Living and learning
When you go through college you learn a bit of so many different areas and in some of them you really do excel! But in my experience real learning starts when you start working. I felt precisely that in my entrepreneurial adventure.
After we co-founded Connect Coimbra, we went through those hard first months where you see lots of money going out and little money coming in. Naming it valley of death really does it justice. We had to work extra hours and be super creative to find ways to make more money if we wanted our company to survive, especially considering the financial crisis our country (and the whole Europe) is going through.
It was after several months with no weekends, no free time and almost no sanity left, that we got to the break-even point and over it! We could finally breathe a little! I could go back to having time to shave my legs (oh the glory!) and return to the lady like person I like to be, instead of a crazy person, sleepwalking (yeap, a family inheritance that comes alive in times of great stress), looking like sh#t.
We gave ourselves the luxury of going on holiday for 5 days and did absolutely nothing during that time!!!! It was hard to turn the brain off but after the second day we started getting back to our old selves.
Going through this process is what I feel has given us the biggest lessons in our lives. Although there was already a small coworking space here in Coimbra and several coworking spaces have been sprouting all over the country, the concept of coworking is still relatively new here in Portugal.
The fact that this is a novelty gave it an extra challenge, apart from the obvious financial hardness we were expecting. We found that some people get uncomfortable by just imagining sharing their working space with people they don’t know. Others feel insecure about the possibility of disclosing private information from their clients, especially professions which deal with sensible matters like lawyers or accountants and in whose clients deposit their trust. There were people that felt as it was stupid to pay for a desk and Internet access when they had that at home for “free”.
These were (and still are) the biggest challenge of any coworking space. Although every coworking space has its own personality and its own unique community, I believe the challenges we all face are pretty similar.
Since we started Connect Coimbra we have changed the services about 5 or 6 times, by adjusting them to our clients needs. At first we had no idea what to charge people and how to structure the service. We did a small market study to find out what others were charging, to be able to have some notion of how much we could charge. When we started speaking with some of the people that were interested in working in coworking spaces we found out that we had to charge a lot less to be able to have any coworkers at all. Since then we managed to get prices up a little, but not much and still lower than in many other coworking spaces.
I believe the biggest lesson I learned from all this is that you may want to sell meat to your clients, a meat that is the best one they’ll ever have, that is healthier than any other and you may try to show them how good your meat is, but if by the end of the day the clients still want fish you’ll have to sell fish if you want to be able to make money (and pay the rent and other monthly expenses). Maybe you’ll just have to wait and be alert because the time will come when the client is open to the possibility of getting some meat and maybe then they’ll want to try yours and it will surely be the best thing they ever had!