When we’re attempting to attract more coworking members the temptation is to round the edges or go more beige in an attempt not to put people off. To try and persuade a greater portion of ‘everyone’ to join our ranks.
This is what I would call the ‘all things to everyone’ approach. The thinking is if you narrow your target audience you’ll simply limit yourself. So don’t go specific, don’t ruffle any feathers, but put lots of money into fancy ads in an attempt to gain as much exposure as possible.
But there’s a problem. Because by its very nature, making something that everyone wants means you are making something average.
Trying to be ‘all things to everyone’ is a sure fire way to end up being not much at all to anyone.
And growth does not happen when a large number of people are aware of your coworking spaces, but are only vaguely interested in them.
The way to achieve growth is to focus on what Seth Godin calls the ‘Minimum Viable Audience’.
The general idea behind the Minimum Viable Audience is to question exactly how many people you do actually need to buy your product.
Is it as many as you think?
And even if it is a big number, is aiming at the masses the best way to get a significant amount of people to buy it?
Would it not be better to engineer your offer for a very specific group? And then obsess over that group…and focus on delighting them.
Because people who vaguely like something don’t tell their network about it.
But people who have fallen for something, who have been delighted, go around telling everyone about it.
‘The challenge for most people who seek to make an impact isn’t winning over the mass market. It’s the micro market. They bend themselves into a pretzel trying to please the anonymous masses before they have fifty or one hundred people who would miss them if they were gone.’ Seth Godin
‘A handful of people’ will mean different things for all of us. For an asset management group looking to transform a portion of it’s footprint into flexspace ‘minimum’ might be 80,000 people. For a boutique neighborhood workspace it might be just 80.
But whatever the numbers involved, the principle is the same.
Airbnb embraced this approach by first focusing on getting 100 customers who loved their proposition.
Their goal was to make a big difference for a small pool of people.
“It was better to have 100 people who loved us vs. 1 million people who liked us. All movements grow this way. There was no way we could get 1 million people on Airbnb, but we could get 100 people to love us.”
– Brian Chesky, Founder & CEO of Airbnb
Starting by getting a small number of people evangelical about your workspaces is a far better strategy than pumping money into expensive ads, and attempting to reach the mass market overnight.
Even if you manage that exposure, it doesn’t necessarily translate to sales.
Gaining attention is one thing. Gaining trust is another altogether.
And guess who people trust? Their friends.
As Seth puts it…
Ideas travel horizontally now; from person to person, not from organisation to customer. So the best strategy is to begin with the smallest possible core and give them something to talk about and reason to do so.
The good thing about this strategy is that it’s much less of a risky bet than aiming at the masses.
You know that if you delight a small number of members and treat them generously that they will tell others. That’s a known metric. It’s something you can be sure you aren’t wasting your time on. It’s something solid and achievable.
But it takes a bit of bravery.
Focussing on delighting a handful of people means two things:
Firstly it means having the guts to be specific when it comes to the brand and marketing.
To say ‘we are this – but we are not this’. It means shunning the non-believers. To say, we are making this very specific change for this very specific group of people. This is about being more marmite.
Secondly, it means you focus on making the experience of the workspace exceptional for the small number of members that respond to your rallying cry – those who have seen you and are excited about what you can do for them. This is about the cost of being human.
Being more Marmite
The idea of ‘being more marmite’ is about being so specific that you find a fringe, a niche, and you fully commit down that road. So much so that when people find you it’s either the beginning of a love affair, or they won’t come anywhere near you.
But it’s easier said than done. Because standing out feels a lot more risky than playing it safe. It also opens you up to something that none of us particularly like:
The thing that’s important to remember about criticism, is that it’s not synonymous with failure.
When people criticise a coworking space there’s a very good chance this is just a case of one particular group saying ‘this isn’t for us’.
Probably all that is happening is your workspace is being poorly rated by those outside of your target audience.
I remember getting a couple of negative Google reviews for a workspace I co-founded. I was proud of our previously perfect 5* record and my first thought was HOW DARE THEY! But when I reviewed the reviews I realised that these guys just didn’t get it.
One person wanted somewhere formal, corporate and premium. We were offering something affordable, friendly and creative.
Another person didn’t like our location. Which is obviously a slightly absurd thing to give a bad review for. It’s rather like me hopping on Google and giving a 1* review to a coworking space in Warsaw because it’s not conveniently placed for me. It’s not for me.
For every person you put off, there will be another person who is utterly evangelical about your workspaces and tells all their network about them.
And whilst going rogue isn’t a guarantee of success, being boring is guaranteed to lead to failure.
What is remarkable?
Making your workspace brand more marmite is the same as making it remarkable. Remarkable quite literally means ‘worthy of making a remark about’. And marmite, whether you love it or hate it, is one of the most talked about spreads that exist.
If you fly on a plane and reach your destination safely do you tell your friends about it? No because that’s supposed to happen.
So in the flexspace industry…
If the internet works, and you’re able to download files from Wetransfer without delays, do you tell your friends about that? Nope.
If you have an app that can book meeting rooms and you have a number of different types of meeting rooms available, do you rave about that? Nope.
If your workspace is in a desirable location and offers offices at a decent price, is anyone going to talk about it? Nope.
Even if you have a wide range of services, will people spread the word to their network? Probably not.
These things don’t make workspaces remarkable. Unless, for example, you have the most remarkably expansive range of services out of any of the competition (and this was baked into the mission of your brand).
The question for a flexspace is – what can it be the most of?
There can be any number of different ways to delight people and be remarkable. But it’s usually to do with finding a fringe, being ‘the most’ something and then sticking to your guns.
The early years of WeWork are a great example.
Ultimately they were just setting up another serviced office company.
They offered private offices and desks, on flexible contracts, with a menu of additional services.
Nothing new there.
But they weren’t like other serviced offices.
These guys established a small cult following.
They felt dangerous and shunned all of the rules for what an office was supposed to be.
Everyone talked about them. Either loving or hating them.
Their ostentatious design…
The fact that their most famous stat was ‘number of litres of free beer consumed’…
That everyone wore flips flops and brought their dogs to work…
The fact they had the hottest DJ at the most recent location’s ‘launch party’…
I mean, before WeWork who even had a ‘launch party’ for a workspace?!
They closed off a huge segment of the market by going rogue. And they never compromised.
And look how successful they’ve been. It shows that if you aim at a smaller market (in WeWork’s case the New York tech and creative audience) and stick to your guns, the numbers don’t stay small for long.
I know they’ve received a lot of bad press recently. The tech valuation and ‘growth at all costs’ mentality ultimately came to bite them in the bum. But in some ways it’s a real shame. Because the shackles have been put on. And they’re in danger of losing their marmite-ness.
Either way, the early years of WeWork are a great example of this paradox:
Limiting your market actually leads to growth.
Helping the non-believers on their way
When we used to do site tours if it was clear we were the wrong fit for the company looking round, we wouldn’t harry and chase them afterwards. In fact we’d send a list of other options that might better suit them. Rather than trying to force a square peg into a round hole just simply because we had access to their email address and some spare time to spend on ‘sales’.
With a discount and a little false urgency you might be able to get that person through the door for a short period. But it won’t last and, then of course you are tasked with serving that customer. If you have too many of that particular type of customer through the doors you will need to start pandering to them, and it will mean rounding your edges.
It might mean you hit your quarterly targets. But is the compromise worth it in the long run?
Perhaps the foundations for longer term growth might be damaged…
Making an enemy
This isn’t necessarily another workspace. But perhaps something that stands in direct contravention to the change you’re trying to make. Your enemy could be anything; pollution, bad design, transiency, perfectionism, formality, informality…
Nike are a pretty good example when it comes to making an enemy, as their recent campaign video shows with strong messages of perseverance and inclusivity. And it’s popular. 45m views on Youtube and counting.
I scrolled down to read the comments, expecting all adulation….but…I was surprised to see a huge amount of criticism.
Here’s an extract from one of the comments:
‘…The whole thing is just disgusting and I don’t understand where they got the guts to do this…’
Nike’s guts and willingness to be more marmite are exactly the reason they are where they are today.
Their willingness to offend some people is the reason they are so popular amongst others.
I wonder how your coworking brand could be more offensive? Not offensive for the sake of it of course. But how could you be more extreme in whatever change you seek to make? Because if you can take it to the edge then it’s likely you will offend some (but delight the people who matter to you).
[If you’re keen to read more on this subject here’s a great piece by Ryan Law on why you need an arch nemesis]
The cost of being human
The second part of delighting a handful of people is about giving members selective and personal attention, and hoping for a trickle down effect.
I read a best seller last year called ‘A Company of One’ by Paul Jarvis. At the end of the book Paul leaves his personal email address and invites you to get in touch with your own story.
I was intrigued by this and I assumed he would have a vast amount of people contacting him. So I did a little research.
And my suspicions were confirmed, it turns out that…he does indeed have a great deal of people message him.
I also discovered that he turns down most major speaking events.
On the face of it this is a bizarre approach to take. It makes no ‘business sense’ whatsoever. Surely the best and most efficient way to get our book out to the masses is to accept the telly interviews. Go on Oprah. Get maximum exposure for minimum effort.
I had a think about this and I realised that what Paul has done is embrace the Minimum Viable Audience approach.
He has no interest in vast exposure and the endless swathes of people knowing about his businesses and books. What he’s selling and the difference he’s making for people isn’t relevant to 90% of people who would tune into Oprah.
Of course I not only emailed him but also wrote to him – and he gave generous and thoughtful replies to both.
As a fan of his viewpoints, you can imagine how excited this made me.
And you can imagine how many other people I have told about him since. I am a Paul Jarvis Super Spreader!
This goes to prove that…
‘The cost of being human in this situation is easily covered by the upside of delighting an extraordinary customer’.
(Again, our old friend Seth Godin).
Doing things that don’t scale
There’s another powerful lesson here. It’s important as you grow to intentionally do things that don’t scale. Investors might get excited by the 20x multiplier you put in the pitch deck, but the members don’t care about that.
They will be more affected by your ability to maintain a thriving and meaningful culture in the workspaces as you grow to multiple venues.
Of course doing things that do scale is important – namely investing in technology – not just for easy use of your space and facilities – but also to make it easier for the network of members to connect with one another.
But if this is done as a substitute for the more human side of things (the culture and community in the workspaces) then no one will be very active on the tech.
To sum up…
Focussing on delighting a specific group is a much better (and far less risky) strategy than aiming at the masses.
The best way to drive growth of a coworking space is to concentrate on making the experience of that space exceptional. And to craft it for a small number of people. Then they will stay. But more than that they will tell their friends.
And the magic of the ‘Minimum Viable Audience’ approach is that you soon discover this supposedly ‘small group’ is actually not so small after all.
PS. If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy my free guide on ‘Identifying Your Unique Offer To The World.’ You can click here to download it.