Ivan Brkljac, the founder of Mokrin House, lives in a coworking colony state located in a rural surrounding. It is a very modern type of estate and consists of a complex of several buildings, in which everything is available; where the coworking space is, where the dormitories are, it’s just like a minicamp. Mokrin House is located on the border between Serbia, Romania, and Hungary. They have a mix of different languages and cultures, and have been in business since May 2016; that was when they launched the website. They had their first members in June that year. The team of Mokrin House is comprised of seventeen people, with the management team consisting of five people.
The space already existed in some shape or form, but they were not sure what to do with it. The idea was first to create a family counsel home which was later transformed into something that had a more significant use. The concept is that in 5 to 7 years they would expand their business and create the first actual global village, meaning that at any given moment you will have anywhere from 200 to 300 islands with you or groups of people working together. The longest membership they’ve had so far is three months. Since they are located in a very small community, people would come to them, from all over the world from different types of industry, designers, programmers, photographers, lawyers, accountants. Most visitors that come in are foreigners from Europe. The teams that come in are a mix of the regional companies and international clients; small companies who have workers all around the world, come in for a meeting for a week. The small companies have 10-15 employees and tend not to have an office, so they come here for sessions on quarterly planning. “This is an ideal space for them. In a big city, the energy tends of people to get scattered, such as somebody wants to see the museum or a club, whereas when you are in a small community that positive isolation focuses on the people and their projects/tasks,” said Ivan.
Ivan used to be a source media marketing specialist for Alliance Corporation. At some point, he quit his job and started working as a freelancer from home. It did not work out well, so he tried cafes next, that was no better either. Next, he tried coworking spaces, and as he got into it as a user, he found it interesting. In November 2015, Ivan went to the European Coworking Conference in Milan, Italy. Steve Munroe’s (owner of Hubud) speech, added to the excitement of learning new information, lead to Ivan having an epiphany. He thought to himself, “We have space, and we had some idea on the theme, and it felt like everything started to come together.” He then pitched the idea to his family, they soon agreed.That is how in January 2016, they made a decision, went into planning and started operating in May 2016.
One of the significant challenges Ivan faced while opening Mokrin House was the perception of the country they operated in; people of New York perceived Serbia as unsafe, which is not the case anymore. All the people that come to Serbia for the first time were genuinely surprised by how different it was from what they expected. They also faced a problem with the local government; when they went to register the company. Ivan realized they could not designate it as a ‘coworking-co-living’ space since it was not recognized in the industry within the government.The Serbian online payment system is not ideal either, hence even booking the room still requires personal interaction. These are some of the challenges that they faced along the way; however, Ivan states, “We have overcome them, you have to go around them, and you improve gradually over time, and learn how to deal with those situations.”
The thing about Mokrin House is that people who work in the space also lives with them. They get plenty of chances to evaluate what they are doing with their members. For example, one member suggested that they should reduce their meat intake, and they came up with the concept of ‘Meatless Monday.’ They give their members the right to make comments and suggestion and focuses on making sure that everything is up to date regarding service and other aspects of the design.
Mokrin House’s chief marketing comes from either digital or getting published in in-flight magazines of Serbian National Carrier in Serbia; that promotes their work well for them, as well as opens doors for them in other aspects. They have also partnered with companies such as Remote Year and We Roam; that is almost a standard part of their itinerary when they come to Siberia, for example, this year Remote Year went for four months, and each group had 5-10 people staying from few days to few weeks. During the slow months during which the digital nomads migrate to warmer climates, they focus on the local companies; there is Christmas events, team building event. They focus on the corporate side of the business rather than individuals to promote their business.
When questioned about their member composition, Ivan replied that the average age of their member is 32. Mokrin House is a little bit different from a regular coworking space because the time that a member spends with a coworking space varies; it can be few year, few months or even few weeks. Every time someone wants to join, they make them sign a disclaimer stating that the working atmosphere is the most dominant one at this coworking space, although the space is not only limited to work.
Ivan is extremely proud of their connection and contribution to the local community. This year they hosted about 150 events, and most of their events include the local community as well. For example, one night there was a promotion of a book where they had free workshops for the kids and elderly; everything that they do and what they charge for is either open for the local community or heavily subsidized. People in the village, know them as a natural, cultural and educational spot. Ivan said, “We have a motto saying that if you have an idea as big as a house, we have a house for you – the idea is – come, pitch it, we are probably going to do it.” Coworking is free for the community; they can come in whether they are students or workers and use it for free.
The reason why the village has fiber optics now is Mokrin House. They hired the company that provides the regular cable provider, paid extra to have them draw out the optic cable from the local town. In that particular aspect, they were able to help out the community, as well as provide their members with 100 megabits/second internet speed.