How to cultivate a international network of peers and business partners?

In October, as part of a hunt for inspiration, I made a three-day visit to the Makeshift Society. During my stay I had the privilege of spending a few hours with the founder of Makeshift, Rena Tom. I asked a lot of questions and she generously shared her experiences creating a successful coworking space with me. 

I gained insight into the basic ideas behind the venture, got a taste of daily life at 235 Gough Street, and dug deeper into the business model of her place. It was exciting and inspiring. 

My most important takeaway from my stay at Makeshift is Rena’s idea of what she calls “friction”. To her, friction is the points here and there where things could be more streamlined, but aren't, because the goal is to create interaction between people.

One small example at Makeshift is payment. As a day-to-day user, you can’t pay online at Makeshift. It's not that Rena hasn’t thought about offering online payment or can’t figure out how to set up a system that makes it possible. She has deliberately left it out because she wants in-person interaction. 

At Cowork Klitmøller, we’re going to do payment differently. But the idea of building in friction to promote interaction and maybe even a certain culture in a coworking space is worth remembering. 

Viewed from that perspective, a coworking space is to a large extent about creating a place that contains the right friction – the right kind and the right amount. It got me thinking.  

We’re creating what we call a matchmaking zone in Klitmøller to meet the challenges of residents and beta-residents. The starting point is a shared interest in surfing.

Ultimately the aim is to create business relationships among likeminded people, primarily from micro and small enterprises, regardless of whether they live in an area where a matchmaking zone exists or not. 

It’s obvious that you can’t create a matchmaking zone in any (rural) area. You have to have a special thing that generates the critical flow of recurrent visitors, a flow that feeds the network and allows relationships to develop and grow. 

The “thing” however doesn’t have to be surfing — it could be skiing, climbing, mountain biking, SCUBA diving, or any other activity that requires proximity to areas particularly suited for that activity.

It could also be locations that are loved for their history and architecture — for example, Florence— music (Vienna), a vibrant arts community (Santa Fe), other lifestyle features (Tahiti, the desert, the mountains, etc.), or even a religious community. It could be San Francisco. 

Now, I'm a business owner. I have a ton of ideas and a lot of heart. I would like to go to a city like San Francisco where I could visit a coworking space knowing I would meet people with whom I could share knowledge and ideas and maybe even business projects. It is possible, but I find it too hard. In fact, I felt that even during my stay at Makeshift. 

I’m also a windsurfer and a SUPer. If I could visit a coworking space in San Francisco where I knew I could find people with this same interest, I would go there — simply because it would initially help me to connect. The place would be my gateway to both local surf and new business opportunities. It’s just easier to get started if you share a passion. 

Which brings me to my conclusion. What really interests me is how we can make it more desirable for creative people outside big corporations to meet and cultivate a large, international network of peers and business partners.

To make that possible, we need to create places that’ll work as magnets for micro and small businesses, because the right type and amount of friction makes it (much) easier for people to meet, connect, share knowledge, and—ultimately—do business together.  

I believe that linking a special interest — like surfing — and coworking might be one of the possible solutions to this challenge. I am not suggesting that I’ve found the (only) philosopher's stone, but I hope that we’ve found a niche that can make globalizing micro and small businesses easier and more attractive.