R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part III—OPTIMISM: A Tribute to My Father, Warren Bennis

R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part III—OPTIMISM: A Tribute to My Father, Warren Bennis

N.B. Just to be sure it remains clear, Locus Workspace is NOT closing. We closed our original location at Krakovská 22 near Prague’s Muzeum metro (a.k.a., Locus–Muzeum) in April 2017. Our Vinohrady location at Slezská 45 is alive and well!

——————

This blog post is in large part a tribute to my father, Warren Bennis (1925-2014), who influenced my life in profound ways that I continue to discover. Those closest to him know that even at the end of his life he was the eternal optimist, regularly reporting (and wholeheartedly believing) that he had just had “the best glass of orange juice ever,” “the best day yet.” He would make those statements with conviction, but also with a self-conscious smile, recognizing that we—his audience—might not buy it. “Dad, there is no way you just had the best glass of orange juice ever… again… today,” I would lecture him, thinking I was being a responsible son by letting him know. What he knew, and I was slow to recognize, was that he could. While these might have only been subjective, momentary “best evers,” in the grand scheme of things, the moment, for him, was more palpable and intense than his memories of those past experiences he was comparing it with, and so they were indeed often the best ever. And no upstart, narrow-minded, inexperienced son, who was yet to understand the objectivity of subjectivity, was going to take that away from him! The best thing of all, of course, was knowing that the next day promised to be still better. I love you, Pop.


——————

The story of LocusMuzeum’s closing was largely the story of three distinct emotions: sadness, relief, and optimism. I wrote about the role of sadness and relief in the two previous blog posts. The post about sadness was largely about the meaningful things that happened at LocusMuzeum and the feeling of loss that goes with saying goodbye. The post about relief was largely about the particular difficulties associated with that location and the freedom that closing the doors gave us to put those difficulties behind us. This long-overdue post explains why I feel so much OPTIMISM.

There is one main source of optimism: scaling back helps me find the time and space to transition from being a business manager to being a business leader, from worrying about the day-to-day trivialities of running a business to being able to create and achieve a vision of something bigger that inspires others and keeps the business relevant over time. This transition from manager to leader, “from working for the company to working on the company” (to use the language of Michael Gerber in The eMyth) might be the single greatest challenge to the early-stage entrepreneur. Certainly it has been my greatest challenge in running Locus Workspace.

The day-to-day trivialities are things like answering emails, ordering inventory, marketing, designing the website, building relationships with my members and potential members, invoicing, bookkeeping, and collecting past due payments; hiring, training, or firing employees; maintenance and improving the office infrastructure, noticing the myriad things that matter to customers but that employees don’t have the sense of ownership to care about, etc., etc., etc. Okay, these “trivialities” are not in fact trivial. They are essential things that need to get done for a business to succeed. They are what make good managers so essential to a successful business. And I would guess that almost every beginning entrepreneur works long hours in part taking care of these kinds of things (unless they’re independently wealthy, they have deep-pocketed investors, or they struck gold with such a good idea that caring about quality just wasn’t necessary).

That’s the crux of the problem. It’s hard not to get stuck working every minute of the day taking care of these essential daily distractions, that are in fact far more than distractions: if you (the business owner) don’t do them, the business won’t keep running. But if you do them, they quickly come to take up nearly every second of every day. The obvious solution is to delegate: the CEO shouldn’t be doing these things. And certainly great CEOs are particularly great because they delegate effectively. But knowing and doing are two different things. With a company started on few resources and a philosophy that jumping in and trial and error are the surest road to success, I am in awe of any CEO who can effectively run (that is, manage) their business while also maintaining and communicating a strong vision for that company (that is, lead). Forget about other important aspects of living a good life, like time for family, friends, and exercise.

The idea that leaders and managers are distinguished from each other in this particular capacity is not original. It was introduced to me by my father, who told the story of his own career transition from a manager–leader (president of a large university) back to being an academic in the 1970s. Before that—in the 1950s and ’60s—he had the great fortune to be a young scholar in the fledgling field of management studies, propelling him into what must have been the closest thing academia had to rock-star status. He left that career in the late ’60s, first to serve as provost of social sciences at the University of Buffalo (which evolved into acting executive vice president), and next as President of the University of Cincinnati.

He likes to tell the story—which he told in print in his memoir, Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership (2010)—of a point late in his administrative career before returning to academia, during an invited lecture about life as a university president at the Harvard School of Education. He had a hard-earned gift for communication, with public speaking being the domain he considered his strongest asset. But during this talk, Paul Ylvisaker, at the time dean of the graduate school, perhaps sensing something emotionally discordant, asked, “Do you love being president of the university?” It was not a question he was prepared for, and—caught off guard and at a loss for words—he remained silent to the point of everyone’s discomfort, until he finally responded, “I don’t know.” Ultimately this forced self-reflection and recognition that indeed he was not happy was the catalyst for a big life change. He would have been the first to tell you that it was the best career choice he’d ever made.

That sense of dissatisfaction came from precisely the challenge discussed in the previous paragraphs: he had left academia and the study of management practice to get out of the ivory tower and into the “real world,” to take on a real-life management role and see if his ideas about management could be applied in practice the way he thought they could. He spent almost a decade in that pursuit. But all he was able to find time to do during those years (years when he left for work before I woke up for school in the morning and usually didn’t make it home until after I was long asleep) was manage the day-to-day “trivialities” of administration: reply to complaints, work through piles of papers… put out fires (or so he felt, though he would be remembered far later by the students and junior faculty at the time quite differently).

The insight wasn’t trivial and it wasn’t lost on him. It is the story he tells to explain why he left that work (in an applied leadership position) to return to academia, and how he decided to shift his focus from management to leadership. It launched a new academic career that many would consider the origin story of the field of leadership studies. The motivation was essentially to understand what might separate the job he had been doing as university president (primarily the job of management) from the job he thought he should have been doing, the job that great organizational heads do (what he saw as the job of a good leader), what distinguished effective managers from great leaders. In large part, that is the story of how you move from putting out fires all day to building something great. To quote him: “the manager maintains, the leader develops” (from On Becoming a Leader). He felt he had been maintaining and not developing, and to his credit he took himself out of that context where that was all he could manage to do, and put himself into a context where he could develop.

I had spent much of the seven years before closing Locus Workspace-Muzuem maintaining, constantly aware that I need to be developing, but unable to find the time to do it. The decision to close Locus–Muzeum inspired optimism because it promised time to stop putting out fires and to focus on a bigger vision.

A key insight from my father’s own journey is how important the environment is to one’s ability to make that transition successfully. My sense is that he could not have done it while remaining a university president. The fires would continue to need to be put out. That essential element of time, which all good leaders need in order to reflect on what is most important, to maintain and evolve a strong vision, and to communicate that vision to others, would never be there. So he had the wisdom—thanks in no small part to that one incisive question—to change his environment so that he could change himself.

It is no coincidence that changing one’s environment in order to successfully change oneself is a central theme of this blog post and of the decision to close the original Locus. It is also the original and ongoing motivation behind Locus Workspace itself. Locus—as with most successful coworking spaces—was created with the conviction that the environment is essential to successful location-independent work; even more important than the traits of the workers themselves (except to the extent they have the capacity to choose and create effective environments for themselves).

Freelancers, remote workers, digital nomads, and other location-independent professionals face one of the greatest challenges among all business people becausewithout the right environmentthey are largely alone, their own source of motivation, accountability, and continuing education. We humans, in many ways the most social of the social animals, can’t be our best on our own, no matter how talented or driven we are when we start our solo journey. As my father changed his environment so he could transition from manager to leader (in helping to develop the field of leadership studies itself), coworking spaces like Locus help change location-independent professionals’ environments so they can can work for themselves not by themselves. Closing Locus–Museum reflects a conscious effort to change my own environment so that I can work on my company, not for my company. A good reason for optimism.

It doesn’t hurt knowing that Locus’s next years are probably going to be the best ones yet.

R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part II—RELIEF

On July 8th we posted the first in a series of three blog posts about closing Locus–Muzeum, Locus’s first coworking space. Just to be sure it remains clear, Locus Workspace itself is not closing, just that one location. We are consolidating at Locus’s Vinohrady location at Slezská 45.
The story of Locus’s closing is largely the story of three distinct emotions, sadness, relief, and optimism. The first post explained why SADNESS was so central. This post explains the RELIEF! The next post will share our OPTIMISM about what’s to come.
Given how much personal meaning Locus–Muzeum had for me and all the good things that were part of that coworking space which made closing so hard, why would there also be relief? As with the post describing the good things that made closing sad, there were three main negatives. With the closure of that location, we get to say goodbye to those negative. Aaaahhhhh. Relief. Here they are…

1. Locus–Muzeum was never the ideal coworking space

Locus started at the Muzeum location for many reasons, none of which were because it was an ideal space for coworking. Locus began in a 105 square meter flat. It’s a beautiful, homey flat with three walk through rooms, a jacuzzi-style bathtub, a full-kitchen. The three walk through rooms made it in many ways better for a coworking space than for a flat, but still it was a flat. Not great for events, no good way to expand or even improve the interior meaningfully, no private office options, no place for a future coworking cafe.
So why start with a non-ideal spot? The location was great (a 3 minute walk from the Muzeum metro, couldn’t be more central). The price was amazing (17 000 Kc + 4000 Kc estimated for utilities). And I was committed to starting small and learning from experience rather than trying to get investors and build the perfect model from scratch and find out later that it was the wrong model, or that I just wasn’t suited for the job. For the price and location and style, I hadn’t seen anything close to as nice for coworking in Prague, giving my commitment to starting small and learning from experience. It was the perfect “starter model.”
But from the beginning it was just an experimental “minimum viable product;” a test case to learn how coworking works, to see how it suited me, and to make sure my idea of a “sure thing” social business could actually succeed. Assuming all went well, I expected to move on to a different location after a year or two. From that perspective, closing Locus–Muzeum was a positive step in that direction, it just took a half decade longer than expected.   

2. Adding an extra location seems like it will more than double the value, but take less than double the work. It won’t.

In late 2012 we had 78 members, the space was full, and I had to decide whether to create a waitlist and stop accepting new members, or to expand and open a second location. We weren’t making enough money to justify continuing long-term with just one location, so it was really a choice between expanding then, expanding later, or just closing down. I decided it was the right time to expand.
Part of my reasoning about expanding was the idea that having two locations in Prague would add value to each member and to each location: members would have the option to work from more than one place (for a small extra fee), and the marketing put toward either location would add value to the other one. Along with the synergy expected from a 2nd location, it also seemed like there would be much less work per space. We could have events at one location or the other, we could use the same cleaners at a discount price, interns would have no difficulty moving between spaces if needed since the systems were the same, accounting, legal advice, etc., would essentially be for the same business.
I also decided to increase prices for new members. Prices were in fact too low to make this a sustainable business, and I thought with the added value and expected added exposure, this would be a good time for a price increase. Given what I knew then, I think it was (mostly) a good decision.
Given what I know now, it was a terrible decision. Thank you, Berta, Locus’s employee at the time, for working through the most difficult time in Locus’s history and putting up with me during the most stressful period this business owner has yet experienced. So why were these decisions (to expand and increase the prices) so bad?
First of all, we decided to expand right at Locus’s peak (though I didn’t know at the time it was a peak). Shortly after signing the contract, we lost about 25% of Locus’s membership. Some left because of the season (I now know there’s always a downturn at the end of the calendar year for several months into the new year), some left because the space was fuller than ever and they wanted to work from a less-crowded space, and some because a tight-knit group decided to get a private office together and some of their colleagues moved along with them. The loss in members—I think without any other loss in quality—made the space significantly less attractive as a coworking space.
And just as that new reality hit, it was time to open the new location. Already there were too few members for the original location, but I remained hopeful that the expansion and the change in seasons would lead to the growth we expected. Of course the expansion didn’t work that way.
Many members from the old location moved to the new one, making the original location even less “coworking like”, but not enough to give the new space more than a mostly empty feeling. A big part of what people pay for when they join a coworking space is the community, or at least the social setting, working productively alongside others with that motivating social pressure and the comfort of not being alone. Almost overnight, that was gone.
When we originally opened Locus, we explicitly set full-time membership at half-price, making it clear that it was a special price to compensate for the fact that we didn’t yet have the community that gives a big part of the value to coworking. That worked wonderfully and we were able to double prices later without any surprise to our members or any net loss in memberships.
But now we were already charging full price and suddenly we didn’t have enough members either location to feel like a healthy coworking space. We couldn’t turn back the prices without a LOT of work and a big loss from our existing members, and we needed the money. For the first year or so of having the 2nd location open, we were very near to deciding to close the new location on more than one occasion. It remained far less full than the original and cost more to operate. That didn’t help member comfort, since of course the members want to know their office is not on the verge of closing from day to day.
But then something changed. The new location gradually became more popular and profitable than the original, and that trend just continued over time, until the new Locus (objectively a better place for coworking) was doing great in its own right. The original location, on the other hand, never recovered.
A second big problem with the expansion was that rather than adding value, the two locations seemed to reduce the value. Almost no one worked at both locations, and we had very little success signing up new members (for the first time in our history, we didn’t get a new member for more than a month). Unfortunately, I made the novice mistake of changing two things at the same time, increasing the prices and opening a second location. Along with the decrease in community in both locations, this made it difficult to guess well about what caused the stall in new memberships. I think all three changes were part of the cause.
The price change was an obvious culprit. It’s the only reliable metric people thinking about joining a coworking space can use before they actually visit a space (and most people don’t visit more than one or two spaces), since you need more than a tour to get a real feel for the community. We cater to freelancers and other location-independent professionals, and that particular demographic also thinks about the cost of an office more than, say, your average Silicon Valley billionaire.
But the price increase wasn’t so extreme and it didn’t make sense to me that it would have such a large impact. Counterintuitively, I think the bigger culprit was paradox of choice: members had to pick a home location and pay a 5% surcharge to use both locations. I thought the price was so small it would only stop people who wouldn’t use a second location at all. But in fact almost no one wanted to use both locations, so even the 5% surcharge was enough to think twice. More than that, though, just having to choose a location added a step in the decision process. Perhaps it was easier not to make a choice at all, and just try a different coworking space instead. Well there’s a hypothesis anyway. Thankfully, it was relatively easy to address both problems. The price change only affected new members, so we rolled back prices to the pre-expansion rates. We removed the paradox of choice by dropping the need to choose between spaces altogether. All members could work at either location, no surcharge. Almost immediately, new members started to roll in. Of course, with a lot more experience now, I recognize it all could have been due to the change in the season, chance, and other events outside my frame.
But there were other costs to the split locations. We had to choose which improvements to make where, and which events to hold where, and in general the two spaces were different, with distinct pros and cons. Many members would perceive an improvement or an offering at one location as a kind of diminished relative value of their own location, so there was a real sense in which we had to strive to offer the same kinds of activities at each location, even though the demand wasn’t there and the expenses and work would be much higher. As such, the fact that the two spaces were working largely as a single coworking membership meant a meaningful loss in perceived value for everyone. Furthermore, since the managers had to worry about two spaces across town, it also meant a large objective increase in work for us and a drop in the quality of service provided to either space. And members felt the difference.
It eventually became clear that either the two locations should be completely separate entities, or they just shouldn’t be located in the same town at all. For this reason alone, I decided it would be better to have a single great space than to have two separate spaces each trying to do part of the job. A better experience for members, a better coworking space, and more time for me to think about the bigger picture rather than day-to-day management issues. Another reason it felt right to close Locus–Muzeum.

3. Oh the power of a bad building owner.

There’s lots to be said for leasing rather than buying the building where you run your business, particularly if it’s in a rapidly developing industry like coworking and you’re still learning about how to run the business. The obvious benefit is cost: we couldn’t have afforded to buy our building even if we’d wanted to. And, of course, as an entrepreneur learns over time what they want from the business, the ideal location is apt to change. It is nice to have a relatively easy option to move.
That said, there are many costs to not owning the property. There are many decisions about access to the space and the kinds of services you can provide that depend on the good will of the building owner (or a really good original contract). What’s more, as many people with experience in the coworking industry can attest, the building owners are often not the upstanding citizens we first take them to be. Many coworking space owners have told the story of their landlord or landlady deciding that coworking seems like a very nice business model and deciding to ramp up the rent or just open a competing space with better terms in the same building. Alternatively, the rents may just go up on their own, or the owner may decide coworking is not a good fit for their building and make the life of the tenant difficult, even if the contract is long term and doesn’t permit raising the rent.
In Locus’s case, the owner—or perhaps the new property management company that took over for the owner—simply began to do a series of harmful things for our business and refused to communicate about it or help remedy it. Try as I might, I could not come up with a reasonable story about why it was happening, so I made up unreasonable stories (hey, they’re the best I had). If they wanted higher rent or just wanted us out of the building, they could have simply raised the rents or ended our lease agreement, which was only on a year-to-year basis as it was. Instead, they just started to act like slum lords.
They changed the bells for each flat to a system that made events in the space extremely hard to manage, and refused to let us pay for our own bell system to solve the problem. They took promised advertising space off the outside of the building and gave it to other tenants without telling us. The heat stopped working in winter, for 1.5 months, and we had to battle to get space heaters that would warm the rooms enough for people to work, much less to get reimbursed for the costs. They stopped paying for interior repairs that were part of the contract or verbal agreements. They invoiced Locus for private contracts they had with Locus’s members, and they invoiced us for other services they never provided. And in every case, just to get a response about the issues often took weeks or months. It came to the point where we could not make improvements to the interior without the sense we were putting it toward a lost cause, and Locus’s Muzeum members were left with the general sense that we might announce the closing of the business any day, since it was true. After about four years of what had been a great relationship with the property manager and the building owner, a change in management and the unwillingness of the owner to discuss any of it with us precipitated a complete breakdown in our ability to manage the space.
It must be true in every business, but it is no less true in the coworking business: a bad landlord/landlady can be a catastrophe. It was clearly time to leave. I cannot do justice to the sense of relief we felt in finally closing Locus’s Muzeum location just with respect to allowing us to end an unstable business relationship. Since it was due time to close Locus–Muzeum anyway, we owe a big thank you to the property owner and the management company for making that sad reality feel like such a great relief!
Next Post: R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part III—OPTIMISM. Why we are so excited about what’s to come!

R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part I—SADNESS

It is with great SADNESS, great RELIEF, and great OPTIMISM that we announce the closing of Locus–Muzeum,  Locus’s first coworking space.

Locus–Muzeum closed its doors on April 15, 2017, after just under 7 years of operation. Don’t worry: Locus Workspace is NOT closing. Our 2nd location at Slezská 45 in Vinohrady is going strong and this was undoubtedly a positive move for Locus.

Why three such distinct emotions? And why wait so long to tell the story of why we closed?

This first of three blog posts tells the story of sadness. The next two will tell the stories of relief and optimism, hopefully conveying why sadness, despite its centrality, gives way to the more positive emotions of relief and optimism.

Mafia Night. Thank you, Nadya, for making Mafia Nights an unqualified success;
my favorite social activity at Locus, hands down.

WHY SADNESS?
There are many obvious reasons one might feel bad about closing the doors of one’s business: a sense of personal failure, financial loss, missed opportunities, or regret over poor choices all might be expected.

Fortunately for Locus and for me, none of those reasons plays a central role in the current situation. Instead the sadness stems primarily from having to say goodbye to something good.

I think they tell (part of) a good story about the entrepreneurial experience in general and about the history of the Czech Republic’s longest-running coworking space—yes, Locus Workspace—in particular.

1. Saying goodbye to a big part of personal and entrepreneurial history

Locus–Muzeum was Locus’s first location and my own first business (assuming you don’t count a lemonade stand or two, charging an entry fee to the living room at my parents’ parties when I was four or five, or my first attempt at starting a business in Prague in 1995, which never made it to opening day). It was also the second coworking space to open in Prague (after Coffice, the first coworking space in the Czech Republic, which closed its doors a couple years ago). And, at closing, it was the longest running coworking space in Prague, or the Czech Republic for that matter. It opened on May 4th, 2010 (about a month before Impact Hub’s Prague location).

Locus has a lot of history given the young history of coworking as a concept, and that history is now part of me, and a big part of what saddens me to say goodbye.

2. Saying goodbye to rich experiences, great accomplishments, deep relationships, and no small bit of idealism

More than that historical significance, closing Locus–Muzeum was sad because of the deep personal meaning it had, not just for me but for many of its members. My second son, Adam, was born the same month Locus opened. We had our first movie nights at Locus (thank you Evi and Yuri for your Belgian and Russian treats); joined writing meetups that were part of the completion of several members’ books and Master’s theses; participated in Mastermind meetings that saw people achieve major life-transition goals (career changes, finished degrees, business pivots including my own, etc.); imagined we’d write and perform an updated version of Čapek’s R.U.R. (the original story of robots) as a satirical play (or musical?!) using real—and really small—robots (thank you, Florian and Lauren for your passions to create!); became perhaps the first coworking space in the world to accept Bitcoin back in 2011, thanks to the time and passion from the creator of the first bitcoin mining pool and the first hardware BTC wallet, Trezor (thanks, Slush!); shared hundreds of lunches and dozens of pub nights with long conversations about philosophy, the future of work, inspiring entrepreneurial ideas, and ways we might all make the world a better place. Etc., etc., etc. Locus–Muzeum was an active center of my social-, work-, and creative life for 3 years, and it shared that center with Locus–Vinohrady for another 4 years.

R.U.R., the musical comedy?
It could have been the first show in the world with robots in the starring roles,
beating the above production by a year or two.

3. Closing Locus–Muzeum meant the end of a center for productive, enjoyable work

Bill King wrote the latest book for the World of Warcraft media empire in preparation for WoW–Legion and the Warcraft film (along with writing another five or ten books at Locus). Thanks, Bill, for helping make Locus proud! 
Illidan was lauded by many fans as the best storytelling the WoW universe has seen.

The saddest part about closing Locus, however, was knowledge of the effect it would have on the people who worked there. Locus was an active coworking space with about 50 members working out of that location at the time we closed (and hundreds of members from almost 50 countries over its seven years in operation). These members cared about Locus, helped make it what it was, and did not particularly want to see it close. Shutting down an office when it only affects you is one thing; for the most part it requires a simple weighing of financial costs and benefits. Closing an office when it impacts the well-being of dozens of others is an entirely different animal; not just a financial decision, but a moral one, and one that no doubt kept Locus–Muzeum running longer than it otherwise would have.

 

So, that’s most of what made closing Locus–Muzeum sad. But why relief and optimism? Just as the sadness came from saying goodbye to something good, the relief came from saying goodbye to some things not-so-good (and hello to something better). The optimism, on the other hand, comes from our anticipated future, a future that will be helped by consolidating Locus into a single Vinohrady location.

But this blog post is long enough already, so those two emotional stories—or at least emotion stories—will have to wait for another day.

— Will Bennis, Founder & CEO of Locus Workspace

“Embarrassing confessions of a coworking space”; or “The evolution of a ‘clean your dishes’ message”

Dirty dishes have a negative effect on the coworking space for all members. The vast majority of members clean their own dishes and are annoyed by those few who don’t. It’s usually just glasses and mugs and spoons: easy things to clean. Given most coworking spaces’ strong commitment to the value of community it might seem that getting members to consistently pitch in and clean their dishes would be one of the easier challenges in running a coworking space.

Not so. Dirty dishes persist. And it’s not just the case for Locus Workspace: it seems to be an acknowledged problem for coworking spaces generally, including those well-known for their strong sense of community. Nonetheless, perhaps for the reasons just noted, it is not without some sense of… embarrassment? fear? impropriety?… that coworking spaces admit the problem. And now it’s Locus’s turn to air it’s dirty laundry dishes. Or at least to talk about some of the things we’ve done to try to end our tragedy of the commons (unfortunately without the greatest record of success).

We started from day one with the “Locus Rules“. Every person who joins Locus has to read the rules and click a box indicating that they read them. The rules are short, and cleaning up after yourself, including doing your dishes, is one of the few things members commit to (just in case they thought they were renting a serviced office rather than joining a coworking space). That worked for the most part when we were a very small coworking space, probably because members are more inclined to clean up after themselves than not, regardless of the rules.

But over time as the space grew, more and more dishes seemed to pile up in and around the sink. We joked about different things that might put a stop to it. We could just put a picture of a person looking at us above the sink. That seems to work! Better yet, make the onlooker in the image of Jesus (can you tell that one of my other hats is as a moral psychologist?).

How about surveillance cameras! But Locus (or to be fair, just I) had already been the butt of some members’ parody of the “Locus Rules,” turning it from a “Community Workspace” into a “Communist Workspace”.

Maybe surveillance cameras aren’t the key to building a strong community?
Instead we went for increasing the number of days the cleaning person comes and just reminding members periodically to clean their dishes and not be jerks. The problem persisted, but until recently seemed to stay pretty stable without getting too out of hand.

But over the months and even years the dish problem has occasionally reared its ugly head. Inspired more recently by a blog post from another coworking space owner who seems to have done wonders at building a strong sense of community (hats of to Angel K., founder of Cohere in Fort Collins, Colorado), we tried blatant plagiarism.

An image from Angel’s blog post, “the most effective message to date”:

 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? Anyway, here was our version:

There are a lot of reasons I’m not crazy about this note. First, I’m not a big fan of plagiarism (neither is the community manager who put it up at my suggestion), despite the fact that in this context it doesn’t seem like a big deal, the original version was posted as a recommendation about what works to other coworking spaces managers, and adding a citation in this context would presumably undermine the message.
Second, it’s not the kind of language Czechs would use lightly, and Vlaďka is Czech (I remember signing a letter to a Czech back in the day when people wrote letters, “Love, Will” and being told–uncomfortably–that she didn’t know I felt that way about her). I guess Czechs have since become more familiar with English peculiarities, but the experience has stuck with me.
Third, it just doesn’t communicate how many of us feel about the dirty dishes in and around the sink. “Don’t be a jerk,” or, “We’re not your maids!” better sums it up. But I generally feel extremely lucky to have the group of members we have at Locus, so an angry sounding note that only applies to a small fraction of the members doesn’t strike the right tone either. But the “Cohere” message still felt to me like it didn’t have an authentic Locus tone.
So I was somewhat happy to see another community manager make light of the first message:
In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:

“Washing a dish is not torture /

Unless it ends up in the mortu- /
ary.”
Still, while I like keeping things on the humorous side, the more words we use, the less likely people are to read them, and the more fun we poke, the less likely people are to take the whole thing seriously. Unsure what to do, however, I succumbed to a classic case of decision paralysis and did nothing at all.
Still, the dish problem has not improved.
Happily, I’m lucky to have another incredible community manager who has a knack for saying things directly and without pulling punches, without it being offensive. So here’s the newest version of the “do your dishes” wall of fame:

 

In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:
“GUYS,
WE DO HAVE
DISH WASHER!!!
IF YOU DO NOT LIKE
WASHING UP YOU DO
NOT HAVE TO.
BUT! DO NOT LEAVE!
CUPS & GLASSES IN SINK.
IT TAKES 3 SEC TO
PUT IT IN DISHWASHER
& KARMA IS FOR FREE.
NO LOVE, LENKA”
Now there’s a message I can get behind. And behind that “No Love” don’t you just feel the love?!
Now what do we do about the kitchen without a dishwasher?

Regional Accelerators and Incubators

Below is a list of some of the business accelerators and incubators in the Czech Republic and in nearby countries (or else ones that actively target Czech startups). This is a work in progress, so please help me keep the list current and accurate by sending me feedback or leaving comments!
The terms accelerator and incubator are sometimes used interchangeably and sometimes used differently from how I would use them, so take these classifications with a bit of skepticism. This overlap in usage and similarity in experience has me grouping the two together for this blog post.
For me here are the basic similarities and differences:

Similarities

Both accelerators and incubators provide shared work space and mentorship to startup businesses for a limited period of time (usually 3-6 months) to help startup businesses success. Both also tend to do this on a competitive basis, providing the space and support for free to the selected winners who are deemed to have the most potential.

Differences

Incubators

Incubators tend to be non-profit entities set up by regional governments, academic institutions, or other non-profit organizations with a mission to help support the startup environment. They generally have some kind of institutional support that allows them to provide the free work space and the mentorship. As such, incubators are not as firmly tied to either the limited time period or the competitive nature of acceptance. Some of them have relatively open acceptance based on university affiliation or some other general requirements, and many will not put strict limits on how long a startup can stay. Although they do not as a rule provide capital to the startups, some do, though usually without strings attached or any ownership stake in the company being incubated. Though acceptance may be in batches on a calendar schedule, it is often on a rolling basis as well.

Accelerators

Accelerators, on the other hand, tend to be for-profit entities. They provide free work space and mentorship AND INVESTMENT in exchange for a percentage of ownership in the company. For accelerators, the competitive nature of entry and the limited time period are essential features of the program. They are gambling on getting that next great startup that will compensate for the loss on most companies they accelerate. The investments tend to be small (5-25,000 USD) as does the percentage of ownereship (5-10%). Acceptance for accelerators tends to be on a set schedule, where all of the companies being accelerated will start and finish together, as would a class of students in the same cohort. Often accelerators will have stages with benchmarks, where additional help and funding will be possible as long as these benchmarks are met.
But again, this is my usage based on what I take to be the norms. I may not have it exactly right, and certainly many of the players in these industries mix the concepts as they see fit.
The list is organized geographically relative to Prague, since that’s where Locus Workspace and our members are located.

Prague

Czech Republic outside Prague

  • Help me add to this list!

CEE Region outside the Czech Republic

  • Urban Quest (added 2018.03.29), Warsaw, Poland. PropTech accelerator (Property / real-estate / space technology), sponsored by Skanska, Microsoft, and business__link.
  • hub:raum Krakow, Poland (also locations in Berlin & Tel Aviv). Has both an accelerator and an incubator program.
  • RubixLab Bratislava, Slovakia
  • CEE LiftOff Budapest, Hungary (website not working properly, may be ending)
  • PwC CEE Startup Collider Warsaw, Poland. FinTech focus. Seeking participants from all over the Central & Eastern Europe countries.