2012: Yes we can
January: The year was off to a good start. I had just returned from a 6-week sailing trip, something I was able to do because in the previous year we had hired Aleks, co.up’s community manager, who had taken over the operation of the space from Thilo and me, doing a much better job than we had ever been able to.
The space had been growing organically for two years and we had grown to about 35 members. We were hosting a number of user groups and other events and everything was humming along nicely.
Suddenly in late spring we were confronted with a big decision: we had been playing with the idea of expanding for quite a while, but being a bit averse to risk on the business side, not having enough cash on hand, and fearing tearing our fragile community apart by introducing too big of a change at once made us pass on the opportunity of renting the other half of the fifth floor in our building a few months earlier. Then in May a company on the third floor moved out, and after two weeks of weighing our options we basically said JFDI and took the plunge - what could possibly go wrong?
While we were at it, we also separated co.up from Upstream, our software consultancy, and started a new company: co.up coworking UG. Time for the little one to stand on its own feet. The first challenge was a big one: turning what had been an industrial machine hall into a cozy coworking and event space. Having spent the initial funds on a new floor and other basics, we decided to turn to the community for help. We set up a campaign on Pledgie and, to our amazement, collected close to €8000 of donations within a few weeks. A huge thanks again for everyone who donated — from the student coworker to local companies (full credits). With our new funding we were able to have custom, foldable tables built, buy some comfy chairs, and install a projector and sound for our events and parties.
What followed from having that new space exceeded our wildest expectations. Since its opening in June, the number of user groups and other regular events has skyrocketed: in some weeks co.up hosts as many as seven events in five days, simultaneously on both floors. Our biggest user groups, Berlin.JS and upfront regularly attract more than 100 participants. In addition, there are numerous smaller groups like the Mini Game Jam, the CouchDB, iOS, Magento and PHP user groups, as well as a Rails Girls project group with a mere five participants, hosted by yours truly.
Speaking of Rails Girls: In addition to our regular user groups and hackathons, we have been able to host a number of amazing one-time events. Rails Girls, which started as a small workshop in Helsinki to teach women to code, went completely viral around the world, and after a first workshop at Betahaus, a few locals started Rails Girls Berlin and have organized a total of five more workshops over the year, all taking place in our new event space. Not stopping there, our very own Aleks worked together with a group of other amazing folks to start OpenTechSchool, an organization that offers free tech education to people of all genders. They have been holding a number of programming and tech-related workshops in Berlin and already expanded to Stockholm and Australia.
Co.up does not charge the organizers of these events anything. Looking back at the crazy amount of awesomeness that has taken place here, it must have been a good idea, so we’ll definitely keep it that way. Co.up has never been and will never be a money-making project for us. It’s always been about creating an environment for people to connect, to work on cool stuff, to learn, and to have a great time. Being a part of that environment is what motivates us to keep going.
Also deeply connected with co.up is Cobot, our coworking management software. It was born out of the chaos of paper work and unpaid bills that co.up had been a few months after it had started. Shortly after bringing order into our own space, we started getting questions from others and not much later released Cobot as on online service to be used by coworking spaces worldwide. In March, we hired Cobot’s first employee, Cristina, who had found us through helping a friend set up a coworking space in Valencia, Spain. She has since become an integral part of the team, showing Cobot to countless people and helping them with their questions and problems. 2012 has been a great year for Cobot, attracting new customers, growing with the existing ones, and more than tripling its revenue. Time for a party.
Speaking of party: our summer party, which took place downstairs in the backyard, attracted a huge crowd, and was eventually shut down around 3:30am by the arrival of 10 cops, two of them in full riot gear. After they threatened to take away our PA we locked everything up and continued to another place in the neighborhood. Obviously we feel very proud about the attention from the authorities and will try to top that next time.
In October, Thilo started his 6-month parental leave to take care of his kid. I’m proud that we have created a company where this is possible and there’s no pressure to forego family life in order to pursue your career. While this means more work for the rest of the team, I think I can safely say that we are all happy for him to take this opportunity, and can’t wait for Sammy to start his first day at co.up one day. Hopefully not too soon, though. :)
I would like to end with a big thank you to everyone who has been part of our humble community: our coworkers, the people organizing and attending events, the people who have visited and written about us, the guys who deliver the drinks, Falk, who put in the new floor, Thomas, who made the new tables, and last but not least the co.up team, who have put countless extra hours into this place to turn it into what it is today.