Celebrating rad working communities all over the globe! In this edition of community shoutout we chat to Elise at Deskworx, a professional, friendly, and productive workspace for start ups and freelancers to develop, network and efficiently grow their businesses in Melbourne, Australia.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got into coworking and how Deskworx came about?
My background is in education, not-for-profit, leadership development and community building with university students, helping them build connections, relationships and leadership skills for their future.
I came to Australia as a backpacker a couple of years ago and decided to stay. I was looking for jobs and came across this opportunity; I didn’t really know what a coworking space was but deskworx was looking for somebody to manage events, build relationships and engage new people and I had these transferrable skills. It seemed like a great opportunity for me to learn about a new industry. At the beginning everything was new and a little bit overwhelming, but it’s been really fun to learn, grow, and innovate!
The space was opened in October 2015, exactly two years ago. It started with three companies that were part of our founder’s professional networks. He asked them if they would join a coworking space if he built one and got lucky in that one of those three companies was Deliveroo Australia who began with six desks and now has approximately 50 staff members. They have really grown to be our anchor tenant.
The coworking space opened with 36 desks. As deliveroo expanded, a second tenancy on the floor became available and provided an opportunity for them to move into their own space within deskworx and increase the coworking space to have a total of 75 desks.
Because Deliveroo had been expanding so quickly, there was minimal marketing so I really had the opportunity to transform it from a shared workspace to a true coworking space. That meant increasing our marketing, bringing on coworkers, developing our community, and strengthening our presence in the local community.
What is your space like?
It looks more professional than many of the spaces that I’ve seen. A fun feature is our cool, kitchenette with a long table that seats about 20 people. We have a standing desk in our hallway for people want to take a laptop and work there. We also have meeting rooms which give people the opportunity to meet with their team members and/or their clients in a private space.
Are your residents tech startups like Deliveroo?
Our residents are really diverse. While we do not market ourselves as a tech hub, our members range from small tech start-ups to marketing consultants and financial planners.
Do you think that having a tenant like Deliveroo has helped you to attract more people?
I think we probably don’t use the story enough in our marketing. When I do tell people, they’re shocked. There were some guys who came by as part of the GCUC self-guided tour, and they were shocked and thought that deliveroo must have enough money to pay for their own space. I explained to them that when you factor in what they would have to spent on the salary for an office/facilities manager and their outgoings as well as the extra benefits we provide, being in a coworking space seems to make sense.
Is there a risk attached to
having one big anchor tenant like that if they expand and move on?
We are just grateful that we have been able to provide a space and appropriate resources to allow them to grow organically in our space which has been an opportunity more than it has been a risk for both of us.
Of course, it would be a disappointment if they leave, but we do not forsee that happening anytime soon- especially because we are currently in the process of expanding their space again to allow them more room to grow.
When you’re creating your space, you’re essentially creating the culture of the space — how does that work for you when you have a company of 50 people in there who are trying to create their own work culture?
We’ve been really lucky in terms of how the space is layed out. When you walk into the space, you enter the shared reception area — if you turn left you enter the coworking space and if you turn right you go into deliveroo. It creates the perfect structure for them to have their own space and create their own culture, but also be close enough for some of their more senior managers to develop relationships with the rest of our coworkers and for them to have access to our shared resources.
Speaking of the rest of your coworkers, what kind of other residents do you have in your space?
We have a real mix — I’d say a lot of people who are attracted to our space are freelancers and consultants. It’s probably a bit of an older, more professional space in that sense.
We have a great EdTech company called Parent Paperwork which is digitizing forms for schools; we have a company called Real First Aid which runs simulation-based first aid training; we have a company called C3X which works with drones and then our freelancers and consultants do anything from human resources to marketing and sales consulting. We also have a couple of tech startups, one for the retirement living sector and one that is a directory for after school programs for kids.
What are the kind of things that you do with those people in your community?
It is very important to me that we are truly a coworking space where members know each other and are able to build their personal and professional networks with others in the space.
In order to accomplish this, one of things I developed is a company directory where each member company has their name, contact information, a sentence or two about their core business function and a link to their website. I also try to encourage is discounts on products or services for other people in the space if it is appropriate.
Right now we’re doing a social event approximately once a month. Occasionally we’ll do a happy hour or a morning tea which have provided a chance for people to come together. When new members join, we’ll ask them to share what they do and what their background is so others can learn more about them and help them integrate into the community.
One of the things I’ve started doing for people who come into our space, especially if they come alone, is partner them with a buddy. I ask someone else in the space who is a similar age, demographic or business type, and ask them to check in. I read a study a while ago that a said that a high number of people leave coworking spaces because they did not develop relationships with anyone. This is my little strategy to help people connect with each other and feel the value of coworking.
What does a great community member look like to you?
A great community member is somebody who can come to a space where they can be productive, flourish, and achieve their potential. Simultaneously they take advantage of the space, the community and the resources that are being offered.
Do you have an expectation of the people who come into your space to actively engage with the community without you having to force it?
I really hope they do, and it’s something I speak to people about when they come to visit our space. I give them a tour and chat to them about who they are, what their business is, what they’re interested in, why they want coworking and why they want our coworking space.
So what’s the secret sauce about Deskworx?
I think our unique selling point is our location — because we’re located in St Kilda, and not in the city, we have the opportunity to attract people to a space that’s close to where they live. Approximately half of our business founders are close enough to walk or cycle to the space . We also offer free bike parking and there’s a tram stop in front of our space. I think encouraging that local feel and the opportunity for people to work close to where they live is that secret sauce.
I’ll often see people from the space on the tram and it will give me an opportunity to catch up with them in a more informal setting.
It’s also great for people to talk about community resources like what schools they want to send their kids to, or what the recommended restaurants are, because they’re all coming from nearby suburbs.
What’s St Kilda like?
St Kilda is probably best known both within Melbourne and probably internationally for our great beach. People have the opportunity to be close to the beach, Luna Park, shops, cafes and restaurants. They recently changed the Acland Street precinct into a pedestrian-only zone, so there is also a nice walking strip close to our coworking space.
So do you get the digital nomad
audience with all of the travellers?
We have an interesting model in that we don’t have flexible desk memberships, so we’re a little bit boutique in that sense. All of our memberships are permanent, full-time desks, so we’re looking for people who are able to commit to that. I think that’s also helped to build and strengthen our community, because people know each other and build relationships with people who they always see.
If you went back, what is the number one thing you would do differently?
Since I did not open the space, I was not involved from the beginning but from what I’ve seen, heard and read, the most important thing is that it’s really about community. If someone is thinking about opening a coworking space it is important to have coworking meetups at a local coffee shop, or run an event to ensure there are people who are interested in the space. I’ve heard too many times of people spend lots of money on a fit out and no one is there to work in it.
The core of coworking is about community, not about real estate.
Once you have a community, you can let that community help you drive your business plan and the type of real estate you need, how big it should be etc.
What are some of the challenges you have faced building this up?
One of the challenges is that marketing needs to be constant. Even though everyone loves our space, people get jobs in the corporate world, people decide to relocate, and people get offers of free office space elsewhere, so every coworking space will have some churn. Learning to plan for that is important.
One of the more recent things we’ve done, is joined the Bayside Community Hub which provides resources and support for people in the local Bayside community. This has expanded our marketing to target from just the entrepreneurial community to the broader local community which we hope will add to our market reach and diversity in our space!