So, exactly one week ago, our crowdfunding campaign failed to reach its financial target. As a consequence, WabiSabi will not be opening a coworking space in Belfast this September as planned.
Opening in September was Contingent on Two Factors:
- That a concrete demand for our proposed coworking space was proved
- That funds to cover some of the considerable startup costs were gathered
Planning and Design Completed So Far
Much of the work was either already completed or well under way. Such as?
- Asking the community if they wanted a coworking community and space, and if so, what they wanted, accomplished by speaking to people in person, on the phone, by email, by social media and via our ongoing survey
- Designing a solution around what interested parties asked for:
- access to a supportive, positive community you wanted to dip into as and when you needed for company
- built-in learning, events, energy, support and advice
- a professional-looking, well-equipped workspace that was as far from the corporate world as could be
- separate, quiet space in which to focus
- buzzy, social space in which to network and collaborate
- relaxing space in which to chat and eat
- phone booths and meeting rooms for private conversations, meetings and video or tele-conferencing
- overall, a space designed to promote creativity and inspire innovation
- an overarching commitment to providing both a community and space that would promote the positive mental health of its members
- Pricing of all of the above:
- negotiating reasonable deals with three suitable property owners from which to select a number one
- multiple utilities and services
- providing membership at varying price points;
- managing remote, secure, 24-hour access
- consulting with other mental health professionals to ensure positive mental health could be incorporated into the design and layout, and use of light, furniture, décor and facilities to support this
Why Not Just Open in September Anyway When Everything Seems to Be in Place?
We’ve listened to those who have attempted similar projects across the world and more locally. They came back to us with one basic truth about coworking: It’s not about the space, it’s about the people.
In other words, if we don’t have the practical, financial, consistent commitment of interested parties, all the fancy standing desks, lightening wifi and locally-sourced, healthy lunch events are nothing.
- Running a crowdfunding campaign is a great indicator of the demand for what any startup is offering. The failure of our campaign indicates to us – and to our experienced mentors – that there is not sufficient demand to open, at least not this year.
- From a personal perspective, we cannot shoulder the significant initial costs without community support, while committing to the an onerous lease and massive central Belfast business rates.
Random Musings and Reactions From Various Sources in No Particular Order
Maybe we’ve not talked to enough people. Maybe there are dozens of people in Northern Ireland who’re interested in becoming a member of coworking community and space for professionals, and we’ve just not reached them yet. Maybe our marketing was insufficient.
OK, we get it. However, we have methodically contacted every person who has mentioned coworking (or anything that even sounds like it might be coworking) online, in, around, near or about Northern Ireland. We’ve run coworking days since November 2014. We’ve managed a social media, blogging and email newsletter awareness campaign since almost the very beginning. We’ve blogged the heck out of it. We’re pretty sure that anyone who’s interested in joining a coworking community and space has either heard of WabiSabi or contacted us. There just aren’t enough (yet).
Do we need to talk to different people? Maybe we tapped into the wrong community – a community that was interested but not committed to joining WabiSabi? Perhaps large corporates want to do coworking?
We think that the emerging trend for corporates elsewhere in the world to embrace coworking isn’t actually coworking, since employees within large companies are already working together. Coworking is where independents get together in one place to work, whether that is for one day a month, one week in a year or on a permanent basis. What corporates are looking for is a cooler-looking office. And, that’s OK. But, it isn’t coworking.
Perhaps bigger SMEs, with a more reliable income, are the better target?
Yes, it’s possible that other SMEs might be a better target. However, some of them have been in touch with us too, but they have their own offices, and bringing in a large number of one company (something we have been asked for) can often break the magic mixture of many individuals.
And, it’s the case that many of them prefer having their own workplace, and even their own office building, that is theirs alone.
Perhaps freelancers, SMEs and small businesses can’t afford a coworking space?
Yes, that is true. Some of them have told us that. They like the idea; they just can’t afford to pay for it. That’s OK. We think the bigger problem however, is that they don’t see working from home all the time, or not having their own space to meet clients, as a big enough problem. Or, not in big enough numbers. (Yet.)
Maybe working from home is still more attractive?
Of course. Coworking will not be for everyone. We’d never expect it to be. That would be ridiculous. And, it won’t be something many people will want 5-7 days a week either. That would also be unlikely. But, for some people, working from home is a choice, a preference, not the result of financial constraints. We get it.
We Still Believe in the Phenomenon/Concept/Trend/Movement of Coworking
- We love visiting various coworking communities around Ireland and elsewhere, meeting the radically different communities and professionals gathered there, experiencing the vibes and chewing the cud with other coworking owner-operators.
- We love exploring new developments, mashups and emerging trends: AirBnB’s Business Travel, coliving, Spacehop or coworkations.
- We love discussing as much of this online as possible with people across the world. Skype is our friend. 🙂
- We’d love to develop a WabiSabi community and open a coworking space. Somewhere. Someday. But, the demand will have to be proved before that happens.
We’ll continue to do all of these things.
- Thank-you to those of you who believed in the project, and who backed our campaign, most of whom we’ve never even met.
- Thank-you to those of you who contacted us during the campaign to provide encouragement, and mentorship, even though coworking is not your thing, you don’t live or work in Northern Ireland, or you couldn’t afford to back us.
- Thank-you to those who attended or spoke at any or all our our coworking days.
- Thank-you also to those of you who contacted us at the conclusions of the campaign last week to commiserate. We’re all zen, it’s fine! 🙂
WabiSabi: beauty in imperfection! Imperfect. Impermanent. Incomplete.