Alex Ahom comes back in another episode with Edo Sadiković, Co-founder of Sende. Sende is a rustic coworking/coliving space in Northern Spain, near the Portuguese border. Edo’s duties include management, marketing, event planning, project coordination, community management, and networking.
Alex and Edo talk about Sende and how this coliving space in a small village in Galicia came to be. They also talk about cross-border culture, cross-border work, and community living.
Could you tell us a little bit about Sende?
Sende is a coworking and coliving facility in Spain and, more recently, Portugal.
Sende was established in 2013 in a 20-person community in the highlands, just on the border with Portugal.
So Spain has a tremendous issue, and so does a large, enormous section of Europe, with abandoned communities. In our community, that equates to around 80 roofs.
It was either eight-year-old dwellings or animal houses, and the remainder had been abandoned by people, although they still had owners.
So we did things like purchasing extremely ancient stone buildings, like 200-year-old stone houses. And we began with simply two houses. We would have done so. And it began operations today.
We deal with, oh, 700 people right now. And the Village attracts visitors from all around the globe. So, in all, about 3,500 individuals from 55 countries were welcomed by Navi. And folks from all around come to work there. Even people from corporations like – Google, Netflix, Disney, uh, Boeing, but also a lot of little entrepreneurs and a lot of individuals who, as you indicated, change jobs, so many people change their careers.
They adapted to this new, uh, new way of life, uh, not only digital nomadism, but, uh, people realising that they can utilise the internet and, uh, simply, uh, work for someone or work on their own project. So they come to our hamlet, uh, and everything is sort of, uh, so people live in the seven homes.
We have seven residences, two coworking spaces, and gardens scattered across the community. So. We share a communal kitchen and cook together. We normally make supper together. We had this, we had these lengthy three-hour meals every night. So we’re constructing. We’re keeping a close eye on everything. I like watching the community.
I like seeing, for example, when people come to see why one set of people likes things and another does not, uh, how they utilise the spaces, how they communicate with others, how we can sort of, uh, embrace the protest so they can, uh, interact better. Most of the time. Most of these things are a consequence of using the, uh, oldest, um, three cameras to encourage people to cook and dine together.
So, I always tell Colleen that while we’re constructing, she should start with the kitchen and work her way down. Portugal is present. Now we just have three kitchens and one coworking space.
Zeljko Crnjaković 0:11
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Alex Ahom 0:54
Hi, everyone, I’m Alex Ahom, and this is the European Coworking Assembly Podcast. Today we’re talking cross border culture, cross border work, community living and much more. Recently, I was at a conference in Montenegro. Now, maybe some of the people watching don’t know where that is, but I can tell you it’s a very beautiful country. The region is amazing, but don’t take my word for it. I met a great guy there called Edo Sadiković. And his story amazed me so, I’m delighted to have you on the podcast today. Edo. How are you?
Edo Sadiković 1:34
Hey Alex. Thank you for inviting me.
Alex Ahom 1:41
So, please tell us a little bit about where you’re from. Firstly.
Edo Sadiković 1:46
I am originally from Serbia. Right now, I live between Spain and Portugal. But yeah, I was born in a town right on the border of Montenegro, Bosnia but inside of Serbia. I remember when we were in high school that we had more elections than our age, so it’s like, we were living in the constant post-war political atmosphere that kind of also shaped what I do now.
Alex Ahom 2:39
Yeah, there must be so much change. I mean, historically, there’s so much change in the region. And then of course, in the last 20/30 years or whatever, you know that countries are changing cultures, are adapting, people are moving around. So, living on the border, living across these cultures must have been very interesting as well.
Edo Sadiković 2:59
Exactly, exactly. That’s why I think I love speaking about borders and conflicts, maybe because I was born there. I always say that someone who is born on the border is just a bit more of a person than other people who are maybe born in interior. Just because there is this kind of small cultural difference that you can feel and that you can learn since you are growing. So, for example, our accent from there is a bit more different because we have bit of accent from Montenegro, bit from Bosnia, but it’s a bit from Serbia. So, our accent is quite different than Belgrade accent for example. Not just that, the same with the food, the same with some customs, and the same with many small things, how we live and how we use them, just because we are border people.
Alex Ahom 3:57
Amazing. And definitely travel broadens the mind. We were talking a lot about digital nomads and those kinds of people but yeah, when you’re living near borders, when you’re traveling for work, you’re traveling because of conflicts, whether it’s voluntary or you’re forced to. It definitely gives you a different perspective. And when I was preparing for our talk, I thought of one of my old friends growing up and his father is half Serbian, half Bosnian, and his mother is Croatian. I knew him from when I was like 12 until now and I still quite can’t get his background. It’s so interesting and there’s so much difference and conflict, so many interesting stories. And as you said, it’s shaped who you are and even what you do for work. So, it’s very interesting.
Edo Sadiković 4:56
Exactly, definitely like there are so many layers in the identity especially. For example, if you are born in any border, you have so many layers of identity. If you are in a border where the war happened or post-war happened, that means that it adds culture, it adds more and more layers to your identity. It can be very confusing, and I think a lot of young people are also struggling like okay, should I take a side? Which side should I take? Or should I be neutral or how should I proceed? So, I think it’s a very interesting topic.
Alex Ahom 5:44
Yeah. So, we’ve covered a bit about the geography of the region of Eastern Europe, the Balkans. And I think it’s relevant for coworking, co-living because there’s so much activity and movement when it comes to community building, coworking and co-living coming from Eastern Europe. And I don’t think it’s spoken about enough. But what about the work and life practices, and culture? What is it like? What’s the kind of work life culture like in the Balkans and that part of Europe?
Edo Sadiković 6:24
I think it’s still traditional. Serbia now is growing in the IT industry sector, and especially younger generations and that is fantastic news. That is probably the best thing that could happen to the region. And so, what’s happened there that there are so many companies that are working like the independent studios or outsourcing companies, and that’s fantastic. But also, but 95% of the of the population is still in this traditional mindset, and they are actually struggling in, they’re not seeing the opportunities of internet and what’s going on there. And so, I believe that there is still a lot of a lot of things to come there and to change the status to change the status quo, like in the Capitals in the big cities. So, coworking setting, coworking industry is helping a lot to change this, but in the smaller towns, this is still invisible. So, around my hometown, there is no there is no co space. So, it’s a big deal.
Alex Ahom 7:40
Yeah. I mean, I had a co-worker with my own coworking space for about six years. And it’s not the Balkans, but we had a few a few ladies coming from Romania. And they told me that a similar situation where the work is very traditional. And the outlook on the future of work is quite traditional. So, the older generation what they tell the younger people isn’t really what they want to hear. So, the younger people are moving to the bigger cities or completely away from the region and to some of the major cities in Europe. So, it I think it also has an impact on the work that the young people do and where they want to work from whether it be in their villages, bigger cities or start traveling to other parts of Europe as you have. So, where are you right now?
Edo Sadiković 8:32
So, right now I’m in Portugal which is like half an hour from the from Lisbon.
Alex Ahom 8:42
You live or work in Spain, right?
Edo Sadiković 8:46
Yes actually I moved to Malaysia in 2013. And to start there, one of the first rural coworking and co-living spaces, which is called Sende and right now it’s October . Today, actually, we are starting with the first event in our second space, which will be here also in one village. And so, today’s the first day of Sende two in Portugal.
Alex Ahom 9:09
Many people who listen to the podcast or even work flexibly, remotely, you know that they’re moving from city to city, that they’re changing industry, changing jobs. Some people are worried about the culture clash or the differences. What was it? Was it hard to move to Spain, or was there a culture shock?
Edo Sadiković 9:30
Culturally I wouldn’t tell. I would say that it was much easier for me moving to Spain than if I were living maybe in Germany or Sweden, which would be like quite culturally different. I believe that I adapted quite well in Spain and before I would travel a lot, so I think it was quite smart.
Alex Ahom 9:57
Okay. So, the big one. One thing I really wanted everyone to hear is about Sende. So, you’re literally building a community with your hands, you’re building community and homes, with your hands in some cases. So, can you tell us a bit about Sende?
Edo Sadiković 10:14
Yeah, so Sende’s a coworking, co-living in Spain and now in Portugal. In Spain, we built Sende in 2013 and it’s located in the 20 Hamptons village in the mountains, right on the border with Portugal.
Alex Ahom 10:32
So, just wait a minute, just in case anyone didn’t hear that. How many people live in the village Sende?
Edo Sadiković 10:38
Alex Ahom 10:39
20 People. Wow.
Edo Sadiković 10:41
Only 20 Villagers.
Alex Ahom 10:43
Amazing. So, 20 people living there. So, what’s the housing like? I know you said before, you know in the conference that you’re building houses and things like that. So, how do people live in this village of 20 people?
Edo Sadiković 11:01
Yeah, so Spain has a big problem, and a big part of Europe has big problems with abandoned villages. So, in our village that is like 80 rooms, it was 80 old houses or animal houses. And the rest were abandoned by people, but they had the owners of course so, what we did is like we would buy very old stone houses like 200 years old stone houses, and we started with only two houses, we would rebuild them and started to operate. Today we have seven houses, and we have people from all over the world. So, basically until now we hosted almost more than 3500 people from 55 countries. And people from everywhere come there to work, even people from the companies everyone knows like Google, Netflix, Disney, Boeing, but also a lot of small entrepreneurs and a lot of people who, as you mentioned, change careers.
So many people changed their career, they adapted to this new way of living, not just digital nomadism but just people realize that they can use the opportunity of internet and just work for someone or work on their own project. So, what they do, they come to our village. People live in the seven houses. We’ve got seven houses, two coworking spaces, gardens, and they are all around the village. So, we have one common kitchen where we cook together. We usually cook together dinners; we have these long three-hour dinners every night. We are observing a lot. I love observing community, I love observing when people come, where they are going to sit, why one group of people like the stairs and others not, how they use the spaces, how they interact with people, how we can hack the project so they can interact better. And most of these things are resolved with the oldest trick which is to put people to cook together and to eat together. So, I always say when we are building co-living, first build the kitchen and the rest that’s very important to go here. Now we have three kitchens and only one coworking space.
Alex Ahom 13:29
That makes sense. I mean you know, again, my cupboard space was quite different. But to what you have there, of course, but I didn’t know that it was a very important element to the social side of my space. And that was the kind of cafe area. I wanted to have a cafe or bar, a restaurant, a place that people could eat, because that’s something that across cultures, across borders, we all share this fascination and this interest and this need not only to eat but to have input not just food but cultural input, emotional inputs, intellectual input, and that can happen around food. So yeah, I’m not surprised that that happens. But I’m just blown away that you’ve gone there to this abandoned village. You’re getting houses, 200-year-old stone houses, repairing them with your hands, with the community, building them and people from all over the world. Fifty-five countries are coming to be in the community, to be part of something because the cities, and I’m going to ask that later on about city life. I was born and raised in one of the biggest cities in the world and definitely one of the biggest cities in Europe and I loved it, but there’s a charm and there is something great about smaller groups. Something that is also very nourishing and good for the soul. But building communities with your hands is very impressive, but as a community leader as the community grows, do you worry that it will lose its charm if more and more people hear these stories? Or do you worry that everybody will come, and it will make it into the next Madrid or Barcelona or what do you think about how the community is growing or how it will how it will grow?
Edo Sadiković 15:29
I believe that we try to keep it small. It’s a small portrait. Sende’s not start up, it’s a small business that works and so now we just started with Sende two and I’m not sure if we are going to build one more somewhere. I think if we could build 10 more probably and I believe they would work but I think there is this freedom also freedom of us who are running the space and making it work so well. I think it’s also important that keeping it small is also the reason why it works. If this becomes a company with 50 employees, my whole responsibility will grow, responsibility where everyone would grow, and I wouldn’t believe that Sende would be the same.
So, I think people come because it’s a place full of basics that we need, that everything is logical somewhat. But there isn’t any kind of luxury or any kind of useless additional elements around so, I believe if we keep it like this small, it will always work. And I think we can also control it; we can easily control it. So, we can control the growth. People cannot come there and buy houses because there is no houses and there is not much room to grow for example in our village in Spain. So, what we can do, we can grow with events, but for digital nomads who are coming, there is always a limited number of people. And there is a sweet spot number and so it’s nice to keep it small, but it’s also cool that people know that this is small, so they are already for example booking next year just to have their own spot incentive for one month. And I think this is all part of this charm of Sende, but also it helped us with our marketing and for us personally. Our aim is not to get super rich with Sende, but to make the idea of small business and we are almost there.
I think it’s very important that, like you mentioned, the idea of small business. I’ve spoken a lot about what the perception is of business and the perception of coworking. When I started my coworking space, a lot of people I spoke to, the perception of coworking wasn’t necessarily correct. Especially in this part of the world, I think the perception was a bit off. And over the years when a few huge global players, well-funded spaces came in to play. Again, this perception changed, but the reality is that the vast majority of coworking spaces and communities are small and they are like yours, and they’re like mine that they’re not necessarily the 30,000 square meter offices that cost 10,000/ 20,000 a month. They are about real connections, real people, but also the sustainability element is important. It’s a business as you said and businesses most of the time need to make money to survive.
So, that’s also a challenge that many co-living coworking spaces have is how do they make money? They may have loads of fans, they may have loads of followers on social media, but there are still people to pay or bills to pay. And we must promote financially sustainable business as well because again, a lot of people that we speak to are freelancers and they shouldn’t work for free, they need to be paid. I think we need to also promote the idea that people are rewarded, also financially. I think we’re all getting a lot of emotional and intellectual rewards from this and we’re helping people but there needs to be a business element to it as well. Just on that point, you mentioned a successful business. So, things are also going well in that regard.
Edo Sadiković 19:59
Definitely. I believe that it’s much easier to run a co-living and coworking than just coworking because just the numbers are different. Co-living, the element of accommodation adds a lot, and the business is going very well. I was also a board member of the Impact Hub Vigo, and it was very difficult. I learned how difficult it is to run a coworking in the city because I didn’t know you need 40 chairs at least just to survive and to pay one salary and to pay the rent of the space and then in co-living its totally different. There is this element of charging for accommodation and then that is correct.
And then there are also co-living who will charge for food so, the numbers are completely different, and I would say it’s a completely different business even though community can be similar. I would say the business is completely different and especially in the village because today people realize that okay, we can work from anywhere. And so many people actually like to live in the village because before people went, why would they live in the village like 100 years ago, because it was a nice place to live, they had their animals and they enjoyed it. It was almost the same to live in the city or in the village and today this era came back because now with internet, we can live in the middle of nowhere. We can have nice air, we can have everything green around, we can have the whole this inspiration and we can live there. So, basically what we are learning is that this business is very good. I believe if we started like 10 centers today that they would function.
So, I was following closely this co-living industry in rural, like most of the spaces were fully booked. I think Corona boosted the business. And I will say, all spaces who are working on community, they were working well. So, there is like this big era in this co-living industry that people are promoting their nice fancy rooms and they say hey, I have these nice rooms and there is a desk and there is internet, so it’s co-living. No, that’s Airbnb. So, basically co-living is with people around and with community around who have an actual purpose to be in that space and at the same time, and together. So, I think if we put these three pieces together like space, workspace, and community, today’s the day, I think, to run this kind of business and it will probably grow because it’s just a logical integral, because people need to work online. People can work from anywhere, so many companies now just closing their offices. But people still want to work from somewhere, and a lot of people just don’t want to be in their home all the time.
Alex Ahom 23:21
Amazing. Well, thanks for that. I have one more question for you before I let you go. I know you have a busy day, you got events there and in Portugal, good luck with that. I wanted to know is the future of work and life, in your opinion, is it outside the bigger cities? Do you think you’re going to see more people leaving mega cities and going to villages and smaller cities?
Edo Sadiković 23:45
Maybe we will not see this change so fast. But I think it’s very commonsensical because there are people who love the city, they will stay forever in the city. But then there are like millions and millions of people who are in the city because they went there to make money to survive. And before that was super logical to go in the city because there are opportunities in the city, but indirectly changing everything. So, now we can literally be in the mountain in a small cabin with 4g and we can work from there. So, even slow internet can work.
So, until last year, we had a very slow internet in our village. We were operating seven years with very lousy internet and Sende was full, and people actually didn’t mind when they put on the scale. Lousy internet and all their freedom that they can do that. They wake up, they make the orange juice, they make their breakfast, they sit to work, then they chat with people, then they come back to work, then they cook together, then they hike, then they enjoy this nature. So, basically when they put on a scale, what is given to them, they choose nature, they choose this kind of life and then internet because they wait a bit, but they work. So, luckily now we have good internet. I don’t have a doubt about this.
Alex Ahom 25:20
I can relate to that. I think my worst in the early days of having space. One of my worst nightmares was if the internet went down what would people do? And I remember I think it was Elisa Lam and Alex Hillman, some very well-known coworking influencers. They were trying to convince me to go to the European Coworking Conference for the first time. And I was terrified of leaving my space because I’d been there all day every day for the first few years. And eventually they convinced me to go to this conference. I think it was Milan. And the day I left. The internet went down and then the community was calling me, some of the people who were working there were calling me Alex has gone down as a big desert disaster catastrophe. And I was so scared and worried. But you’re right. What I realized is because we had built a real community and it wasn’t just a buzzword. I wasn’t just saying it because where I’m from my upbringing, like you, it meant something more. And somehow I built an actual community. We didn’t have hundreds and hundreds of people, but we had people there. And they liked each other, and they work with each other.
They trusted each other, they enjoyed being in the same space and when the internet went down, they found solutions to work. It went down for like, just under a day. But they found solutions to finish off what they were doing. Some of them went for a walk with others. Some of them started to make food, they played some games. As I said the ones that needed to work, they found other solutions, but nobody cancelled their membership. No one was giving me one-star ratings or anything. It was fine. So, you’re right. I think if you build a real community and this real connection between people when things go wrong, they don’t go that wrong most of the time. Great to hear that as well from you. And so really, thanks for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure. How can people reach you or hear more about what you’re doing?
Edo Sadiković 27:32
They can check our website, which is send.co, there is no ‘m’ at the end.
Alex Ahom 27:46
Great. And so yeah, if anyone wants to reach out to Sende, it’s sende.co. So, thank you very much once again, I’m going to let you get back to planning and preparing for all the great events you have. Goodluck for the launch. And that’s it for today. I have been Alex Ahom, and this has been the European Coworking Assembly podcast. You can reach me at alexahom.com. You can also reach out to me at LinkedIn, all those other social media platforms and almost everywhere. Thanks for listening and I will see you again next time.