Coworking saved my life

I met Mike LaRosa at the Coworking Europe Conference 2015 in Milan. He was busy and had just ran the last half-mile so that he could reach the venue in time. Almost out of breath, he removed his shoulder bag, looked up, stuck out his hand, and said, "Hello, my name is Mike. Where are you from?" Later, I found out that he was one of the speakers at the conference. His topic was "sponsorships for coworking." It was an interesting talk, but what I also found interesting was the use of the word "coworkaholic," a term Mike used to refer to himself. I recently got the chance to ask him a few questions and dig a little deeper. Here are Mike's replies:

Q: What is your story, your background?

A: Kind of a crazy - I will try to keep it short. Was a college dropout while working at Starbucks. By the age of 21, I was the youngest Store Manager in the company and by 23 had managed a half a dozen stores, became a Coffee Master and then started working for them in a regional training capacity. 2008 was really tough on the company and I was in need of a change, so I answered a job posting for an Event Coordinator for the Washington Business Journal. Within 6 months in the role, I was selling more event sponsorships than the entire sales team combined. They groomed me into a custom role and brought me into corporate. That's where I started designing event concepts and sponsorships for all 42 markets in the US. By 2012 I had decided I was over the challenges of working in corporate environments and started by own consulting firm.

Q: How did coworking change your way of working?

A: Coworking saved my life. I launched a company with some great initial success but within a few months I was miserable working from home or coffee shops. I hated the isolation and struggled to stay productive, keep up on projects and my work totally suffered. At that time, I guess that I had known about a space in DC, but honestly I really thought that coworking was limited to "startups" and as a consultant/freelancer I just didn't think there was a place for me. Clearly that was a stupid thing to think, but rather than go check it out, I had been asking other small businesses I knew if I could rent some space from them, etc. They'd let me come in for a day or two at a time, but really none of them took me up on the offer. I had a client project that took me to Kansas City, MO and we were working out of a coworking space and I had this AHA moment that was like why am I not working from these spaces?!?! Then I discovered the conferences etc and I was hooked.

Q: In what way did coworking change your life in general?

A: I've started working on primarily only coworking projects. My experiences in producing events and working with corporate sponsors pairs very well with needs in the coworking industry. I've been able to produce some of the biggest conferences in the market and have brought some awesome sponsors/partners to spaces I work with. It's funny too that the experience I have from Starbucks trained me quite well for some of the skill sets needed in coworking. Both are very much a form of hospitality. Each Starbucks is a community. We have regulars that come in every day and we get to know them, their families. They share celebrations with us as well as sorrow. You also have to be great at customer service and be able to solve problems quickly.

Q: What is a 'coworkaholic'? Is it "just" a name, or is it something one can be?

A: Coworkaholic was just a term that someone used to describe me at a conference and the name just kind of stuck. I thought it was a pretty funny thing so that's what I used to name the blog that I'm working on now. I think that anyone can be a coworkaholic - it's a person who loves, eats, breathes, sleeps coworking. There are quite a number of us out there as evident from the large crowds gathered at events such as Coworking Europe Conference.

Q: Is there a downside to being a coworkaholic?

A: The only downside would be that it's still a form of workaholic? ha! I think that a coworkaholic is just someone who can't get enough of sharing and social workspaces. They are community builders and believers in the future of work. I meet people every day that are thriving in coworking spaces no matter where they are in the world. More and more of them are digital nomads - a group of people that have been around for quite some time but that now have the ability to plug into a network. I've had connections that I never would have thought possible. A former member from my space in DC is a part time member at a space in Thailand owned by a guy I was chatting with in Bali. It just proves that the world is really such a small place. 

Q: What's the most important thing that being a coworkaholic has taught you so far?

A: I've learned about the power of community. The power of finding your "people", your tribe. Being an independent worker is totally a doable thing, but without having a space to call your own, it's a very lonely existence. It's so great to know that I'm in a space where there are others who share my interests, struggles and have that common bond. 

Q: What's your advice to others who are on the verge of becoming coworkaholics?

A: I think that if you are using Coworkaholic as a definition of someone who is about to become a digital nomad and travel the world, it's that you mentally prepare yourself for the unexpected, have a willingness for adventure and also be ready to grow apart from some of the people that you hang out with on a daily basis. Planning is key - but then again you can't plan too much - you need to be able to pivot and adapt if things are to change. If you are using Coworkaholic as someone who is into the idea of coworking, believes in it's power for greater good and wants to open a space, then they need to do a ton of research to understand what goes into this business.

Thanks, Mike. I hope to see you again, somewhere out there.

Mutinerie: sharing values is the most important part

Coworking as a concept is only 10 years old. This post is one in a series of posts where I interview people I have met. They belong to coworking spaces in Denmark as well as in the rest of Europe and the world. Hopefully, the series will teach us something about the coworking movement. 

The first interview is with William Van Den Broek. I got in touch with William via Morgane Parma, whom I met when I participated in the Coworking Europe Conference 2014 in Lisbon. Morgane is a visual communication designer and a member of Mutinerie. William is the cofounder of Mutinerie in Paris. Here are his answers:

A: What is Mutinerie? 

Q: Mutinerie is a community of independent workers: entrepreneurs, start-ups, and freelancers based in Paris. The headquarters of Mutinerie is a coworking space of 400 square meters in the northeast of the city. We have about 200 active members. Some of them work nearly every day from the place, and others come only a few days per month. Mutinerie hosts and organises events, workshops, and celebrations. Mutinerie has various goals and no limits!

Q: When/how did it all begin? 

A: Mutinerie was initiated by three brothers and a playground friend who decided, one day in September 2010, to gather independent workers in a place where it would be nice to work, think, and live. After four months of hard work, Mutinerie opened its doors in early March 2012.

Q: What is a ‘Mutin’? 

A: A mutin means a mutineer. A mutin is a member of our community—a guy or a girl who decided, one fine day, to become self-employed and chose what he or she wanted to do with his or her life. He or she is a developer, designer, architect, journalist, translator, consultant, artist, or whatever he or she wants to be. Mutinerie is glad to have a huge diversity of skills. Sharing values is the most important part. Being able to share common goods with others and to trust and respect fellow coworkers is key to building a micro-society in which good things can bloom.


Q. How is Mutinerie different from other coworking spaces? 

A: We don't try so hard to be different; we just try to be good! The first thing was to find good people and to work hard to deliver a good quality of service. At the same time, we have high expectations of what is a community of coworkers. Coworkers are not in Mutinerie to show off or promote their stuff. There is an authentic atmosphere with authentic people who are able to trust each other. We managed to find a good balance between core coworkers, others who come here more rarely, and travellers. Doing so, Mutinerie remains an open community with strong relations between members. At Mutinerie, you will always have someone to welcome you and explain how things work in the community. The result is that ideas and relationships can grow strong quickly. 

Q: What is Coworking Rural (Mutinerie Village)? 

A: It is a coworking/co-living space lost in the middle of Le Perche, a French region located 140 km west of Paris. The farmhouse stands alone in a little valley surrounded by forests, grasslands, and a little river. As many coworkers can often work remotely, we thought it could be nice to offer a place where you can mix work and nature! The Village was born last summer after a major renovation of the old farmhouse. It includes a hostel, a coworking space, a maker space, and a permacultural kitchen garden.

Q: How are the rural and urban locations of Mutinerie connected? 

A: Mutinerie Village is a kind of countryside house for our coworkers and for the freelancers of Paris. Our little maker space in the Village creates another reason for you to go to our urban Mutinerie and craft things you need. We also organise workshops, parties, and celebrations at Mutinerie Village with our community from Paris.

Q: Where will Mutinerie be in 5-10 years? 

A: We have always said that Mutinerie is more a movement than a facility. Our motto means "Free Together" and sums up our main goal: connecting independent people and free minds. In terms of coworking spaces, a new Mutinerie is brewing in the south of Paris, and another space will open in June! If we prove our ability to develop new spaces, we will continue to open spaces in Paris. That said, operating in the heart of a serendipity machine like Mutinerie also means that a lot of unexpected things will cross our path and change it…

Q: Bonus: How do you envision coworking in 10-20 years? 

A: Ten-twenty years is really far away, and considering the rapid changes in our societies, predictions are a bit dangerous! Yet, some figures are still pretty explicit. When Mutinerie was launched three years ago, there were about 1,000 spaces all over the world, and, today, we are reaching 6,000! The number of coworking spaces has nearly doubled every year for the past six years, and we don't really see why the pace would slow down in the coming years.

Some studies have predicted that the number of self-employed people will exceed the number of office employees in a decade or so in most western countries. It is the beginning of a revolution in the ways in which we work and organize societies! Yet, I'm not describing a shining future where everyone is free, wealthy, and happy. Being independent is an exciting but dangerous adventure. Big companies are still able to offer protection, security in terms of revenue, and social interactions. Coworking mitigates the dangers facing a society of self-employed individuals. It enables people to be independent and free without being isolated.

Thank you William and Morgane – #JeSuisCharlie 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Egon – the storm – is here with gusts reaching 35 m/s. You probably know how it is when you're out here on the edge under those conditions:

Grains of sand bang on your skin. The sea looks like Armageddon. There is no order, only chaos moving like wildfire along the coast. Houses creak and squeak, and cars wobble down the street. Stuff tumble through the air ...

It's all over the place. It's nature moving in – as a reminder of everything from climate change to the things you have to tie to the trees that aren't here. You can run, but you can't hide. We love it!

The year 2014 was a good one for us. We had plenty of waves and decent wind conditions. Each of us did good business, and we all learned a lot about what it means to live in Klitmøller. Through our cooperation with the Foundation Realdania, we are, as you know, on our way towards establishing what we hope will be the perfect retreat for you, your friends, and/or your family.

We are not quite there yet. Right now, we are focusing on finding the rest of the funding needed to begin construction and on determining where the house should be located. Once this has been determined, we will carry out a design contest, find a winner, finish the construction of the building, and then all move in. The year 2015 will be a crazy one.

Until then, we are staying in a place on Ørhagevej 84. Lunch is at 12 o’clock, and you are welcome to join in. If you have time, we would like to hear your story and share waves, experiences, and, who knows, maybe even fame and fortune with you. ;) See you soon in Klitmøller.