“Great Ukrainian product should enter global markets.” How birb was launched in London

After the beginning of the full-scale war, the Kyiv rental market plummeted, and the team of bird, an iOS app for finding accommodation in the capital, was reassured that their European vector had been the right choice. The product has been renamed birb for the London market, its launch there symbolically timed to coincide with the Kyiv Day.

Arseniy Feshchenko, the founder and product designer at bird, has spoken to AIN.Capital about what is happening now with the Ukrainian capital’s real estate market, how bird is doing, and how its London analog was launched.

“We didn’t know what would happen to the rental market and when the usual housing rental would be back”

When the war started, I think like everyone else in Ukraine, we were in a state of uncertainty. At that time, our utmost priority was, of course, taking care of our families, our health, our safety, and helping Ukraine. That is why, in March, we concentrated on that not just at bird but also at LUN. It is impossible to work on creating a great product when a nearby building is being bombed. 

By the end of March, we realized that we wanted to switch back to what we could do best. In bird, what we can do best is the rental business, and we also know how to fly through difficult times: we were over this during the pandemic.

On February 22, two days before the war began, we gathered in the office to present our new plan of action, which was to focus on the European market while not neglecting the Kyiv market. The war began, but the plan did not change. On the contrary, we became even more convinced of its correctness. We realized that our great Ukrainian product should enter global markets, at least, to minimize risks.

So we decided that our goal number one was London and birb.

“The first thing we did in the Kyiv bird was turn off all notifications”

When people think about how to get on with their lives, how to fuel the car, and where to sleep tonight — they surely don’t need to know that bird has a new apartment available. This is no longer relevant. It distracts you.

We also added the direction for the Russian ship to go onto the bird map. This is maybe an emotional feature, but it illustrates our position. If you zoom out to a very small scale in the app, you can see both the inscription and the Ukrainian territory. I think it is important to indicate your position, and for many people it is key to know that the products they use are Ukrainian and pro-Ukrainian.

Image credits: bird

We added two important functions, which we put a lot of faith into. One is to help Ukraine’s Armed Forces — donate to our army directly from the app. I believe that the more opportunities like this our citizens have, the better, because every hryvnia brings us closer to victory. Since the beginning of the war, the donation button has been used by 5,000 people. We still have a modified button like that in the app.

We introduced a button for seeking refuge. So, people who moved to Kyiv from other places could use this button to access a portal with information on temporary housing. As many as 29,000 users have used this option. As of now, when the issue of temporary shelters is not as pressing, we have hidden the button to focus on long-term rentals.

We put bird select on halt and hid all the apartments there. This is a section where we had marketed special apartments with video room tours in the middle+ segment. Those apartments were quite expensive. After the war began, this section became largely irrelevant because the demand for rental housing took a steep dive. So, we turned it off. But now that the market is recovering, we plan to relaunch this section.

“In May, the rental market in the capital recovered by half”

After the beginning of the war, the demand fell dramatically. The number of ads themselves also dropped. From 50,000 to 10,000, that is, tenfold. How could you see it in our app? Houses with available apartments are highlighted on the bird app, and the map was almost empty at the beginning of the war.

But we noticed that in a few months, when the mist of uncertainty cleared away, people people started coming back to Kyiv, although Klitschko had asked them not to. We started notice that by the number of people looking for an apartment. And that was a very good sign for us — the market was gradually recovering.

On May 10, we marked an important figure — the market has recovered by half. That is, 50% of the people who were looking for an apartment before the war are looking now. At the same time, the median price dropped by almost 40%. The number of listings has also started growing substantially, and now there are 70,000 of them. Right now, demand for rent has resumed by 85%, so we plan to restore the bird select section.

“The Kyiv app was launched in London on the Kyiv Day”

Since then, the London app has been downloaded by over 1,000 users, and it is used by about 100 people a day. These figures are important for us because we have a new product ‘hatched,’ and for a young product, being used is crucial. Based on feedback from the first users, we will draw conclusions on how to improve the app.

Naturally, bird has greater results in Kyiv: 10,000 a day. So, our goal is to make sure that the London app is downloaded by 10,000 people in June.

At the same time, there are already 50,000 apartments and 70,000 listings on birb. Now we are bringing in ads from nine major real estate portals, but not yet from agencies. In the future, we will expand this list of ad resources.

London birb

“We’re going to monetize birb in a very clear way”

The first step is to make a great product that people love — enjoy using it to look for accommodation and recommend it to their friends. That is what we did in Kyiv — we’ve created a good product used by many people in Kyiv. Only after that we added the option of monetizing, the bird select section. We consider it as one of the monetization options in London.

But there are interesting local market features in London that can be used for monetization too. For example, there are a lot of Built-to-Rent buildings. These buildings are only for rent; they don’t have apartments for sale. The first years after construction, they’re only supposed to be rented by law. So we would like to adapt some features on our app specifically for Built-to-Rent buildings. It seems like it could be a great adaptation of the bird select feature.

“Our team is used to planning not just how to conquer the world, but to make thoughtful realistic plans”

We don’t plan longer than half the time of the product’s existence. bird is three years old, and it would be weird to plan ten years in advance. That’s why we do it for a year and a half. In the coming months, it will be an active development of the London product and restoration of the bird select section in Kyiv.