The GCUC Coworking Speech I Didn't Give
A little over a year ago Liz Elam of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) asked me if I could go up on stage and “tell it like it is but in only 10 minutes.” I was to be a remedy to all the big scary numbers and unattainable shiny phone booths that you hear and see at big conferences.
As an example, I asked one of the ready-made phone booth people how much one booth would cost (mind you, these are 5’x5’ freestanding boxes lined with acoustic felt…
Me, “holyfuckingshit.” Followed rapidly by, “shutyourmouth.”
Anyway, Liz always asks me to go on stage to be sure that people who are sitting in the audience WITHOUT a million dollars and a corporate lawyer have a relevant experience at the conference. Because I’ve never taken investment and bootstrapped my way to coworking success, she always taps me for this humble task.
I wrote the following speech and ultimately ended up ditching it so I could pregnant-cry on stage for 8 minutes talking about how my coworking tribe was there for me when I found out I didn’t have breast cancer, when I drove my diabetic member to the ER or when we consoled a member whose grandmother had just died. The ad-lib speech I did on the fly landed just right and brought the conference back down into reality.
“I ended up ditching it so I could pregnant-cry on stage for 8 minutes”
I don’t think my original speech was bad. It just wasn’t right for the job that needed to be done. I still want to share it with you. Below are the four things that are bugging me about coworking.
I’m Angel Kwiatkowski and I’ve owned a coworking space in Fort Collins, CO for 8 years. Liz asked me to come here today and tell you what’s been bothering me about coworking. I have a lot to say. If your coworking space is full and thriving and you’ve been at it for more than 8 years, then you are excused.
On Being Lonely at Work:
As coworking grows, you might believe that coworking is a real estate business. It’s not. It’s a people business and here’s why:
40% of Americans identify as lonely. This means they don’t have a trusted person to call if they need someone. It’s been deemed the loneliness epidemic and I blame the internet. The reason coworking is exploding is not because we’ve found some magical way to arrange desks inside walls. It’s because we’ve found a compelling way to CONNECT people to one another. It takes 60-80 hours of contact to make a new casual friend. Coworking accelerates that by putting people in a room together over and over again until they no longer feel lonely. And not feeling lonely is addicting as shit. THAT’S why coworking is growing.
Coworking is not a real estate business. It’s a people business.
On Being Trendy in Coworking:
I was at a brick and steel coworking space in Denver a few years ago for a music event. The guitarist Maxwell was pacing around looking worried. Maxwell, what’s wrong?! I really need a stool to sit on for my set and and and ARE THERE ANY STOOLS HERE THAT AREN’T FROM THE FUTURE?!
You see, this space was super trendy and sleek and all their stools were stainless steel and the seats were slightly tipped forward so every time he would sit in one, he’d slide out. We ended up finding him a step stool in the janitor’s closet that was more useful. Be sure to put your useful furnishings out where people can use them.
Coworking isn’t a trendy furniture business. It’s a people business.
Recently, one of my members got word that her grandmother died. She didn’t run upstairs and embrace her desk and office chair. She came to the living room where the knitting group was meeting to cry and be hugged and handed tissues. Coworking is not about the desks or the chairs. It’s about having someone to talk to when you need it the most.
On Coworking Website Marketing:
How many people have seen a coworking space website with a picture of a big empty room and a banner that says “come join our community.” What? Your community of desks? How is that working for you?
Do you have pictures of empty space on your coworking website? You are my kryptonite. If you feel more proud of how you arranged your desks than the people who occupy them, you are doing it wrong.
No one is going to feel compelled to check out your coworking space furniture. No one.
Coworking is not a stock photography company. It’s a people company.
On Being a Huge Coworking Brand:
If I had a no-strings attached dollar for every person who has asked me when Cohere is going to grow, expand, franchise, double, come to my city I’d finally be able to afford the peanut butter dispenser the members have been eyeing.
I don’t know if it’s an American quality or what but people love to have things get bigger. Our homes, our cars, our debt and I’m not sure we’ve seen any real benefit from it.
I’ve intentionally grown Cohere over almost 10 years in tiny increments. A new program here, a few square feet there. No one change was overwhelming or terrifying because they were all measured. All small. All on purpose. The only reason we ever move, grow or remodel is because we have more people who want to join than we have space in the building. Now, if I just told you, “Cohere has grown by 350%” that would sound AMAZING. The reality looks like taking us from 1,000 square feet and 30 members to 3,500 square feet and 80 members over the course of almost a decade.
Cohere doesn’t lose money every month. We’re not at risk of closure and that’s okay. It breaks my heart when spaces open with 10,000 square feet and have to make that work in six months when the second floor comes online with another 10,000 square feet. You don’t have to be huge to succeed. Be small, be intentional, don’t be bankrupt in a year. But for fork’s sake. Stock up on forks.
If this post hit ya in the right place, take a gander at my book. It’s over 168 pages of down home advice like this.