Where Are They Now? - This Is BURSA: Vasily Grogol & Eliott Chirin
From million dollar deals to doing the dishes – two alumni do what it takes to keep their business (and vision) alive through COVID
After heading to New York to start his hospitality career, class of 2016 alumnus, Vasily Grogol, took a call from his father and jumped on a plane to Kiev, Ukraine to open a boutique hotel. Back in 2019, Vasily spoke about BURSA in our Time of Their Lives podcast series, a year on, we caught up with him and his business partner Eliott Chirin, also a Glion alumni, to talk about the professional and personal impact of COVID-19.
When Vasily arrived in Kiev, his vision was to create more than rooms and a restaurant. BURSA was to be a universe, inspired by art and home to a range of creative spaces. In a city where hospitality concepts were unheard of, this avantgarde approach was well-received.
“It's been really good,” Vasily says, “We've been running at pretty high occupancies, averaging at 75 percent. We have developed new products within BURSA, now we have two bars, restaurants, a little cinema and the hotel.”
“At Bursatelier, our management and developing company, we’d signed our first project, which is redeveloping a big Soviet building in Kiev into a 133-bedroom hotel. It's pretty massive, roughly eight thousand square meters with a restaurant.”
‘…then suddenly, in two days, we had nothing’
Not long into their professional lives, the young entrepreneurs have had to adapt to one of the biggest crises faced by hospitality in the last 75 years.
“COVID did hit us very hard in terms of BURSA, everything was great and the economy was going up, then suddenly, in two days, we had nothing. We have been at five percent monthly occupancy, our restaurants and bars are closed, the cinema’s closed and it hit us right after the low season. We are on the verge of survival, but we're going to make it.”
“We had to say goodbye to one hundred staff,” Eliott says, “It was tough because we are close to our people. We are not like an international chain, we know their names, where they live, what they do, they're family. It’s hard to do, to think about business before people.”
‘Today, all our plans are weekly’
Vasily and Eliott have tried to pivot their proposition where possible to keep BURSA operating and relevant, but this has proven tricky in such uncertain times.
“We try to find opportunities to really adapt our product, and we have to do it on a daily basis,” Eliott says, “Today, all our plans are weekly plans. We cannot foresee more than a week ahead. All your salaries, cost, even operational standards have to be for the week. And then at the end of the week, you have to analyze what's happening.”
“Today, this is our reality,” Vasily adds, ”It's a one week reality changing every seven days. And the goal is to make it as good as possible because there is nothing to support us. You know, you still have to pay your rent. You still have to pay your utilities. If you keep staff, you still have to pay.”
Dealing with personal depression
While both alumni retain a positive outlook, Vasily is very open about the depression he felt after COVID impacted the business, and his life. He shared his advice for others who are really struggling with the uncertainty and anxiety of the current situation.
“I went through a personal little depression, thinking what am I doing now? I was running the business and now I’m doing dishwashing and check-ins and checkouts at the front desk. But then you think bigger, and you're like, OK, it's part of the situation. It's cool.”
“My first advice for anyone in a similar situation is do not read news.”
“Number two, watch some interesting people speaking about this. For example, read the book by Ray Dalio – Principals, and watch his videos about the economy and about how he's explaining the current financial crisis.”
“My third piece of advice is cut your personal costs and you will feel better. Become lightweight. If you have an expensive car, don't hesitate and sell it. You're used to eating caviar? Forget about this, get rid of everything which is taking money from you.”
“Do what it takes, if you're young and you lost your job as a waiter, become an Uber Eats rider for a few months. There is nothing to be ashamed of in riding a bicycle to deliver food right now. It’s work.”
‘…go back to where you started and get your hands dirty again’
Having founded a successful boutique hotel in a difficult local market and made it this far through a global pandemic, Eliott and Vasily had some invaluable advice for their fellow alumni at this unprecedented time.
“You have to go back to where you started and get your hands dirty again,” Vasily said.
“And if you don't, your people will not do it,” Eliott added. “You have to accept this reality. It is our job to accept it. Find the opportunities and openings that appear through this process:
- In your personal life, use this time to learn and to do things you wouldn't do before. This will help you to find this period of time a bit more exciting.
- From a professional perspective, be flexible and do what it takes, be a waiter, a front desk agent, whatever. Believe you can do it better and you will find it more challenging and more fulfilling and satisfying.
- And last but not least, it's going to be fine. OK, it’s tough. It's different. It's a complicated period, but we are part of the most peaceful generation of all time. Take time to reflect on this and focus on staying positive.”
“It's not a time for chilling,” Vasily says, “It’s time to look into our own eyes, to do what you never had time to do. To look at changing your work to actually do what you want, not just staying for another year in a job. It's a good thing when you lose everything, you feel lightweight. you can do whatever you always wanted to do.”
Thank you to Vasily and Eliott for taking the time to catch up with us, share their progress and offer invaluable advice for the alumni network at this unprecedented time.
Listen to the original podcast with Vasily and come back soon for more in our series of ‘Where Are They Now’ interviews.