Does a Bulgarian company need to be export-oriented to be successful?
It depends on the industry, but generally speaking export-oriented companies tend to be more successful because they are able to tap into much bigger and richer markets. For example, a company like Walltopia could not have survived in Bulgaria only. The same could be said about Chaos Group, a software company, Drag Bicycles, a bicycle manufacturer, and many more. In big and developed markets, for example in North America, a company can really test how good their product offering is. I am happy to see more and more new firms, especially technology firms, being set up in Southeast Europe. I believe being based in a country like Bulgaria, while selling abroad, can offer significant advantages.
What are the major problems facing the local business?
The two biggest problems are lack of transparency and open competition and lack of human resources. The first one is something that we encounter a lot with our e-procurement platform Auxionize. Companies are very hesitant to experiment with new suppliers even though they might have better prices and quality. Generally, they are afraid they might damage the relationship with the old supplier. Often suppliers that have worked with a client for many years end up charging him higher than the current market price for the goods/service - all because of the client's unwillingness to promote transparency and open competition.
The human resource problem is something that most companies in the region are encountering. At Walltopia we are investing in ways of attracting Bulgarians from abroad, but also in ways to improve the educational system here in Bulgaria, so we have more educated professionals to choose from in the future.
A focus on innovation and technology – this seems to be a key marker of the most rapidly growing local companies, yet innovation is largely missing from the agenda of the local entrepreneurs. How would you comment on this?
A company that does not innovate is doomed to eventually fail. And by innovation I mean true innovation, not simply copying ideas from abroad and applying them here.
Following the launch of the Auxionize platform and the launch of works on the Collider Activity Center, do you have any other big projects in the pipeline?
While Walltopia became famous and successful with our climbing walls, we have been developing other products and concepts as well. One of them is our franchising business, through which we plan to expand our family entertainment center concept Funtopia globally. The other one is the expansion of a new product vertical: Walltopia Active Amusement, which consists of a variety of amusement products.
The most innovative one is a product called The Rollglider. It is essentially a hybrid between a zip line and a roller coaster. This product is incredibly versatile as it can be used both outdoors and indoors by people of all ages and abilities and it is quickly becoming popular among multiple client segments.
Do you see interesting business opportunities elsewhere in Southeast Europe?
I see a lot of potential for our amusement products everywhere, but in Southeast Europe in particular I believe we will be even more successful with amusement products than we were with the climbing walls.
A company that does not innovate is doomed to eventually fail
Founded in 1998, Bulgariabased Walltopia is one of the world's leading manufacturers of artificial climbing structures, operating on six continents through offices in the U.S. UK, Canada, Germany, Russia and Asia Pacific and exporting to 50 countries around the globe. Walltopia has a team of more than 300 professionals and has the largest production capacity within the industry. In late 2014 Walltopia broke ground for a 6.1 million euro research centre.