Gabriela Hersham on launching a co-working space in the heart of London's tech hub
To launch your own business is one thing; to decide that you're going to create a co-working company in one of the most competitive cities in the world is another challenge altogether. But that's exactly what Gabriela Hersham has achieved in less than two years.
She's the founder of Huckletree, a relatively new addition to London's thriving co-working scene, with her first branch launched in Clerkenwell two years ago, and now another open in Shoreditch.
A business graduate of Regent's University in London, Gabriela spent a few years studying acting and filmmaking in New York before realising that co-working was her calling. She returned to the UK in 2013 and began to make her dream a reality. We caught up with Gabriela to find out more about what it's like to follow your heart, overcome business challenges and find a niche in an already saturated co-working market...
Tell us about your own journey. How did you get here?
My love for co-working was born as soon as I learned that the concept existed. I’ve been consciously surrounding myself with interesting people for as long as I can remember and so when I learned that there was a movement created around this idea I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in.
I came across my first co-working space in New York City in 2012. At that time I didn’t even know what it was called, we just posted an update on Facebook asking if any of our friends knew of any shared offices in the city. Three months later, and I knew that this was what I wanted to build. I moved back to London, did enough market research to know how much demand there was, and raised the seed capital to launch my first space.
You mentioned challenges, what have you found to be the most difficult aspects of launching your own co-working space?
Like any business, there are many hurdles to overcome, and almost on a daily basis. Finding good property deals is the biggest challenge. We’ve been really spoilt with our first two locations. Our Clerkenwell space is situated in an incredible micro-location surrounded by places to eat, and is filled with natural light. Technically it’s east London but it’s so central that it attracts people from all over the UK and beyond. I kid you not – we’ve had commuters from Wales, Paris and Barcelona coming to Clerkenwell!
Our Shoreditch space, on the other hand, is in what I consider to be the best building in London to work from – and our front lawn is Finsbury Square. We could not have asked for better. Securing our third space with all this in mind is challenging; we’ve set the bar really high.
Have you had to make any tough decisions – what were those? Can you tell us more?
Tell me one business in the world that hasn’t encountered some tough decisions along the way! I find hiring really hard because there are so many smart people out there that it’s tough to know which one is best suited for the role and for your company. I’m getting stronger at learning the right questions to ask at interview stage to filter the good interviewees from the good candidates and I think this is a key skill for any CEO to possess.
I've also had to make some tough firing decisions. It’s never easy firing someone, especially in a startup environment where everyone works so closely together, but we operate in a cut-throat environment where if a team member is under-performing, we can't afford to keep them on.
So you've just opened a new co-working space in Shoreditch, after a successful first branch in Clerkenwell. Tell us more...
Our Shoreditch shared office space is positioned at the very heart of London’s innovation centre and within the iconic Alphabeta Building, where Silicon Roundabout meets Shoreditch and the City. This community of 400 is scattered with stretching zones, hydration stations, indoor and outdoor gardens and little clusters of inspiration.
The space has four beautifully-designed meeting rooms that can fit from eight to 10 people, a classroom for forty where our members can learn to code or join in a yoga session, and one of the most popular event spaces in London.
The general feedback is that each zone within our Shoreditch space enjoys its own vibe. Whether our mood sees us working at our desk or from the conversation pit, in the library or in one of the outdoor spaces, Shoreditch has us covered.
And why have you chosen Shoreditch for the latest branch?
We chose the Alphabeta Building because it sits perfectly at the intersection of Shoreditch and the City/of creativity and FinTech. This geographical position is well reflected in our membership base as our 200 members are a varied range of creative startups, FinTech, InsureTech, and investors.
Co-working spaces have been around for some time and there are now plenty of options throughout London. What makes Huckletree so special?
We don’t like to answer that question because we think each co-working space has its merits. We’re just trying to do what we think we do best – build a brand out of bringing the right people in to build a community that’s as exciting as it is welcoming.
Co-working has come a long way since its early days. What has changed now it's all grown up?
The market is so saturated now that people are quick to make the distinction between spaces that truly add value, and those that simply offer empty desks. Today, it’s commonplace to see a solid schedule of events designed to engage the community. Free food and drink is the norm. Incredibly designed spaces are expected. So the players that are going to stick around need to constantly be reinventing the wheel.
Are there any new trends in co-working that we should know about?
There are many trends, mostly revolving around the themes of 'beers on tap' and industrial design. We try to do our own thing, and set the new trends rather than follow them. We coined ‘Eat-in Wednesdays’, for example, and got the best f+b suppliers in town to commit to selling lunches to our members from our space each week. Within two weeks the other top co-working spaces in London had started doing the same.
What has worked for you marketing-wise?
Cheesy as it may sound, there’s no better marketing campaign than a good product. I think people come to Huckletree and really enjoy it – both visually and on an emotional level. Some of our members even become ambassadors for us, showing people around of their own accord. No marketing campaign can do that for you.
Launching the two spaces can't have been easy. What tips can you share on staying sane during busier work periods?
I have a whole dictionary of advice! Words like delegate, hire well, manage your time, make no unnecessary meetings and formalise your processes all come to mind, but the truth is that everyone has the methods that work best for them.
They say jobs are changing, and that in future many of us will work for ourselves. What do you think is driving this?
I think this is largely driven by changing skill sets and new technologies. We can work from anywhere and are more mobile than ever before. I’m really interested in generational studies and it’s also very true that the Millennials and Gen Y are used to being their own boss and having autonomy over how and where they work, and what they do.
Obviously, co-working is ideal for startups and freelancers – who else can it work for?
I’m going to preface this answer by saying that this isn’t a sales pitch – I truly believe that co-working can work (in one shape or form) for most people. Everyone wants to be inspired when they work, right? And to be surrounded by interesting people who they may be able to collaborate with? To have opportunities to learn new business skills? Even businesses who handle the most confidential information can still reap the benefits of a co-working space; albeit from their private office.
Do people stay with you for the long-term, or tend to leave once they become a success?
Well, we say that we're building the spaces where you'll have everything you need to grow, until you outgrow us. Whilst we do have teams as large as 40 people, we’re very aware that there comes a time when your own office is necessary.
"Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do it. You can, and you should."
What benefits does co-working bring? Isn't it better overall to save money and work from home?
An inspiring and supporting ecosystem to grow your business in. Meaningful introductions to investors and mentors, feedback from your peers, a platform to launch your products, new clients and team members, a community of new people for you to brainstorm and socialise with, opportunities to showcase your expertise and give back to the community, learn opportunities for you to participate in (why not learn to code today?) and a diverse schedule of exciting events to expand your mind, skill sets and social rolodex."
You also run events at Huckletree? What can members expect?
Everything from panel discussions with London’s most exciting entrepreneurs and innovators to coding classes and VR workshops. We recently held a week-long series of events for London Tech Week. You can view all of our past events here.
Any further plans for improving your co-working spaces?
We like to iterate and build on our last space with each new space we open. If we didn’t, it wouldn’t be fun anymore.
What advice would you give to anyone launching their own business?
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do it. You can, and you should.
To find out more about Huckletree, visit www.huckletree.com. Or follow Gabriela on Twitter and Instagram.