October 2016

The key to building a successful coworking platform is to understand your community

After the financial crisis, Spain was one of the countries that faced some of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. As a result, many professionals, freelancers, and business operators began to reimagine the professional landscape. In 2011, Ruth Martinez had a baby on the way and her husband had just started freelancing. In this time of change, they were exploring new options and had heard about the concept of coworking. After some time and research, they decided to start their own coworking community, Coworkidea. Next  week they will be celebrating the launch of their newest space, so we caught up with Ruth to find out more about the process of developing a space in one of Europe’s coworking capitals and what it means to be a successful coworking space operator.

Hi, Ruth. Coworkidea started out small but is now developing rapidly. Can you tell us a bit about this process and what steps did you take in order to properly develop?

When we launched 5 years ago, we went through some difficulties and at that time we were far from growing our idea. But, step-by-step, we slowly improved our business, learning how to offer better services to our members. The coworkers that came really liked the space, as well as the energy and environment. I believe that your project is what you attract, so we focused on creating a cool community, based on honest people, and community friendships.

Today, we have a solid community of workers who have been loyal to us since the beginning. As I said, they started off as freelancers who grew and Coworkidea has grown alongside them. We decided to expand with another space in the same building to help host our members as well as her freelancers. Our goal is to keep generating connections and enriching opportunities for freelancers.

What type of community do you provide and what types of members do you have currently working there?

We cater to a multidisciplinary community. Although, two main groups naturally developed. One is made of tech specialists (software and app developers, integrationists, programmers, designers…). And the other group is comprised of professionals within the building sector (architects, engineers, builders, and technical architects…).

Spain is known for having one of the most established coworking networks. Was it difficult for you to enter this market that some might say are overly saturated?

In 2011 there were only a few coworking spaces in Spain. Barcelona had more spaces than other cities, but there was still a lack of awareness, both within the sector and also amongst the general public. Although we all started without a clear reference, there were actually very few successful cases to follow. We basically went through the normal ups and downs, making mistakes and learning. We were gradually growing, and in 2016 we became established and have opened up a whole floor of around 450 square meters.

What is the current state of the Spanish Coworking market? And what makes it unique to other cities?

Today, we can say that our coworking sector has matured and has become more sustainable. There are some factors that triggered the high demand for coworking spaces was the major increase in people who lost their jobs after the crisis. Another remarkable fact is that Barcelona is now positioned as a tech and freelancer hub, which encouraged people to create startups and small businesses. Moreover, the city is a natural attraction for tourists and, therefore, digital nomads.

Would you say coworking has actually improved the job market, if so how?

I have no doubt that coworking has helped to improve the job market. The startups and small companies generate business, and I witnessed that from my work with Coworkidea. Some projects were launched three years ago as a freelance venture and over time have become a solid team of people.

In cities where here are already a lot of coworking spaces, what can new ones do to build successful platforms?

Ruth Martinez

Ruth Martinez

Barcelona has a lot to offer in regards to coworking, and the city also has strong competition. According to Coworking Spain, the main coworking platform, Barcelona currently has over 200 spaces registered on the platform, but it’s important to know that not all of them are actual coworking spaces. Those cases are when people with some extra space in their office decide to define themselves as a coworking space simply because they are renting out a couple of tables.

Of course, these aren’t considered actual coworking spaces, as the movement isn’t simply about renting out space but more about the people and growing a professional community, which brings value to members. On that note, my advice to all future space operators is that the key to building a successful platform is to understand your community and help it to organically grow.

Is it important for coworking space operators to embrace other spaces and work together?

Sure! Collaboration is a key element needed for the development of the sector. It allows spaces to speak as a unified voice when dealing with local institutions, ultimately allowing us more visibility and access to sponsors and partnerships. It also allows us to work together when facing common problems, while also inspiring new ideas and the chance to help coworkers achieve mobility, especially for those who are nomadic workers.

As the movement has matured, many coworking spaces in Europe are looking to expand their networks. What advice would you give to those looking to grow?

When we started it was completely different than it is now. Anyone who knew about coworking knew that we learned by taking action and especially by making mistakes. Today, we have a lot of experience and knowledge. We also have a second space, for which we have designed a strategy and business plan for expansion, including a very accurate financial study. Aside from that, we have collaborated with 2 coworking experts, Andrea García and Vanessa Sans, who helped us to design and launch the new space. Andrea designed the space and Vanessa drew up the strategy as well as the  content plan for the launch.

What are some things that should or should not be done when looking to properly expand, without compromising the community dynamic?

My advice for those looking to grow and expand should be that they make sure to have a consolidated and empowered coworking community. It is also very important to design a strategy as well as a business plan. Overall, coworking is a business and has to be profitable, so it is very important to know the viability of your project.

70% of our users are digital nomads in the Canary Islands 

It’s no surprise that there are now several active coworking spaces in the Canary Islands. The combination of scenic beauty and the relaxed and warm local culture is not only perfect for a vacation but attracts more and more digital nomads and freelance professionals. One of the most international spaces is CoworkingC, based in Las Palmas. The small yet vibrant space aims to build an international community while also changing work culture in the region.

CEO and local, Nacho Rodriguez is working to create positive change in the community via CoworkingC as well as strengthening the position of the Canary Islands as an international hotspot.

Hi, Nacho. Can you please tell us a bit about your history with coworking and also about CWC’s history?

CoworkingC  started two years ago, first as an office space to host a spin-off of the IT department from one of our companies. Eventually, it turned out to become an international workspace, which currently hosts local entrepreneurs and digital nomads that are working remotely from Las Palmas. We pivoted heavily during the process and keep learning and trying to improve every day.

You are very involved in the coworking community. As the moment has developed substantially over the years, what observations have you made? 

In my opinion, the coworking market is starting to mature. After some years of substantial growth, it is now starting to become more sustainable and at the same time it keeps growing. It’s remarkable, the fact that some administrations start regulating their public offer in order to avoid unfair competition with the private sector, which has been a problem in the past.

What are some of the most exciting and novel directions you see coworking moving?

I am very enthusiastic about all the transcendent changes that go along with the coworking movement. Remote Work, Distributed companies, Coliving, and Digital Nomads are all changing the way we understand work, collaboration, and human interaction.

From these observations do you see coworking as a viable option for the standard office space, or do you think it’s better to have coworking remain as an alternative option, in order to preserve more community-oriented models?

In my opinion, coworking must be part of the DNA of a company or business. But, I don’t see this work philosophy in many sectors just yet. While it is rapidly evolving as more and more people realize the benefits of coworking, some sectors will most likely remain traditional.

We all know the Canary Islands are beautiful and are also rapidly attracting digital nomads. What percentage of your community is comprised of nomadic workers?

70% of our community are digtal nomads that arrive attracted by the weather and beauty of the Canary Islands. They also decide to stay longer when they realize that we have much more to offer than just the beach and sunshine.

How do you accommodate their needs and help them integrate?

The official language at CWC is English, although we encourage our visitors to learn Spanish, which helps long-term visitors to fully integrate with that local community.

Nacho Rodriguez

Nacho Rodriguez

We also recently activated a coliving center to help facilitate our visitors integrate, and also help in finding them affordable housing in an efficient and flexible way. We also organize Meetups and events to accelerate the generation of value within our community.

What impact does a more internationalized community have on the locals, and is coworking responsible for this international wave?

Our market is fairly small, and opportunities for locals scarce. Having an international community allows locals to have a broader perspective on the global market and also gives them the chance to access new opportunities, while also helping them to improve their English skills.

Currently, some of our local members are working abroad with other international coworkers, taking advantage of the Erasmus+ programs and enjoying a great personal experience.

You describe your space as intimate and personal.

Intimacy allows us to cover the personal needs of our visitors, offering a much better value proposition than bigger networks. As long as we manage to provide effective networking and opportunities to our members, we believe we provide a better service than larger spaces .

Our maximum capacity is 25 people. We believe that there are many advantages of having a small space. Although we do understand that smaller in size makes is more difficult to become profitable. Currently, we are planning to expand, not in size, but rather in the number of spaces across the Canary Islands. We are also thinking to expand internationally as well.


Coworking gives people in Afghanistan a chance to reach global markets – Kamal Syed (Daftar)

Syed Kamal, one of the core team members of Afghanistan’s first ever coworking space, is a firm believer in coworking as a catalyst for change. Under the very first coworking space in the country, Daftar, was founded in Kabul. Syed Kamal, one of the core team members of Afghanistan’s first ever coworking space, is a firm believer in coworking as a catalyst for change. Under the Afghanistan Center for Excellence the very first coworking space in the country, Daftar, was founded in January, 2016.

Daftar was inspired by a trip taken by Suleman Fatimie, the space’s founder after a trip to New York City when he visited a friend’s space in the city. 7 months ago, Daftar opened its doors and since then the waiting list has grown while also inspiring a wave of socially oriented projects.

We caught up with Syed Kamal to learn more about the future of coworking in Afghanistan.

Hi, Syed Kamal. Can you tell us a bit about what kind of community you have grown so far and are they mostly freelance or do they work for established companies?

Mostly they are working for companies, who don’t have an established office. They are new businesses and startups that tried to work at home or in other spaces, but they were in need of a more sophisticated work environment. Of course, we want to cater to freelancers and even foreigners, but that will take some time for us to generate that type of community.

Tell us about the clients you have so far and is there much demand for the space?

In the coworking space, we have several clients. We have members from the Microsoft the others we have Environment Watch Afghanistan (EWA), a social movement started in Kabul environmental issues, we have founder’s institute businesses and starts ups to function in Kabul they provide advice we have given the desk and we have graphics branding technology for the Center for excellence. We also have given space, free of charge, to the Kabul model of united nations which we provide them space for free.

What are some of the challenges startups and freelancers face? And, how can coworking help them overcome these obstacles?

There are few reasons that workers need to find a space where they can work in peace, which isn’t readily available in Afghanistan. Daftar provides much needed professional amenities, such as a fully equipped space, which is also a very secure office.

In addition to the physical space, we are all professionals who have been running the ACE for the 3 ½ years, we can also offer much-needed advice to our clients along the way, helping them to grow their business and customer base.

What can you say about the security in Kabul?

Security is a big concern for many professionals in Afghanistan, especially when you are in the initial growth stages. Offering a secure physical space is essential for young business and entrepreneurs in order for them to host their clients as well as meetings.

We always make sure to keep a low profile to ensure a safe and professional environment. And since security is so important, it is also part our competitive edge, allowing our members the freedom do business smoothly and professionally.

Do you think coworking could help relieve some of the stresses caused by job losses and financial strains in your country?

Unemployment is high and as result freelancing and startups are something people are starting to explore. I wouldn’t say that everyone is exploring freelancing but many of them are because they have no other way. Another problem is that currently our government is not very structured and while there could be employment opportunities available, it could take another 5 years for people to actually get hired.

In terms of relieving these stresses, I would also say that coworking can give people the chance to reach global markets, I can tell you people are interested, and they get a chance to connect and grow through digital communities.

As coworking is quite new in Afghanistan, what was the initial response to the space?

Trust in Afghanistan is a big part of working together. Many businesses are family based, so it’s all interconnected, and much of the trust built is through face to face interactions. At the Center for Excellence our team is established and very well known in the community, so people know that we are trustworthy.

A major challenge for freelancers is that their idea might be taken from them, as is common when people are introduced to new styles of working and collaboration. As we are known to support individual and intellectual rights, we make freelancers feel safe and supported. Thus, as a result, the response to Daftar has been great. And, we can see now from emails and requests that people are more and more interested. The trust is there and it’s mainly because we built a trustworthy hands-on community. This local connection has also helped the word spread internationally.

Do you expect more coworking spaces to pop up now that you have laid the foundation?

I don’t see any immediate competition in the future. In Kabul, maintaining security and space can be expensive, and people would have to pay around 600 per month. We currently offer space for around 175 a month.

We have also offer our community a certain exclusivity. We allow them to work together, sit together creating their own community, but at the same time, we are always available to help. In this way, we are only of the only workspaces that make room for this type of organic professional growth.

In the future would you be willing to collaborate with other spaces, or offer them advice?

Yes, we absolutely believe in growing with others in whatever way we can. Our knowledge is still in the early stages, but the idea to start a coworking space was already there 2 years ago.

We believe in constructive competition, and if a project will have a positive impact we are always willing to help. Some advice that we could already offer is helping other space identify their market and locations. In our space, we support out members and provide them space, while also giving them the chance to become out clients. This experience has given us experience in providing strategic resources and we understand that business in Afghanistan needs that information in order to expand their opportunities.

Do you see coworking as a platform that could push for positive change in Afghanistan?

I would say Afghanistan is new to a few things. There are so many issues within the country that it can be difficult for professional to have access to opportunities and the coworking space model is still developing here. But, we actually already see that social initiatives are taking place in a big way.

For example, we have one client working on environmental issues and they had an open call for everyone to participate in the event, which was a social gathering focused on discussing how can we conserved water, electricity, air pressure, and everyone was discussing the issues and everyone was contributing. It was wonderful to see. We also were joined by media and several civil society organizations.

How important is social responsibility for Daftar?

We are of course business, but we believe deeply in social responsibility and I happy to say our clients and model allows for social change. We see a lot of giving back to society.

We offer one of our clients, the Kabul model of United Nations, space free of charge, and this also contributes to our community as we have the privilege of being a part of such positive social movements We see the future value in offering services that don’t necessarily have to generate profit right away.

We also have an initiative that called “Don’t let good food go to waste” where we go to wedding halls who at as our social partners and when there is a wedding we go and take the good food which is healthy and fresh and used by the guests and we take them this food to the less privileged community in Kabul. We have been doing this for the past 5 months. In addition to that project, we have a similar one, which is a winter initiative aimed to help the less privileged, especially for those who run their business on the streets, where we bring warm clothing. There are all projects that we believe in giving back to the socially and creating a like-minded community that will grow and be sustainable in the future.

On top of coworking, we offer “transition spaces” for project teams or companies – Florencia Faivich (Urban Station)

The Latin American coworking scene is growing. 6 Years ago Urban Station coworking  was founded in Buenos Aires and has since then continued to strengthen its leadership position in the Latin American coworking market. With 10 Latin American locations,including Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, the coworking franchise plan to expand to the USA and Canada.

Urban Station has also embraced corporate coworking, and has signed agreements with companies like Heineken, Motorola, Samsung, Microsoft, among others, with the aim to launch events and other networking opportunities for developing a market conducive to double-digit growth. We caught up with one of Urban Station’s founders, Florencia Faivich to find out more about Latin American coworking developments.

Hi, Florencia. Can you please tell us a bit about the Urban Station project and your role within the space?

We developed Urban Station to be aligned with our users’ needs. That was what motivated our four founders, Juan Pablo Russo, Marcelo Cora, Claudio Bisurgi and myself, to create this Project.

Coming from leadership positions in based in various corporations, our vision was to become the world’s first network for mobile workers, while also leading the development of the coworking movement in Latin America. Our business venture is one that unites modern design, every type of office service, a flexible system and the possibility of belonging to a like-minded community: these were all components of the initial setup’s “combo.”

As Urban Station is a network of spaces, what is the at the core value system of your network?

Our mission as a company, as stated by creator Juan Pablo Russo, is to democratize the office. We work every day to facilitate a daily office space for everybody. We don’t have memberships, we keep our doors open to all,  and our motto is “enjoy working differently”.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Argentinian coworking scene?

The scene has evolved over the years, developing and gaining followers every day . Today there are more than 60 spaces throughout the country and the movement just continues to grow. The growing trend not only adds customers from the independent world, but also companies of all kinds are also working in such spaces.

Today, coworking spaces are part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, which also involves universities, accelerators , organizations such as Endeavor and the National Government

What has been the impact Urban Station has had on the community?

Urban Station Coworking

Urban Station Coworking

Our proposal was well received in the market and we installed a different concept in the coworking market. Our flexible format allows our clients to use our spaces to work or meet differently by the time each one needs.

Our pillars include flexibility, cutting-edge design, and networking. So far, our concept has been very well received by both local and international press

Has there been a rise of freelancers in Argentina due to the economic crisis?

The economic crisis has been here for the last ten years, so the rise of freelancers is not only related to that issue. It’s more related to global trends that include a new generation of objectives sparked by the Y and Z generations, are more related to freedom in the workplace as opposed to the more corporate model.

Have freelancers, like in some other countries, been criticized for not having a “normal job” and has that improved?

Not at all. Being a freelancer is considered to be normal here. There have been and still are a lot of success stories regarding entrepreneurs and independent workers.

Are there still challenges for self-employed individuals?

Yes, of course. One of the big ones is being able to maintain stability. People here are open to working on different projects, so they manage at the end of the day. They are also open to finding solutions in order to maintain financial stability, by combining different things. Yet, like many places, we need more laws and benefits that will protect independent workers as well as the market.

And what are the benefits of having a franchise model, rather than a singular space?

The franchise model allowed us to expand quickly, inside and outside of Argentina. Today, we currently have branches in Argentina, Chile, Colombia , Mexico and Egypt and for the users, it gives them access to a wide network and this is key for them to develop their activities and skill sets. Today, work includes mobility in many cases, so to offer our members a network is a huge advantage.

What types of members do you typically host?

Our audience is very heterogeneous. From freelancers to startups, as well as designers, journalists, architects, consultants, human resources experts, web designers, and translators. Our spaces are also home to various companies of all sizes that use our meeting rooms, auditoriums, and access programs.

Do you have any corporations that also use Urban Station? If so, why do they choose to cowork?

Yes, there are several companies who choose to work with us for different reasons. For example, they use coworking as a way to install part of their teams for special assignments.

Flexibility and economic advantages introduce them to the space and thus they share it with other entrepreneurs who nurture their creativity and spirit by working together. We also have developed different programs for companies on top of our offer of a remote office for their employees

Can you elaborate on the “Your office will follow you” program?

We have changed the paradigm. People spend a significant amount of time in their office, so we are trying to make a more dynamic work environment by creating different spots, kind of like subway stations so that the office can follow you wherever you choose to go. Our business model allows to spontaneous work of meetup area whenever and wherever our corporates clients want it.

You offer transition spaces. Have you ever had cases where a company would rent on a flexible basis and decide to join Urban Station as members?

Yes, it happens often. Many companies come to work on a project, but would prefer to extend, which is not always possible. Thus, enjoy the space, the environment, flexibility and good energy that is generated!