The Agenda / Global
Highlights from the Las Vegas electronics fair. Plus: Giselle Makarachvili, CEO of Hmlet.
technology ––– usa
Visions of the future
Mammoth electronics trade show ces takes over Las Vegas every January. This year’s edition was the first fully in-person event since 2019 and venues across the city were carpeted by endless acres of booths and pop-ups featuring demonstrations of health tech, cars and, of course, TVs. Here’s the pick of monocle’s favourites from the event – and some amusing outliers.
The Panasonic mz2000 oled TV was the best new TV that monocle saw. oled screens look fantastic, with clear contrast and vivid colours but they struggle in bright rooms. Panasonic has overcome this by boosting the brightness by 50 per cent using clever thermal manipulation to avoid overheating.
bmw had the most striking automotive innovation. The i Vision Dee is a colour-changing car that uses E Ink, similar to an e-reader, to allow drivers to change the colour of their car. With 32 colours and multiple patterns available, it might prove handy for a superhero driver in evading capture – but it’s fun for the rest of us too.
French smart-health company Withings announced the U-Scan, a pebble that sits in the toilet bowl and reads biomarkers, including pH, vitamin C and ketone levels. You can access the results via a smartphone app, so you don’t need to get your hands wet, thank goodness.
Ember’s Travel Mug 2, can keep your drink at a precise temperature for hours. The new version includes Apple’s Find My system so that, should you lose it, you will be able to see its location on your iPhone. And it makes a sound to help you find it – handy if you’re yet to have your morning caffeine kick.
Serial roast-burners might welcome the Samsung Bespoke AI Oven. With its smart software and internal camera, this cooker can detect what’s being heated and suggest timings and temperatures to match. It will also warn you before your dinner party is completely ruined. There’s no judgement attached either, which means no messages complaining, “Salmon en croute again? Couldn’t you branch out a little?”
The Glüxkind AI Stroller does for prams what pedal-assist bikes do for cycling. You still need to push but the built-in motor chimes in to help with any uphill struggles (with the buggy not, sadly, the baby). It features an automatic rocking system to help lull any passengers to sleep.
If your significant other complains that you snore (though, of course, you don’t – how dare they?), then the 10Minds anti-snore Motion Pillow might just help your partner to sleep easy. It features built-in airbags, an acoustic sensor for monitoring decibel levels and the ability to measure air pressure, enabling it to gently move your head while you slumber so that any snoring is quickly curtailed.
property ––– asia
Hmlet is Asia’s biggest co-living property company. It operates homes in Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo, which are among Asia’s most expensive rental markets. Last year it merged with Habyt, creating the global sector’s largest player.
What are the benefits of operating in big East Asian cities?
Our business model focuses on gateway cities where rising home prices and income stagnation make rental the most viable option. The tight housing supply gives landlords a lot of negotiating power without having to prioritise the consumer experience. That’s why there’s a fit for a flexible living solution like Hmlet. Our ability to redesign older assets gives us an advantage: Hmlet Cantonment [a Singapore furnished apartment building] in its previous life was a school and then a commercial office.
Hmlet’s first hotel, Owen House, will open in Singapore later this year. Why a hotel ?
Moving into hotels was a natural progression from residential buildings and serviced apartments. A hotel grants us more flexibility; we can now provide shorter stays. As borders reopen, we’re seeking to expand into new markets in Asia.
Since our merger with Habyt, we’ve continued growing and have new properties launching globally in 2023.
entrepreneurs ––– albania
Bright young things
Despite the lurid headlines suggesting that Albania is emptying faster than a leaky bucket, the country’s capital, Tirana, is a vibrant riot of construction, cafés and commercial enterprise, reflecting a pre-pandemic annual growth rate of 4.2 per cent. Tourism and technology are leading the way as Albania’s economy makes a significant shift. And it’s a transition that’s providing fertile ground for entrepreneurs.
As a demonstration of intent, the government of prime minister Edi Rama includes a dedicated minister for entrepreneurship, Edona Bilali. At 33, the former business consultant is merely the second-youngest member of the cabinet. She tells monocle that small and medium enterprises comprise 98 per cent of Albania’s companies – and that measures including dedicated legislation for start-ups, along with funding, should help them thrive. “It’s an investment in creative thinking for young people,” she says. “The sooner we do it, the more likely it is that young people will stay here.”
Start-up incubators, co-working spaces and mentors all help new enterprises to get off the ground and existing businesses to blossom. As monocle’s selection shows, there is no shortage of talent.
1. Anton Prenga
Mrizi i Zanave
With a company name meaning “the shadow of the fairies”, it is little surprise that Anton Prenga works his own magic with the fruit, milk, meat and vegetables that his firm produces in Fishte, 90 minutes’ drive from Tirana. Mrizi i Zanave, which Prenga runs with his brother, Altin, employs about 100 people full-time, making characterful cheese and wine, home-smoked charcuterie, bread, stews and slow-cooked roasts – and serving them in its restaurant. While international acclaim has followed, the focus remains local. Prenga says that his firm sources produce from 400 local families – and urges others to find success using its model: “Do business by valuing your territory and the people around it.”
“Legislation and funding for start-ups is an investment in creative thinking for young people. The sooner we do it, the more likely it is that young people will stay here”
2. Aneida Bajraktai
If Anieda Bajraktai has her way, Tirana will become the financial services capital of southeast Europe. “Our young, educated population speak English, we’re in a good time zone and have good rates.” Her company, Balkans Capital, currently employs 13 people and plans to expand. Clients for its accountancy and associated services are mostly US-based and Bajraktai believes that the dwindling appeal of accountancy as a career there will only benefit Balkans Capital. She also offers inspiration, advice and contacts for young entrepreneurs through Startup Grind Tirana. “You need to look around the community, see the needs and fulfil them,” she says.
3. Elton Caushi
With tourism becoming big business, Elton Caushi wants to steer it in the right direction. Quality, not quantity, is the unofficial motto of his business, Albanian Trip. It offers bespoke travel arrangements, as well as a range of speciality experiences, from an “earth-shattering” (and presumably waistline-challenging) slow-food tour to a week-long trek for lepidopterists who are keen to appreciate Balkan butterflies. The business has picked up international awards since Caushi co-founded it 17 years ago but he still considers it “a constant learning process”. Though he says that Albania is a “new land of opportunity”, he stresses the importance of building on “stable ground and knowing the pillars that hold up your business really well”.
4. Alban Nimani
Tulla Culture Centre and Record Shop
Asked to describe himself, Alban Nimani chuckles. “An impresario!” he says. His career has certainly been entertaining, as singer for the band Asgjë sikur Dielli, founder of Pristina University’s multimedia department and creator of performance art works. Now he nurtures Albania’s arts professionals at Tulla Culture Centre – offering gallery, work and performance spaces, plus education programmes. Tulla hosted Albania’s highly praised Academy Award submission, A Cup of Coffee and New Shoes On, during its months of production. The centre’s bar and record shop – the first in Albania, according to Nimani – pay the bills. But keeping staff is a challenge. “We trained someone for a year and she just left to go abroad,” he says.
5. Arbi Bamllari
Producing Albania’s first commercial drone is just one of Arbi Bamllari’s achievements. He founded Skaitech in 2020 to provide drone-related services, from mapping to inspection, to clients in sectors ranging from infrastructure and agriculture to defence and energy. His seven-strong team also offers 3D scanning and printing. The 28-year-old studied mathematics at University College London before returning to Tirana to “create something back home”. Bamllari that says there is no shortage of “brilliant minds” in Albania but adds that they need incentives to “find themselves” in their home country. His advice to them: “Start small, be the best at it, then grow.”
6. Sonila Abdalli
Destil Creative Hub
Like many Albanian entrepreneurs, Sonila Abdalli wears more than one hat. An architect, businesswoman and catalyst for creative start-ups, she is now running the second incarnation of Destil Creative Hub in the centre of Tirana. Unsurprisingly, given the founder’s pedigree, the Hub’s café, gallery and working spaces pull off being simultaneously airy yet cosy. And the warm welcome chimes with Abdalli’s support of female-run businesses, through the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs. Another programme, Smart Cities, connects technological types with architects. “We need to make young people feel part of something,” she says. “Working with, not working for.”
7. Xhoana Kristo
IXI Architecture / Archigames
Tirana’s construction boom has been good news for the city’s architects, such as 27-year-old Xhoana Kristo. She contrasts Albania’s opportunity-packed capital to “mummified” Venice and, with her two partners in ixi Architecture, focuses on interiors and building design. But Kristo has another card to play. She is also a game designer – with her debut offering, Archigames, about to go on sale. Target markets for the architecture-based card game include schools, universities and tourists. She advises other budding entrepreneurs to “start now” and tailor pitches to their audience: “It’s different selling the game to a parent or child, even though both of them play.”
f&b ––– indonesia
CEO & co-founder, Jago Coffee
In 2020, Yoshua Tanu set up Jago Coffee, a company running electric coffee carts, to serve Indonesia’s €3.2bn coffee market. Jago, which currently operates about 35 carts in Jakarta, received €2m in funding at the end of 2022 and plans to expand to more than 1,000 carts by the end of 2024.
What gave you the idea?
The coffee market in Indonesia is huge, but only about 10 per cent of it is retail coffee shops; 80 per cent of the population can’t really afford the price. The biggest form of retail in Indonesia is street vendors. There’s no rental and the labour cost is just one person. You can hail our carts or order from the app. Price averages at €0.55 per cup. Starbucks here is €3.70 on average, and at a coffee chain the average is about €1.40. Our sales are growing at about 40 per cent month-on-month.
Why invest in electric carts?
We want to be environmentally friendly and we also want to service neighbourhoods without a lot of noise. We wanted to feel like the next step for street-vendor retail.
What can I buy if I see a cart on the street?
Coffees include the main Indonesian beverage, es kopi susu [iced milk coffee], cold brew and V60 manual brewed coffee. Or order Earl Grey milk tea, hojicha lychee teas or our signature chocolate beverage, all freshly made.
comment ––– usa
With the ferocity with which it swept into cities around the US, the technology tornado is sweeping back out again. Here in California, the epicentre of the gale, there have been tens of thousands of layoffs, from programming prodigies to Google’s on-site masseuses. But this recession does not look like past ones, with scores of people walking out of offices loaded with cardboard boxes. That’s mainly because many so-called tech hubs were already deserted.
For years, technology companies snapped up swaths of downtown or built sprawling campuses. But they didn’t know what to do with them when they were abandoned thanks to remote working. That trend has hollowed out San Francisco and put off others from moving in; at the end of last year almost 30 per cent of the city’s office space was vacant. The next boom shouldn’t be allowed to play fast and loose with places where people and businesses live.
Like overworked soil, neighbourhoods can recover with time. Venice in Los Angeles is a case in point. Snapchat bought up properties all up its sunny boardwalk, sending rents skyrocketing, before abruptly withdrawing in 2018. Now smaller businesses have moved in, with independent restaurants opening in what was once Snap Inc’s canteen. The era of move-fast-and-break-things appears to be ending. Hopefully, so too is the habit of upending our cities in the process.
For Monocle’s suggestions on running a business without wrecking your neighbourhood, see our Common-Sense Manifesto on page 84.
agriculture ––– turkey
Anything but sluggish
One spring, Burchan Ondogan and his team headed out into the forests around Istanbul to hunt for snails. They gathered molluscs by the thousands and transported them back to his farm. There, after a year of acclimatising to their new environment, the snails laid eggs. A hungry market awaits their offspring: about half a million tonnes of Cornu asperum, the common garden snail, are consumed globally every year. The biggest consumer is France, where they, along with several other varieties, are eaten with garlic and butter, and Spain and Portugal, where they are paired with tomatoes. But Asia is catching up: eating snails has become a mark of European-style sophistication for the middle classes in countries such as China. Snails were once part of the cuisine in Turkey’s Aegean region too but have fallen off the menu. But the snails thrive in the wet climates of Turkey’s western regions and entrepreneurs have spotted an opportunity.
Turkey’s first snail farm was registered in 2017. By 2021, the country was the world’s fifth-biggest snail exporter after Morocco, Romania, Lithuania and Indonesia. It’s a surprisingly fast-moving trade. Ondogan, who previously reared buffalo, shifted to snails in 2020 and has found that farming them requires far less land, resources and labour. “This is very easy compared to other types of farming,” he says. “You just give them water and food, and leave them to it.”
The Turkish government has recently given Ondogan approval to increase production to 50 tonnes a year, making his business the biggest of Turkey’s three snail farms, while a fourth Turkish company manufactures equipment for those in the sector. Ondogan says that demand for his snails is seemingly insatiable. That’s partly because Ukraine, usually one of Europe’s biggest producers, has been unable to supply its normal output as a result of the war with Russia. The cosmetics industry is also a big market for Turkey’s snail farmers. The gastropods’ slime is a sought-after ingredient in the facemasks that first became popular in South Korea but have now spread across the Western world. Ondogan has recently taken delivery of a machine that uses citric acid to extract snail slime, a method that leaves the creatures unharmed. In the pharmaceutical faculty at Aegean University in Izmir, western Turkey, researchers are probing other methods of slime extraction.
Becoming a snail farmer is not straightforward, however. The Turkish government requires farmers to obtain the same licence as for starting a fish farm and this can take several years. Every time he goes out into the forests, Ondogan must also send some of the snails from the area that he intends to harvest to the agriculture ministry, which tests them for diseases and radiation before issuing a permit. Even so, interest from other farmers in his company is growing. “I am already happy with my decision to become a snail farmer,” says Ondogan. “And I know that, in the future, I will be even happier.”
cars ––– japan
Japanese car-maker Suzuki started the year by revealing the heavily rumoured five-door version of its Jimny model at India’s Auto Expo. Over four generations since its launch in 1970, the compact all-wheel-drive vehicle has never had more than three doors, so it’s big news.
Overseen by the Jimny’s chief engineer Hiroyuki Yonezawa, who was instrumental in launching the mega-popular current model in 2018 (see Issue 129), the new edition has kept its smaller sibling’s design identity but has gained proper rear seats. Suzuki’s subsidiary in India, Maruti Suzuki India, will start sales in the country during the 2023 fiscal year. Exports to Africa and Latin America will follow. Japan will have to wait, though: Suzuki is catching up on an overwhelming amount of orders for the three-door model.
The choice of India for both the announcement and for manufacturing is telling: Suzuki’s investments there are growing. Last year, the carmaker invested a total of €2bn to build two factories on the subcontinent – one for four-wheel-drive cars and the other for electric-vehicle batteries, scheduled to be up and running by 2025 and 2026, respectively. Suzuki sees a big suv market in India; this launch will only accelerate it.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Andrei Becheru.
Illustrator: Dirk Schmidt