After immigrating to the U.S. from China at 15 years old, Vickey Li has developed an impressive career, working with some of the world’s most reputable real estate companies in metropolitan cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, and San Francisco. By understanding the importance of multicultural spaces and overseas business development, Li co-founded OnePiece Work with the vision of a flexible workspace for global citizens that would streamline and accelerate global expansion for startups.
Passionate about empowering immigrants, women, and helping more entrepreneurs to establish their global footprint in technology, Li is an exemplary supporter of the global coworking community. Learn more about Li and her thought-leading coworking network in our latest interview below.
How did you first discover coworking?
Before stepping into coworking, I discovered Airbnb. I noticed that they made business traveling more convenient, and realized that our generation’s lifestyle has drastically changed in both work and life in comparison to past generations. Business travelers booked Airbnb’s based on the proximity to their company/business partners. It made me wonder if the future of the workspace might also follow that same pattern. Large enterprise companies are expanding and the talents they hire can work from anywhere—flexible office solutions make this vision possible.
When did you decide to establish OnePiece Work? How did the idea first come about?
After working in the real estate industry for three years in China, I decided to move back to California to start my own real estate management company. When I returned, I realized that the emerging coworking concept was something very exciting and innovative. An opportunity to manage a commercial property allowed me to establish the first OnePiece Work location right out of my childhood home. I saw that existing coworking solutions failed to connect with minorities and immigrants.
Several major players in the coworking arena lacked community and didn’t facilitate a sense of belonging with their members. Given my multicultural background, I made it my mission to fill that void. Besides providing a flexible workspace solution, I also share the same challenges and struggles with overseas entrepreneurs establishing their businesses in America. I built OnePiece Work with them in mind to grow a network of international talents while innovating across borders.
What was the original vision for OnePiece Work?
My vision hasn’t changed; I’ve always dreamt of being the bridge to connect overseas businesses to local talents and opportunities. OnePiece Work truly is the platform that provides flexible access to workspace anywhere, meaningful localized resources and multicultural communities to encourage innovation.
When did you decide to expand into Asia, and what has the experience been like?
We had endless negotiations over building deals, developing partnerships with the local government, and management roles within my team. We considered several significant aspects such as determining the culture and management training, and the kick-off ceremony for our construction buildout.
The experience of expanding OnePiece Work to Asia felt like I was running another startup. The market in China is so different from the U.S market. We had to start from the ground up to understand the market and explore as many hidden opportunities as possible. China has always been ahead of the curve, it always seemed like you had access to many options, but you had to match what fit you best at that moment, be decisive on your plan, and make it happen!
What other unique elements make your coworking space stand out from all the rest?
We have a deep understanding and strong connection to the local market. We are highly customer-centric and always consider their needs when we open a new location. Each office has a unique design that deeply reflects the local culture.
For example, when you visit our Santa Monica office, you will instantly know that you are in LA because the design inspiration came from an old school Hollywood theater. The San Francisco office has a more industrial design with a mix of traditional styling.
Aside from the design, each location has its own unique access to local resources to help companies land in the local market more efficiently. Our Community Managers have a deep understanding of other locations’ members, so they are able to make business connections if need be. Most importantly, we have established cross-border funds to invest in our members who run early stage startups.
How would you describe the community at your coworking space?
Our members are open-minded, efficient, and collaborative. Many of them share similar backgrounds as mine, since I have lived and worked in cities all over the world – an experience that has inspired me to bring many cultures together in one place.
The OnePiece Work community consists of entrepreneurs, investors, and employees who uproot themselves from their own countries / cities to come together to explore new ventures in new cities. Outside of work, you can find our members discussing the latest developments in their industry or brainstorming their next project.
Do you host any special events to bring the community together?
We consider each office as a mini-city with different identification of citizens. Hosting events is essential and also common to shared office spaces, but at OnePiece Work, our Community Managers are very customer-centric when it comes to event hosting.
Every event needs to serve the purpose of encouraging communication and innovation to really bring people together. You will see we host a lot of topic-focused events at our locations to bring talents together, like “Wine & Code” or blockchain meet-ups. Sometimes, you’ll find us hosting more fun, spontaneous events like speed-dating, transformative tech + biohackers, Esport Carnivals, and more. Of course, these events have shifted gears and moved to online events where we can still facilitate a sense of belonging virtually.
What are three key ingredients for operating a successful coworking brand (i.e. a multi-space network)?
Thoughtfulness is the secret to running a successful brand. Also:
1. Acquiring multiple offices for flexibility and productivity.
2. Have a detailed operational process — create a credible and innovative environment for people to work.
3. Cultural diversity to bring value in the workspace — gaining experience at your workspace through different backgrounds and perspectives.
How were your operations disrupted by COVID-19? What did you do to navigate these challenges?
COVID-19 has flipped the office sector on its head, as more companies move toward mandatory remote work. It certainly brought some negative impact to our operations. However, compared to most of the other players, we are doing pretty well given the nature of most of our clients. In a way, this crisis is evidence to prove our vision that working from anywhere is a valuable concept.
At OnePiece Work, our priorities lie with our members; we are very service oriented. Our members aren’t looking for traditional nor design-build leases, whether for a new space or for an HQ. Instead, they make purpose-driven decisions when deciding on office space. Lighting, specialized office furniture arrangement, high-speed internet, privacy, customized concierge needs, and an extended resource network are the expanded services we offer to our tenants.
Not only do we help corporations and small businesses like Sapling, but also we provide service to landlords helping them navigate the flexible office market to develop successful strategies. For example, the landlords of our Santa Monica and Santa Clara locations have a unique vision and differing demands for their properties. We sit in to provide consultancy services, and work with the landlord together to develop strategies on delivering customized property management and event services with their niche focus in mind.
Additionally, we have completely changed the arrangement of our offices to allow for social distancing, lowered capacity in all our locations, while providing ongoing training to our Community Managers on proper sanitizing protocol. We have made face coverings mandatory, provided hand sanitizer in every common space, and installed a mandatory flow of traffic to avoid people crossing paths. We also adopted electrostatic spraying methods that sterilize office furniture and other flat surfaces in seconds.
Lastly, our team put together a series of virtual events, inviting other industry leaders to share helpful insights and offer support to our network.
What is the most challenging part of operating a coworking space?
I have found that hidden high management costs have a real impact on the business. As we have 10 offices in different time zones, our executive team works above and beyond to communicate effectively and efficiently with each individual to make sure the teams are all aligned in the same direction and are provided with the support they need.
How would you like people to remember OnePiece Work?
Align with our vision. We are truly the platform that provides flexible access to workspace anywhere, meaningful localization resources, and multicultural communities to encourage innovation.