It's safe to say that the team at Flatfy Group had other things to worry about in February this year other than the international expansion of their mobile app. The team at one of Ukraine's leading real estate portal companies are mainly based in Kyiv which during the development of the 'Birb' London rentals application was under siege from Russian troops.
Birb is the 'map first' iOS app which recently launched for the London rentals market. The idea behind its development is not only to put Flatfy Group and Ukrainian development and PropTech on the map but also to give renters in London a better way to search for a place to live.
The company, which is also the operator of the Lun.ua portal, is out to replicate the success of its similarly named 'Bird' app which serves the Kyiv rentals market and boasts 200,000 downloads as well as 17,000 likes and a rating of 4.9 in the app store.
As Flatfy Group's Creative Lead Vitalii Kapustian told us though, the team's motivation to make a success of the app overseas in one of the most competitive markets in the world was actually being fuelled by what was happening around them...
OMP: I understand you're based close to Kyiv and I've got to begin by asking you how have the last few months been for the team?
Vitalii Kapustian: We do have an office in Kyiv and in the last few months... it was rough. A lot of pain, a lot of deaths a lot of crushed lives. We try to live and move on. We try to recreate our business and our lives and try to push our economy.
OMP: So talking about the economy, you guys have taken your mobile application from Kyiv, and you set it up In London. Tell me about that. Why London?
VK: Three years ago, we started the Birb app in Kyiv only for iOS. As a company, we have several brands for Ukraine, for other countries, for buying new apartments and secondary market apartments or renting apartments. Birb was like our first step in the rentals market and we were pretty successful in Kyiv with it.
It became the standard for rentals in the city and in 2021 our product team decided that we needed to expand. We needed to do something more and when you're thinking about tough markets, London is the first city that pops up. So if we can be successful in London it's going to be a big star on our building.
We started to develop this app in 2021 but in 2022, as you know, Russian troops came across the border and our plans changed. We had only two options. Either we close this direction or we do it really fast in like two months and bring all the Ukrainian expertise into it.
OMP: What makes Birb special? What differentiates it from Rightmove and Zoopla's apps?
VK: First of all, it's a map-based application. So if you use Rightmove or Zoopla you will see the listings first and then get the option to view them on the map. With our application you start with the map - the map is king!
We believe that people are looking for apartments based on where they are on a map, so like where you can find the perfect spot in terms of transportation, school, the distance to your office...
OMP: Okay, and where do you guys get the listings from? Is there a syndication agreement or do you have agreements with individual agents?
VK: It's a tricky question. I don't know if I'll have a proper opportunity to answer it. Right now we take them from open sources, and we are trying to negotiate with the big portals.
If you used Birb already you saw that when you click on a listing, there is a click out from the app [to the original website hosting the listing]. So we're trying not to cross the lines with other agencies or portals. We just collect all data from them and put it on a very interactive map.
OMP: So a lot of renter applications nowadays are trying to go more transactional. They're trying to eventually have a button that says 'rent this apartment' and go direct. Is that something you guys are thinking about or not yet?
VK: To be honest, in London it's like we need to learn how to walk before we run. In Kyiv, we only did this after three years. Our first stage in London is to show that we are a good player in the market and show people that we are capable of being their best opportunity to find an apartment. Only after that, when we have a lot of subscribers and users, will we be able to add this button and make this process way easier.
OMP: Any more plans to expand to other cities or are you just concentrating for now on making it a success in London?
VK: It's a good question but I'm just a marketing guy. But yeah, I need to show the signs for people in our product teams that we need to go further.
We have plans for other cities and actually, when we first put the product out there we had a lot of feedback from Madrid, from Berlin, from Hamburg. Like guys, you need to go to these cities. So yeah, we were looking for other cities but right now we want to move step by step.
OMP: Has there been any kind of extra motivation for the team knowing that developing this application is helping an economy that really needs it at the moment and putting Ukrainian developers and applications out there into the world?
VK: I really appreciate this question. It's very important for us and very hard to explain to people why you need not only armour or donations but also we need to bring money to our economy through business.
I want to be honest with you and with your subscribers. We don't have much money for marketing in London so we tried to speak with different agencies and other companies who all ask us 'what do you need? Homes? Shelter? A donation?'. What we need is promotion in the UK market, but they say this is too hard. Why is it so hard?!
It's very a straight line. You help a Ukrainian business and in exchange, you have a good product - so we aren't just asking for money!
If you can help promote the Birb app in London or know anyone who can, reach out to Vitalii on Linkedin.