It sounds counter-intuitive because it is. The business world doesn’t teach us to think like this. After all, you need to pay rent or else there won’t be a coworking space at all.
True, but the space really isn’t that important. What founders need to understand is that the community doesn’t really care about the space. They care about the community. The community existed before the space and it will exist after. The space is merely a tool to foster generous connection. It is a tool to amplify the work the community is already doing.
The focus on paying your rent, while neglecting the community (usually in the form of cheaping out on events, amenities, or nickel-and-diming members) is a loser’s game. It’s a result of incorrectly assessing your priorities. You’re correct in assuming that without paying rent the coworking space wouldn’t exist, but you’re wrong in thinking the community cares more about the space than they do themselves and their fellow community members. This is why Alex Hillman implores people to build their communities before they build their spaces.
Focusing on your community first always works because generosity is an attractive activity. Selfishness, by contrast, is a repelling activity.
Think about when you’ve walked into a space and the energy feels cold or stale. It almost always comes down to a lack of generosity. On some level, the people in the space or managing the space are acting selfishly. You feel it from the staff, from the community members, and even the people who show up to their events. People don’t offer their time without compensation, the happy hours are filled with cheap beer and cheap pizza.
But when you’ve walked into a buzzing coworking hub it’s quite the opposite. People are generous with their time, with their knowledge, and often with their resources.
Hey, let me pay for lunch. Sure, I have a few minutes, tell me what you’re working on. Oh, I use this tool that automates that, let me show it to you. Haha, of course we have delicious, fresh, and organic food at the Happy Hour! I’m so sorry to hear that, let us know how we can help, seriously.
And guess what happens when you have a community filled with generous people who make each other feel accepted and welcome, which is also managed by people who do the same? They spread the word. They invite others. The do your marketing and sales for you.
This is the case at Impact Hub Budapest.
I was based out of Impact Hub Budapest for three months this winter, while working remote for Habu, a coworking software platform. People at Impact Hub Budapest are so generous with their time and energy and I haven’t met a person who doesn’t completely love it. So it’s no wonder the space is full. In fact, when the new year started the team had to order new furniture and reconfigure some of the space to accommodate a huge influx of new community members. The space is profitable and it opened in April 2016.
What did they do to get more members while I was there? Only be generous with their time, resources, energy, and the space. The prices are reasonable and the amenities are fantastic. They don’t worry about the competition, they are their own competition, always trying to do better than they did yesterday. In fact, rather than see other spaces as competition, they see them as collaborators to build the economic and social capacity in their region.
If I contrast this with one of the other coworking spaces I’ve tested out in Budapest, it’s the exact opposite. They spend so much time talking about marketing, promotions, and “getting members.” Once I saw three of their team standing around and discussing the design for a Facebook ad for nearly an hour. The space isn’t nearly as filled as Impact Hub Budapest and it’s no wonder because they aren’t paying enough attention to their members. They are managing instead of giving. They are promoting instead of generously providing resources for an already existing community. They recognize competition and they want to know how to do better than them.
The picture is clear: the absolute simplest way to get more members is to care about them more than you do yourself, your space, and your bank account. Yes, by all means, make money and pay your bills. But that comes second. The community must be your top priority.
When you make the community this important, it’s amazing how the other pieces just fall into place.