How to Build & Market a New Coworking Space
Global Coworking Unconference in Austin at SXSW 2012
With 1,400 marketing questions and over 160 questions regarding community on the coworking wiki… there are obviously a lot of questions.
Kyle Coolbroth - CoCo
Jeremy Neuner - NextSpace
Sam Rosen - The Coop
Julian Nachtigal - Parisoma
Anna Thomas - Loosecubes (moderator)
Anna: what revenue streams work well for you?
Julian: I'm going to Dakha to build new space. Different culture and different context. Revenue streams primarily membership… classes and events 30-40% revenue. Diversify with education in 6 months. Make sure what works for your space and business model.
Anna: spaces take a wide range of approaches. How important is that for space?
Kyle: getting people to events allows them to see the space. Part of the marketing functions. Member activities and non-member activities
Sam: rentals, meeting rooms and events. Events are important even if they are not bringing in revenue. Having signage prominent helps tell story at the Coop.
Julian: events bring people into community and help grow community. Different group meetings… brought us from teens 2.5 years ago to well over 120 members.
Sam: don't have a business plan. Have a conservative spreadsheet. As long as we hit numbers, we know we have viable business.
Show of hands… how many people are opening new spaces?
More than 60% of crowd plans to open new spaces.
Anna: building out additional business plans for different spaces and locations… how?
Jeremy: individual markets require different needs. Tweaked the business plan for market and space. Spaces range from 3,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet. You have a business plan and the first thing you do is throw out the business plan. Once you have the space, you try to make the community happy and maximize revenue at same time.
Anna: how do you find new members?
Kyle: no one said… gosh… I really wish I had a place to cowork. Started with social media years ago. Have spent $0… it's all been social media. We leveraged networks we already had.
Julian: Parisoma was one of early spaces in San Francisco. Coworking WIki and Craigslist. Started doing events centered on tech. Grew list from a couple hundred to 1,500 and ran 120 events out of space in year. We built up a big community and needed a space that was bigger. Grew 5X over night. Moved into place that felt very carnivorous at first. WIthin 3 months, space was full and that was because we built up community. 200 events and classes annually now. You don't have to be a member to be part of the community and I think that's an important thing to remember.
Anna: has anyone seen success with PR in bringing in new members?
Jeremy: think community first: space second. Wave of press seems to come every 3 or 4 months. Try to ride that wave. Good opportunity to get some PR about coworking at the trend and for your space.
Julian: I've never had anyone walk into my space and talk about Fortune article and decide to walk in.
Anna: coworking is for startups and developers, right? How do you attract different types of professions?
Sam: we like diversity. We have acoustics professional and hedge fund investors. We don't go after any niche.
Julian: we're profession agnostic. No membership selection guidelines or application. The community is pretty self selecting. We have had people who are in tech love it and not love it.
Anna: do you have any membership selection process?
Jeremy: two criteria: can you pay us? and will you agree to abide by our community norms? Our most interesting member is a sex therapist. We try to attract as many people as we can. As I said before… community first. You are serving local economy in local geography. With increasingly mobile workforce… you might even have a mobile auto body worker come worker out of your space. The mobile workforce includes all of us, not just the tech people.
Sam: we compete with your bed, your couch, your Starbucks, that cool cafe down the street… we get people to shlep all of their stuff. The space works itself out.
Anna: how has coworking been for you personally? What have you experienced?
Sam: first experience was in Brooklyn. Had no idea what it was… walked in completely confused. There was a large desk with all kinds of people. At the end of the day, I left with a list of a bunch of music shows I can go to with an asterisk of shows I can get into. That's one of best experiences ever. Been meaningful, not incredibly lucrative idea for us. It's worth more than just cash.
Anna: how have you embraced coworking? 9-5?
Jeremy: this is your thing, your baby… what you're putting out in the world. You have to be fueled by that drive. The upside is I have a community of 600 members… never once has a day gone by where I haven't been touched, inspired, made to laugh by one of our members. What did I do to make this happen? That's what propels me through the day. My team also inspires me and constantly challenges me.
Julian: socially coworking has been amazing for me. He moved into my apartment and I gave him advice… two words: "hire me." Two months later we were business partners. We worked late and walked home together. We were always discussing ideas and how to grow the space. Some of my best friends in the world now, some of my best friends in the world have come from coworking. There are some negatives… get called at 2 or 3 am for alarms only to find someone didn't close a window or something. Know that you're doing something for the benefit of yourself and others.
Kyle: it's changed my life. I know use LiquidSpace at home to check into den. Not really. I think we're really lucky. If you look out in the rest of the economy, things are tough. When I walk in and see our 300+ members changing the world… it's inspiring. Great thing that's happening in our culture.
Anna: what's a mistake you've made and what would you have done differently?
Sam: you hear about community, community, community and you think you know what it is… took me 2 years to really understand. When we foster that and take care of it, it grows. When we don't… it goes away. It seems obvious, but it's not. They are just empty desks without the people in them. Your success will be based on the community that you build.
Julian: learning how to communicate with the community is really important. Learning about members to know how to communicate about changes or construction. You need to know when someone is going to be drilling in the wall.
Jeremy: let go of ego. Make mistakes. Fail fabulously and do it better next time.
Kyle: we allowed events that were not community based or member based. We nipped that immediately. We killed it and reverted to smaller events that are focused on membership.
Sam: we did a town hall and asked how has your experience been? What sucked? What's been awesome? Wow can we improve it? It was fascinating and a lot of it was easy to implement. Have quarterly events and tell the members what your plans are and ask for feedback.
Audience question: Do you utilize cobranding as a coworking space?
Julian: yes, we've cobranded with Turnstone, a lawyer and internet service provider. We've made sure to keep our agreements non-exclusive.
Jeremy: don't let people who want to partner with you come in and try to sell shit to your members. Think of them as if they are coworkers.
Audience: How do you strike the balance between friends and members?
Kyle: there is a policy for guest membership. We bill the member for the guest visit.
Julian: we play that pretty loose. There are some people that come in and drop by for a few hours… might be once every few weeks. We don't have a front desk. We have a computer to login when you come by. Our tables are ping pong tables, which we've become known for. Anyone we see that we don't recognize, we welcome them and ask them what they are looking for. It's pretty warm. We could get better about management, but for us no one has been disruptive.
Sam: we take a soft approach with +1 drop-ins. The experience of walking in is often a a make or break. We work very hard so that when you walk in the front door you feel welcome. We're pretty easy going.
Audience: non-profit, for profit or break even?
Julian: we're for profit. I think you can do something that's community centered and make money and grow off of that.
Sam: I'm a proponent of for profit.
Jeremy: balance for profit investors with running a community. That's the art and science of it is building community and making money and balancing that.
Sam: because we're there and running the space, it makes it much more profitable. Anchor tenants really help.
Anna: to what extent do you feel like members are an arm of community?
Julian: happy hour every week is led by coworkers lead other coworkers to every week. Coworkers hire other coworkers. Coworkers even help watch the door at lunch. It's an extension of the management system.
Audience: what software programs do you use to bill members? Manage members?
Julian: We primarily use Cobot and have most people on a credit card. Some pay through auto-pay by check.
Sam: we launched our own software and have a booth here at the Global Coworking Conference.
Jeremy: we built our own and use some off the shelf stuff too.
Kyle: Use a product called PaySimple.