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Why Sofia? with Loic Le Pichoux, Co-Founder at Klear

 

Klear is a unique combination of Peer-to-Peer lending platform and a whole range of financial educational tools. It provides users with the opportunity to lend money and generate a return on investment or to borrow quickly and easily at reasonable interest rates.

Klear was founded in Sofia in 2015 by Loic Le Pichoux, Lukasz Lukaszewski and Nikolay Stanev, Since then, Klear has been named The Best FinTech Startup in Bulgaria at the Central European Startup Awards for two consecutive years  – in 2017 and 2018. Few months ago the p2p lending platform hit the milestone of 1000 credits given. 

 

 

Loic Le Pichoux, Co-founder and Chief Engagement Officer tells us what makes Sofia a place to launch and develop a successful FinTech company. 

 

Klear was founded 4 years ago by a team with solid experience in consumer finance. Why Sofia?

First, we were working together in Sofia for a leading consumer credit company in Bulgaria. So, it was logical to assemble a team with the best professionals and to start operating on the Bulgarian market, our domestic market indeed.

The second reason is that Sofia offers a very good option for startups who want to bootstrap. You have a good quality of life for a very reasonable cost of living.

The FinTech revolution is rapidly transforming the financial industry. What is the future of P2P lending?

Yes, traditional financial players are challenged by innovative FinTech companies on all their products: bank account, payments, investments and loans. P2P lending is a fantastic model. Everyone loves the idea. It takes however some time to reach a large audience, to convince people to switch. Trust is key. I believe that time will come when P2P lending will not only tickle existing banks but will take significant market share from them. Simply because it’s fair.

Judging from your business experience in the sector, how does the local FinTech startup ecosystem perform in the different FinTech domains?

I’ve witnessed a drastic change in the last 5 years. When we started working on Klear project, FinTech was not a very popular word (OK, now it’s the opposite and the hype is probably too much…) and I could count Sofia FinTech companies on the fingers of one hand. Today, I can’t know all of them as there are at least more than 50!

With a few other key players, we’ve created the Bulgarian FinTech Association. It’s very active and strongly contributes to this thriving environment.

This is a clear sign that the ecosystem has matured.

In June, Varengold announced its investment in Klear – the Bank’s first contribution in a P2P lending platform, based in the SEE region. How will you use the investment?

Wisely, I hope (laughing). 

Receiving such investment from a German bank is a very positive signal and a recognition that we have great potential.

First, part of the investment will be used to lend more loans to many more customers.

Second, we’ll invest in growing the team, developing a new product and some targeted marketing actions.

How does the investment climate in Bulgaria compare with the climate in other countries in the region? 

It’s difficult to compare as I don’t know so well the investment context in other countries of the region. I can just say that it looks like Bulgaria is on fire! In the last 18 months, I’ve seen an unprecedented batch of investments rounds, new projects coming loud out of stealth, great events, …

The climate is definitely sunny here!

What sort of difficulties have you faced so far? 

Nothing specific to the environment. Just the usual tough stuff any startup encounters.

Our main challenge has been so far to convince potential borrowers that we are not another provider of expensive cash loans. We are not a bank but indeed we compete with them, by providing better rates than them. This is hard to believe! It’s our job to demonstrate it and gain trust.

What would you point out specifically in terms of business climate improvement for investors who are already operating in Sofia? 

I think that the legal and administrative frame to register a company and update its statutory or shareholders changes could be improved. It’s still cumbersome and digitalization should come. Maybe I’m a bit biased as we are in a period of changes with the investment of Varengold Bank… But honestly, I’m spending too much time on tasks without any added value.

The new Bulgarian startup association (BESCO) is working on proposals to simplify things.

I’m also happy to see how active is Sofia Invest Agency, making the bridge between startups and the governing bodies. We count on you to relay our feedback (laughing). 

What needs to be improved in order to increase the number of new investors both from Bulgaria and abroad? 

Besides the fast track for company registration mentioned previously, I would point out 2 things.

First, I believe the sooner Bulgaria enters the Eurozone, the better.

Second, something must be done to make Sofia Tech Park really work. The place is fantastic and has great potential which is today underexploited. Please shake something or someone (laughing)!

When you look at Sofia and the country as a whole, what attracts or surprises you most?

The greatest thing about Sofia and Bulgaria is the combination of traditions and modernity.

Sounds like a paradox but the truth is that Bulgaria is a country with very strong culture and traditions and at the same time you meet plenty of people at the forefront of the new technologies, very active on the environmental challenge and other fundamental societal topics.

How do you feel about Sofia and Bulgaria as a place to live? 

I like it. I’ve been living here for many years and I don’t intend to leave.

I know many people who landed in Sofia by chance or for a while. And they are still here (laughing). 

Name your top 5 favorite things in Sofia?

Many large parks. Borisova Gradina is a great place where I go running

Venues for indie music concerts like Terminal 1, Maimunarnika, Kino cabana, …

Mountains around Sofia where you can hike or ski in winter

Sofia city center. Mixed architecture, street art, a perfect combination of quietness and plenty of great venues to hang out with friends

Simply walking in the city. Serendipity without any concern as Sofia is one of the safest places I know.

 

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