Sunday, June 29th 2008 | Ismael Ghalimi
As we’re further developing the concept for the Monolab|Incubator, we’re starting to realize that our target market is not exactly the one we had in mind initially. While early stage companies remain our customers, we’re slowly expanding our focus from the solo entrepreneur to the already-formed start-up company. And for the later, we’re focusing on what we call Micro Global Businesses (MGB).
These businesses are born out of the Internet. They have 50 employees or less, spread across 5 locations or more. They sell technologies and services to either businesses or consumers, over the Internet, or through indirect distribution channels. Even though they have very few employees, every single one counts, and keeping them happy is one of the CEO’s top priorities.
A good example for such a company would be Caucho Technology, developer of the Resin application server, which last month surpassed both JBoss and Tomcat according to Netcraft. Caucho has 7,500 corporate customers around the world, served by no more than 10 employees. The CEO lives in San Diego, CA, the CTO and a couple of engineers live in San Francisco, CA, and one of their senior developers currently lives in Tonton, ON, but is about to move to Vancouver, BC.
In order to get their job done, these guys need three things: a place to work outside of their homes so that they can focus, places to meet once a week for those who live in the same area, and very good communication tools to stay in sync. What they do not need is the hassle of setting all this up, especially if it means doing it across 4 or 5 locations, in 3 or 4 countries. Here comes Monolab|Workspace, the concept for which the Monolab|Incubator is a real-life experiment.
The idea for Monolab|Workspace is to develop a network of shared office spaces around the world. Unlike Regus and their 900 offices located in corporate areas, we’re looking at 25 to 50 locations only, strategically located in trendy neighborhoods. Think Embarcadero Center vs. Potrero Hill in San Francisco, CA, Shinjuku vs. Daikanyama in Tokyo, or La DÃ©fense vs. Le Maris in Paris.
Instead of private offices, we want open spaces, because our target users prefer email and IM to phone conversations. And when they really want to talk to someone, they either do it in person while sipping an espresso, or with the best videoconferencing system money can buy. And besides, nobody likes to sit in a box all day…
The main concept is to give very small businesses access to an infrastructure that only large companies can afford. For example, a good videoconferencing system costs north of $10,000, and a company of 10 people scattered across 5 locations just cannot justify spending the equivalent of a full year salary for it. But if you can spread the cost across 50 or 100 users, it all starts to make sense. The same is true for a nice meeting room that could sit a dozen people and could be used for sales presentations or training sessions. If you’re going to use it only once a week, how do you justify spending $5,000 to $10,000 on chairs alone? Sharing is the answer.
Then comes the question of locations. The audience we’re addressing with our concept is rather young, free spirited, and cosmopolitan. They could make a lot of money working for large corporations, but they would rather preserve their independence and develop their own ideas. As a result, they cherish smaller offices, smart architecture, green surroundings, and the proximity of good restaurants. They like mingling with creative types, visiting art galleries, or getting a drink with friends after a long day at work. For all these reasons, our workspaces will be located in historical downtown areas rather than corporate office complexes, and our spaces will look nothing like The Office.
There is also a notion of aesthetics, elegance, or style. This might be more a matter of personal taste rather than business rationality, but we like good design, quality materials, and smart user interfaces. At the risk of being dubbed as elitists, we’d rather spend more money on good equipment and furniture that make you feel good about your workplace, and less on staff whose job can be largely automated. As a result, you can expect our workspaces to be quite amazing, not in a luxurious way, but in the sense that no amount of efforts will be spared in our inhibited attempt to make them as effective and inspiring as possible.
Another aspect of the concept is locality and mobility. You can think of it in the context of the Global Village. Our users are bedouins who travel from place to place for a living, but do not want to lose the concept of Home, and want to engage with their destinations to the fullest. If this sounds a bit too abstract, just remember the feeling of loneliness you got the last time you traveled around the world for business, and found yourself in a normalized hotel room that looked exactly the same as the ones you stayed at in five other locations, down to the bar of soap in the bathroom. For a split second, you could not even remember where you were. Was it Sydney in Australia? Or maybe Austin, TX? And of all of sudden, you started questioning why you did all this traveling to begin with. We think life is too short for this.
Our belief is that business traveling should be leveraged as a way to discover the world and engage with local cultures. Unfortunately, time constraints make it extremely difficult, and the more we travel, the less we know how to engage. If you’re like me, you’ve discovered that shortening your trips help reduce jet lag. In fact, making your trips shorter than 3 days at a time can remove jet lag altogether. Earlier this week, I was in Tokyo for 3 days. A week before, I went to Australia for 19 hours. And next week, I will go to Singapore and Thailand (for business), for just a day and a half. Definitely extreme, yet highly effective.
If your traveling schedule is anything like mine, your main challenge is about optimization of time spent on the ground. Which is another reason why we want our workspaces to be located in culturally rich neighborhoods, in places where you will find a great restaurant serving local food, in areas where you will meet real people who look nothing like you, but might share your vision of the Global Village. Essentially, Home away from Home, for people who have a slightly expanded view of Home.
We’re doing two things to fulfill this vision: First, our buildings will be typical of the places where they are located. In San Francisco, CA, we will look for a converted warehouse. In Paris, an old atelier, or a vintage garage maybe. In Japan, a traditional house, or an old temple. Second, 20% of our real estate will be used for bedrooms. That’s right, bedrooms. The idea is to flip the concept of hotel business center. Instead of having a cramped business center located in a large hotel, we want a small yet comfortable hotel located in a spacious business center. In each location, we will build two or three bedrooms, using furniture found in places like Qbic Hotels or Yotel. These bedrooms will be reserved to members only, and will be priced at $99/night, just enough to amortize the furniture and pay for top-quality cleaning services.
With that in mind, our concept is taking a whole new dimension. For $1,500 a month, you essentially join a club that gives you access to a fantastic workplace, anywhere around the world, or at least in the top 25 to 50 destinations you might find yourself doing business in. You also get access to conveniently located hotel facilities that will reduce the time you spend in taxicabs. And because all the facilities will use the exact equipment, you won’t have to read the manual next time you’ll want to print, sign, and fax this all important contract from halfway across the globe.
Of course, with such a model, we’re faced with a pretty challenging catch 22 problem: the value of our network is directly proportional to the squared number of locations, and we’re starting with just one (Palo Alto, CA). Nevertheless, we strongly believe in the vision, and have faith that we will find like-minded people along the way who will help us turn it into reality. So if that sounds like fun, here are the first 12 locations we have selected. If you live there and think you could take advantage of a local workspace, or would like to help us out, just drop us a line.
- Palo Alto, CA (543 Bryant Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301)
- San Francisco, CA (Potrero Hill)
- New York, NY (Meat Packing District)
- Los Angeles, CA (Santa Monica)
- Tokyo, JP (Daikanyama)
- London, UK (East End)
- Paris, FR (Le Marais)
- DÃ¼sseldorf, DE (Zollhafen)
- Singapore, SG (Holland Village)
- Sydney, AU (Darlinghurst)
- Vancouver, BC (Yaletown)
- Honolulu, HI (Waialae)
And if you still don’t get it, read Monocle!