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What I learned in two years of running a coworking space.

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

Thank you for your interest in getting to know about my journey of running a coworking space, I feel truly humbled that you decided to drop by here. However, this blog was written in 2018, all of these learnings still hold true and are manifested even more deeply. With over four years of experience in starting this coworking community, with really the community aspect being at the heart of whatever we do, we have built meaningful relationships and memories with many people throughout the journey. Post-COVID our community really emerged out as our strongest virtue. We feel absolutely blessed because of them.

Coworking space in Surat
Our coworking space members in the first year operating in Surat

The thought of starting a coworking space first came to me after an extensive dinner conversation with my best friend, and I was convinced that this is what I really wanted to do. While being clear about the kind of work that I saw myself doing in the future, running a coworking space fit so beautifully in it, I almost started having dreams about it. After making my mind up on it and pitching it to my dad who eventually became the first investor for my venture, what followed was few months of extensive research and study about coworking spaces, how they operate all over the world, the various business models, the kind of people who use such spaces, how workspaces can affect people and their work, and various different aspects related to it.

Before even starting to build the space, I scoured the internet for every piece of information I could find from other coworking space owner/operators. We pored over every detail, every piece of data, every story of a decision gone wrong and connect to many owner/operators in India and over the world, and what I really learned and the knowledge gathered during that period greatly influences how we run things today which brings out a wide scope of usability of such spaces.

Soon, we launched Surat’s first Coworking space — SPACEPLEXX with an idea to form a community of like-minded people from various backgrounds, industries, and working style, facilitating different kinds of collaborations and providing a platform to people to try out new ideas and event formats in the city. Within the first year, we were able to achieve what we set out to do and the impact that we wanted to create. Check out our first-year Review here.

It has been a great journey now that I complete two years of what was once really an idea, a dream and have come a long way from that dinner table, over time this experience and people who I got connected through has taught me a lot. However, these learnings being personal, I hope this could give you an insight into your business/startup and could help you in some ways.

Start Young / Now is the best time to start.

I started SPACEPLEXX when I was 21, contrary to the trend of seasoned entrepreneurs going forward and starting a coworking space. While I had a great working experience being a part of the world’s largest student-run organization AIESEC during college days, which really gave me a major boost to set things up for my own venture and also gave me clarity on the kind of work I wanted to do in life. SPACEPLEXX was started when people in the city really didn’t know about what coworking really was. How can someone work in a place shared by others and city business-scape was largely dominated by traditional businesses. Raising awareness about a new working concept was our first challenge. While some were really questioning about how this would work out in the city, starting a coworking space when none existed for me proved out to be the best thing. We were able to create awareness about the concept, get paying customers, create a community all while learning how things can work out as I was new to this as well. Starting young really helped me in a way to explore myself and how would this entire thing pan out for me while being able to make mistakes, learning from them, and trying a few different things.  During these two years, I happen to have an opportunity to connect with many entrepreneurs, startups, and people with various ideas. I have personally seen startups grow from an idea stage to generating revenue as well as some of them shut down after few months of operation, and a few of them just talking about their ideas and never going on to implement and work on it. If you have an idea the best way to figure out if it will work or not is to start executing it. There isn’t really the right time to do something that you really want to do. If you’re going to fail, fail fast and early, and learn from it and never repeat it again.

Earn people, success shall follow.

While awareness about coworking spaces being an issue in the city, getting on the ground and meeting as many new people as possible to talk about it became essential. What followed was extensive networking with people explaining the concept of coworking spaces, as expected a lot of them really loved the concept. Some of these people ended up becoming an integral part of our coworking community. What I really wanted to build was an open community where people could feel they Belong. Hence the definition of community for me extended from just people working out of our coworking space to anyone who believed in us and interacted with us in different ways. I was always open to helping out people to foster different connections, collaborations in my own capacity, and I did my fair share of executing it. This has really helped us out in a lot of beautiful ways. I believe that whatever we do ‘people’ are an integral part of it. After all, it’s also a people’s business. Always listen to what people have to say about what you’re trying to do, to understand rather than respond. I have gathered a lot of insights about business and in general about life from these conversations some of them being profound learnings.

A rising tide lifts all boats — Community in Competition.

We enjoyed the liberty of being the only coworking space for over a year, with an amateur market. Things really started changing when more coworking spaces started to pop up. We weren’t the only ones talking about coworking to everyone, we had more people spreading this to more and more people. For me, it’s like other community-minded organizations run by like-minded entrepreneurs trying to bring a new working culture in the city. This has helped us innovate more and bring out the best in me yet. One of our own coworkers went to start their own coworking space and more seasoned entrepreneurs and business professionals set up their own space. For me, this meant, after all, I am not the only crazy one who believed coworking could become a new normal for the city. I have come to realize that competition leads to better customers. When we give a tour of our space, we mention other spaces in the city as well. We talk about similarities and differences, encourage our visitors to visit other spaces, and, sometimes, lose business to those spaces. And that’s OK with us. It ensures that the people who do choose SPACEPLEXX as their base of operations are comfortable doing so, and sure of their decision. Our space may not be the right fit for everyone, but it’s absolutely the best fit for our members, and that’s what matters the most.

Have great fun doing it

The energy and sheer creative thoughts you might have when you’re planning or about to start a business versus when you’re engrossed in the day to day execution and operations vary immensely. The best way to keep yourself motivated in whatever you’re trying to do is to have great fun doing it. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be lethargic on some days with whatever I have to do. For me, my escape becomes the amazing conversation I get to have with my coworkers, or understanding about how their business operates. This almost acts like fuel for my brain and expands horizons and knowledge about different industries. Just watching different businesses in the same place grow, understanding different strategies and ways they make things work out for them sometimes is thrilling and becomes a great motivation at work every day. The workspace you create reflects the culture you build, so make it fun and spontaneous. We’re creating spaces that we want our members to enjoy.

Empathy and Gratitude

Empathy — Empathy is understanding what others are going through. It’s about connecting with their struggle and experience. It’s about walking in their shoes. For me, Empathy is what’s being deployed when we negotiate a discount for a non-profit organization or startup just trying their new idea. It’s also allowing a member to be a month late on their membership payment due to some financial hardship. It is for relating to people, achieving compromise, and resolving conflicts. The ability to connect with people’s emotions and thoughts and understand why they have them is critical for anybody in a leadership role of any kind. It becomes even more important in the business that I am in, I believe members need us to have the empathy to feel heard and safe. If we fail to deploy empathy towards our members, the atmosphere becomes cold and uncaring. The space begins to feel sterile, which is the opposite of the warm, collaborative feeling that we wish to create. It is by far one of the most important attributes I have realized while operating a coworking space.

Gratitude — Being thankful for whatever I have achieved till now, only helps me realize the potential that I have to grow further. Showing gratitude towards everyone who has been a part of my journey in any manner has become a way of running this around our space. Not just showing gratitude, but receiving from maybe a coworker or a collaborator is one of the best feelings. When people come to me and say that our space has really made a difference for them, or they enjoy and look forward to coming to our space every day is the most joyous thing ever. It makes me content and assures me of what I am doing, and why I started doing it in the first place. It makes me Humble.  While talking about gratitude, I would take the liberty of thanking each and everyone who has been a part of my journey in the smallest way possible whether I had a conversation about coworking with you, or you’ve been a part of our community, or we have worked together on a project/event, and most importantly the team I have had while running this show.

While it has been a very steep learning curve for me on how businesses are run, branding and marketing strategies, running and operating coworking spaces, business and technology trends, I now have real confidence in the kind of service we provide, what we stand for and our business model and believe that we are well prepared to go on to the next stage. I think it’s the right time to tell you about the new coworking space that we are opening in the city, which is our flagship space, all the things that we wronged are rectified, with a broader understanding of how space can operate. We will be opening our flagship coworking space ‘Ikigai’ soon. yay! I can’t even mention how excited I feel about it. We have partnered with some amazingly talented people to make the coworking space a reality and believe me you’re going to absolutely LOVE IT! - Update on Ikigai - Our flagship space saw a thriving community of individuals, startups and, unicorn startups, and publically listed companies under one single roof. With an astounding occupancy rate of 80% throughout the year. ( We keep around 10-15% space vacant for our existing teams to grow ) we finished our first year on a very strong high, with a thriving community and great revenues, we were also able to generate great returns for space partners. ( 8% compared to the market return of anywhere between 4-6% p.a. ). However, post COVID and being non-operational/shutdown for 3 months in lockdown without charging our community members a single penny, we have opened our doors again and we can't thank our community enough who are slowly but surely coming back to us.

If you're looking to start a coworking space of your own and looking for any help or consultation into areas of how to develop a strong community for your coworking space, or to figure out the right business model for you feel free to reach out to me at aniket[at]spaceplexx[dot]com or connect with me on my linkedIn. - I'm already excited to speak to you.

If you're from a Tier-II city in India and want to start a coworking space, we are on the lookout for partners to join hands with and bring our community and brand to your city. Feel Free to reach out to us to see how we can materialize this with a rewarding business model to benefit all the stakeholders involved.

- Aniket Gupta

This blog was first posted on medium - find it here

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