Week 7 – London. Welcome back to the Workspace Series at our eOffice blog and a new interview with the people behind yet another trendy and cool office space. Today, we are giving you the story behind Runway East and their journey to success, told by co-founder Natasha Guerra.
Runway East was founded in 2014 by Alex Hoye, Natasha Guerra, and Philipp Stoeckl. The three had worked in different coworking spaces before, but never really felt they got to connect or talk to the people next to them. As a result, they teamed up and started their own space, embracing their vision of creating a community space with like-minded individuals, where people genuinely got to know each other and were friends.
Natasha starts by explaining why a community, such as Runway East’s, is so important. First of all, she says that the entrepreneurial life and running your own startup can feel a bit isolating at times. In their community, they focus on adding members who are high growth and ambitious startups. As a result, a lot of people based at Runway East go through similar journeys and are able to help each other by sharing experiences and lessons. Secondly, she emphasizes, they try to get companies they believe in, as their goal is to create a community that inspires startups to strive to do better and work harder.
“So that’s what we wanted to create here: a community that you can call home and family. It is a place to share all the highs and lows of startup life, helping each other and making tough situations a bit easier.”
We continue to discuss their community and ask: “From which sectors are your typical members from?”
At this point, Natasha emphasizes that their focus is on high growth. When selecting members, they don’t go after a particular sector, but as tech based products often are high growth, these companies have become the majority of their members. She adds “in addition to the digital apps and website, we also have some physical products, such as co-founder Alex’s ski brand and some IOT based companies.”
In the Runway East community, most members come through referrals which often function as a self-selecting process, but Natasha explains that they also look for three things: “First of all, we look for some kind of traction by focusing on their growth and users. Secondly, we are interested in knowing if they have received any kind of funding because this shows that VC or investors believe in their company. Finally, we seek for experienced entrepreneurs who are starting on new projects. We actually have a couple of members who had sold their previous companies to start a new one. And even if they have not launched a product yet, they still have something to bring to our community. That is what we want: people that can bring something to the community and not just take.”
We now move on to the question of how their community is managed, and Natasha replies that there is a community manager who is responsible for those small moments and little breaks that get members away from their desks. To illustrate she tells us about everything from cake every Wednesday, to evening drinks, and content-based events. “There are events going on here most days, so there is a lot for people to get involved in,” Natasha says. “Not to mention a founder’s lunch once a month where people get to share their problems and challenges in order to help each other.”
We continue the interview by asking: “How do you differentiate yourself from competitors?”
Natasha replies by sayings that it has to be their community. “I literally hate this word because everyone uses it, and I believe that there is not even one coworking space which wouldn’t claim they have a great community, but here at Runway East, I genuinely believe we do.” To illustrate this, she tells a story about when they were suddenly left without an office twice last year: for three months they had no home and needed to find temporary office space for their members, but still the majority stayed with them afterwards. In other words, they feel that the community at Runway East is worth sticking around for.
“Moving on to the design of the space, can you describe the elements of the interior and your design strategy?” We ask.
And Natasha explains: “In terms of interior design, we try to keep it functional and also playful. We have a croquet lawn where you members go and play golf or croquet and take a break from their desk. We also have a lot of break-out areas and informal meeting space. When it comes to decoration, we have a lot of plane themed stuff because of our name Runway East. So, each room is named after a particular pilot who we considered had done something remarkable in history.” She laughs and says “now it is getting increasingly difficult to find new names, so we have even stretched to use the name Laika, the first dog in space.”
At this point, we take the interview to a new level and ask about the market:
“What is your view on the flexible office market in the next three to five years?”
And Natasha begins: “This is an industry that is as old as time, and in my opinion, people use the coworking word too much. It is just a word to describe an office and every company needs an office; a business has to grow in an office. Regarding changes in the market, I think we have seen a rise over the last few years and it has become more than popular than ever to start a startup.”
Then she continues: “For me, it all comes back to the fact that I see it as a need: every company needs and office, and therefore, I believe that this is a growing market. I also believe that one player in the market will not be able to dominate it because an office is such a personal thing. It is where you choose to base your company.”
We carry on by asking her about whether she sees any main challenges ahead, and she replies that she believes there are a lot of challenges around the business rates reform, and how this will affect the companies. Massive increases in business rates will have a big impact on the cost that flexible offices and coworking spaces have to pass on to their startups. Then she says: “This space is meant to be an affordable home for startups, and where they can base their companies. I am concerned about the business rates and how this is going to affect the companies that we grow.”
On the positive side, we ask Natasha what she believes are the main opportunities in the market. She replies that Brexit absolutely had an interesting impact in the property market and that the effects are not clear yet. “In terms of property we are probably at the top of the market now, and the rumours I have heard, are that it is expected to cool down over the next few years, but you never know. At the same time, I believe that even though it might be a rocky path ahead, the future looks exciting.”
Finally, we end the interview with a short discussion about Runway East’s future plans.
“For us it is really important to create a great environment to hire and grow a team,” Natasha says, before she goes on: “For me personally, the location is key because it is essential for startups to be based in a convenient spot where investors and customers can get to them easily. At the same time, an appropriate location helps them obtain their best productivity. Therefore, a central location is important, and this is what we will focus on.”
Stay tuned for next week where Pier Paolo Mucelli is interviewing Andrew Richardson, Managing Director at Home House.