Ryan Chatterton, Marketing Director of Habu, provided an unbiased view of the landscape of technologies that one might use in a coworking space, at the Coworking Unconference Asia – CUAsia 2018 Academy. He started his career with marketing at ClearLink about seven years ago. Then he moved to San Francisco and worked at PARISOMA as the education and events manager. Ryan started Coworking Insights, a leading publisher of content and information for coworking space managers, teams, and founders, in 2015. He later created the Coworking Tools Guide 2016; the idea was to review all the coworking management platforms, to compare them regarding how they do specific things, the features they use.
At the start of the session, he addressed the ‘one tool myth.’ When you are in the initial stages of launching your coworking space, it can be overwhelming to consider all the factors related to your space. Such as finding a space, securing a lease, buying furniture; figuring out how to build a community, how to track members, community partnerships and so on. You may come across the perfect tool, claiming to provide automated building, flexible membership plans, membership automation machine, basically anything and everything that will lead to painless and easy community building. All you have to do is sign up. However, Ryan believes there is no ‘one tool’ for coworking spaces; so tools that claim to do everything for you, typically require more support and are more complicated. Prices tend to be higher with tools that trade you everything as well. In general, when a company tends to do everything, they tend to do a lot of things a bit poorly. Ryan states, “Tech is not here to replace us, it’s here to enhance the things that we are doing, it’s here to enhance the community that we are building.” He prefers the multi-tool approach, as in multiple tools.The rest of his talk was broken down into three sections; basic, moderate and sophisticated.
When Ryan started with Impact Hub, their members were doing most of their membership management; tracking what membership plans people were on, charging people via Paypal, using Google Sheet. At about 15 to 20 members, it started to get unmanageable, and it became hard to keep track of things. He suggested Recurly for small spaces and for those who likes to get things done manually.
At a moderate level, things like automatic online payment processing, recurring billing, basic memberships can be handled by providers like Chargebee; however, they don’t usually come with built-in ways for charges on a member’s account to update dynamically based on their active use of the space or meeting room bookings. Members will sign up when the account management is better. There is also integration with other tools, like booking, printing in Nexudus control. Ryan suggests to start with a dedicated platform, then find other great tools to fill in the gaps in your technology. They are pretty easy to use, although they vary in user setup between different providers, so look into different providers to find out more about them.
Next, he talked about marketing technologies which are a very useful tool for coworking spaces. At the basic level, we have printed material and word-of-mouth. When it comes to printed material such as web pages; there are platforms like WordPress and Squarespace, that can be used to create a basic information website, at low cost. WordPress provides thousands of premium themes, but Squarespace is probably easier to use for setting up a site.
At the moderate level, we’ve got online mailing list, analytics, directories and social media networks. Emails are super important, Ryan prefers to use MailChimp, but there is also Camping Monitor and other tools out there. We see higher engagement and conversion with emails, compared to any other platforms that we use. Nowadays not many people send out newsletters anymore, however, if your competition is not using email lists to market to potential members or to inform the members on what is going on in the space, you definitely should be, because it will probably get you ahead of the pack.
There are a lot of directories out there, Ryan advises, “Put yourself on all of them.” Take a day if you need to, and get yourself listed on Flyspaces, ShareDesk, LiquidSpace, etc. There is no reason not to, after all, there is a chance you get a member through them. It is typically a positive boost to your SEO.
There are many different types of analytics platform out there for startups. Ryan thinks the most important one for a coworking space is Google Analytics, as it is important for you to understand where your traffic is coming from on your website. You might not be able to get fine-detailed information, such as which keyword they search, but you’ll be able to understand if most people are coming through social media or if they are coming directly, from an email campaign you set up. You can even learn how to use Google Analytics online through a YouTube video and get smart pretty fast.
When it comes to social media networks, Ryan likes Twitter and Instagram. Twitter is all about conversations; it’s a great way to comment, follow people and reply to them. In most cases, even a little bit of engagement will get their attention and then that person might visit your website, or they might come in for a tour. Instagram is a visual marketing platform and tends to lend itself as a perfect coworking space marketing platform. For example, they were able to get hundreds of people to come to events for Impact Hub since they have twelve thousand followers on Instagram.
On the sophisticated level, we’ve got engagement automation, content schedulers, management systems and online advertising platforms. We’ll start with the engagement automation; there used to be many platforms similar to Instagress that would automate your engagement on Instagram; such as likes, follows and comments. There is a new one called Combin that semi-automate things for you; you still have to search and tell it what to do, but it does not do it on a schedule. Content schedulers are good, so you should opt for a content calendar.
As for online advertising, you can learn all about advertising on social networks or Google AdWords. At the moment, when it comes to advertising Ryan is interested in ‘remarketing.’ Remarketing is what Adword does; it just attracts people to your website, and then you create ads that feed them around the internet in different ad networks.
Ryan views marketing and communication as two separate concepts, since marketing is about selling, whereas communication is about clearly communicating information to your team and members. The most basic form of communication is talking; coworking spaces are the providers of communication. He points out that 90% of communication problems are handled with haste conversations, and that often contexts gets distorted when you send texts or even emails, especially emotion. You can solve a lot by talking to your team and members. In the modern world, we’ve got business emails; Ryan suggests G suite, as it is easy to set up, manage team access, team emails.
For a sophisticated level of communication, there are chat systems and online community platforms; chat systems like Slack are super useful. Chat is immediate, and you are more likely to get a response from your team and members. Many coworking spaces use Slack as a way to allow the members to communicate with each other. As for online community platforms, he talked about Bisner, a social media platform placement. It’s like having your own dedicated social media platform, where your members can post pictures, events, chat with each other, etc. The biggest challenge with dedicated community platforms is that they will not be used, the adoption rate is pretty low because members are logged in elsewhere, such as Facebook or Slack. It depends on the social network that is popular in that particular region. In general, most coworking spaces use Facebook as a great community platform since people are already on it.
There were certain topics Ryan claimed not to know much about; however, that did not stop him from advising it. First, the internet, he stated: “If you are not an expert then just hire one, because your network set up is your life when it comes to your coworking space.” Ryan then went on to stress the importance of a ‘failover.’ A failover is when you have a backup internet service providers. The worst thing to happen to a coworking space is to have the internet go down. The way a failover works is that if you have two internet connections but you have to pay twice the internet bill.
Moving on to access controls, at the basic level you have mechanical keys; single keys specifies opening hours and closing hours. Whereas, with the multi-key concept, you can pass out keys and keep track of them through a spreadsheet. Although multi-leys grant you 24/7 access, it risky to have keys floating out there and changing locks can be expensive.
At the moderate level, we have keypad locks; you either have individual key codes for individual members or have a universal code for the entire coworking space. These tend to be a hassle to program because you are programming it into the unit itself and managing the individual keys as you get past 20/30 members is troublesome.
On the sophisticated level, we have online access control portals and RFID access systems. These tend to be highly localized. Therefore you could opt for a local provider. With this you will suddenly have a computer to manage the programming in individual key cards; this allows you to revoke privileges for people, get a snapshot or overview of people accessing your space when they’ve accessed your space. RFID cards are cheap, but the systems tend to be expensive
Then he talked about workspace utility. “I’d like to point out the space we are in is technology,” said Ryan. It is all about how you utilize the workspace you are in and the space you are are creating. Ryan posted on Facebook and asked what people’s most important technology were? Michael from BizDojo said ‘chairs.’ You can go for standing desks, lounge furniture and even coffee and tea, the essential part of coworking technology.
On the moderate level, equipment and supplies will vary depending on the type of space you have. If you are a space for architects, you might want a plotter, a special large printer that architect use, or even a photo printer. Think about the type of space you are, the type of members you have and the kind of equipment they are going to need. As for supplies, he mentioned some of the basic ones, such as paper clips, markers, tape, scissors, etc.
The last category was resources in media management, and printing management. For media management, Cobot and Nexedus are coming back into the fold. The nice thing about having a dedicated provider like Cobot and Nexedus is that it integrates with your billing system. It’s all built into the platform so when member book meetings, it is being reflected in their accounts.
Next, he talked about the printing management. There is some dedicated printing management platform out there, such as PaperCut. The next level is about using the built-in functionality in really high tech printers; where you can assign user roles, pin codes, and assign limits to the amount that they can print. High multi complex printers will come with these features built in and often you can have some online management portal. That way when someone prints their limit, they won’t be able to print anymore.
A critical factor to consider when choosing a platform is user experience. Ryan stated, “The user experience needs to be at ease, it needs to be seamless.” Some providers work better with door and display systems. The nice thing about door display systems is that you have an iPad on the door that will tell you where the next meeting room is, and will often allow you to book a meeting room on the iPad.
At the end of the session, Ryan stressed the importance of having realistic expectations from your technology, after all, technology only enhances what you do. Whereas, coworking is about enhancing the ability to scale personal connections. He advised, “When you are inputting technological solutions consider the impact that you will have on your community; if you are making it harder or easier for people to use your space.”