a journey that would take a lot of time, hard work, energy, creativity and strong support from family and friends.
Life is What Happens When You are Busy Making Plans
Fun fact – the concept of Burgas Coliving was actually discussed and born a year before Chateau Coliving even opened before it had even crossed my mind that something similar could be possible in Normandy. But life (and Covid) happened and Chateau Coliving opened its doors in May 2021 while Burgas Coliving was still in the works.
Do as I Say – Not as I Did
Having gone through it all just a year before, I was able to help Katya and Tony through the incredible journey – the Journey of opening a coliving.
I remember the first time I walked into the construction site; it was in a state that was hard to envision as cozy, clean, and liveable within a year. I am glad I was involved at that very early stage, as some of the suggestions were important even from that stage in terms of adapting the functionality to a future co-living space. After going through 10 years of renovations and improvements of the chateau myself, I could see not only the great potential of the place but also the enormous work, patience, and budget it would require.
Finally, the renovations were completed beautifully and on time thanks to Katya & Tony’s impeccable taste and interior design vision, their persistence and the help of their family, who worked in the construction business.
There were, however, other challenges and insufficiencies:
Katya and Tony both had their own full-time work and were not digital nomads themselves
It also meant their network and community were rather foreign from the coliving industry and potential coliving guests
Hosting colivers is a different art from hosting any other type of guests
What processes and tools are needed.
The challenge of marketing a place with great potential in a place that is entirely new for the target audience
Of course, they would have likely figured it out through trial and error, like everyone else.
But when you launch your own business, time is crucial. Making mistakes is a great way to learn but also a great waste of time, energy and often money.
That is why having someone who’s been through it all is invaluable.
My experience and expertise encompass several aspects that I could be of help with:
SET UP & PROCESSES
- Where do we start? Even if, in this case, Katya and Tony already had the space and the vision, it is often not easy to know what to tackle first.
- No concern is too small to discuss! Regular calls and discussions were essential for sharing concerns on different topics, where I was happy to share my views, experiences and solution suggestions.
- Knowledge sharing! Being part of coliving communities and keeping a close eye on the trends, I regularly shared relevant articles, posts and resources to discuss, which helped shape their overall understanding of the industry.
- Experience sharing! Having made my own mistakes during the prep and the first year of operations, I was able to evaluate what could possibly be avoided or spared.
- Organisation backbones! After the first few weeks, it was time to dive into the nitty gritty of processes, SOPs, organisation, logistics…
- Tackling the challenge of being a Live-in Coliving owner. As a coliving owner who lives on spot, it is vital to define the right boundaries and set the right expectations towards you. This can be well underestimated. No matter how many coliving spaces one has been a guest at, you cannot be prepared for the daily situations that you have to manage so seamlessly and the importance of leveraging right the extent of your assistance. If you handle it wrongly from the start, it could well become a “standard” for the place that is extremely hard to reverse.
- It’s showtime! Get the Opening Month right! Indeed, the most challenging part for any coliving owner is to bring the first colivers. Here, I supported by organising the opening month by selecting a group of handpicked experienced colivers, people known in the nomad community and people who have been to enough places. The objective was not only to spread the word, showcase the place full and get the ball rolling, but also to get honest, constructive feedback and ideas from them.
Coliving is an industry that thrives on collaboration. Having a strong network is essential.
- Industry Events: I joined Katya and Tony at several conferences where I introduced them to some key people from the community.
- Using my own network and channels, I was talking about the Burgas project on a regular basis within my own network and spreading the word through social media, newsletters, and online communities I am part of
- Spreading the word in the chateau network and community to make people curious about it and get the momentum going
- Offering real-life showcasing & experience. Katya and Tony had the opportunity to stay at the Chateau to see it “in action” and understand the ins and outs of life with guests
The communication strategy, such as brand development and positioning, marketing strategy, and planning, were entrusted to Tony’s capable hands. His extensive expertise in this area and years of experience (including some exemplary projects that have become iconic in Bulgaria) were excellent prerequisites for the outstanding job that was done in this regard.
As a fellow marketing professional with years of experience in marketing, branding, advertising & communications, I would generally be happy to contribute a lot to this part of any business by providing professional advice and strategy setting as well, but in this particular case, my help was only in contributing to one vital part – kickstarting the community and spreading word of mouth by colivers who experienced it by organising the opening month.
Having a beautiful website and sleek pictures is not always enough of a base for your communication strategy if not backed up with social media pictures with real happy colivers. You may have 1 or 2 bookings, but this doesn’t really start a real community vibe and culture. Word of mouth from experienced nomads, whose recommendations count and who can spread the word on their social media channels, is essential.
GRAND OPENING LAUNCH
FULL HOUSE from the Very Start!
You can theorise all you want, but nothing teaches more than a “life-size” trial.
The opening launch month was probably the most valuable “exercise” of this whole process.
This is what really helped put Burgas Coliving on the map and gave it the kickoff. The 20+ people we invited were seasoned colivers known in the nomad community, and each of them had their own extensive network of nomads. Each of them gave “a stamp of approval” for the newly emerged coliving space in this destination that was so unknown at the time.
In addition, having trusted and “experienced” people the first month really guarantees relevant feedback and suggestions and genuine engagement in the project. It also eliminated the risk of any potential bad reviews or complaints in case something did not work exactly as planned, which is, of course, very normal at the start.
(A moment to point out that Burgas Coliving did brilliantly that first month, exceeding everyone’s expectations, including my own, so the risk for potential bad reviews was practically non-existent in their case)
AFTER LAUNCH SUPPORT
Calls and brainstorming did not end after the launch. I worked together closely with Katya and Tony throughout their first year to help them navigate the ups and downs of running a coliving by providing advice on:
- Managing low and high season
- Insights on selecting and training community managers
- Handling irrelevant or negative feedback
- Avoid emotional burnout and letting go of wanting everything to be perfect
What we as owners see as perfect is often very different from what the colivers perceive as ‘’perfect’’. Our own bar is at least twice higher, putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves.
One year in, Burgas Coliving is firmly on the coliving map among Europe’s most successful community-driven coliving spaces.
They are extremely respected and well integrated both with fellow coliving owners and in the nomad community in general.
They have also launched their own local initiatives connecting with institutions in the city of Burgas and beyond, attending conferences and panels to spread the word about Coliving and encouraging others to join the adventure.
This is a beautiful reminder that help always goes both ways in this industry. When I first started Chateau Coliving, my dear friend and Chateau’s fairy godmother Anne from Nine Coliving did the same for me and I know to this day that Chateau would never be what it is today without this first initial push from her and the Nine community. A true definition of what comes around goes around.
Undoubtedly, the main factors that contributed to Burgas Coliving’s successful first year, among others, were Katya and Tony’s solid business acumen and professional backgrounds, their extremely hard work and dedication to the project, their adaptability, wits, and powerful interpersonal skills, their talent, kindness and patience with people, just to name a few.
Yet, I would like to believe that a little help from a trusted friend played an important part, too. My role would not have had the impact it had, however, without their deep trust and willingness to fully take in the advice offered, even if it sometimes felt counterintuitive to them. And for this, I’m eternally grateful!
Since I launched Chateau, many people have reached out to me to learn from our experience. Now that I see how far we have come with both Chateau and Burgas Coliving, I am ready and inspired to propose a formal consulting offer.
If you are aspiring to open your own coliving space or are already in the process of doing it, or if you have recently opened but got stuck somewhere, CLICK HERE to learn how I can help with your challenges.
Let’s keep our industry more cooperative and less competing for good together!
by Katia Dimova, founder of Chateau Coliving