Let’s face the truth: I failed.
Actually, this is what might be crossing most people’s mind when they see I have not been able to make my coworking and coliving space project a reality. Obviously, I also relate to that feeling in a way, as after about 2 years of hard work, there is no such space and I have just decided to step back on this project. But, wait, what does success mean? If it is about reaching that step and operating the space, obviously, it is a fail. But, as my ultimate goal goes way beyond that, this entrepreneurial endeavour is already full of learnings and successes. And it is only the beginning!
So what did I really learn so far ?
My current goal in life
I did not start this project because I wanted to own a company or make money with it. 2 years ago, I identified that managing a coworking and coliving space in the Alps would make me reach my goal: a better balance in life. Basically, this means, for me:
- Live a life that makes more sense
- Improve my freedom
In more details, this project was ticking the following boxes:
- Meet inspiring people everyday
- Foster growth, sharing and learning
- Enjoy the surroundings where I live
- Easily access activities I want to do
- Get more flexibility in my daily schedule
- Enjoy getting out of the comfort zone on a regular basis
- Bonus points: a creative environment and possibilities to keep on traveling
These conditions are the reasons why I started this entrepreneurial adventure. Among all the ways to reach this goal, I selected this project. It did not work out as expected, but this experience unveiled many other possibilities and will shape my near future. It may take more time or make me go through steps I did not previously consider, but things happen for a reason.
Insights about myself
Leading an entrepreneurial project is, above all, a personal venture and I decided to take this risk. As a saying goes: you always know what you are leaving behind but never know what you will be facing ahead. Worst case scenario? Going back to a similar environment to the one before this entrepreneurial adventure! When I started with this project, I was craving for something totally new, a professional initiative that would make me start and grow from scratch. It made me realize that staying in a comfort zone for too long is not (and will probably never be) my cup of tea. It also challenged essential values and shined a light on how important freedom, challenge, collaboration, trust or commitment are to me.
This constantly questioning journey showed me that I was open to different and sometimes contradictory opinions to adapt the project. But I was not ready to make concessions if the suggestions would prevent me from reaching the better balance in life I was longing for. It is really easy to get distracted from the initial target and, little by little, modify a project to make it happen, ending up committing to something potentially profitable but definitely not motivating.
Working on setting up a new business has also been a crazy emotional roller-coaster. I was warned at the beginning of the project, but sillily tended to think I would avoid that. Even being used to emotional stability, there are ups and downs in such a project, which I experienced from once a month up to 4 times a day.
A personal thing I confirmed while working on this is that committing without knowing what it all entails is hard for me. In the end, I had to make decisions without having all the parameters in mind, knowing that there is a degree of uncertainty. Mastering every aspect related to setting up a business in the details is impossible and letting go requires a lot of work!
Discovering a boosting environment
Slowly digging in the coworking scene, I quickly bumped into remote work, location independence, digital nomadism and basically the ways people can combine work and travel. Exploring it further, I really felt I was sharing similar values with most of the people I met. With the quality interactions that destinational coworking and coliving spaces often foster, I easily felt in my element. It is incredible to see how these kind of spaces can make people grow by bringing the right people together. It is hard to describe in a few words what can happen in this context but the best is, for sure, to spend some time there and experience it all. Staying at such places is useful for those into learning and sharing, willing to challenge their own actions and beliefs. People ready to leave their comfort zone can learn so much from skill shares, set plans and be accountable for them thanks to mastermind groups and see how powerful brainstorming can be.
More than just an environment, it is a whole lifestyle I discovered, in which freedom and sharing play a big part.
Developing new skills
After 10 years in technical / operations support, becoming an entrepreneur was a radical change. I was very excited to learn useful skills to create a company. I now have a clear understanding about the needed steps one has to go through including the legal, social and tax aspects of it and the importance of registering a brand (and the threats it may cause to do so, or not to do so).
I learnt so much on the marketing side, as I was basically starting from 0. I consulted marketing experts to get some basic knowledge and learnt a lot by doing, including by doing mistakes; I was much more efficient when I did my second market research! Overall, I enjoyed the challenge of finding out how to reach potential customers. Understanding the market needs was full of insights and I did not expect part of my survey feedback. Networking on site or over the phone has been an incredibly rich experience and I made great connections at the events I joined around the topic. I also pushed my boundaries by hosting my own recurring events.
I learnt a lot about communication strategy, community management and promotional tools development. After several iterations, I selected the brand name: Alpine Booster. I designed a logo and promotional tools: flyers, business cards and t-shirts. I created and published the Alpine Booster website and improved the traffic with content strategy. I sent out 5 newsletters and managed 6 facebook groups and pages. I reached 1k followers on Instagram with a very good engagement. I selected relevant content and identified the right timing for each communication channel. I stepped back on a regular basis to share information or experience in blog posts or meetups, as life is all about give-and-take!
Going further about sharing and collaboration, I spent 4 months helping with on site community management at various coworking and coliving spaces in France, Germany and Norway and learnt a lot about the operations in the hospitality business. It was fantastic to be part of the hosting team, trigger new connections and feel the amazing influence of collective intelligence. As a community manager at places that foster creativity and innovation, I felt rewarded when people left with new insights, ideas or projects after attending skill sharing workshops and brainstorming sessions.
I would not say that I am now getting in-depth skills in all these fields, but this entrepreneurial project has been a kind of ’Swiss knife’ experience in very diverse areas.
Takeaways about entrepreneurship
In my opinion, understanding what entrepreneurship is all about is really hard for a lot of people who never got into it. And for me too. Implementing a new business idea does not necessarily make me understand what entrepreneurship encompasses, as every project brings a different experience. However, what is 100% sure is that everybody learns from it.
The environment this project was aiming to take part in is characterized by open-mindedness and potential competitors were often active supporters of the project! Most coliving space founders were actually seeing such a project as a way to extend the market. In the coworking and coliving sector, new entrepreneurs always benefit from sharing about their project. With such a mindset, I reached out and visited a lot of coworking spaces in many regions of the world, stayed at coliving spaces and attended as many events around the topic as I could. This created new opportunities, including several volunteering occasions as a community manager which made their contribution to the project too. Talking about it and getting as much feedback as I could has truly been a goldmine and helped a lot in framing the project.
Spending time with the right people is key. Becoming an active member of a coworking space was a very good decision, as these places are usually full of entrepreneurs who are happily sharing their experiences. And, as an entrepreneur, is there anything better than getting advices from other trustworthy entrepreneurs? Spending time with the right people also means temporary avoiding others: the ones who would start considering the project after being up and running, those who would unload their fears on you or those who would not have constructive opinions and finally take the positive energy away.
I must admit I have been disapointed by so called advisors or experts (often entrepreneurs themselves) who charged me large amounts of money for either only taking part of the parameters into consideration or even just for a short mail mentioning what they had told me during the previous free consultation. Generally speaking, getting reliable advices on such a non standard project is a nightmare. The more accountants, real estate agents, landlords, insurers, lawyers, advisors from the chamber of commerce and municipalities you ask, the more divergent views you get. In this context, making your own opinion and just do whatever sounds best is sometimes a bit tricky. Sometimes I really wished I had a more classical business project (what about a pastry shop?) and copy paste the exact same steps as others.
Willing to open a “coworking and coliving space” in rather conservative areas is not an easy challenge at all. The concept is fairly unknown and I did not realize how much energy and time I would need to invest in educating people, especially as I was often dealing with mature landlords from remote Alpine valleys…
Fortunately, I spent all this time serenely thanks to the unemployment benefits I was getting while working on the project. The French unemployment insurance is of a great help and a real chance for people who want to start their own business.
The close circle support
Oooh those ones! Seeing people’s reactions to this project has been so interesting! There were people who did not care too much, those who seemed even more excited than me, those who did not understand what it was all about (yes, it was not a mainstream project), those who were curious about it and wanted to know more, those who had been thinking about a similar project, those who were scared for me, etc. Jealous people were there too, in good or bad ways. I also felt there were people secretly wishing that the project would quickly fail so that I would reasonably come back to a “normal” life on their own terms.
Happily, the vast majority has been genuinely supportive from the beginning. And being surrounded by supportive, positive and helpful people is SO important. From the people who helped me with the different aspects of the business or in finding locations, to those who asked me the right questions or suggested to do things differently, those who hosted me, those who invested crazy amounts of their precious time to brainstorm about the project, those who inspired me and those who were just there for me when I needed a break. Overall, there was no big surprise about those who helped me the most but, sometimes, some great help came from truly unexpected people, or just by being at the right place at the right time with the right people.
I am so grateful for all those who have been close to me during this adventure and I believe that it is one of the most important keys to success.
And then? What’s next?
To sum up, this entrepreneurial adventure brought a lot of new discoveries, great people and nurturing experiences to my life.
If I had to pick my major takeaways from it, they would be:
- Stay focused on your goal
- Believe in yourself
- Surround yourself with the right people
Keeping this in mind, I still believe that staying in touch with the coworking and coliving environment is the ideal way for me to reach my goals. As a result, my next professional experiences will probably be about:
- Hosting and managing a community at a coworking and coliving space (basically the job I wanted to create with this project, but in a different context)
- Becoming a guest at such places by having a remote job, probably dealing with operations or customer support, as this is what I like
- Any other proposal that goes towards these goals ;-)
I am really blessed with what I learnt from this entrepreneurial adventure and I just can’t wait for the exciting times ahead!