Meet Georgi, Boyan, Borislav, Atanas and Teodor. They are the team Performista, whose project Udoma won second place in this year’s edition of HackAUBG. Their innovative solution to optimize households’ energy costs and bills impressed the jury and is paving a way for a newer, more modern and environmentally friendly life.
Congratulations on your second place! How do you feel about HackAUBG and your success there?
Georgi Georgiev: We’re really thankful to the organizers, AUBG and everyone, who helped this event to become reality. The hackathon is a really great opportunity for people to connect and to execute an idea. It was really great that we received feedback which showed us our weak and strong points. Udoma is actually something that we’re doing on the side and it’s not our primal engagement, but we really believe that it will be something that will help us develop as professionals in our already established roles.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what everyone’s job on the team is?
Georgi: I’m primarily doing business development – it’s my everyday occupation. But as for this set up and environment, I’m the strategist behind Udoma, so my main task was and still is to facilitate project development, sell strategy, overall business development of the solution, the placement and everything related to the value proposition of the product. I’m really happy to be working in a team with these very passionate and aspiring developers.
Boyan Balev: I’m a Node.js junior developer and I was working on the backend idea with my friend Borislav Tsvetanov. We implemented an interesting algorithm based on big data and we tried to make calculations about our home utilities and how we can improve any expense at your home in a smart way.
Borislav Tsvetanov: I’m a backend developer in this team. I’m doing the code behind, the calculations, which was kind of tricky, because I’m a Python developer, but we were sticking with Node.js.
Atanas Nikolov: I’m working for an american hosting company and I was helping with the code, the presentation and the business itself.
Teodor Dimitrov: I graduated from AUBG a long time ago and I began working as a software developer 11 months ago, so I changed my career after my first mid-life crisis. This was my first hackathon ever and it was a pretty cool experience. Mostly I worked with Node.js and React and I was focused on the front-end of the project. It was all a really great experience and I’m lucky for having worked with these guys. I think we clicked very well, so it was all pretty cool.
And how do you know each other? You all have different backgrounds.
Teodor: Senator, may I have permission to speak first? I heard that you can join the hackathon without a team and I asked the organizers if they can find me one. They said that there are three other guys without a team. I was really expecting first or second degree students from AUBG, and when I joined the group chat I could not believe that I’m with these guys, because I knew them. Me and Borislav did some musicals together, when I was a student. I knew Georgi from the Student Government and with the others we clicked really well and it was pretty fun.
Boyan: I was invited by Borislav and we actually knew each other way way back. And I have met the Senator once or twice, but we all really match each other.
Atanas: I decided to participate in the hackathon in order to see what can happen. I was looking for a team and these guys decided that I can come up with an idea with them.
So, Georgi, you are the Senator, right? As I understand…
Georgi: Yeah, it’s actually an interesting story. You know how nicknames are given to you from people. So, when I was a student in AUBG, it was the first semester when I joined the Student Government of the university. The first level of the student government is the senate. Eventually, everybody started referring to me as “the Senator”. Like – “what’s up Senator” and all these things. I was OK with that, but one day i’m home and my grandmother called me and said “Hey, my dear Senator, how are you doing?”. I said to myself – OK, perhaps this is my name now.
Anyway, I’m really glad that I took part in the hackathon. The last time I took part in this kind of event was three years ago and I wanted to see how I have developed professionally.
Tell us about Udoma. What is it and how does it work?
Georgi: Udoma is a project and a product eventually, which aims to improve energy efficiency. We started with a problem in mind, since we had only 2 or 3 hours of brainstorming and we really wanted to drill down to realistic ideas. We decided to work on ideas, that don’t need no government or state support, we didn’t want to have dependencies on hardware, since these days delivery is really hard from all parts of the world. We also wanted to create a solution, which is scalable. Combining these three points of view leads to the problem of energy usage. If i have to refer to a statistic from British sources – 60% of the energy which we use comes from fuel or oil. These are all resources that have a big footprint on the environment, especially on air pollution. To really think about finding a way to combat these problems, we really needed to find a monetary incentive for people to move into the greener economy. And last, but not least, would be turning Udoma into a solution which also helps people fight the problem with energy. Around 30% of people in countries like Bulgaria have problems buying energy for heating. So we envisioned Udoma to be a responsive platform and solution that can work on both mobile and web and people would be able to see if their electricity bills match the average for the area. Based on big data, estimations and publicly available sources, people can see if they are paying more than they should. We will also provide strategies for them to optimise their bills. I was really shocked to see that if you change an old refrigerator or an old AC, which are the appliances that usually consume the most in a household, to new ones – the consumption goes down 4 to 5 times. And these are appliances that we don’t change every 5 year. We change them usually every 15 years. If you add up this time with the consumption, you end up saving thousands of units of currency. Based on our estimations, if 1000 households use Udoma, in a cost optimizing way, between 1 and 1.5 million euro can be saved.
So you found out about the theme of the hackathon on friday night and you had 2 days to complete your project…
Georgi: It was quite challenging. Udoma was not the first thing that came to our mind, but it was the first that actually clicked with everybody. I really wanted everybody to feel comfortable with their personal contribution. Because I have been part of three similar events and often some members of the team are with more motivation than the rest and they end up not feeling comfortable. The organizers were also really motivated and they didn’t want any team to drop out of the contest. So I’m really glad that we had a project on the final day of the hackathon.
How did you build Udoma from a technical point of view?
Borislav: Me and Boyan separated our tasks, because we knew that we’re both going to work on the back-end. I saw that there’s a lot of data that needed to be analysed. When we managed to calculate all the scenarios, then we started helping each other with the code and that’s how we managed to do it.
Boyan: When the hackathon started, we thought that everybody’s going to jump on AI ideas, but we knew that we cannot provide a proficient way to train the data, find the data, clean the data and make something that doesn’t have the ready-to-go use case. Everybody was doing some parking projects or maybe Google Maps ideas, involving neural nets. So we decided to ditch all the AI hype and stay 2, 3 hours and brainstorm in order to decide what will be a simple codebase, which can provide an open-source idea or better value of data. So we got the official data on consumption for our country and we made a pretty simple algorithm, based on the user input and how it compares to the average usage. That was the back-end. Teodor was trying to validate the data through the user interface, but we got some problems there.
Teodor: The reason was because Teo was dealing with the front-end. I think the guys in the back-end did a pretty fantastic job, because what really won the judges was that our back-end service and technology actually had some meaning behind it. It wasn’t just a bunch of random numbers out of thin air. The assumptions we were making were actually based on data and information that is available to us. I think we managed to aggregate it and use it very effectively, despite this pretty short amount of time. So, kudos to everybody! I think I was the only one posting funny memes.
Borislav: No, I can not agree, because actually Teo was the guy who made the structure behind the project, from where we started. He created the whole cage for the project and after that we managed to do it with Boyan. We knew what kind of things we needed. That was his part. The front-end was kind of an idea that we had, to have a better view, but we just couldn’t make it on time.
Boyan: Actually the mining of the data and finding the great resources took most of the time. Data was a really big part of the things.
Atanas, what were your challenges?
Atanas: On the first evening we were thinking about a platform for eco fuels trading. But with the evening ahead, we decided that we actually need something a bit different. This is how Udoma was born. I was helping with the front-end, but if i have to be honest, the two Bobby’s – Boyan and Borislav helped the most and Georgi was the guy who was mostly involved with the business development. It was a really interesting hackathon and it’s nice that we created something like this in 2 days.
Sounds like your project fits right on what some of the jury members said, that every product must have value to society and to be of help to the people.
Georgi: I wanted the environment to be as professional as possible. We had options to either choose 8 hour long sprints or a bit more 6 hour long ones. We decided that everybody can have a couple of hours of “me” time, but we worked in that time frame. We also committed that it’s optional if you want to work overtime, while the others are sleeping. So it was a really user friendly experience and we acted according to our means. Our velocity was actually very good and in terms of communication, it was also really nice.
What are your plans for Udoma’s future? Are you going to keep the team and the work?
Georgi: It’s a side thing for us and we have side occupations. I wouldn’t make a commitment that this is going to be the first bulgarian unicorn, but it’s a project that really helps us to boost our original competencies and expertise. There is a lot to learn from this project that can be implemented in our day jobs. Everytime when I learn something more about data is really impactful. Also we learned a lot about collaboration and working with people you have never worked before. I know Boyan, Borislav and Teodor from before, but we never really completed a project together. I didn’t know their leadership styles, how they execute and etc. But I’m really happy that Atanas also stepped in and we really matched. I would really dig deeper into prototyping and business development, but we need to start entering an area which is usually governmentally dominated. That means that we’ll have to cross with EU policies, laws, region specific laws and these things will take time. But perhaps we’ll be able to test with a targeted group some of the basic functionalities.
Udoma is an app that you can download on your phone. In that matter, do you think that you’ll be able to convince more people to save more money?
Georgi: The ecological side of green energy is usually a problem that people start to think of when most of the other problems are solved. We see the consciousness about green policy rising more and more in western societies. We see the Paris agreement and previous agreements. Hopefully there is a growing trend in Bulgaria also, so perhaps Sofia will be our proof of concept. And in that matter, finishing second on the hackathon, there were a lot of people that volunteered to be our testable users for a proof of concept.
There are a lot of companies in Bulgaria where we’re known for a great IT industry. But Bulgaria is kind of slow in it’s digital development. So, do you think that there’s a ground here for great greentech ideas that may become popular around people and why not Europe?
Teodor: I think that Bulgaria is starting to produce really good product software companies, because for me the real added value and prosperity comes not from creating outsourcing companies that don’t really have a competitive advantage other than wage arbitrage and questionable expertise, but actually create and produce product companies that can generate a lot of profit. We’ve seen it with very big acquisitions and I think we’re getting to the forefront of actually creating a more entrepreneurial approach in the IT sector as a whole. When I got into it i was a little bit disappointed, because i was expecting the people in the IT sector to be super entrepreneurial and super dedicated, generating a lot of ideas. And this turned not to be the case and for me the prosperity in the bulgarian economy and especially when it comes to digitalization will not be through the creation of another big outsourcing company, but from creating smaller product-oriented companies. We’re currently seeing that since the most popular investment funds like Eleven Ventures, LaunchHub and others, are changing their strategies from investing in very early ideas-stage startups into more mature businesses that already have revenue and pretty good products. But we saw last year some investment funds that are looking for early stage companies, which is really cool. The biggest issue in creating a company in Bulgaria is the access to capital. A lot of the funds have issues with a lot of their companies going under that are not having good results, so that funds are changing their strategies to be less risky. That shut the door to some new companies in the beginning, but I think that’s changing and honestly here in Bulgaria you can create pretty good products because we have a lot of skilled people, capital is still cheap and I think you can do something really cool. When it comes specifically to greentech – if your startup is focused more on research development and creating some type of hardware that requires a specific kind of infrastructure that is non existent in Bulgaria, but exists in universities in the USA, maybe it might not be the best to do. But startups like Udoma – you can build it and scale it from Bulgaria. I’m pretty confident.
And what else made a good impression on you from the other HackAUBG projects? The whole theme – Smart City – is really interesting.
Georgi: I was really amazed by the guys who won with their project GeoShare. I’m really happy that such bright individuals take part in such types of events, because usually the best devs are not extroverted and prefer to work on the side. But these guys really showed us that no matter that you’re a teenager, you can be impactful in what you do. They also sounded very convincing in what they’re doing.
Boyan: I’m about to tell you that they won for a reason. They were the greatest team of all and I really liked the idea of sharing your location and including an end to end encryption, so nobody knows who is sharing their location, nobody knows who this person is, but they actually know where this person is, so they can manage traffic lights and stuff that may optimize the whole movement in an area or a city.
It’s nice that in HackAUBG the teams are bigger and they have specific members that are involved only in the business development. Not every hackathon is like that.
Atanas: Actually the presentation should be the most important thing from my experience. I’ve been to almost 4 hackathons until now and one accelerator. The presentation is maybe 80% of the thing and of course the demo. Presentations with demos are really highly rated.