An interview with Katja and Silvia, co-founders of Juggle Hub Berlin, a coworking space with flexible childcare.
Coworkies: Hello Katja and Silvia, and thanks for your time! Can we start with a little bit of your personal backgrounds?
Silvia: I am Silvia, mom of a 7 years old son. I am an architect by training and one of the two co-founders of JuggleHub. I used to live in the US and decided at some point to return to Germany where I had to look for a spot in a Kita (ed. kindergarten) for my son. I quickly realized how difficult it is to work full-time while having a child and slowly came up with this idea in my head to open a coworking space. After several years of contemplating I finally decided to go forward and met Katja along the way.
Katja: I am Katja, I am 34 and I have a 2 years old daughter. I was working for a Corporate company and went for parental leave after giving birth. I wanted to build my own business when my kid was born, as I thought I would have plenty of time. Once she was born I realized I did not even have a minute per day to work on my writing projects and that’s when the idea of a coworking for kids came up as there was no such a place in Berlin where I could have gone with my kid and just work for a few hours a day.
I met Silvia via the Mompreneur network and found out we share the exact same idea and vision. We started to work together on a rough plan in April 2015 and opened JuggleHub in June 2016, almost one year after we first met.
How did you discover coworking at first?
S: I thought it was my idea (laugh). I thought, back in 2011, it would be so nice to have people I could work with. I started to Google it and I discovered I was by far not the first one with this idea. When you have not thought about something like that before, you actually don’t realize it already exists!
K: I had this idea of people working together and sharing projects in an environment where they can bring their kids along. After some research, I saw that in Berlin there were already quite a few coworking spaces. I used to work in a corporate office, at home or even in cafes so I was never really aware of it at the time.
You said earlier you met in 2015 and opened in 2016, can you tell me more about that year of creating and starting JuggleHub?
K: The first time we met, we went to a cafe, sat down and started to chat about our shared idea for two hours. We shared what we both had on paper and discussed how we could continue. It was quite casual.
S: It was more to test each other, we did not know until we tried it if we would match. At the time, there was a third woman involved with us but after a while she realized it was not exactly what she wanted so she dropped out and it was just the two of us. For the first few months, we tried to meet up as often as possible to work on the idea.
K: My baby was only half a year at the time so I had to adjust my time. We were mostly working on the rough idea. But then it became more serious when we met a friend of ours who was starting her own company. She recommended a coaching program which was three or four days of assessment. We had to present our idea and make a rough business plan but also show we were able to run and lead a company. Through this we got a sponsorship for business coaching and found a coach. We had appointment with her every week where she really pushed us. We had to prepare stuff and figure out the business plan. By Christmas 2015, our business plan was ready and we had applied for a loan.
S: We went through all the financing options possible and figured out a startup loan was our best option. The first one we applied to was supposed to be from KfV (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau) and linked to the first location we found in Neukölln (ed. a neighborhood in the south of Berlin), because we had to submit a draft of a rental agreement. Then both fell through unfortunately in February. We had to gather ourselves, dust off a little bit and found another loan we could apply for. We had found a different location by then in Friedrichshain (ed. a neighborhood in the center of Berlin), and with that we applied for the second loan through IBB (Investitionsbank Berlin). We got the loan but not the location. In the meantime, we had found the one we are in.
It’s a lot about the chicken or the egg rule. If you get the loan you need the space, but then if you get the space, you need the loan. You can’t do one without the other.
Speaking of the space, you iterated between 3 different spaces, what was your idea of spaces you wanted to rent?
Together: We had this picture of a beautiful Loft in our head.
S: When you look at all the other coworking spaces, they are always in those big type of warehouse spaces or industrial spaces and of course we wanted something like that. We sort of found things like that as well but it was either the location that was wrong, or the price, or just the way the things were set up. In the end we got really lucky with the space we have now. We never wanted to go to Prenzlauer berg (ed. a neighborhood in the north of Berlin), we thought it would be too cliché (ed. Prenzlauerberg is well-known for being a family neighborhood), but in the end it was what we got. Everything is perfect for us here: the space, the location and the condition. We were very lucky.
What did you find difficult in building your own coworking space?
K: Definitely money. Money was always the biggest issue. When the first loan was rejected it was like a punch in the face. We thought that would be it as both of us did not have enough savings to make it without a loan. We did not want to have investors as we really wanted to create something of our own without having someone to tell us how to do it. We found a great Landlord who gave us a good deal and we had a lot of supporters who helped us for free. One did our website for little money, some other people came here to build the space with us, we found some second hand furniture so it was all like a DIY project. Lots of support from our families who also took care of our kids while we were here.
The rejection of the loan which was definitely our worst moment. We were sitting in a Enklave, a coworking space here in Berlin, when we got the call from the KfV. They called Silvia and I saw her face totally changed. I was looking at the floor plan of the space we found in Friedrichshain when she answered the phone and became pale. I did not notice but then she put the phone down and told me we did not get the money. I did not realize first what she was saying but then she repeated it “we did not get the money, we can go home now”. We packed our stuff and went home in total shock.
S: Our coach was 100% convinced we would get the money, because she had accompany so many startups and said 95% of them got the loan. It was a double punch in the face. We did not get it when everyone else did. But in the end we made it :)
How does a day at Juggle Hub looks like for you?
S: We both have children, so we have to coordinate among each other. It works well. My schedule is that I have to be at school early with my son so I usually open up in the morning, start everything on and then Katja comes a little bit later.
Members come around 9am. If there is a booking in one of the meeting rooms, we have to be there earlier like 8 as we need to open and prepare catering and small snacks. It can be a busy morning. Once everybody is settled in then for us it’s about taking care of the book keeping, offers for booking and events. Katja mostly takes care of Social media, partnerships, emails and networking.
K: We do a lot of networking evenings here, free events, for now. We find events that are interesting for our target group and reach out to the organizers to ask them if they want to do their next meetup at JuggleHub for free. We have quite big events sometimes and it’s quite busy here in the evenings. Some weeks we have events every night so working days are quite long. It’s good because we built a big network of people, especially people with kids, startups or networks that are focused on female empowerment. Some come on a regular basis and do their meetups here every month. It’s quite good to have them around as it helps to spread the word about JuggleHub. It’s the best marketing. People see the space and are positively surprised.
How does the daycare work?
S: Theoretically it’s there everyday but only to people who booked it. The child care works 5 days a week from 9AM to 12 and then from 3 to 6 PM. People have to book at least one day in advance. Right now it’s usually mostly used in the morning. Some Parents try to get their children to sleep over lunch using our nap room and extend their working hours a little bit, then go home. At the moment, no one really bring kids in the afternoon.
How many members do you currently have kids included?
S: In January we had a lot of trial month members, we don’t count them as members yet but they are at least 10 new people this month and it keeps on growing. Before that we had between 15 and 20 members, towards December it decreased a little bit. We have kids coming on regular basis, approximately 6 I would say. A new one just came now as we speak.
K: They always book the same time slots so that they can be together, it’s a little group of kids who might get to know each other.
S: We will have some JuggleHub friendship quite soon.
About the community, how do members and kids interact with each other? Are some kids coming out of the Child care to see their parents?
K: It depends on the kid mostly. Some kids prefer not to see their parents because once they see them they are like “Oh, mummy is here” other kids need to make sure they Mom or their Dad is still here so they come in the coworking area to see them. Once they saw them they are more relaxed and go back to play. Some kids want to spend some time in between with their parents so they come out and just sit on their laps. We try to keep the child care and the workspace separated so that everybody can work quietly if they want too.We also have members who don’t have kids and what is interesting is that they enjoy having the all Family atmosphere around.
When a kid walk around the atmosphere changes and becomes very sweet.
S: When we have new members who don’t have kids we do trials to make sure they are aware that kids are going to be around. If they are not OK with that, then it’s not the right space for them.
Something you really love about JuggleHub?
S: What’s always interesting is that parents come here not expecting for it to go so well and they are usually more anxious than the child. Then the child goes to play and is perfectly happy and the parent is a bit lost, like “what do I do now?” It’s nice for us to see that the concept actually works. The children accept it and parents needs some time to actually realize the child does not need them.
K: Every day is so exciting! Sometimes I pinch myself and wonder “did we really do this?”.
What do members like about child care?
K: Parents love the idea to have their kids next to them, especially if the kid is quite young or if they have never been to child care before. Some just want to work and don’t have a kita spot yet so they have to find a solution to be able to start working again without a kita spot. We are their transition partner.
What would be the next thing for you?
S: What is already happening is the rental of another space next to us to have for the team we have in house, they will move to 60 sqm. Then if child care keeps on growing our room back there is going to be too small so not sure where we are going to expand into next.
K: We are also talking to companies, we have a company model where enterprises can book child care and coworking packages for their employees to allow them to work flexibly and bring their kids if they want to or have to. Right now we have two companies who are interested, one of them being really big. If this is happening we will see how busy it will get, rent more space and see how we grow. The dream is to open another JuggleHub in another part of the city because people from Neukölln or Charlottenburg are reaching out saying the concept is so cool, they would love to have a JuggleHub there. People from other cities contact us to ask if we want to open a space in Munich or some place else. It’s something we don’t just dream about, we are trying to find people who might work together with us to make that happen. We are continuously expanding our network, talking to people also outside of Berlin.
We constantly get new inspiration from the people who come here and share ideas we did not think before so we are eager to try them.
That’s also what’s great about coworking. So many people come together, exchange ideas and then you have the freedom to just give it a try and if you fail, you fail. You start again or you reschedule or you just don’t do it and that’s ok.
Any tips or advice to anyone who would like to start a coworking space for Families?
S: What we found out very quickly is that if we did not have our event spaces and meeting rooms we would not be able to survive. Up until December at some point we thought we would become an event space with a little bit of coworking and child care on the side because that was really what was carrying us through. Now in January the coworking and child care is growing a lot more but still I think it would not be profitable enough right now to maintain our financial situation.
Having a second or third source of income is really essential.
It takes some time for people to get use to the idea, to bring their child here. It’s the most sensitive thing for parents to bring their child somewhere and let it be taking care of by someone they don’t know and then to pay for it which here in Germany is not always normal at least in Berlin it’s free or close to free. It’s a learning curve for everybody.
K: Before we opened this space, some other coworking space owners told us if you don’t have at least 1,000 sqm don’t even get started.
The size of space is everything and it kind of turnout to be true.
We would realize just now as the Event space is the one that brings money. The bigger the space, the more you can rent out. 350 sqm we are on the edge to make it work. Bigger means more possibility. Coworking and child care is a project from the heart and we would love to live from it but it’s hard to really make money with it.
S: Mostly also because you can’t plan it. They can come one day and not come the next. With the event spaces it’s easier as you realize they are needed all the time. The child care topic combined with coworking is much more personal. We both went into it hoping and planning to have a source of income from the space for us personally. We will hopefully get there one day but we are now looking at other projects we can do on our own.
K: You really have to love what you are doing. It’s not going to make you rich (laugh). I start to work again as a writer and Silvia is doing some architect projects too. Projects come here from the community, that helps.
S: That’s true. Both of my potential projects are through the space.