Madeleine Gummer v. Mohl, Cofounder & CEO betahaus GmbH tell us about coworking space.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Madeleine Gummer v. Mohl: Oh, it’s been a time of transition for us like it’s been for everyone, but we’re getting through it!
One of the reasons we started betahaus in the first place was that we believed people need the flexibility to work from whenever and wherever they want. Of course, it was more fun when that meant poolside in Bali, but COVID-19 has certainly accelerated this idea of location independence!
We were all in such a different place when we started. My co-founders Christoph Fahle, Maximilian v.d. Ahé and I all have families now. We have used that flexibility to move cities and start new projects and spend time living abroad. Flexible work looks quite different than it used to, but we have been in a good position during COVID-19 because it’s always been part of our culture at betahaus.
As we come through this, I’ll be very interested to see how remote work and managing a dispersed workforce takes hold. We’re going to start to see a change in the culture of the traditional office.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded betahaus GmbH.
Madeleine Gummer v. Mohl: When we came up with the idea for betahaus in 2009, we were still students! We sat down to talk about how we wanted to live and work in the future and ended up renting out a 250sqm warehouse in Kreuzberg to make a workspace out of it.
This was before “coworking” was really a thing in Germany. Our landlord didn’t even like our idea that much, but he liked us enough to let us try it!
It was a really fun time for us. I remember our first 10 members brought their own furniture. The space was built by the community with woodworkers building benches and phone booths, artists decorating the walls, and members hosting parties and workshops. We called it “betahaus” because we believed life should be about always being open to change, and never getting stuck in routines just because they’re comfortable.
It’s been more than a decade, and we’ve grown quite a lot, but I think that bootstrapped, made-by-us energy is still what makes our spaces and community what they are today. Today, we have coworking spaces in cities across Europe and some really thriving spinoff projects.
How does betahaus GmbH innovate?
Madeleine Gummer v. Mohl: We really came in on the early side of coworking. The first coworking space in Berlin, and one of the first in Europe! Since we were coming into an industry with such an uncharted path, we never had a choice but to innovate.
Over the years, we’ve ventured into everything! Event spaces. Coworking camps. A café. Startup programs, accelerators, hackathons, meetups, you name it. We even ran our own hardware lab and maker space for several years.
The short answer is that innovation at betahaus has always been grassroots, spurred by everyone from members of our community to interns. We seem to attract people who are entrepreneurial. People who bring a lot of ambition and ideas. We’ve always seen our role to be creating the space and the platform for them to do that. To amplify and support big ideas and see what comes of them.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Madeleine Gummer v. Mohl: Like most businesses, our operation has shifted dramatically with the pandemic.
betahaus is built around real, physical spaces. We create in-person connections in an increasingly digital world. Our first priority was making sure our staff, members, and our neighbouring community stayed safe. Bottom line. But when we actually had to take a look at the impact the restrictions would have on our business, that was a pretty tough time.
We didn’t know at first whether people would keep their memberships or cancel events. It was unpredictable how many people would continue coming in every week, and we still had a lot of overhead! It became a test of what we had to offer beyond just a desk.
We had some challenging months, but to our surprise, we came out mostly ok! Of course, we had to scale everything back quite a lot. But our staff and our members have been really amazing, and we are really excited about what this next wave of remote work will look like. In fact, we’ve even started offering something we’re calling “Coworking as a Service” to help large companies restructure their offices into hybrid headquarters, understanding that the workforce may never be as location-dependent again. Right now, I’m working on this new project day and night and I love it! It feels like our whole team just said “Challenge accepted” and we’re looking forward to what’s ahead for this.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Madeleine Gummer v. Mohl: One of the things I love about coworking is that we get to have such a personal relationship with our customers. We see them every day. They do yoga in our garden and bring their kids to parties. We get to watch their businesses grow and see them connect and collaborate with one after meeting in our space. As a result, we get to form and nurture these organic relationships with our customers that aren’t purely reliant on CRM software.
That said COVID-19 has really pushed us to go more digital. We’re still using Hubspot as our primary CRM and Cobot for membership management, but we’ve enjoyed exploring new ways of interacting with our customers. We’ve started hosting online events and experimenting with new formats. We also got to launch a digital workspace and community – betahaus+ – which is something we’ve wanted to do for years!
Your final thoughts?
Madeleine Gummer v. Mohl: If you are reading this and you think you need help with reshaping your office, just send me a message on LinkedIn! My team is ready to help you!