Making Dreams Reality with NaNoWriMo

Making Dreams Reality with NaNoWriMo

by Beth Green

Today is Halloween, so it’s an appropriate day to ask: What are you afraid of? What specific dread creeps up on you in the dark, when you’re alone?

Many Locus members, I suspect, share one of my fears: The fear of leaving a dream unrealized.

That one project you’ve always wanted to dive into; a pool of potential that only you recognize. Whether that’s a side business you know would be a hit, a spec project that could have real damn legs if only you could take the time to tinker with it, or a creative oeuvre no one is paying for (yet) but you just know deserves to be made real.

A few months ago, Locus Workspace owner Will Bennis sent out a survey asking us about these types of projects. As he called them, “the ones that stay in your mind for years.”  Exactly half of the respondents confessed that they had nurtured a project idea for years that they had not yet managed to complete.

It is for this half of the population that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was created. And is this group within Locus Workspace that I would like to invite to the NaNoWriMo Write-Ins that I’ll be hosting on November 4th and 25th in the big conference room. (OK, I lied. All Locus members are invited!)

What is NaNoWriMo?

In case you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, a quick explanation: It’s a 30-day event, held in November, in which participants challenge themselves to write the first, hilariously messy draft of a 50,000-word novel. In other words, it’s an opportunity and a blueprint for setting aside time to get one of these big projects out of your head and into the real world.

For most NaNoWriMo participants, this is a novel, but NaNoRebels may choose to write a series of poems, or essays, or work on a thesis, or storyboard an indie film, or whatever their beautiful, messy minds come up with. In the past 15 years, I’ve personally used NaNoWriMo for momentum to edit existing drafts and do a series of travel memoir essays in addition to novel first drafts.

Now do every one of the projects that the estimated 400,000 participants (last year’s numbers) take on turn into a masterpiece? Maybe not. But many do. NaNoWriMo projects that ended up as published novels include Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (later a movie), The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and Wool by Hugh Howey.

Much like you might join the gym to help you get ready to run a marathon, or take salsa lessons to make sure that you don’t embarrass yourself at your cousin’s wedding next year, or any other kind of small incremental goal that leads up to something more significant, NaNoWriMo encourages you to think of novel writing as something that you practice a little bit each day to work towards one giant goal.

And that’s a takeaway for all of us.

OK, What’s a Write-in?

Though the NaNoWriMo founders maintained that everyone could write a novel with just the scraps of free time that we have when waiting for the tram, for rice to boil, for the conference call to be over, most of us find it helpful during the month to set aside longer chunks of time to write.

At the write-ins on Nov. 4 and 25, we’ll have a quiet, welcoming space (and coffee and donuts! And official NaNoWriMo swag!) for anyone who wants to come and work on their writing project. Often, we use Pomodoro sessions to help focus, and sometimes we set group goals or talk over plot problems. (For more info, check out my blog post from last year’s write-ins)

You are welcome to come to our write-ins, even if you’re not participating in the full NaNoWriMo event. The more, the merrier!

Happy writing!

RSVP links

Sun, Nov. 4th, 10:00-4:30
Sun, Nov. 25th, 10:00-4:30
http://meetu.ps/c/LTHg/jl88s/f

Other Opportunities to Write at Locus

Interested in other opportunities to work on a big project with the moral support of other writers? The Prague Writers’ group holds weekly critique-free writing sessions on Saturdays at Locus. Learn more at:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/263394070348958/

Prague as a digital nomad destination

Prague as a digital nomad destination
“Prague Castle, a castle complex in Prague, Czech republic” in travelercorner.com

The first question is: “What makes a great digital nomad destination?”

There are some characteristics that make a destination ideal for digital nomads and their lifestyle. Here is a list of some of the most important characteristics: affordable cost of living, high-speed and secure Internet connection, a community of other digital nomads, good places to work from, good living conditions (safety, freedom of speech, tolerance, etc.). 
 
For several years, Southeast Asian cities (Chiang Mai, Bali, Ho Chi Minh City…) have been very popular among digital nomads and seem to be ideal places for their nomadic lifestyle. But EU cities are gaining ground, especially Central European cities such as Prague and Budapest.
“How to travel as a digital nomad” in retireby45.com

Now let’s explore the reasons why Prague has been a hotspot for digital nomads

  • A global phenomenon

Digital nomadism is exploding around the world. Prague has been one of the popular spots since the beginning and has benefitted from the global growth of this phenomenon.

  • Affordable cost of living
Prague is one of the most affordable cities in Europe and it’s a big reason why location-independent professionals make it a hub. According to the website Expatistan.com the cost of living there is around 50% cheaper than in Paris and 34% cheaper than in Berlin. In some restaurants or pubs, beer is even cheaper than water!
  • Architecture and History
“Food tour in the Czech Republic, Prague” in tourily.com

Prague is in the heart of Europe and many people say it is the most beautiful city in Europe!

  • High-quality infrastructure

You will find very modern infrastructure next to very old buildings and bridges, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice work efficiency or quality of life for your taste of history.

  • Great geographical location

Prague is in the heart of Europe. The country is surrounded by Austria, Slovakia, Poland and Germany, with almost the same distance from the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. Thus it’s quite easy to travel Europe with Prague as a base.

  • English speakers abound

Many Czechs (especially the younger ones) speak English well, making it an easy city to navigate if you don’t speak the local language (Czech!). You can also meet other foreigners and travelers. There are many of them! (Vinohrady is one of the neighborhoods favored by English-speaking expats).

Locus Workspace
  • Good places for productive work
Depending on your preferences, you can work either from lovely cafés or modern coworking spaces. Locus Workspaces is one of the favorites for digital nomads as we are an English-language space with members from nearly 30 countries. But there are many great cafés and coworking spaces in Prague that help make it a great spot for location-independent professionals.
  • Vibrant (night) life
Lots of events are taking place every day in Prague: concerts, festivals, markets, exhibitions… At night, the city centre in even more bustling due to the huge number of bars and clubs. Prague is a great European city for living it up.
“Prague Farmers’ markts and Flea-markets” in prague.eu – “Cross Club, nighlife in Prague” in likealocalguide.com
Prague is currently ranked as the 7th best cities in the world for digital nomads, according to Nomadlist.com, the premier web-portal for digital nomads (though this number changes daily). Check out the whole report about Prague here.

Member Profile: Fredrik Lyhagen

Member Profile: Fredrik Lyhagen
Check out Fredrik’s website here
 
What is your name? Fredrik Lyhagen
Where are you from?
Landskrona, Sweden
What’s a fun or interesting fact about where you’re from?
It was founded in 1413 when the southern part of Sweden was Danish and the city was intended to become the capital of the region called Scania. Landskrona directly translates to “the crown of the country”.

What do you do?I’m currently running the alliance with IBM for American IT-company Juniper Networks covering the Middle East, Turkey, Africa region. And in my spare time, I’m building a business around my passion for leadership in a context of purpose beyond profit so I work with senior management teams to transform business for good. Note the dual meaning of “for good”.
What are you currently working on that you’re most excited about?At the moment I’m focused on delivering three-day experiences for management teams in large international companies. The course is centered on self-leadership on the premise that leadership is the conversation and you can’t relate to others greater than you can relate to yourself. It’s through a partnership with Oxford Leadership.
Why did you choose to work from Prague?
My wife is Czech. We met in Amsterdam where we were both working, and when we became parents we moved to Prague after a 3 years detour to Sweden.
Why did you choose to work from a coworking space?
I was either sitting at home or traveling. I have stuck at Locus because I’m much more productive and there are fewer distractions. There’s a social aspect as well, so I have someone to get lunch or coffee with. Now over the years I have developed friendships and have collaborated with some people business-wise.
Why did you choose Locus in particular?
I heard through word of mouth about Locus originally. I tried a few other coworking spots in Prague, but I’ve stuck with Locus because the atmosphere is unique compared to those other spaces. The mix of nationalities, different professions, and it’s very laid back.
What best describes the kind of location-independent work you do?
Stable because I am settled here with my family, but still work remotely and travel.
Before you joined a coworking space, what were the biggest challenges of doing that kind of work?I felt lonely and was struggling to stay focused. Since joining Locus my productivity has gone up and both my personal life and business has benefited from being a part of this environment.
What is the main benefit you’ve gotten working from Locus (not already mentioned above)?
I do my best work here, and the social network.

What’s the best thing about living and working in Prague, from the perspective of being a location-independent professional?
It’s the perfect size for a city; big enough to have everything but small enough to get around easily. The big international community, the beauty of the city, and the location in Central Europe makes it a great place to live.
Any other interesting projects you’re working on that you haven’t mentioned already?
Yes, observing what’s going on in the world as well as drawing from my experience from both corporate life and general life experience, I’ve become very interested in male identity. I think the male identity is in a crisis so I’m now working on setting up a community to help men live closer to their heart. I think it’s critical for a sustainable and inclusive development of this world that we have positive male role models, and this work starts with each one of us.
What is a fun fact about you?
In 1998 I released a five-track CD.

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!