356labs is a boutique presentation agency that helps their clients write, design and deliver truly effective presentations. They do that by either building those presentations for their customers or by training them how they can do all of the above three by themselves.
The company is just 4 years old but has already worked on some of the most critical presentations on the market – ones that closed multimillion-dollar deals, got startup investment from people like Bill Clinton and even the 2018 IPO of the Bulgarian company Gradus that raised more than 40 Million Euro.
They have trained companies like Uber, KPMG, Roche, Unicredit Bulbank, Kaufland, BIODERMA and many more in topics ranging from presentation skills and storytelling to slide design and data visualization and are the only presentation agency in the world to speak twice at the biggest yearly conference of Microsoft with more than 25 000 visitors – Ignite.
Boris Hristov, founder at 356labs, 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 outside?
The whole team of 356labs is based in Sofia. We are currently 6 people on the team and looking to grow to 10 in the next 6 – 8 months. The whole company is focused on one thing and one thing only – truly effective presentations. We do not do anything else – we do not do corporate identity projects, web design, social media, etc. None. Our expertise is in one field only and that is what differentiates us on the market. That being said, the services we provide both in Bulgaria and outside of it are related to it – we build presentations for our clients and we also train them how they can build and deliver them by themselves.
What motivated you to invest in Sofia?
Well, even though I personally have delivered presentations and trainings in more than 30 countries now, Sofia is our home city. And home is home. Now, from the business side – it’s way easier and cheaper to start a business here than, let’s say in Germany. What’s more, Bulgaria could also be a great market for new companies to verify their idea and products or at least that is the case for us.
Are there other local and foreign companies here doing business in your sector?
Absolutely. Just take a look at how many branding / digital agencies we have out there. They are all involved from time to time to do some presentation work for their clients. The only issue with those client requests is that they ask the agencies and they have the understanding that if the agency makes their slides look well, their presentation will be effective. Unfortunately, that is not the case because the design is just one of the three components of the successful presentation. Story and delivery are the other two and if those are not well-done, no matter the design, the presentation will fail.
How do you estimate the overall business climate in Sofia today?
Rapidly changing for good, I think. I feel like every day there is a press release for either a new startup or big company that decided to open a local office here.
Do Bulgarian companies know how to present their business?
Unfortunately, it’s not only the Bulgarian companies that do not know how to present their business. We work with clients from all over the world and the quality of their presentations is, frankly, disappointing. They miss on a ton of opportunities because of this but I believe we are starting to see a change. More and more companies start realizing that the way they present both internally and externally is critical for their overall success.
What could companies do better in terms of the skills you teach them?
First, they need to have the understanding that a presentation can change their whole organization forever. We have worked on numerous presentations that closed huge deals that require that organization to, later on, hire 30 – 40 and more new people. The last example is with one of our clients who with the help of a presentation that we worked on closed Google for their client. This is a game-changing moment.
Once we have the understanding, I think I would love to push the awareness aspect – if you think about it, there is no way everyone to be an expert in everything. However, very often we hear an answer like this one: “I speak and present from 15 years now. What are you going to tell me about it?”. That or a similar statement is something we are faced with in many places around the world so if we can fix the first one and then this one, I would be happy.
In what do companies face challenges most commonly – brand presentation, product launch, presenting to investors? Are there any industry-related differences?
Short answer. In all of them. No matter the industry. And I am not even exaggerating just because this is our company, this is our business, etc. etc.
Do Bulgarian companies differ from those of foreign investors?
Each and every company is different in one way or another. I think there are no two similar companies in the same way there are no two similar people.
What would you point out specifically in terms of business climate improvement for investors who are already operating in Sofia?
I think we need to push harder on sales. Especially for new companies and startups. Many of the newly-built organizations do not understand how important selling is and expect that clients will come to them. To be honest, I did the same mistake in the first 6 months of building 356labs. So if we can somehow improve that part of the ecosystem through events, trainings, know-how and similar, that would be great.
What needs to be improved in order to increase the number of new investors both from Bulgaria and abroad?
I think law enforcement is something that is mainly stopping large investors to come to Bulgaria. At least, that is what we have seen during our work.
When you look at Sofia and the country as a whole, as a Bulgarian investor, what attracts or surprises you most?
The growth of the overall ecosystem in the last 5 years.
What’s ahead for 356labs?
A ton of things (laughing). Mainly, however, related to continuing building and enriching our self-paced training products + expansion to other countries in Europe.
Name your top 5 favorite things in Sofia?