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Puzl Coworking’s ambitious plan to connect IT communities in CEE

Image credit: Thibaut Taittinger, founder of Puzl CowOrKing
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In April 2020, Puzl, the largest IT coworking space in Bulgaria in terms of members, announced a new expansion and surpassed the 1000 workspaces mark. The new floor, located in a former factory, has been designed to host teams of 50+ people.  Puzl is taking a bet on a post-pandemic opportunity as businesses will likely be looking for more flexibility when renting offices in the future.

The company plans further expansion in Sofia this year. It will be launching its first Community Hub where all coworkers from all sectors could meet like-minded professionals and digital nomads. The company will also grow in the CEE region with more coworking spaces opening in Budapest and Bucharest in the near future. 

To learn more about what else is coming up, we visited Thibaut Taittinger, founder of Puzl CowOrKing.

The Recursive: Puzl continues to expand, is there a limit to your ambition? How big can the space grow in the long term?

Thibaut Taittinger: I always say that you should aim at the moon. And then if you reached halfway, it’s already pretty good. I’m not interested in building what you call a lifestyle business. That’s not the kind of person I am. My salary is still pretty low and I plan to keep it very low for a long time because I want to remain hungry. 

So I goal is to expand, expand, expand as much as we can and continuously speed up our growth. We want to connect locations across Central and Eastern Europe to start with. Coworking is only the first phase of our business model. Our plans are to build what we call IT hubs. We’ve already started the second product line, which is part of the bigger vision that we have. But we’re very, very, very, very far from having even touched upon what we want to build. It’s a slow process. It’s a painfully slow process. But that’s what makes it exciting. The challenge is what gets me going. I love solving problems on a daily basis. That’s what excites me. So no, no stop no limits. 

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We also heard that Puzl is expanding to other cities in CEE – What’s the status there?

Budapest and Bucharest are the next cities, it’s highly probable that Budapest would be the first one. We’re going to do what we’ve done in Sofia, faster, most probably at a bigger scale from day one. 

For us, the buildings are the most important thing. We’re looking exclusively at old factories and facilities of this type because we truly believe that such buildings bring a soul or unique soul. 

Eastern Europe is full of small to medium-sized ecosystems. On a city level, we are very connected, we know each other, we can all interact, it’s very easy to approach each other, etc. However, as soon as you leave the boundaries of your city or the boundaries of your country, it gets harder for you to find connections.

So we start with creating offline spaces in which communities can connect, interact, get to know each other, and strengthen themselves. Then, our challenge afterward becomes to connect the individual communities in the different cities. That has to come through software, obviously. So we need to create an engaging software solution that allows for committees to interact with each other. I very much enjoyed this system of recommended introduction, because I think this is the core of networking and community building.

Our team at Puzl will act as a physical bridge. We’ll probably give every team member to rotate across cities every 3 months and get to know everybody. This way they’d be able to give warm intros to all members regardless of the location.

You’ve actually introduced something quite new for the Bulgarian coworking market -, these spaces for larger teams of over 50 people. Can you tell us more about how this model works?

We want to support businesses as they grow. The biggest example we have at the moment is of a company that joined us with one person four or five years ago, they are now at the planning to grow to 150. Our pitch is simple. Don’t pay today, for your needs of tomorrow. To rent a typical real estate means that you have to sign a three to a five-year contract with no flexibility. We do the opposite. We have options for you to scale your business, both upscale and downscale. If your startup, is growing from 30 to 60 people, there are two things I will do. Number one, I will bust my ass to make sure that I can fit you guys until we find a place that can take care of your needs. Because we’re not going to leave you hanging and sitting in a crowded area or having to send people home. That’s not what we do. The second element is that if we can’t find the space we’ll tell you that you can break your contract whenever you want.   

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What are the next top three milestones for Puzl in 2021?

The first one is relaunching our Puzl CoCafe and I am super excited about this. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time. The second one is getting very close to opening our first location abroad before the end of the year. Raising a big funding round will also be important for our growth plans. I mean, in the next two years, we’ll have toat invest at least €20-30M million. It’s time for us to, you know, become a big boy.

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Etien Yovchev is a co-founder and Chief Editor at The Recursive, online media dedicated to the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe. He has told the stories of over 200 ventures from the region and aims to provide high-quality constructive reporting on the progress of the SEE innovation ecosystem, making sure that the stories of promising local founders reach global audiences. Etien holds a MSc degree in Innovation Management from RSM, Erasmus University Rotterdam and has more than 4 years of experience in the commercialization of new products, having worked with many early-stage companies and a few corporate innovation departments across Bulgaria, The Netherlands, and the USA.