Bootstrapping Coworking #1 – Building a Community Through Evangelism

Enrico Cassinelli —  August 9, 2012

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Welcome to the brand new “Bootstrapping Coworking” series.

Here we want to share the knowledge and the direct experiences of those that succeedingly¬†launched a coworking space: from the idea inception to the final opening and subsequent promotion, we’ll try to cover every stage of the process.

For the first episode, we had a talk with Alessandro Di Tecco, an Italian UI designer.

In April 2012 Alessandro launched The Collective, a stylish coworking space in Verona, one of the most beautiful town in northern Italy (UNESCO World Heritage Site).

How did you come up with the idea of opening a Coworking space in Verona?

Like many other things, I came to know about coworking while browsing the web.

I instantly liked the idea that many different professionals could share an office, and benefit from each other expertise. Moreover, being an interior design enthusiast, I was fascinated by how coworking spaces looked: every space had such a strong personality!

The idea of opening a coworking space in my city crossed my mind right away, but I had to put it on hold for a while.

Then, months after, I visited the awesome Hub in Milan, and I knew it was the right time to start building my own space. So I resumed the idea of opening a coworking in my city, and shortly after I began working on it together with my team.

The project took 20 months to complete: from September 2010 (idea), to April 2012 (execution).

Verona is not a big city, do you think that coworking can grow also in smaller towns?

Small towns, big towns, there are pros & cons in both scenarios. In big towns trends like coworking spread faster, so more people actually know what coworking is.

One thing I learned is that coworking is all about community, so more informed people hopefully mean more potential customers.

On the other hand, in big towns you’re gonna have to face a lot of competitors and you’ll need a bigger marketing budget in order to get noticed.

In small towns there’s a lot of evangelism to do: you have to spread the word about coworking, and explain to people what the advantages of sharing an office are.

But if you succeed in this (difficult) task, small communities can give the best in terms of customer loyalty: if they choose your space, they probably won’t leave.

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How many people are in The Collective team? What’s your business structure?

We started as a group of 3 but a team member recently left, so now only 2 of us are actively involved in the project.

At the moment The Collective operates as a non-profit association, but we’re looking to turn it into a for-profit company very soon.

How did you handle the launch from a marketing point of view?

As soon as the project officially started, we worked on growing an online community of fans and followers. We kept them updated with every progress of our work, and occasionally polled them with surveys in order to match our idea with the actual customer needs.

Then, in the very first days after our launch, we had a good media coverage by local TVs, radios and newspapers. That gave us the initial boost in brand awareness so quite a few people noticed there was something new in town.

Today, all our marketing efforts are focused on the web: online advertising, social media, etc.

But here’s another thing I learned: the best way to promote your brand is in real life, with real people: pitching your idea to potential partners, participating to events, hosting events, everything helps.

The bottom line is: there are a lot of things to do to promote your product, and you just can’t do everything from your desk.

After a couple of months of activity, how does the future of The Collective look like?

It’s still early to tell, but if we work in the right direction I think we can definitely set the standard for the best coworking experience available in our city.

Do you have any tips to share with entrepreneurs who want to open a coworking space?

  • Carefully choose your team members;
  • Carefully choose your team members (yeah, I purposely wrote it two times);
  • Stress-test your team, putting it under heavy work conditions and see how it behaves. If you spot something that doesn’t work, fix it. If it can’t be fixed, change the team;
  • Try to communicate openly with your team, don’t let the inevitable problems get bigger than they should: you won’t be able to fix them in the future (or maybe you’ll fix them, but at what cost?);
  • You’ll get a lot of doors slammed in your face, so never give up;
  • Never trust too much pre-launch surveys: if a potential customer tells you “I’d buy that”, he/she probably won’t;
  • Don’t spend too much, don’t spend too little: your space doesn’t have to suck, it’s supposed to be an awesome place to work in!
  • Focus on building an awesome product, but also try to work as much as possible on the community; if possible try to do it even before opening your coworking space;
  • Promote your product in real life, with real people;
  • If you want to do it, DO IT! Don’t listen to all the naysayers;
  • Make your own experiences, no advice is written in stone.

Which are the core Values of The Collective?

We believe in knowledge sharing, collaboration, creativity, hard work.

And of course we believe in the great importance of design, as a means to solve problems and improve people’s lives.

What’s your thought about the future of the Coworking movement?

I see it growing fast, with more and more spaces opening worldwide.

Coworking will become the standard way for freelancers to share an office at a fraction of the cost, and join forces to work on bigger projects.

Also, I think we’ll soon have to say goodbye to the office as we know it; more and more companies will end up adopting “the coworking way”, re-thinking productivity and redesigning their workplaces.

Lastly, governments and institutions will probably start offering coworking services, as a means to foster entrepreneurship.

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Enrico Cassinelli

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