Two men are talking to each other at the Coworking Europe Conference in a conference hall. The man on the right is turned away from the camera and we se only his left ear and his profile. The man on the left is Manuel Zea. He has dark hair and eyes and a short, neat, beard. He is wearing a blue shirt with a copass logo and a conference badge on a lanyard around his neck.

We got to sit down and chat with Manuel Zea, the founder of CoworkingSpain and the Coworking Spain conference.

What are you known for and what would you like to be known for?

Everyone knows me as the founder of Coworking Spain and the organizer of the Coworking Spain conference, but I would like people to know me as a professional kitesurfer. Since that probably won’t happen I’m fine with them knowing me through coworking spaces.

How long has Coworking Spain been around?

The idea for coworking Spain started in 2010. We eventually got it up and running in 2012 after attending a coworking conference.

If you think back to that time, how did you get it together? What was your goal for organizing a conference about coworking in Spain?

At the time the inspiration came from the fact that the majority of the population was not familiar with coworking. I figured if we had a conference all we had to do was spread the word about coworking to the people. We thought that if we could successfully do that then more people would want to get involved with coworking. By bringing all the coworking managers together it helped us get the word out.

At that time what was the word? Was it to work together in a space, overcome some economic problem or collaboration?

No, because at that moment no one knew the word coworking. It may have existed but most places were called business centres or something like that. We had to go around to everyone and say “let’s do this marketing together” so that we could let people know about our conference and purpose at that moment.

How many spaces came from that?

I can’t remember the number of spaces but it was around 110 people in the beginning, which was great because we only expected around 60 people.

What was your first experience in coworking?

It was around 2006 because we opened our space in Madrid, which was one of the first, and then opened our fifth one in 2007. At that time we didn’t even call it coworking because we didn’t know what that was. One day someone said that it was called coworking, so we were happy to finally have a label. Although we had a space and tried to encourage our friends to go there to work, nobody came. After two years more people started hearing about coworking, so by 2010-2011 people started showing up.

After that happened did you take another big leap forward in the world of coworking or did you carry on as you were?

The coworking was done in two steps. At first in the beginning coworking spaces wanted to spread the word together so that we could make Coworking Spain distinct. We wanted people to know we were a close-knit community where everybody knows each other. Then the financial crisis hit and people started running spaces because they had empty areas, not because they wanted to provide a certain type of space or community. They realized pretty quickly they couldn’t just put a coworking sign on the door and be successful.

For me, 2016 was when there were big moments and big movements in coworking. There is a movement happening again, but it isn’t really involving the industry.

What do you think the financial crisis did for coworking or how did it affect it since Spain got hit so hard by it?

A lot of the offices became empty, so owners figured they would put coworking spaces in so that they had a way to make some money. They thought this would be easy, but it wasn’t. The crisis certainly helped the coworking industry to grow up. Most of the coworkers did not come from those businesses that closed though, they came from people who were working from home.

In the crisis do you think freelancers started collaborating more or less?

I don’t think the crisis is what changed it, I think the mentality of people changed so more of them wanted to collaborate. Coworking provided them more opportunities and more jobs. I offered my customers more services then they could get working from home. Coworking spaces bring together a different kind of people who want to collaborate with each other and helps that network of people grow.

What can we get really hyped up and excited about for Coworking Spain 2019?

Our main goal this year is the make the conference more international, so we are bringing people from London, Denmark, and Portugal. One of the difficulties for our conference and international audiences was the language so this year we are going to translate the conference from Spanish to English. We are also bringing more English speakers to the conference.

What is the motivation to make it more international and start translating the conference?

We are trying to grow a bit and also to have a higher quality conference. In order to do that we have to bring people from all parts of Europe and parts of the world, which means a lot of the speakers speak English.

What are you hoping people will get out of Coworking Spain this year?

Since Coworking Spain is not as big as Coworking Europe it is more like a family gathering. We have about 200 people coming to the conference, which makes it possible to get to know everybody who attends. When you know everyone you can find out what each person is best at and once you feel like a family that makes the experience even better.

What are all the details for Coworking Spain Conference this year for anyone who is interested in attending or watching?

It is being held at ADDA Space, Paseo Campoamor, S/N, 03010 Alicante Aprile 24th and 25th. Tickets went on sale earlier this month and are still available through the website.

You can catch up with Jeannie and Bernie from the Coworking Assembly there at the Coworking Spain conference.

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