The ABCs of Sustainability

Alex behind Shhared photo by John Heaven


Hi, my name is Alex, I’m the 34-year-old family man and founder of Shhared coworking in Hamburg, Germany. In my last blog I introduced myself, why I started Shhared, our values and who uses our creative community focused space. We post regularly on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as giving updates on Xing or Linkedin but I feel Medium is a great place to give more detail and keep you aware of our journey. Shhared is coming up to it’s 6 month anniversary which we’re really proud of as a community.

Starting a business is never an easy task but it’s important to celebrate the small wins and be as positive as possible. The first months of any business are always uncertain. As so many startups fail (Forbes article on startup failure, it’s even more important to observe the market closely and communicate with people.

We are delighted to be in the media, design and technology capital of Germany and at the same time to be sharing the city with so many different nationalities. With greater diversity comes a need for a range of different and creative workspaces. Within the next 7 years, approximately 40% of the western world’s workforce will be freelancers, temps, contractors and consultants. Giving rise to the pace at which the coworking movement has sustained in the last few years. And it’s not just the UK and US that embrace the new work concept. Countries like Belgium and Sweden are successfully riding the coworking wave while cities like Amsterdam, Sofia and Copenhagen have numerous notable spaces thriving.


Historically, businesses have aimed for rapid growth. However, steady improvement and long term sustainability is the target many founders aim for these days. I firmly believe innovation and investing in relationships is the way to more sustainable business and a productive workspace.

In many ways our small size is a benefit, our customers and members say they enjoy the opportunity to make a real impact and being one of 10 as opposed to being one of 500 members means they feel more valued. During our last monthly UPload I met up with Oliver Roßling of Absolute Software, who invited me to share my views on being an international in Hamburg (of course I accepted). Oliver and his team run the events and 12.03.15 was the third expat talks, which are held every so often in English for the expanding international group of expats and Germans who have an interest in the outside world.

I’d love to recap my keynote that asked the question, ‘Can Internationals Bring Sustainable Change to Hamburg’.

A is for Authenticity

Being real and relatable is important when meeting others. People invest in people so transparency is a huge part of being popular either in personal or professional relationships. Shhared is a German company with an international founder, meaning all of our discussions and activities on the subject of internationality are 100% authentic. We have the advantage of different points of view and experiences which are useful for an ever diverse and engaged Hamburg. The same can be said for other and more established firms. The world’s oldest and best known brands have reputations built on credibility, high quality and trust. Make sure you echo these characteristics as well!

B is for Belief

Confidence in yourself as an individual or in your product/service as a business is also of central importance. After all, if you don’t believe, do you expect anyone else to? Be clear on ‘What’ and ‘How’ you’re doing what you’re doing but pay special attention to ‘Why’. Having a cause and keeping sight of it, is key to modern business and storytelling. Remember, making money isn’t a cause.

C is for Change

The great Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, ‘The only thing that is constant is change.’ With that in mind it’s those who identify new opportunities and offer something different, that often create successful and sustainable impacts. Our businesses and cities are changing so much over time that it’s up to us as people to keep evolving, adapting and pivoting. Those who don’t update or evolve die out — just ask the Dodo!

and an extra bonus letter…..

D is for Diversity

The title photo of this post is a beautiful picture of the night sky. In my 12 minute talk I started with a video similar to this picture and asked the 130 person audience to tell me what they saw. For me a stary sky is a beautiful metaphor for diversity. From a millions light years away, the stars all look alike however, they are of course all very different in colour, size and age. Secondly, I asked the audience to imagine a sky with stars organised in symmetric rows and organised columns but the new image doesn’t have the same sparkle.

Coworking selfie by Carolin Neumann

I’d love to see more international men and women bringing their cultural differences and life experiences to Hamburg. Our city image is a positive one already but more women visible in positions of influence and greater numbers of adventurous people developing their business ideas would take our city a step closer to the night sky image. A message that resinated with Eshani of Startup Weekend Women during the after show networking.

Hamburg is transforming from one of Europe’s best kept secrets to a haven for professionals from different countries. Events managers from France, management consultants from Portugal and people like myself from the UK are choosing Hamburg’s great infrastructure and quaint green spaces over other cities. Despite their many skills, these people often have very basic or at best intermediate German which brings the question, what can they do for work? Personally I had two choices when I realised I wasn’t going to be offered a job despite my education, skills and experiences. Either find a supermarket/bar type job that required little German or be much more imaginative.

What I enjoyed the most in my last role at Apple before I left the UK was, the ability to influence the groups around me and enrich lives with my actions. I was mentoring individuals and learning valuable lessons from other companies on a daily basis, often times with people from different backgrounds. The answer hit me when I realised developing my authentic and international businesses would utilise my skills and empower others in ways a supermarket job may not.

If I want to make a sustainable positive impact in the communities and spaces around me, I would have to dream big and put in work on bringing these dreams to life.

What’s Next

I’m open to sharing more of my journey at events and talks because I know how other’s messages have inspired me to do more.

Shhared only last week celebrated St Patricks Day with a free coworking opportunity and an up to 50% off promotion(that is still running — ask us for more details) on many of our packages. Asides from short and medium term coworking, office rental and meeting spaces we also have event space available for externals. The next event at Shhared is Webmontag (visit their website for ticket information) on 30.03.15 from 19:00.

Keep your eyes open for more exciting events and collaborations at ‘Shhared — The Space to Create’.

A Shhared life is a colourful one — photo John Heaven
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