A Year of Coworking: What We’ve Learned

by James Glazebrook

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Happy birthday to us! It’s been a year since we opened the doors to the überlin coworking space, and we’ve learned a lot in the past twelve months. What started as a dream of turning our online community into something tangible has become a bricks-and-mortar reality, an actual business, a space where great things happen, and one with potential for even more awesomeness.

It’s been rewarding, but it hasn’t always been easy. We thought we’d share our experiences, which should be of interest to anyone who’s thinking of starting something, be it a coworking space or any other kind of enterprise. Hope this helps!

Keep it simple
When we first opened our doors, we experimented with flex desks and day rates – until we worked out that we just aren’t big enough to accommodate everyone’s specific needs. We also tried to rent out our downstairs to event organisers, or photographers who wanted to use Zoë’s studio, but the extra income wasn’t worth the disruption to our coworkers.

Now we’re really clear about what überlin is – a coworking space that offers full-time fixed desks, and a private photo studio that doubles as a space in which to host our own workshops. We’re always open to new ideas about how to use our facilities, but we’re focused on being a space where our close community can do its best work.

Not (just) a place for expats
This blog brings us into contact with Berlin’s somewhat transient international community, so we just assumed (but didn’t intend) that ours would be a space for expats, by expats. We were pleasantly surprised to find that, from the very start, actual Germans (even Berliners!) wanted to join as coworkers.

We’ve maintained a nice mix of about 50% Germans and 50% other – people from all over the world who benefit from Deutsch Dienstag practice and just being around native speakers who know how the country works. As an added bonus, our neighbours seem to be into what we’re doing, and some have even rented desks here!

Location, location, location
We always we knew we had a great location – a minute’s walk from Schönleinstrasse on the U8, 10 minutes to Kotti (and the U1) in one direction, and 10 to Hermannplatz (U7) in the other. But what we didn’t appreciate is just how local people like their office spaces to be.

Most of our current coworkers live in Kreuzberg or neighbouring Neukölln, a handful are based in our beloved Graefekiez, and one even lives on the same street! It seems that, in Berlin at least, people love a coworking space they can walk to.

A big empty überlin, this time last year

Be selective
A year ago, we were pretty desperate to fill desks. We had rent to pay, other costs to cover, and our egos on the line, so we let pretty much anyone who was interested rent desk space. That included people who wanted to be in desks part time, wanted to share them with others, only planned to be around for a month – or, for a host of other reasons, just weren’t right for us.

Now we have enough people in place, and enough desk capacity that we don’t have to be stressed about being full all the time. That affords us the luxury of being really selective about who we let join the space, so we pick people we like, who we think will get on with our other coworkers, and are into the idea of sharing – space, ideas and doggy cuddles 😉

This is probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned: pick your coworkers, don’t let them pick you.

Un-break the internet
Forget desks, chairs, doors or a roof – the most important thing in a coworking space is fast, reliable internet. We had some serious teething problems that it took us a while to sort out, even with the help of an expert. But now we have lightning-fast wifi that’s accessible from anywhere in our space – a must-have for an office of any kind.

How to shop at IKEA like a boss

Do It Yourself…
When you run your own small business, you learn how to do everything for yourself. Coworking space managers are often glorified janitors, so we’ve earned our black belts in IKEA construction, unblocked sinks and done so much DIY we’re practically German! But as well as the practical stuff, we’ve learned about accounting, marketing, community management, customer service, tech support… and found people to help with the things that we can’t teach ourselves.

…but know when to ask for help
We couldn’t have done any of this without the help of a wonderful bunch of people. At the risk of getting all awards-speechy, we’d like to thank:
WelanceMorganJoelDanilo for the advice and expertise;
Lavinia and Karin for the business support;
Kathy and Judith for the invaluable interior design input, Olli for branding our space and Dan for building us beautiful custom furniture;
Everyone who came to and helped out at our official opening party;
Expath and Ray for running our workshops;
All of our coworkers, past and present, and all of our friends and family for the support.

Here’s to a great year of coworking, and hopefully many more!

We currently have a few desks open in our coworking space. If you’re interested in joining our little community, check out the full details here, or drop us an email.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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