Even though I really enjoy working from home when it's possible, I've always considered coworking spaces being full of opportunities when done right.
I had the chance to visit SPACE, the new promising coworking center in Uppsala. Meeting with the founding team and seeing their enthusiasm brought back some good memories and led me to write this article.
When I started my first venture with my co-founders more than 10 years ago, we rented a small office without windows in the suburbs of Paris. Coworking spaces weren't, by then, as big a thing as it is today. But these kinds of places, renting 8 or 10 pretty tiny rooms, and offering shared commodities like a copyroom and the services of a secretary, were aimed at the same audience.
The room we operated from was probably no bigger than 20 square meters and only had old desks for furniture. I remember it being pretty noisy but very convenient, as we were working really hard to try and sign our first contracts.
It was the early days and we couldn't have afforded to rent our own offices anyway.
I loved this place. But I know, for sure, it would have been beneficial to kickstart the company in a great coworking center.
This article is my attempt to describe what I think would make an outstanding coworking space, besides the obvious: real estate, location, etc.
As a start, I'll say the best way to achieve this is to create long term experience, as opposed to simply being a tool. A tool is something you pick to fulfill a "job": I need a place to work; a (good) experience turns your clients into supporters and gives you extra value for the same "job".
No matter how nice the place is, if you're just a tool, you're at the mercy of a competitor rising up 12 or 18 months from now, copying what you've done well and improving it.
If you're a tool, your only way to increase your revenue of the coworking space as a business, will be to invest in new real estate. You'll be limited to a linear revenue growth.
But it can become a long term experience, if you provide extra value on top of the base mission (renting working space). Value you can charge for. Value that makes it more difficult for a competitor to disrupt you.
When you're providing a good experience, people turn into natural promoters of your projects. Word of mouth will happen by itself and that's why it's the most efficient.
Let's develop a few things you could do in order to create such a long term experience.
This is pure intuition, but I'm almost hundred percent sure that most of the people renting desks at a coworking space are running a business at early stages. Chances are, they're still trying to find out the true purpose of the company. Or they are aiming at making it more profitable.
Help them grow by having a team of entrepreneurs in-residence.
Ideally, it would be a team of 5 to 10 experienced entrepreneurs taking turns on site to provide guidance to the members of the center. They would act like advisors and focus on building long term relationship with them and with the coworking space itself.
They could also participate in events such as "Open Advice Friday" (see the last paragraph of this article).
Lastly, this team of entrepreneurs in residence would also be a valuable asset for the coworking space as a business. I would offer them to join the advisory board so they can help me in making it a success.
You probably understand where I'm heading since the beginning of this article. I believe in the human factor. I believe that humans actively create a great long term experience. And in this case, we want to create a community that goes beyond the clients of the coworking space at a given time.
So the second step I'll take would be to create an active community and an alumni network. To become a member, you would have to be an entrepreneur sitting at the coworking space for more than, say, 12 months. Maybe it would require you to pay an extra yearly fee for it, but it would give you access to some privileges such as being able to organize your own events at the coworking center or use an extra desk 1 day per month at no cost.
The alumni network would be solicited to participate in the advising initiative on advising new entrepreneurs joining the space. Maybe even through a one to one pairing system.
Continuing on improving the experience, we want to leverage the presence of brilliant people working next to each other and make cooperation happen. We don't want people to just "ask around" when they need help on a specific issue, so I would create a directory of contacts and skills allowing the entrepreneurs to find the right person to go to for help.
Obviously, this directory would include and remain accessible to the alumni (remember we want to create a long term experience).
This is trendy, for a good reason. Mastermind groups are another way to improve cooperation. Our job would be to facilitate the creation of such groups. Encouraging members of the center to create a circle of trust with 4-5 other entrepreneurs where they can openly share once every other week about their projects, successes, and struggles.
Finally, events. Done right, they are a good way to promote a coworking center. I would focus mainly on technical meetups, hackathons, pitching evenings and open stage.
I also truly believe in something I call "Open Advice Friday". The idea behind this name would be to allow people who want to start a company to drop by and talk about their project with the entrepreneurs in residence. It would be an excellent way to create a reservoir of leads (i.e.: entrepreneurs who will join when they're ready to start).
What do you think? Do you have other ideas of what would make a great coworking center? Let's talk on twitter: @gregoiregilbert