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6 tips on raising money for your coworking business (pre-launch)

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First a small disclaimer, and a useful resource…

There will certainly be people better placed than me to advise on doing a fund raise. And the below is by no means comprehensive. But my aim is to add a few useful thoughts into the mix. Please do get in touch if you want to chat – I’d love to hear different perspectives.  When it comes to building the pitch deck, I’d highly recommend getting a copy of Get Backed. It’s a compilation of the best examples and tips from companies who have raised over £150m.

 

As the old saying goes, valuing startups is more of an art than a science.

I remember when Adam Neumann was asked why WeWork were valued so disproportionately higher than their competitors, he answered:

Our valuation and size today are much more based on our energy and spirituality than it is on a multiple of revenue.’ 

Sure – that response is a little whacky.

And we can probably all agree to take WeWork’s valuations with a pinch of salt. Their attempts to value themselves as a tech startup were unfounded, and their ‘growth-at-all-costs’ mentality ultimately came to bite them in the bum.

But I still think it’s important for any startup looking to disrupt the status quo, innovate or do something new, that you you need to balance the science (what are the sensible benchmarks, how are traditional real estate businesses typically valued, etc) and the art (what X factor are you bringing to the table, how are you changing the world).

So bearing that in mind, here are my six tips:

  1. Show the timing is ripe
  2. Show how big you can go
  3. Show the property model
  4. Show competitors + transactions
  5. Show traction
  6. Show the team

 

  1. Show the timing is ripe

Is the timing just right for you to be launching these particular types of workspaces? 

Here are a few examples of brands who have just launched and why their timing is ripe…

In a digital age where we’re pulled from one distraction to another, and our greatest challenge is focus, it makes complete sense that Flown are providing space for deep work.

With a more dispersed workforce, greater freedom where we work and less tolerance for the long commute, it makes complete sense Patch are launching a collection of high quality neighbourhood workspaces.

With the need for working parents to have more flexibility in their work, now is the right timing for Wrap to be launching a hybrid coworking/childcare offering. 

 

What fundamental shifts are taking place in the way we work right now?

And how are you tapping into these and providing the solutions?

If you can show that ‘the time is now’ for your concept, then it will help create a sense of urgency with investors. 

  1. Show how big you can go

The ceiling on this will be down to three things:

A) Member demand: How many people are there who are crying out for your workspaces?

In general pointing towards real estate trends and the growing demand for flexible workspace (vs long fixed leases) is a helpful start.

But pointing towards the growing size of the market that you’re specifically targeting is the key. For example, if your target members are freelancers and digital nomads then you’ll want to focus on stats such as the 43% growth in UK freelancers since 2008.

B) Location demand: How many locations want what you’re offering?

For example, if your vision is to launch in commuter towns around a big city, then how many of these towns are there? Perhaps you might say your venues need to be within a 1hr commute, need a population size of 50,000-100,000 and you want a workspace in every one of these towns.

It will help to give a clear roadmap of the number of locations your model can expand into.

C) Property supply: What sort of property is workable for your model? 

The answer to that question will determine the total amount of sq ft available to grow into. If for example your model only works with light industrial space, then no matter your member demand or location demand, this will place a greater limit on your potential supply. 

 

  1. Show the property model

It’s worth pointing out whatever clever methods you have that will either help you acquire sites, or that give your model resilience.

For example…

Do you add placemaking value that gives you a competitive edge in negotiations with landlords?

Can you scale quickly because you operate an asset light model that requires little CapEx input?

What ways do you align long term interests with landlords and reduce exposure to market fluctuations?

Is one of your team an architect, designer or Design and Build pro, giving you a professional edge here?

  1. Show competitors and transactions

Whilst you may be making a strong case for capitalising on new working trends, it’s helpful to also show existing players and front runners. 

Partly so you can point to successful stories to give your investors confidence. But also so you can show your awareness of your competitors, and how you differ from them. 

What transactions have been taking place in the market recently? (eg CBRE’s recent investment in Industrious).

You might also want to put some of these competitors into a ‘magic quadrant’ on your pitch deck. 

You know the sort. The ones that show all your competitors in three of the corners – and then show your brand in blissful isolation all alone in one area of the quadrant 😉

An example from Dreamit (taken from quite a good article on how to create killer competition slides):

 

  1. Show traction

The barrier to entry for coworking businesses is relatively high. 

The tricky thing about raising money as a coworking business is that you need a certain amount to launch your first venue. As far as the typical coworking model goes, the site economics tend to stack up once you hit 8,000-10,000 sq ft. So if you are taking a traditional lease on your first venue, and completing the fit out yourself, then you’ll need a decent chunk of change to get going.

The problem being of course that at this stage you have no proof of concept. So you’ll find yourself in a situation where you need to raise a relatively large sum, at a relatively low valuation.

There are a few ways around this…

  • Take the smallest first site you can, to minimise the amount you need to raise in the first round. 

Of course this will reduce your forecasted EBITDA, and investors will be interested in what multiple of earnings you are valuing your business at. But on balance it’s probably worth it.

Once you launch and have achieved all the things you said you would achieve (time to achieve target occupancy, customer acquisition costs, operating costs, creating a well oiled machine, securing great Community Managers, delivering a specific spec of fit out within budget, etc.) the valuation will be significantly higher for the next raise. 

  • Get a deal in place with a landlord to grow throughout a building if things go to plan.

This is effectively what we did with our first Refinery site. We took on a teeny tiny section of the building, filled it, then took on more and more space, until we eventually had the whole building.

It also meant we were able to assess demand as we went (private offices vs fixed desks). 

  • Find a landlord who is willing to take a more partnered approach.

Negotiating a management agreement or joint venture will be a little trick on your first venue, particularly if you’re trying to secure a venue in a proven location.

But if you’re attempting an innovative model, in a new location, or your vision aligns with the landlords in a unique way, then it’s worth a shot.

  • Start building your brand and community before you raise.

It doesn’t take much money to launch a simple Squarespace website and start a newsletter. Starting to get people excited will help a lot with the fundraise.

You can even get people to register as ‘founding members’ to show you have people chomping at the bit. 

 

  1. Show the team 

Most investors I speak to are ultimately swayed by the answer to this question:

Is this team credible?

Every business plan will need to evolve and pivot to some degree, and there will be many bumps in the road. If AirBnb had to make novelty breakfast cereals to pay the bills, you could find yourself doing all sorts of things to keep the wheels on the wagon.

So making sure you have the minute details of the business plan correct is not nearly as important as showing you can attract and motivate a winning team. 

Two thoughts on this: 

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ Peter Drucker.

Ultimately the ability to build a great team is through the culture you create. So it’s well worth codifying this by creating a brand and culture deck. 

If you’ve not done this yet, it will be a really helpful process for you to clarify your own thinking. But it will also act as a great playbook for your team – to get them excited for the task and all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Assemble some high level avengers.

Particularly if you’re a solo founder, then securing a board with lots of experience and acumen is a good idea. Not only will it give credibility to your pitch deck, but they can act as fantastic sounding boards for you along the journey.

I hope that’s helpful. Please feel free to ping me an email if you’re raising money or just want to bounce ideas around.

Jamie

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