Bogdanova Bureau: integration of Ukrainian business in Europe
Bogdanova Bureau is the own business project of Ukrainian architect Olga Bogdanova. The company was founded in 2018 as a result of the transformation of 2B.group — the joint brainchild of the creative tandem of Bohdanova and Slava Balbek, which at one time became one of the leaders of the Ukrainian architecture and interior design market. Already as a separate experienced player, Olga Bohdanova's office has firmly established its position, offering architecture and design services for private homes, as well as public spaces in the beauty industry and medicine sectors. Separate areas of the company's work have become subject design, as well as relatively new, opened in 2019, art direction of Ukrainian brands.
With the beginning of a full-scale invasion, Bogdanova Bureau directed the vector of its activity also to the European market, opening an office in Switzerland. Thus, in difficult times, the bureau was able to save the jobs of the Kyiv team and work for the development of the Ukrainian economy.
As part of the "Business Diaspora: Stories of Ukrainian Expansion" series, Olga Bogdanova shares with PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA readers her experience of managing a business in two countries, brand transformations during wartime, and adaptation to the peculiarities of the European architectural market.
PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA: Before the full-scale invasion, Bogdanova Bureau preferred the Ukrainian customer. Did the team aim to enter foreign markets?
Olga Bogdanova: Of course, we dreamed of entering international markets, but no global strategy was developed. Sometimes we received small orders from other countries, such as a boutique project in Vienna or an apartment in Dubai, but the focus was more on the Ukrainian market. Most often, "foreign" projects were recommendations of our regular customers.
PM: The expansion of Ukrainian companies is gaining momentum. Currently, in addition to the office in Kyiv, you also have an office in Geneva. What was the reason for starting a business abroad — the war or other factors? Why Switzerland?
ABOUT.: Currently, the main part of our team is located in Ukraine, but some of the bureau employees are really "scattered" around the world.
Personally, I have changed several countries of residence over the past year. In parallel with my active moves to the bureau, new projects appeared in Poland and France, as well as a large project in Switzerland. Of course, it is not a problem to make a project from Ukraine, but it is practically impossible to implement it qualitatively without being there. Just as it is impossible to work unofficially in Switzerland. In this connection, a decision was made to open a company in Geneva. Roughly speaking, life threw us here. The next office may appear where a new big project appears (laughs).
Unfortunately, our Kyiv office was hit by a rocket that flew into Shevchenko Park last October. The windows were broken. For ourselves, we immediately decided that we would restore our workspace and not wait for better times. So the war gave us two new conflicting feelings: the first is not in time, the second is to live today. It was not time to talk about personal happiness and ambitions, as if you should first achieve victory and then celebrate.
"The war gave us two new conflicting feelings: the first is not in time, the second is to live today"
I personally became more meticulous about myself and the team. I demand more, so to speak. Therefore, we consider our stay in Europe as a kind of stage of development, a departure from the comfort zone, as well as an opportunity to support the country's economy and people.
PM: How do you manage to combine the management of the company in two countries? What are the main differences between doing business in Ukraine and abroad?
ABOUT.: Bogdanova Bureau is a complete system that is not clearly divided into countries. Of course, there is always an attachment of the lead architects to the project and a certain area of responsibility, but when the project is complex, the whole team is involved in it.
Undoubtedly, Ukraine is our place of strength, everything is native here, and the most important thing is that our team is here. Market rules and a loyal taxation system are clear here. In Switzerland, for its part, there are many restrictions and a long delay with any administrative issues, which significantly slows down the work process. Among the difficulties we faced was that under their law the company is required to have a Swiss director in charge of the affairs.
The minimum wage in Switzerland is very high, it is difficult to pay, but at the same time, for example, I can afford to work about 20 hours a month. We will see later (laughs).
PM: How much has the partial relocation affected the brand or its idea?
ABOUT.: We work in the Sustainable Luxury segment, and this is a fairly sustainable direction. Our customers know what they need and why it costs a lot. Despite everything, we remain true to ourselves and our philosophy.
"We devote a lot of time to the client, so few people work in Europe. And this is definitely an advantage"
But now we feel even more the importance of customer-oriented service, it is, so to speak, an added value that not everyone understands at first. We devote a lot of time to the client, so few people work in Europe. And this is definitely an advantage.
PM: Tell us about the legislative and bureaucratic specifics of a new country for your business. Did they affect the company's internal processes?
ABOUT.: It was probably the most difficult thing to open an account, because now special attention is paid to Ukrainians and their businesses. This has both positive and negative aspects. Personally, as a business owner, I went through various inspections for about half a year, although some require several days. Here, no one is in a hurry, so you have to constantly remind yourself, otherwise this whole bureaucratic story can drag on for years.
Sometimes these rules border on the absurd. For example, in order to get a job at my company, I had to pass the approval of the canton. It is very funny and even a little sad, but they have the right to refuse if they believe that there are more qualified candidates for the position in the market. So it is generally not so easy for foreigners to get permits of any kind.
PM: Tell us about Bogdanova Bureau's self-presentation abroad.
ABOUT.: As I said, our new clients are usually referrals. And a good project completion is always the best PR for us. So, wait for a new interesting project of Bogdanova Bureau this autumn.
PM: Share what, in your opinion, are the peculiarities of the foreign market: the behavior of customers and their preferences.
ABOUT.: Foreign clients have one very positive trait: absolute trust. No one wastes time on whims and 10 options, everyone is guided by the proposal from the architects. But at the same time, everyone here is more meticulous about the budget, no one will spend excessively. For many, this is not the first and not the last project, so the investment in real estate is considered as an investment and should be thoroughly justified.
"Foreign clients have one very positive feature: absolute trust. No one wastes time on whims and 10 options, everyone is guided by the proposal from the architects"
PM: What was your first project after the full-scale invasion began? What is the current ratio of Ukrainian and foreign projects in the studio?
ABOUT.: Currently, the ratio of Ukrainian and foreign (European) projects in our office is approximately 60% to 40%. Ukrainian projects are mostly long-term, because quality and reliability are always a priority for the domestic client. But very often the customer has spontaneous ideas that can extend the project implementation period.
During this year, we completed 3 projects in Europe: Warsaw (Poland), Milan (Italy) and Giverny (France) and only one in Ukraine, which is the reconstruction of the Makariv dispensary. One, but, in our opinion, extremely important. The medical dispensary in the village of Makariv, near Buchi, was destroyed by a direct hit by a Russian missile at the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At the end of March 2022, only a mountain of debris remained on the site where the dispensary used to be located. The hospital served 16 patients from the surrounding villages, so it was extremely important to restore the building as soon as possible. The reconstruction of the Makarov dispensary is an important social project for us. We aimed not only to restore the functionality of the building, but also to leave a memory.
Vryz: "During this year, we completed 3 projects in Europe and only one in Ukraine — the reconstruction of the Makariv dispensary. One, but, in our opinion, extremely important"
All other Ukrainian projects are currently at the stage of slow implementation.
PM: Share Bogdanova Bureau's plans for the near future: what are they connected with?
ABOUT.: The main goal of 2022 was to preserve the team, and 2023 for us became a period of development of each member of the team, so to speak, gathering skills and strength before an important professional leap.
Personally, I am a person who quickly gets excited and joins all kinds of initiatives, so over the past year, together with the team, we organized a pop-up of Ukrainian artists in Geneva, shot a photo in Barcelona about Ukrainian girls, and now we are working on a sculpture about the heart of Ukraine... In fact, a lot what is prescribed, there is a desire, the main thing is that there is enough energy for everything. So there will definitely be more!