The pain of seeing you mistakes and being strong enough to face them and forgive them
Launch the first privately run coworking space in the region of Dalmatia in Croatia.
At the onset of this project I viewed the world as a place where everyone aspires to work for themselves or at least independently. I believed those people would want to embrace the freedom that they have by traveling, specifically traveling while continuing to work. I viewed the world as a place where we all want the chance to travel and that there are enough people doing it in beautiful places that it would support a business.
I imagined that the users viewed the world as their playground, with limitless possible work places around the world. They viewed the world as just a plane hop away and, as long as they had good internet and the chance to meet like-minded people, they were satisfied. I also thought they saw travel differently, instead of chasing the sun, they wanted to be in cool places in the off season to get a real feel the culture, people and city.
Who’s it for…
Digital nomads, people who work digitally and can therefore work anywhere in the world. For people who want to travel, but also want to meet others just like them. Yes, it is for people who want to work outside of their hostel or AirBnB, but it is more than that. They want to put themselves in situations where they can make friends, meet local people, maybe have random, cool encounters, and create stories and memories.
It is also for digital workers who work from home, but do not want the feeling of being stuck in their house. They want the social interactions that come with work, but they do not want the rigidity of working in the office for a company. They want freedom and flexibility and are willing to pay for the chance to meet people like them. They are also people who see themselves as international, open-minded and seeking out the chance to encounter people that are not like them.
What’s it for…
In the most practical sense it is a place for internet, a place that does not resemble an office, but still enables you to get your work done. However, I now believe its purpose was so much more. It is to fill the gap that is left in people’s lives when they begin working outside of the office. People who are traveling the world and working digitally often feel unconnected and unrooted. The coworking space would be their home, their community of fellow nomads, and their family that understands what drives them. As for the people who are local and work from home, they too want the sense of community that is lacking when one works outside the office.
At the time of starting the coworking space my cofounder and I believed the why was to pursue a business model that we envisioned would successfully fill a gap in the market and give us a new project to work on. I do not think that we ever pushed ourselves hard to understand the deeper why. We launched the coworking space about 2.5 years after launching a successful food tour business. To be honest, we were arrogant that success would be a given. We saw the gap in the market and thought we could fill it, though we had only ever visited one coworking space one time in our lives. We thought we could take what we had learned from the food tour business and slap it on the coworking space and we would meet with immediate success.
I know now that the why was a desire, a longing, a deep need to feel like a part of a community — both being immigrants in a very small city made us feel like we were constantly on the outside of things. We wanted to build a community of people like us, immigrants living and working there, along with people from all over who were traveling the world. Had we recognized that deep desire for community and communicated it I think we would have been able to build able to attract people who had that same longing and build that community.
There was a deeper change in people that we wanted to create as well that propelled the why. It was the change of disconnecting people from their computers to make real life connections with others. It was funny, but we wanted to use the fact that people need not be in the office to open their eyes to building their own office community. The deeper change was allowing people to see that their world and their interactions are not limited to the people they work with and live near, but that they can cultivate a work environment where they are friends with people and have profound connections not just because of their employer, but because of their ideals and their worldview.
Digital nomads who needed a place to work found us. We fulfilled a need for them. They could walk to our space, enjoy high speed internet and ask us any and all of the questions they had about being foreigners living in Croatia.
However, we open in the autumn and Croatia is known for its coast, but only in the summer time. As we went in the winter, there was nearly no digital nomads coming into the space. That source of people had dried up. We also did not give them a reason to stay longer, the community was not there. There was not much beyond the “whats” to keep there with us or to keep more coming.
The local community that worked from home did not even give the idea a chance. It was one of the first in the whole region and people were skeptical. Originally, I said it was because people were to price sensitive, Croatia is not a wealthy country, nevertheless, I think it was a misalignment of world views. Locals did not feel unconnected to the community by working from home. Split is a very small city and people usually are born there and continue to live there. They have strong roots and ties to their community. There is also the sense that while Croatia and Split, specifically, welcome lots of tourists every summer, most locals see them as euro signs and breathe a sigh of relief when they leave. The result was that the local community was not necessarily looking to connect with more foreigners, especially in a work situation.
My aha moment
The coworking space closed in February 2016 and I have been telling myself various stories about why it did not work, they include:
· We opened going into the slow season
· We chose the wrong space
· We did not have enough local contacts
· We did not explore the business model sufficiently beforehand
· We did not build local interest
· We did not advertise correctly
· And many more…
While I think these reasons are still valid to various extents, I think the real problem was the why. We never led with the why. We always thought, spoke and promoted the what — what are the features of our space, what are we doing that is better, what you get for your money, etc. We never led with the why behind it all, we never explained the change we were trying to make in the lives of our users and we never explained the people we wanted to help them be by using our service. My heart breaks knowing this now. However, I would not trade that experience for the world. I learned and I continue to learn from it every day.
Leading with the why
I studied as an economist and while economics is a social science we try to put lots of numbers to our work to make it appear as a “hard science”. We discuss utility and rational decision making, but rarely do we discuss the “softer” side of things, the true why behind businesses and the people who buy their product. I am pumped about the idea of leading with the why and for me that means to identify the why early on in the project and when I discuss the project with other, prompt it, and tackle and portion of it, I will remember the why.
But there is fear behind leading with the why. And for me I think it is because no one does it and because I feel that I will be labeled as just being too “feminine”, too in touch with my feelings, and ignoring the logic and the hard facts. I fear leading with the why will leave me vulnerable to these attacks, which I have worked hard to fight against for a long time. I think this is why I feel hesitant to try and bring this into the other company I have, the food tour. Neither of my co-founders are doing this course with me and I worry that trying to bring this into the conversation will make at least one of them react negatively or question it or push back against it. As I have had confrontations with this cofounder before I have found that I am now gun-shy. As with this company and any other I will start, this fear will be present. I see the challenge for myself being to see the value in leading with the why and not bending myself to purposefully not be seen as soft or feminine or making things personal. I have this feeling that too often business is not personal enough and that we ignore what really makes our businesses unique and valuable to consumers.
What I would tell myself 3 years ago
My dearest younger Carly,
The benefit of hindsight is beyond compare. You will learn this lesson soon. And why I am not here to tell you the answers to the test of life, there are five things that higher powers around us say that I can tell you about starting this project. hint: it is applicable to other stuff too!
First, this is harder than you think. You cannot actually prepare for this in anyway, just know that it is harder than you can imagine and lead into it with everything you have.
Second, you are an outsider. That is your advantage. Find others like you.
Third, forgive others and forgive yourself. You are doing something new and different. This scares people. Forgive them and when they do understand, welcome them with a hug. You are doing something new and different. This will scare you. Forgive yourself for mistakes, because really there are no mistakes, just lessons learned.
Fourth, you are not opening a coworking space, you are creating a community. Drive everything that you do around this idea.
Fifth… actually there is no fifth, when in doubt revert to number four. Always.
Your older, wiser and more forgiving self