This December, we were pleased to visit HUB385 in Zagreb, Croatia, through a Peer-to-Peer grant from European Creative Hubs Network and The British Council. We learned much from Managing Director Luka Sučić and his team. Luka is passionate about sharing his vision for creative hubs and the secrets of his success. As their website states, “HUB385 is so much more than a coworking space–it’s an opportunity to become a member of our community.” Luka shared many helpful tips on how they built their community from the ground up. We are taking what we learned and adapting it to our own Beta Bar coworking space in Bar, Montenegro.
Beta Bar opened its doors in August 2016. During the first few months, people trickled in for a day or two and told us how great it was, but we rarely saw them again. We also had digital nomads or remote workers come in for a week or two and then ramble on to their next destination. Our primary question to Luka was, “How do we get people to engage for a longer term? How do we get them to stay? How do we build a genuine community?”Luka’s answer was stunningly simple: “The people.” What keeps members coming back, what makes them want to come in every day, is the people. Mainstream Balkan culture runs counter to the coworking trend. Workers and the workplace tend to be highly individualistic. Coworking can be something new and refreshing. Community and collaboration can spark creativity and innovation. But how do we effectively communicate such a transformational, potentially counter-cultural message? “By installing a reality distortion filter,” says Luka. You set the tone for your space. Let your vision and philosophy be echoed on its walls, in the art, the communication. Lead by example. Repetition and consistency are key.
We began building a community through a Facebook group before opening our space. The group helped us pick a name for the space and determine our minimum viable product (MVP). What did they really need from us? What problems could we help them solve? Unfortunately, only one or two of these group members came to test us out when we opened our doors.
One of Luka’s best suggestions was that we offer our insider community an exclusive deal to use our space at no cost for a month or two to give us candid feedback and help us develop as a creative hub. HUB385 offered such a deal when they began and it helped them immensely. It formed the base from which their community grew and gained momentum.
We plan to offer a similar deal to our insider community at the start of 2017. Our goal will be to get as many community members in the space as we can to give them a good look at what a creative hub and coworking space filled with people really looks like, and how it operates. In return, they will give us input on what they like, what they don’t like, and what else we can do to leverage the space and add value to the community.
In addition to this idea, there were several others we gleaned from our time at HUB385, which we will put to good use at Beta Bar in 2017. Here are our top three that we find useful for your own creative hub / coworking space:
#1: OFFER AN EXCLUSIVE PROGRAM FOR YOUR INSIDER COMMUNITY
As we already mentioned, launch a one- to two-month free coworking feedback period, with the stated goal of introducing your community the space. This would likely work best with those already considering committing to long-term use. Give them a real coworking experience. Share this exclusive program with the community about a week or two in advance to build up anticipation (e.g., in Facebook group or other social media outlet). “Free coworking—and free coffee—all month long!” Get the community excited. Show that your coworking space is more about community than profit. Our specific goal is to have at least three or four people take advantage of this deal in our small space – ideally people who were tired of working alone, so they could experience working with other like-minded independents.
#2: SOLICIT FEEDBACK – LISTEN, SO YOU CAN RESPOND AND IMPROVE YOUR SPACE
The adage “If you build it, they will come” does not apply here. First, provide the MVP for your community, and then build from there in response to their needs. For us, our MVP was the fastest possible Internet connection, comfortable chairs, and coffee and tea. After your community starts to form – i.e., when you start to have some regulars, whether by implementing something like idea #1 above, or by some other means – solicit some honest feedback. What works? What doesn’t? What unique needs does your community have that you can help meet? Provide something for them that they can’t get at home or elsewhere. HUB385 is full of engineers, makers, and other technically-minded people. I was impressed by their electronics hardware lab, and the story of how it grew organically to meet the unique needs of HUB385’s community, including the addition of 3D printers used for modeling and prototyping. How could that concept translate to your space? What tools or resources can you help provide for your members?
#3: INTEGRATE THE COMMUNICATION OF YOUR VISION INTO THE SPACE’S DNA FOR YOUR COMMUNITY
Remember Luka’s „reality distortion filter“ comment? Integrate the communication of your vision into the art that adorns your walls, the themes that characterize your social and networking events, the community projects you tackle, the words that comprise your flyers and local advertising. Be consistent. Create the atmosphere you want for your space and watch your community share it with their network of colleagues and friends. For the same reason that keep members coming back, it is the people who will be your greatest resource in bringing in more members. Do not underestimate the power of word-of-mouth and networking. It is why programs like peer-to-peer are vital to the success of creative hubs. Open communication and clear vision help define your space and the people who work inside of it.