Article by David Lowe
The event was to take place in San Francisco and would bring together the industry’s thought leaders.
Co-Liv was organized by Purehouse Lab so as soon as I arrived back in San Diego, I jumped on the phone to see if I could attend. It got better…
When I talked with the organizers about how we wanted to create cutting edge technology to enhance coliving, I was invited to speak!
After a few Skype calls and creating a presentation that I thought was engaging and fun, I was ready. I chose to drive the 8 hours from San Diego because I had never done it before and thought I might glimpse the wildfires on the way up. I had never witnessed Mother Nature working in this way before.
The ride up was long. I mean really long. When I finally got to San Francisco, I went for a 2 hour walk to see a few sights and see where all the startup companies’ offices were.
As soon as I got back to the hotel, I had an interview with Lydia Isnanto a talented film-maker living in the Bay Area.
She wanted me to be on her HUMAN STORIES series on YouTube which after seeing some of the other episodes, was a tremendous honor.
Due to the time crunch, we had a wander around the Chinatown district of downtown San Francisco trying to find the best spot to film.
We spotted some steep steps and agreed as it was San Francisco, it would reflect the city perfectly!
After the short hike to the summit, Lydia setup three cameras and we started filming. Here is what she shot:
We headed to a co-working space in the Mission District for 6pm and the opening presentations.
First on was Co-Founder of Ollie Christopher Bledsoe and his talk ‘Housing Has Been Disrupted; You Just Don’t Know It Yet’. To hear that Chris had pitched the idea for his startup to 400 real estate people before he get one yes made you realize just how hard starting a business is. It reminded me of my days as a door-to-door salesman in Melbourne, Australia and my manager’s words: “you might knock on 99 doors and like most people, give up. But the sale is often behind the 100th door.”
Chris continued to give an an overview of the coliving industry and how New York had eventually embraced the concept with other operators like Common and Outpost Club. Definitely a good choice to put Chris on first to kick things off.
The Collective wrapped things up with a talk about what they were doing in London and then it was networking and cocktails!
Saturday kicked off with breakfast and then straight into a session entitled ‘Authentic Culture & Community’ with Jay Standish Co-Founder of OpenDoor.
The talk focused on how the operator launched by partnering with real estate developers then progressed to new builds which allowed more control over design and flow.
What was interesting was that Jay said that 80% of their time was spent on the real estate side.
This seemed staggeringly high. If all of the focus is on acquisition, regulatory issues, development and design, that means that only 20% of the time is devoted to the community.
Here we the key takeaways from the talk:
- OpenDoor’s vacancy rate is 0%.
- Community is an emotional commons.
- Favor relationships over rules (facilitate don’t dictate).
- Eat together and relationships will blossom.
- Cryptocurrency is needed as a form of payment in coliving.
- Community Manager is a sounding board. It is not a job, it is a role.
The next session was ‘Conversation on Affordability and Shared Housing’. Macy Leung from MSL & Company led the discussion with Betsy Morris from Cohousing California, Phil Levin from RGB House and Shruti Merchant from HubHaus.
Here were the key takeaways:
- You can be earning a salary of $119k/year in San Francisco and still qualify for affordable housing.
- Phil Levin called for coliving to serve families more [“There are more dogs than children in San Francisco!”]. Members will inevitably have children at some point but currently there are few options nationwide for coliving for families. He also said “there needs to be a constellation of solutions in the coliving space rather than trying to shove everyone into one space for one type of person.”
- Betsy Morris had created the largest meetup group for intentional communities. She noted that the average 1 bed in San Francisco is $3200/month (yikes!) and you need $170k/year to buy a 1 bed (San Diego anyone?!).
- BARF — Bay Area Renter’s Federation — they oppose a lot of change in the Bay Area and are a political advocacy group formed in response to the housing shortage in San Francisco.
- There is a 30 year housing shortage in San Francisco.
- Wasatch Commons in Utah and Society in London are current coliving solutions for families.
In the ‘What Policy Framework Allows for Successful Equitable Co-living’ session Johanna Greenbaum told us about how NYC City Hall used a design contest to get people involved and get city behind their initiative.
You could sense a divide in the industry already — the coliving operators who were focusing on community and the real estate developers pushing coliving to make money.
Nicole Fichera from FWD Partners told us about UHU — Urban Housing Unit — a 385 sq ft tiny house that sells for $75k and is modular so was toured around the city of Boston. This highlighted innovation and the engagement made people buy into the idea. Community is part of the story.
At 4pm, myself and a few people took to the stage with Guillaume de Jenlis to talk about ‘Technology and Services for Coliving’.
We discussed what was currently being adopted by the coliving operators and community members and then I jumped into my presentation, ‘Smart Communities and How Technology Will Change Coliving’.
This is where I talked about the inspiration for Qwerky and how I wanted to solve the loneliness epidemic in the US and make Americans happier people.
I then mentioned my recent coliving tour of Europe and how I had spent three weeks traveling to 5 countries to visit coliving communities to learn about them and find out what was missing.
The overwhelming evidence was that technology was the key factor that was not being utilized to bring communities closer together.
Some people argue that coliving does not need technology and it is the human, real world interactions we are missing. But why not use technology to enhance the existing community?
Global social media has taken a lot of people online and away from physical connections in favor of virtual ones. But imagine if smart technology is used internally within an existing community to further facilitate relationships, make the communities more sustainable and just more kickass than what we are currently seeing.
Having pitched the idea of the a Smart Mirror to a few people, the general consensus was:
a). “That is a gadget I want” and
b). “It would make it easier to make the initial connections and then manage them and my life.”
The session raised more questions about how coliving is going to address families (which we will be finding a solution for) and then wrapped.
Guillaume de Dorlodot, co-founder of Startup Basecamp told us how he had launched the first startup hotel (is this a simple model for the coliving industry to be looking at? I mean, how many flagging or derelict motels/hotels do you see in the US right now?) and his entrepreneurial journey which was really refreshing and humorous.
To finish the day, we heard the ‘Co-living Approach from a Guest-centric Perspective’ talk from Lucas Crobach and Veerle Donders from our friends Zoku.
Saturday was a day of workshops which we had to skip as we had an 8 hour drive back to San Diego. We did manage to sprint over to Startup Basecamp and glimpse their community before hitting the road.
Overall, the conference seemed like a success and it was good to meet the Purehouse Lab team, coliving operators, co-livers, investors and architects. It was also a privilege to have the opportunity to speak on stage. We look forward to attending Co-Liv 2018.