Lachlan Sloan from BizDojo spoke at the Unconference in CUAsia 2017; he shared his journey from a service-office startup to coworking space. Sloan and his wife planned to stay for two years but ended up staying there for fifteen years. During his time in Asia, he was fortunate to be part of a service office startup called Compass.
Compass was launched in 2008; it grew from one location in Hong Kong to fifty locations in five years. They had 80 million US dollars in turnover and 300 staff members. They started with a capital of 15 million dollars and liquidated some assets in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis, GFC. It was a gutsy move with guaranteed success; the concept was born out of a bad experience they had in a service-office environment. When they started the business, they had an idea in mind which was to create this utopia in which people would come and get a great working environment.
The infrastructure at Compass was good with no hidden charges, but over time it became hard to deliver on that promise. Fundamentally, they were driven by the idea that, “We will sell you the box and you can do whatever you want in the box.” In reality, Sloan was having turmoil with the idea of just selling a box, to him it felt like people were not connecting and that something was missing. His ‘why’ was not being answered through this business venture, despite their massive success of rolling out fifty locations. They did 22 sites in 24 months across four different countries; however, Sloan felt disconnected from his work at Compass.
In 2012, Sloan had an opportunity to work on a project in Japan with a big property fund, which had a 10,000 square meters and about 100,000 square foot building, which was not performing as per expectations. Sloan got permission from the board of Compass to go to Japan and spend someone else’s money to do something awesome. His project team went for a four seasons look and feel, to create a lounge with a live-and-play environment. The building was a mixed-use facility, it had both office space, meeting spaces and apartments for short term stay. They spent six million dollars on retrofitting the building and making it look more hip and cool. He went back to the headquarters in Hong Kong and said, “I think we’ve cracked the back of the next new wave.” Unfortunately, his enthusiasm was not rewarded, and the product was not well received by the rest of the network. That was when Sloan, a minority shareholder of Compass, decided to sell his shares to his business partner and move to New Zealand in late 2014.
Initially, Sloan was clueless as to what he was going to do; however, he had a coworking vision in his mind and soon came across BizDojo. He reached out to Nick Shrewing and Jonah Merchant, co-founders of BizDojo. They were considered the ‘Godfather of Coworking’ in New Zealand. Upon meeting them, he realized that they had a great ‘why’ and he knew how to make money selling ‘boxes,’ so he joined them and became a partner.
BizDojo has been around since 2009, it is a coworking space in New Zealand, and has a great local legacy. It is now the largest coworking space operating in New Zealand across all three major cities; Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Sloan said, “At BizDojo we have this thing where we believe the future of work is social.” He is referring to an environment within the space where people want to connect with each other, share and want to help get business done. They want to be a platform whereby they can bring people together and create an environment where members will feel comfortable, even though they might be different and see the world a little differently. Space is easy to replicate, its really about who has a significant bank balance to make the coolest looking space, however as coworking space operators, BizDojo supports the movement which is H2H – human to human. They believe the difference will be in connecting two people who probably would not have had a chance to meet. For example, at BizDojo, they have no site smaller 1400 square meters and most of it is open planned, there are no offices.
At the end of the session, Sloan pointed out that it is not a bad thing that great businesses are space forward; however, he suggested that coworking spaces should not rush towards being service-office operators. Although most operators eventually consider this route to generate more revenue and profitability. He reiterated, “I hope that you all will have the courage to continue to do what you are doing, you can continue to focus on your community, after all, it’s not about B2B or B2C, it’s all about H2H which is human to human.”