Cobuilder is an international company set up in Norway that develops innovative software products for the construction industry. In 2013, Cobuilder chose Sofia to establish its first subsidiary – Cobuilder International. With its initial team of two employees, the operations in Bulgaria were mainly related to data entry into information systems serving the Norwegian market.
In 2014, the team in Sofia expanded to 20 employees and was engaged in more and more key activities for the company. In 2015, the company started developing new products in Bulgaria and in the meantime opened offices in the UK and France. In 2017, Cobuilder International had more than 80 employees, and the company won the “IT Product of the Year” award of the Bulgarian Outsourcing Association (BOA) and BASSCOM. The award was bestowed for the company’s first software product, which was completely designed and developed in Bulgaria.
In 2018, with the 5th anniversary of Cobuilder International’s establishment, a rebranding project is being implemented, and the new visual and brand identity will be applied to the entire international group.
Lars Christian Fredenlund, CEO at Cobuilder, tells us what makes Sofia a place to launch and develop a successful business.
Please tell us briefly about your investments in Sofia? What does your company do in Bulgaria and abroad?
The Sofia-based company,Cobuilder International LTD, is part of the Cobuilder AS family – an international organisation based in Oslo, Norway. For over 20 years, Cobuilder has become a name in delivering innovative software solutions for the Norwegian and European construction industries. Since it was founded in 2013, Cobuilder International has been responsible for developing, improving and maintaining Cobuilder’s core products aimed at catering for the specific data needs of construction industry actors.
Cobuilder is focused on the development of comprehensive software solutions aimed at fast tracking of the digital transformation that will make big ideas such as Industry 4.0, Internet of Things and digital twins relevant to the reality of our client’s businesses.
Today, Cobuilder International is in the Top 5 most dynamic IT companies in Bulgaria*. We are set on a mission to revolutionise the ways construction data is handled worldwide and we have found the right resources to fulfil this mission, here in Sofia.
What made you choose Sofia as the place to invest?
First and foremost the talented and skilled people. We had some experience working with Bulgarian IT companies prior to setting up our own business here. We were impressed with their professionalism and good language skills. The business-friendly tax rates were also important. After being here for some years now, we are glad to say that Sofia proved to be the right location for our growing international business. We have over 100 employees from different backgrounds such as project management, engineering, architecture and construction, IT, marketing, finance etc. They and their passion are at the center of our success.
Are there other local and foreign companies here doing business in your sector?
There are only a few international companies that develop software specifically for the construction industry in Bulgaria. The most prominent ones are Nemetschek and Fourth. Globally, the construction industry is at the bottom of all rankings for digitalisation. This provides great opportunities for companies who want to bring change to this generally conservative industry.
What are the advantages of investing in Sofia?
Cobuilder is a company with a clear mission. We want to bring the construction sector to its digital tomorrow. The most important business factor internally for Cobuilder is to find people who believe and understand why we do what we do. We found so many people who understand why we need to move the construction sector to a higher level. We need to build better, greener, smarter buildings today in order to ensure a better tomorrow for the generations to come. Many people get this here in Sofia and this is great!
What sort of difficulties have you faced so far?
Firstly, getting to learn the business culture was a challenge. We needed to understand how banks , the administration, and the overall bureaucracy function. When you come to a new place, you do not know what to expect. It is like being dropped in the middle of the jungle. This is why you need a guide. When we came here, we got in contact with the Norwegian embassy, later we found a very good lawyer. As a Norwegian investor we wanted to have everything in order, we wanted to pay taxes, to have a transparent business structure, to pay decent salaries and so on. The first most important thing when you are internationalising your business is building trust in the new environment. There is no trust if you are not respectful of the environment you are in.
How do you estimate the overall business climate in Sofia today?
When we started working in Sofia nearly 10 years ago the environment was very different than today. People were more closed off, you had to really go to the universities and find the right people for your business yourself. Today, Sofia has become more international, more educated people are available and actively looking for new challenges. The climate for investment is hot. Sofia, in my view, has great potential for all market shareholders – the businesses and the people who live there.
What needs to be improved in order to increase the number of new investors both from Bulgaria and abroad?
The systematic onboarding for new companies, who wish to come to Sofia, is paramount. There has to be a united effort between the public and the private sector to provide the needed guidance for starting / investing in a business in Sofia. In that respect, I am glad to hear about Sofia Investment Agency. If we had access to a community like that 10 years ago, it would have been of great help.
When you look at Sofia and the country as a whole, as a Bulgarian investor, what attracts or surprises you most?
The high level of education, for sure. Sofia offers some very educated people. That is not a surprise to me. This is what attracted us to Sofia and Bulgaria in the first place. In addition, the bar keeps rising and that is very positive for us as a growing company and for the new businesses to come.
How do you feel about Sofia and Bulgaria as a place to live – transportation, food, travel, prices, education, medical services?
Sofia keeps getting better and better. I do not follow the specifics of Bulgarian politics, but I hope that there will be more investment in city infrastructure and urban environment development. The city also needs new office buildings. Cobuilder International has moved three times so far. During all of our moves, it was hard for us to find a new place to rent, with a good location, modern facilities and convenient transport. After all, we have expanded from 2 to over 100 people in Sofia and we have always wanted to make sure that our employees feel comfortable throughout their work day.
Name your top 5 favorite things in Sofia?
I love that Sofia is close to the mountains. There is an easy access to the airport. There are some really nice restaurants, a huge difference between now and 10 years ago. We, Norwegians, also really enjoy the weather and the friendly and warm people we meet.