Two weeks ago, Copenhagen was the place to be when interested in exchanging deep coworking knowledge between advanced coworking space operators. About 50 coworking experts discussed three burning questions, after getting some input on each by nine very well selected panelists. Session 3, held by Matthias Zeitler (Co-Founder Coworking Bansko) about “Niches Aren’t Niche Anymore”, is summarized in this article by panelist Romy Sigl (Founder Coworking Salzburg / Yellowdesks).
Who are you, what is your niche?
My Name is Romy and I founded Coworking Salzburg in 2012. To understand what I do and why I do it, it is important to tell you that I worked as a „normal“ employee before I started my coworking space. I worked as a design strategist for a popular design company. When I quit after 4 years I promised myself to never ever work with complicated ego people. People, who don’t mean what they say and don’t say what they mean over and over again. I kept this promise, even when I got the chance to scale my business with a Bavarian car company to set up a coworking space in Munich. Quickly, we agreed on one of their buildings. After one year of discussions and numerous conversations and meetings, it turned out that over 50% of the coworking space would have to have covered windows, to stop anyone from seeing what is going on in the inner courtyard of their building. Creating closed spaces like this is more akin to the idea of an office-prison than a coworking space. This made me realize that there is a huge gap between what corporates see as the future of work and the inspiring utopia that I experience every day in our coworking space.
So what is our niche at Coworking Salzburg? Call it a mindset or a niche, we offer a bright environment for bright people who don’t want to work with assholes (anymore). That’s why we treat each other as friends, who show respect and open-mindedness to each other, as opposed to viewing each other as suppliers and consumers. Our coworkers try to support each other with sharing knowledge and network as much as we do and as much as possible while having a busy time schedule.
When starting a coworking space, is a niche making more sense in the beginning or after some time?
It depends if the market is already developed in your city when you start. In our case, the concept of coworking was completely new to our citizens as we started in 2011. I had to pitch coworking to everyone I met and people looked at me as if I came from outer space. This situation is great for PR but hard for breaking even. Therefore, we defined a brand new service with the target group of early adopters and innovators. A niche, e.g. doing a space for IT people or for women only (including baby care, which we created later called cowork & baby), was unthinkable back then, otherwise, we would have shrunk our target group to a paltry small group of people. So a niche made no sense in the beginning. After some years in which we did a good job (we had over 300 press articles, TV reports, and radio interviews, not to speak of how many people we reached on Facebook and with our numerous events) explaining Salzburg and the world (we did Coworking Camps in the MENA region) what coworking is about, we inspired others to open their own coworking spaces.
In our city, we are now in the early majority phase, I would say. This makes us think more about whom we want to attract. There is a marketing aphorism (which is also used frequently in the World of dating) which says: If you want to attract everyone, nobody will be attracted. What we love is being inclusive. We welcome everyone who shows up at our coworking space. Our interior design set-up and the way we communicate on social media, tells our story loud and clear – We would like to attract the nonconformists, the rebels, the mavericks, the game changers, the innovators, the pioneers. The beautiful thing: they come in all shapes and colours (not many, but some, even wear suits). What I learned very quickly after having hundreds of chats with people who were interested in joining us: Never judge someone based on what they wear, a current mood or what they say at a first conversation. Because people can rapidly develop into someone you would not have expected within this person when being with positive, inspiring humans.
To sum it up, we are still ahead of the majority curve in our market, but we are looking forward to redefining ourselves into a niche coworking space as soon as the market is there and it makes sense.
What is the best about coworking for you?
A coworking space with a stable number of permanent coworkers is the best job I can imagine for a freedom loving person like me. There are three reasons for it:
1) I love my coworkers (no asshole in seven years).
2) My business provides me with a kind of basic income, which allows me to do what I love during the rest of my time. E.g. co-starting new startups, like Yellowdesks.com, co-initiating fairmatching, which supports refugees to find a job, being a political activist and many more.
3) 12 months ago, I gave birth to a boy. My coworking business helps me to stay independent from my kid’s father (whom I love), which is very, very important for my feminist soul. The pay gap is still there and a baby needs more than four months of parental leave or a toddler group to grow up and blossom. Besides that, coworking keeps me from isolation. My deeply relaxed baby loves being surrounded by coworkers and they love him, so his nature enabled me to come back with him pretty early to keep updated on what is going on in our coworking community and to get some work done while he was sleeping (sleeping time is over now).
What’s next: we are thinking about a co-learning “school” where creativity, problem-solving, digital media, empathy, and happiness are taught as core competencies.