Welcome to another Coworking Values Podcast! For this episode, we’re excited to present our guest.
To provide some context, we’ve been sending emails to the coworking community for us to invite and interview for you, our coworking listeners. To share their coworking stories. And here we are! Jordi Massaguer is one of the people who answered, and we couldn’t be more pleased.
Jordi runs a coworking space called El Taller in La Selva Del Camp in Tarragona, Catalonia, northern Spain. Jordi is a computer engineer with expertise in Linux and other web applications.
Jordi will take us to when they founded El Taller coworking space in a village with about 5000 people. He will also share all about how they focus on their community and how diverse it is. Jordi also shares their challenges being a rural coworking space.
How long did it take you to decide not to work at home but rather start a coworking space?
Yeah, when we’re living Barcelona, we were both working on a coworking space.
So it was like the cool thing to do at that moment, you know, like, going with a followed by a coworking space. And that was cool. Very good, because you have this boundary between work and comp because we don’t we had been working at home for half a year.
And we couldn’t stay at work. So then we just, yeah, we look for coworking spaces. And then when we hype them off, it was clear for us that we had to, we had to have a coworking, but well here coworking was not a thing yet.
There were no coworking spaces around, and they did that’s why the table pay the court. It was kind of the first day we come here because she’s an architect. She just renovated the space — family space, third family homes, and we make a coworking, and it took him six months to have all the renovation, and everything started.
Jordi on LinkedIn
Bernie J Mitchel 0:04
Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Coworking Values podcast, Europe’s most famous independently-run coworking space by a Serbian and an Englishman. And, so we’ve got a little segment here where we zoom over for a word from our sponsor.
Zeljko Crnjaković 0:20
But did you actually just call our podcast a coworking space run by a Serbian and English guy? Yeah, you did. So just you know, this is an independent Coworking Values podcast.
This episode is brought to you by Cobot, our leading management software for coworking spaces, office hubs and flexible workspaces around the world. You know, one of the best things about Cobot is that it is produced by people who manage a coworking space and know the ins and outs and the main problems and issues, bugging coworking managers. So, if you want more time for your co-workers and community, check out Cobot at cobot.me, and take your coworking management to the next level.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:12
Always so well-read. So Zeljko, how’s it going in sunny Serbia?
Zeljko Crnjaković 1:18
Oh, it’s fantastically going. It’s not that Sunny, you know, we’re kind of having some rain. So, it’s more like England in the past couple of weeks, but it’s still abnormally humid. And whatever it is, I would much rather prefer to be in the country of our guest, which is Spain.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:41
So, Jordi, tell us exactly where you are from Spain and the name of your coworking space, and then we’ll get into our interview.
Jordi Massaguer 1:51
So first of all, thanks for inviting us. Yeah, I have a coworking space in south of Barcelona, 100 kilometres south, in a small village called La Selva Del Camp, which, if you would translate, it would mean something like the jungle of the forest. And it a village of 5000 people, and here we are.
Bernie J Mitchel 2:15
So, Jordie came from our hunt from the hitting reply on the Coworking Assembly newsletter and going around our network saying who do you know who runs an independent coworking space? And, I’m very excited about this episode, because it’s one of those, it’s a story I hope to recreate one day. So, Jordie, where did you used to live? And how did you get to where you live now?
Jordi Massaguer 2:40
Yeah, so we used to live in Barcelona, my partner and I, Anna, and she’s an architect and I am a computer programmer. We were both leaving Barcelona. But, things turned very ugly because of the economic crisis, and we had left Barcelona because it was unsustainable. Basically, we just went south, and we went to my partner’s hometown. And yeah, we didn’t want to stay at home, you know, crying there because we couldn’t live in the city of Barcelona. I say we just build up a community here – this is where we began coworking.
Zeljko Crnjaković 3:28
So, basically you went from Barcelona 100 kilometers to a village that has 5000 people in it. And how long did it take you to kind of decide even to not work at home but rather start a coworking space. Was it like immediately when you came here or did you try remote working, in-house working and stuff like that?
Jordi Massaguer 3:55
Yeah, when we were in Barcelona, we were both working in a coworking space. So it was like the cool thing to do at that moment, you know, like going to a coworking space. And that was cool and it was very good because you had this boundary between work and home. We had been working at home for half a year and we couldn’t stand it no more so then we looked for coworking spaces and then when we had to move, it was clear for us that we had to have a coworking space. But coworking was not a thing yet. So there were no coworking spaces around. The first day we come here, because she’s an architect, she just renovated the family space at those family homes. And we opened a coworking space. It took nearly six months to have all the renovations and everything started.
Zeljko Crnjaković 4:57
So, basically it was your own space that you renovated and kind of rented, you know, turned into a coworking, which is basically the best thing to do if you are in a very small community and you don’t know if coworking is going to actually hold. Now, that story is very familiar to me because it’s the kind of very similar story to what I did in my own town in Serbia. So, back in 2013, where, I heard of coworking and there was only a coworking in a capital city. And I wanted to do that. And basically, what happened to me is I build it and nobody came for a very long time, which was very hard to sustain until we basically generated the base user of co-workers.
What was the premise in a village of 5000 people that you have actually thought that, you know, there were enough people interested in the need for coworking? Because people in Barcelona and other big cities are people that are, in digital industry, gravitated to larger cities because of all of the possibilities that the large city can offer them because of connections and networking events and start-ups, and basically just capital and money. But people in villages even you know, 100 kilometers or 50 kilometres from the main cities can be, I’m not going to say are not, because you are proving the rule, but can be very different people from those in the big city and they may not be at all Interested in the concept of coworking, not interested, but they wouldn’t actually need it. So, how did you pull the community? Did you ask them before you built it out? Or did you build out the coworking and then, kind of gradually introduced them to this? Or did you know that there were a lot of digital nomads or people who would need coworking?
Jordi Massaguer 7:28
All you said basically is mostly true from what happened here. The village is much different from the city, and our initial thought was not to build up like a business, but to build up a network of connections. So, if you have a coworking space of, I don’t know 20 or hundreds of people in Barcelona, it’s a business from you. But if you have a coworking space with eight coworking spaces, it’s not a business. So, it’s like you have your own profession, like architect or software engineer, and what you’re looking at is to build up a network, professional network, a community. And we thought there must be more people like us in the village, right because, I mean, that must be. So, we started this project of the coworking more to meet these people than as a business. So, the thing was to build up community, because most people who were in our same situation were working at home without having professional links to anyone else. So for example, because we created this project, we manage to sell a project to the city hall in order to organize a big networking that we do on a yearly basis. And this project was possible because for years we had built up all the support connections and we could sell it, so we became suppliers, not only myself but like 15 people who had been at home, suddenly were able to work for the City Hall. And it was this whole idea of; let’s build up a network. Let’s make connections, create projects, let’s just activate all these things. And, it was a real good surprise because that’s when we started, there was a time where Facebook was the thing. So, Anna did an excellent job of publishing, and advertising all the innovations that we’re doing to transform this small idea we have into a coworking. So people started following us and I think of a village of 5000. If I recall correctly, we had 1000 followers. So we clearly made a big impact. Our first networking was a total success for us because we had here, if I recall correctly, 30 something people, who mostly know about it, among them some didn’t know about it. So, people know other people, but they know it’s the father of someone or the son or the nephew, but they don’t know what they do for a living. And this was like a mind changer for all of them. And they loved it. They love it, coming to a networking being able to explain. The thing was that, they were socializing professionally. But then what our surprise was that those people were not interested on sharing the space. And this was a big shock for us at the beginning, because we thought about these events, trying to get people to notice space, and then they would lean on grant desk, like what you see in the cities, right, your sponsor, a meet-up, and then 10% of those people rent the space. And this transfer was not happening here. But instead, people keep coming to the event. So we kind of changed our initial idea. And we kind of focused more on building up this community.
Zeljko Crnjaković 11:17
So, basically, you are very focused on just your community. So basically just the community of that village, which is an audience of 5000 people or just a segment of those 5000 people that is your audience and is your community in that sense? Now, did you have to kind of adapt anything to suit the needs of your community? Because it would be super and interesting, but it’s very hard for me to believe that even out of 5000 people 30/60 people that are in the day digital space. So when we talk about coworking and networking events, we talk about those business events. We don’t talk about, you know; I run a grocery store and I want to network with a guy who does something on the market. Basically, we’re talking about programmers, designers, civil engineers. So, what sort of community did you manage to find? Is it diverse? Is it a niche community? Is it digital at all? Is it retail?
Jordi Massaguer 12:31
It’s super diverse. Because you have like only one person, with one architect, one web designer, one programmer, because there is not a real community of software developers. So I would say diverse, and not all of them are normative, not so digitalized. So, we have one community. We also have the printer where everyone prints here. And because it’s like a printer shop, and they are not super digitalized, but at the same time, because they belong to the community, or the people from the community know about them and when they need a business card or something. This is called air and printer. And we have people from the recruiter centre, for example, who were selling nuts for example. And so, it’s not everyone; it’s civil engineers and architects, because you’ll have to adapt this idea of, so it’s not like you’re the only one in normative people, or businesses, but people who are open-minded and you can have open-minded people on all sectors basically. And I think that was kind of the trick to get so many people. We focus a lot in the local community, but it’s kind of a layer thing. If we have a local community, we can organize an event. And then in this event, we can invite people from other communities. And then we started creating links with other communities. So like, we are part of this project called ‘Tech’, but if you translate, it means ‘network of coworking in Tarragona’. I think you have some people from Lackawanna here. It’s also part of this network. When we organize a networking, we also invite all the coworking in all our province. So like more or less, trying to get those around us.
And then we also do things with the university. So this way we reach out to a bigger community. And then we are also actively doing a lot of things with the Small Business Association. And this is an association of all Catalonia so it means Barcelona ,Tarragona, etc.. So, it’s an association where a lot of small businesses belong to, and we try to do a lot of things, especially networking. So, the idea is that we have this local community, and then we act as a link to wider communities and help them to get to know basically, companies outside of units. So it’s kind of its local, and it’s also global. And then everyone has their own communities. So, for example, I am a software engineer, so I go to the meet-ups that are run just 20 kilometres from here, and what we do is we make the coworking space the sponsor of those meet-ups for example. So, we are building all these links with but we take advantage of all of our professions here. So, I know, software engineers because I’m a software engineer, so I try to build the links, but I know very few that live here. But the ones that I know that are 20 kilometers from here, they will come to our networking.
Bernie J Mitchel 16:50
So, Jordie, how many people in the village – because I live in zone four of London in a place called Elford. And people are talking about opening a coworking space here. And I know from my local tube station, there are 580 people who go to a certain station called Liverpool Street, everyday make that one journey. And I found that out from the local website. And I just know there are people around here that I’ve yet to meet, who would be open to using a coworking space. And how many people did you find who were other software developers, or marketers, or people that did stuff online? Because I always think there are lots of people around and we just haven’t met them yet.
Jordi Massaguer 17:52
There are a lot of people around. Most of them work at home. So it’s kind of difficult to know them. So mostly, you can find them when you go to a meet-up or stuff like that. So, for example, there are a lot of software developers in Tarragona, for example, which is a city, which is 20 kilometers from here. But if you look at our village, here, I know three people who work online. So, architect, software developer, but then when you start talking to people, you actually meet a lot of people that do things online. But they don’t realize they’re remote workers, because maybe they are freelancers that have customers in Barcelona, and they mostly communicate via internet. But then once in a while, they would just visit them. And here on our coworking space, almost everyone does all the communication through the internet because we have 1000 megabytes. So we have a very, very good connection here. It’s even much better than what you can find in the city. And because of these people are just doing handouts, or teams sending all the projects they have, even if they are like 100 megabytes, just send it to their customers. Or to the colleagues, they are doing a partnership thing or something. There are a lot of people who maybe they don’t consider themselves like remote worker, because they are freelancer and they have customers outside. So, I know a lot of people who do this.
Bernie J Mitchel 19:33
So I’ve got two more questions. One is, you might not have an answer for this, but is there anything you learned in 2008 when you had to change your life and open a coworking space that you’re putting to use now? Because I see a lot of similarities between the economy crashing in 2008 and what are going on in the world right now, is there anything you can offer there?
Jordi Massaguer 20:05
Yeah, there are some things that, for example, during these last few months, we have three people asking to join the coworking space. So, we have six places, right? So having three people ask, means like 50% of new people, and at the end only one person was really interested. But we haven’t seen this interest before COVID. And I think it’s because what we can offer here, and that’s very special because it’s a small place, you can offer a safe place to work. You can’t go into a coworking space with 100 people. We pretty much had only six. We have put all these measures. Usually there would be eight, but now there are only six spaces. So, you have all the space that you require. More than two meters between every person. And this is important because people have been at home for a long time now, and they want a place to work, but they want to play safe. And at the same time, some people have their work at Barcelona, which is a city, and all these problems are a bigger because it is crowded. And these people, maybe don’t they have their parents here, so they come here and then they try to convince the companies in Barcelona if they can just work remotely most of the time, because they feel safer there. And I think that if you feel safer, and you have the internet, as we have, I think it’s a lot to offer.
Bernie J Mitchel 22:04
I’m secretly hoping, as listeners will know, that everyone will move out of big cities and open local coworking spaces. So, last question, Jordie, what would you say to people that want to start a local coworking space at the moment? Because that conversation is more alive than ever. And I know there’s people that need a little bit of advice from someone who’s done it before.
Jordi Massaguer 22:34
Yeah, what I would advise them is to just wait, and then you’ll see, because you try to foresee a lot of things. Until you start doing it, you don’t really meet obstacles. I would say if you think you could be able to, do just do it, start small. If you have a place that is like, from your family or something that’s much better, right? If not just look for a small space and learn. Try to do an event, try to advertise. Very village it’s much different. So, you will just learn while you do it. We learned a lot. A lot of the things we thought to be very different, people who we didn’t think existed, just popped up one day and asked for a place, and the day after we’re here. Now we’re here and other people who we thought needed a coworking space, joined the events but never requested the space. Because it’s so varied you can’t apply the same rule everywhere. But at the same time, in a village, the risk is much lower, because you don’t need a big space. So, yeah, just wait and learn by doing it. That would be my advice.
Bernie J Mitchel 24:05
I’m hurting listening to you, because every summer we go to Spain to stay with my brother-in-law in Vigo, and we can’t go this year because of COVID. And we go to a small village, so every time you say small village, I feel a sense of loss. But we’re going to finish up there. And, Jordie, we’ll put a link to all your websites and LinkedIn in the show notes. But is there anything else you’d like us to draw attention to or shout out to our listeners about?
Jordi Massaguer 24:41
No. I did want to say thank you. Thank you for interviewing us. It’s been great. And you’re doing a great job. So yeah, keep doing it, please.
Bernie J Mitchel 24:51
Thank you. Muchas gracias. I needed to hear that. Anything before we go Zeljko?
Zeljko Crnjaković 24:55
No. Basically, I’m going to agree with Jordie, and to tell people to just wait a little bit longer before deciding anything. It’s a fantastic example on how you can build a community and a coworking space in no matter how small an area you’re covering or targeting. And you don’t start with the option of this ‘place doesn’t need it’, everyplace needs it. It’s just a question of how you’re going to package it in that sense, and a community is the essence of coworking.
Bernie J Mitchel 25:41
You mean, I don’t need free beer, a helicopter pad and venture capital?
Zeljko Crnjaković 25:47
No, no, you don’t need that. It’s a bonus. It’s a plus. If there is an audience for it, but actually you don’t need it. So maybe you can even have your own dream of having someone else open a coworking space for your local community.
Bernie J Mitchel 26:04
Talking of local community this seamlessly, we’ll get into the 15 minute city webinar with our good friends Laetitia and Antonin, which is coming up on Monday the 21st of September. So we’re really behind this, 15 minutes city local coworking conversation that’s going on. And if you zoom to coworkingassembly.eu you can; A sign up for our weekly newsletter, which has all these details and we’ll have the podcast with Jordie and all the other people we podcast. How many podcasts have we done so far Zeljko?
Zeljko Crnjaković 26:40
You can’t keep asking that. I don’t keep track of the count constantly.
Bernie J Mitchel 26:46
It’s at least two now, isn’t it?
Zeljko Crnjaković 26:48
It’s at least one in 40/50, something like that.
Bernie J Mitchel 26:51
Every week we send a newsletter with news and stories from around Europe about coworking. And it is heavily geared to independent coworking spaces , but also, coworking everywhere, as Zeljko said. And that’s it. Thank you very much. Stay safe, be excellent to each other. And it’s a wrap. Talk to you soon.