2020: co.up Reborn

The #saveCoUp campaign is in its final stretch—which means that now’s the best time to share our story and what it means for the future of co.up. To give you the best understanding of what this campaign has meant to co.up, and to me personally, it’s best to start from the moment that co.up found its new purpose.

Phasing out coworking

A little over two years ago we phased out our coworking offerings entirely. When I was first presented with this possibility, I was sad, but I also understood that it was time to move on. While I’m still excited about the potential of coworking, our focus had clearly shifted to growing the Cobot team. We’d barely gotten to know the new coworkers who joined our space—and that wasn’t how we wanted our coworking space to operate. We looked around and saw that there were many great alternatives to co.up that had opened in Berlin for interested coworkers that we could easily recommend. We were able to keep offering the space for events thanks to a continued sublease by our friends from the Mapbox dev team; they knew and understood the flow of the space in the evening and didn’t mind that sometimes the floor would be filled with hundreds of people attending the various events that take place there.

Maintaining co.up’s soul

Although I barely go to any meetups anymore myself, and haven’t had much to do with coordinating them in co.up (thanks to our Office & Events Manager Claire), they’re still important to me because free and accessible events played an important role in my career, mainly through meeting people and exposure to new ideas. I would even say that this led to the creation of co.up.

In the beginning, my Co-founder Alex and I used to run events together with other upstart companies in our office, which put us in contact with the people who would later would become our fist coworkers. These kinds of tech events have been an integral part of co.up from the beginning. It felt natural that even as coworking wound down, we’d try to keep these events in our space; some of my Cobot colleagues like Kristina continue to organize some today. Also, as a result of these roots, just six months ago we developed the Coworking Code of Conduct based on our accumulated knowledge of running a space, organizing small and large events, and authoring codes of conduct from various team members; we were overjoyed to see it widely adopted.

The turning point

The events at co.up were smoothly humming along, I kept nurturing my coworking roots by building up the Berlin Coworking Network as a side project and focused on growing the Cobot team and software. But the next co.up challenge was looming. We had signed our rental contract before the Berlin real estate boom and we knew that the market would eventually catch up with us. That happened this past summer—and it caught up hard.

Our contract was cancelled and we were offered a new one that cranked up the rent by over 100%. We tried to negotiate with our landlord (GSG), which owns more than 1. mil sqm of commercial real estate in Berlin. But our arguments about the value and potential of co.up were in vain. Their response was that they can’t rent this space for a lower price, as this was the market now, as inarguable as the laws of nature. Our only consolation was a brief extension of our existing contract. This gave us the chance to try something else: Asking our community to see if there was not only enough demand, but also enough combined financial power to keep co.up open.

#saveCoUp: An emotional roller coaster

I have to admit that I was skeptical. We did the math and it was clear that we needed 3000 EUR/month for at least 12 months and 10.000 EUR for the security deposit to sign the contract with certainty. A staggering amount, extending past our previous crowdfunding attempts multiple times over. But hey, we could try.

The response was stunning! We immediately received a wave of attention from our community, many sharing their personal stories as to why co.up was important to them. That alone uplfted my spirits, because it gave us the chance to collect these stories and share them as a demonstration of how much value exists in coworking. It was great to see familiar names in the support memberships, some from former members who only stayed for a few months, many years ago. Plus, many donations were from people who had already invested lots of their own time into this community by organizing events or holding regular talks. The first half of the campaign was mainly driven by support from individuals, with a bit of support from small companies like Asquera, Port Zero, Bitcrowd, Nextjournal, Evenly, and Neighbourhoodie, companies that already had a long relationship with co.up.

Halfway through the campaign, things slowed down and our skepticism re-emerged. We appeared to have reached most of the people who could be reached in our community. However, other companies that had benefited from our community’s diverse background and resources remained absent. Instead of getting frustrated, our team refocused our efforts to use the personal relationships we had built through co.up to reach out to some larger companies. Christmas was fast approaching, which we considered a critical turning point.

Luckily things began to tip in our favor! As we found out, the gears take a lot more time to turn at larger companies like Ecosia or INNOQ, and we had no idea that they’d already begun to raise the issue internally. They came through in the end and we’re so grateful to them for pledging their support. We also learned that it’s much easier for companies to make large one-time payments than monthly contributions so we adapted our support plans accordingly. Another challenge: It took much more explaining and a plenty of flexibility from our side to get companies on board.

Things looked really good as we neared Christmas. With commitments from talent.io, Camunda and Twilio, plus a staggeringly high personal one-time payment, we secured the funding of the security deposit and shot past 90% for the recurring payments by December 19th. That morning we felt like celebrating! The fact that both budgets are made up of almost 50% companies and 50% individuals proved that co.up serves as a connector for the local tech ecosystem, something I’m very proud of.

But the day took a unexpected turn. During lunch a Mapbox team member informed me that they would have to cancel their sublease with us after a recent downsizing of their dev team here in Berlin 🙁. Instead of celebrating, we needed to pivot directly into searching for a new 3rd floor office renter. Still, we consider the crowdfunding a huge success that has given us not only financial resources, but a wellspring of social and community resources with which to jump into the next chapter of co.up. We remain hopeful that we’ll be able to find a new sublease partner soon.

Just the beginning

Above all else, we now see a mountain of new ways to help bring usergroups, local companies, and individual talent together and help them help each other. These ideas and new projects will be shared in another post. For me personally, #saveCoUp has become a rebirth of co.up—now with an expanded mission that I’m looking forward to pursuing alongside everyone else involved.

2020 is off to a great start. 🙂