In the second piece of our interview series with Ahmad Abbas from IMI (see part one here), Safak Nervo, OptylonKrea’s Chief Commercial Officer, talks about the company’s history, where it is headed, and what makes OptylonKrea a unique developer in a world full of ordinary ones.
Ahmad: Hi Safak, and it is a pleasure to be able to have an informal talk about OptylonKrea. I have to say, when I was first introduced to OptylonKrea I was amazed at the sheer magnitude of its operations and I am excited to see what you and the team are going to do next.
But before we get into that, I would love it if you could give the readers a bit of insight into OptylonKrea’s past, how it came to be, and how it grew so quickly in a highly competitive market.
Safak: Hey Ahmad. Let me begin by saying that I always find it fun to talk about the stuff that is normally taken for granted, especially in this case as OptylonKrea does have a very interesting story.
It all started with Charles Wanecq and William Tonnard, who are now our CEO and President & COO, respectively. Charles and William started out as innovative investment bankers, both in derivatives in major markets such as New York and Hong Kong.
In 2014, Charles moved to Portugal and quickly saw that the real estate market was full of opportunity, especially in the short-term rental segment, a subject he and William had already mastered at a personal level. So, in that instance, their interest in Portugal was born with LovelyStay, and they never looked back.
While managing third-party apartments while developing their in-house unique technology, Charles and William started investing their own means into buildings and projects because of the high affordability of quality real estate in Portugal, founding the company Optylon in the process, and soon after they would meet Hakan Kodal, the founder of Krea, one of the leading Turkish developers who was looking to diversify his asset base by investing in the EU. Charles, William, and Hakan quickly realized that together, they could build something unique, and OptylonKrea was born.
Hakan completed the trifecta that is OptylonKrea’s top management, and together they have been shaping the real estate market specifically for investment immigration products in Portugal through outstanding projects.
But to answer your question about the rapid growth, OptylonKrea came into Portugal and quickly filled a gap in innovative investment immigration products such as VC Funds for the Golden Visa and one-stop-shop real estate products with an integrated short-term rental management program.
However, after Hakan, who was at one point a partner of Merrill Lynch and has a high focus on real estate investment, joined the partnership, OptylonKrea decided to develop products for the international community that we call progressive nomads. Investment products such as golden visa-eligible venture capital funds, as well as lifestyle residences, gather progressive nomads and locals alike.
The perfect timing of OptylonKrea’s creation, along with the combined expertise of the three men at the helm, allowed the company to be flexible, take measured risks, and stay ahead of the curve in one of the world’s most interesting markets. This is why it grew so big so fast, and we are now more than 100 talented professionals working for the Group.
Ahmad: So before OptylonKrea there was Lovely Stay dealing in short-term rentals?
Safak: LovelyStay is now an important business line with a strong focus on technological innovation within the short-term rental sector. We currently manage more than 750 apartments across Portugal and will most likely be the biggest player in the country by summer 2023.
William and Charles started out by addressing the need for high-quality short-term rentals for tourists, digital nomads, and more. They started by hiring data scientists to gather market data from different platforms to understand the demand from tourists and the price impact of each apartment’s features (Terrace/View/Lift etc.). Then they even developed their own innovative Property Management Software (PMS) and Channel Manager. The combined technology allows LovelyStay to manage its portfolio more efficiently, and significantly outperform the market in terms of revenue generated, and this volume of data allows them to keep an eye on development opportunities and to identify wise investments.
A while after, we decided to combine the company’s expertise in management and development. OptylonKrea launched its first branded serviced apartment project named Prima Collection to set higher standards in the short-term rental industry. This quickly became a cornerstone of our company, repositioning this brand today as Ando Living, not only a short-term rental brand, but a complete lifestyle serviced residence from short to extended stay and local living.
Ahmad: Yes, in my last interview with Jose he did mention Ando Living, and I do want to get to that, but before we do, I want to focus on something you said, which is that they [William and Charles] created software to use internally. I keep seeing a recurring theme when I talk to people at OptylonKrea, which is the importance of data and analytics. It seems from what you are telling me that this isn’t just a new trend at the company.
Safak: We love data. We love numbers. At OptylonKrea we consider ourselves to be the most data-driven investment and asset management firm in the region, and we base most of what we do on comprehensive analytics. I say most of what we do because we also place high importance on the humane part of our business. When dealing with investors we offer them solutions based on data but take their input in terms of personal preferences and needs. Adding empathy to data-driven practices is what really sets us apart from the rest.
Whether you are talking about new projects, changes in current ones, or how we approach challenges, we always rely on numbers, they don’t lie, and our expertise means we can utilize them to maximize the benefit for OptylonKrea and our investors.
We regularly speak to our partners and take their feedback. At any given point, we are in touch with 5,000 people from stakeholders, partners, clients, investors, and more. We take all the feedback we can get, such as client preferences and objectives, and quantify it to enable us to set metrics for current and future projects.
When talking to such a large amount of people, numbers and data become the common denominator, a language everyone can understand. That is why when we talk to our investors, we share any relevant data with them, including our strategies, risk margins, and more.
Our reliance on robust analytics is a major reason we are where we are today, and why no company in the region is able to keep up with us.
Ahmad: And did the numbers shift you from short-term rental management toward becoming a full-fledged developer and then onto a fund advisor? Tell us a bit about the evolution of OptylonKrea and how you got to where you are today.
Safak: Well the evolution from working on short-term rentals to creating projects ourselves was just the natural progression of OptylonKrea. Once we started investing more, we began creating more projects that fit our visions and objectives, and as I am sure Jose told you, OptylonKrea is now changing the landscape of entire communities through its projects.
We quickly got into project development but provided Portugal’s housing market with a different type of product. We create massive projects that include both residential and commercial real estate. This enables us to create harmonized hubs for the residents while also providing our investors with a wide array of options to choose from.
Then came the time to venture into mutual investment funds. We decided to do this in 2018. In those days we pioneered fund investment advisory under the golden visa, and when the pandemic hit, our flexible setup allowed us to create a framework and start working on it while other people were still figuring out how to work at home. And since fund investments are much less sentimental than real estate, we saw a lot of investments during the pandemic due to high travel restrictions. However, we still see the demand growing today because people now realize that our framework for fund investments is superior to anything else on the market.
Getting into funds advisory was one of the best decisions we made, as it allowed us to create even greater projects while simultaneously providing our investors with an enhanced investment portfolio. Investors could now choose their preferred level of risk, ROI, and project type while also being able to structure their investments in a customized manner that suits them best.
We created a whole new investment environment for investors, and even though some people laughed at us for entering the fund arena before the pandemic, it paid off immensely during the pandemic, for both our investors and ourselves, and we are now the leading Fund advisor for Venture Capital Fund investments for golden visa applicants.
Ahmad: Speaking of investment portfolios, I want to circle back to Ando Living. So, you’ve kept the short-term rental management business of OptylonKrea alive and well under Ando Living, but I understand you are taking it a step further. Could you shed some light on that?
Safak: Of course. Well, we are extremely proud of Ando Living, which I can describe as our branded residencies management brand. So, by harmonizing our visions and operations, we create magnificent residencies with top-tier brands, which are then handed over to Ando Living for short-term rental management. To create this innovative brand, we surrounded ourselves with the best; the upcoming branding agency Work of Substance from Hong Kong, the International award-winning interior designer Avroko, and the leading hospitality consultant Servotel.
But Ando Living isn’t your average short-term rental management company. It is a lifestyle within itself. It is a cross between a top-tier hotel chain, Soho House or Hoxton, and an exclusive short-term rental management service. Ando Living is about creating an entire lifestyle for the investor, not just helping them rent out their property for income, which, of course, is still part of the entire process.
So, by combining our work in real estate development, our fund partnerships, and Ando Living, we have enclosed the entire value chain, allowing us to provide something unique and profitable for our investors. When I talk to investors about Ando Living, I can feel the excitement in their voices as they see it as something tailor-made for them, which, by design and in concept, it is.
Ando Living is currently live in Portugal and Turkey, but we are still looking to expand our brand into Europe.
Ahmad: What countries are on that list?
Safak: We are targeting Greece, Spain, and Dubai.
Ahmad: And do you think you will continue to use the main strategies going forward?
Safak: What I love about OptylonKrea is that we have maintained a “start-up mindset” since we started. We still have that, and it allows us to keep innovating and finding better ways to do what we do. This, well, ethos, is what makes us unique. We are not content with being the best in the market, because in reality, we are always competing with ourselves to be better.
So, I don’t know if what we do right now is exactly what we will do in Greece or Spain, because we may have created something new by then. But our strategies have served our investors and us well, and what I can tell you is that we will continue to set the standard for excellence in each country we venture into.
Ahmad: I don’t doubt that for a second. It has been a pleasure Safak, as it always is, and I look forward to talking to you again about your next fund that you are advising very on very soon.
For any readers who want to know more about OptylonKrea’s story and their services, you can do so by contacting them directly through their website.