Week 13 – London. We are back with another eOffice blog feature in the Workplace Series and this week’s interview takes us to Shoreditch and The Brew, where Pier Paolo Mucelli met with founder Andrew Clough and key designers Max Farrell and Peter Barbalov from Farrells Architect Planners.
The Brew is a company that offers coworking, private offices, and mentorship in London. We start the interview with some information about the company history and Pier asks:
Very briefly; how did you come up with the concept and how did you start The Brew?
“How did I start?” Andrew thinks out loud and then he says: “Necessity is the mother of all inventions. I am a publisher by trade, an entrepreneur built up by a publishing company over a period of years from 2000 to 2009. Then, as we all know, there was a slight hiccup in the economy, so we looked at the future of publishing and understood that it was going to get really tough. At this time, we were restructuring the business, but due to a lack of money, we decided that our best cause of action would be to sell the company, and we did.”
“Thankfully, having put the company away, we were left with a rather large office in Commercial Street, with only three of us in it. It was a bit lonely and a bit expensive to stay there alone, so we looked for new opportunities for the space. The three of us were running on commercial for publishing: we had a sponsorship agency and working with someone from the big national press. One of the guys that were working for me was really tactic and made me realise that coworking is the thing that is hot in London! We really liked the idea and started to brainstorm: ‘We need office space, check, we have got that! Desks and chairs? Yes, we have got that as well. Internet? Check! Great, let us do that!’ And so it was decided.”
“So, in the end of 2009 we developed a complicated marketing metric, put an ad on Gumtree, because it has good reception, and three months later the space was full. It was a pleasure to share the office with a lot of other entrepreneurs and I loved the concept of coworking. The interesting thing was that I didn’t realise before I was filling up the space that finding office space in London is becoming more and more difficult and that working in a private office had become too much work for smaller companies. So, as the medium industry was getting tighter and tighter, I saw an opportunity to change my particular line of business.”
From that point, the first step for Andrew was to take a lease on a great building on Leonard Street in Shoreditch, in which he describes as a beautiful old, brick warehouse with wooden floors and everything on point. Therefore, he borrowed money from the bank, took a lease on a couple of floors, and sold the spaces floor by floor by utilising the complicated marketing metric and Gumtree. The space, which was about 2000 sq ft was filled up in six months.
At this point, Andrew decided that he needed a new opportunity as an entrepreneur: “I went to the bank, but they just laughed and did not lend me the money. Then I spent a year and a half networking like a looney, and I met some great people and managed to pull four investors together. We then launched two properties in 2012; one in Hoxton and one in Shoreditch. Next, we did a 4000 sq ft right in the heart of Shoreditch, and that really kicked us off. Finally, we spent about a year working on where we are now, in Eagle House.
Pier turns to the designers and asks:
“Peter and Max, what is your involvement in this project?”
We learn that the two key designers actually designed and developed the entire building complex. “As a part of the recession, the developer had to give away an amount of office space, so we kind of enabled it and made it happen for Andrew to move in. We haven’t been involved before, but now we are talking about a potential partnership.”
Then the two explain about the building: “What’s so interesting about it is that it is mixed use. The building consists of 400 units of residential space, retailing on the ground level, a coworking space, and also different types of housing from more affordable to expensive apartments and a mix of old and new together. It is really interesting to see how people may work and live in the same building and we believe that these mixed-use buildings are becoming more and more popular in today’s society, especially in London.”
Pier turns back to Andrew and asks:
And Andrew, have you noticed if any of your members actually live within the building?
And he explains: “Well, we opened while the residential space was in the last days of sale and, at that point, I think it was a bit too pricey for the members here. A lot of them do live locally, but we have done some research and one of the problems with these types of areas in London is the skill-gap and the gap between the people that are actually doing work and benefitting from the new economy, and the people that live locally. Therefore, we find a lot of people who use the space live all over London and very few have grown up in the local area. Consequently, what we are trying to do with the new development is to build a program of mentorship for the local youth as a part of our offering. This is because we want to and because we feel that it is an important part of giving back to the community and the local area that you are benefitting from.”
As the interview moves on, Pier asks Andrew:
Do you consider yourself as a property player or a service provider?
“Oh, definitely a service provider,” Andrew quickly replies. “I mean; you know we use the property to provide our service, and we position ourselves moving more into business clubs in effect because the physical space is only a part of the service we provide. Obviously, people need somewhere to sit when working, but they also need all the other services as well. For instance, we have the Coffice that has a relaxed atmosphere during the day and turns into a wine bar and a more social space in the evenings, offering our members the possibility to network. Also, we do mentorships, a lot of seminar programs, and social events. All of these are things you would expect if you become a member of a club, and that’s how we see ourselves.”
Andrew, let us talk a bit more about the space. Can you please describe a bit more in detail the environment here in Eagle House? Pier Asks.
“Okay, so the space is 14500 sq ft in total. We can start with the Coffice, which is the entry point from City Road. This is the café that you can work in and we encourage people who are starting up their businesses to come there, plug in their computers, connect to the internet and create the next Google. All they have to do is sign up as a member to The Brew with name and address, which is free, and buy a coffee or a lunch and stay as long as they want. They can even stay until the evening when the café turns into a very delightful and ambient wine bar.”
Peter and Max add that an interesting part of this model is the way the space is used in different ways, depending on the time. “The land ground in London is going in one direction and demanding more housing. Therefore, it is all the more reason to be innovative and protect and use the spaces that we have.” They say.
We continue to learn about the details and environment of the space, and Pier asks:
So, Andrew, after the coffee area, what do you have?
“Well, we have got a mix of spaces arranged over two floors: ground and lower ground floor. The main bulk of the space is what I like to call downstairs. It doesn’t really feel like lower ground floor because it is a big space with 3.5-metre-high ceilings and windows that we have added to give a connection with the outside, which is quite important. In this membership space we have got about 150 desks occupied by different companies and, as a part of that, we also have a gym, a fully equipped kitchen with free tea or coffee, a small games area with a dart board that is getting quite competitive these days, and a punching bag for those who need stress relief, which is something every office should have. The design of the space is what we call Shoreditch Chic, in which is industrial exposed decoration, such as our floating concrete floor, and we believe that this is the look of the generation of new entrepreneurs.”
“Then we have the upstairs space with larger private spaces for companies and individuals who want to enjoy their own company as a business. Of course, we run a lot of events and networking happenings to bring everybody together. It is all about community, and that’s what brings people to the space and keeps them in the space. The community is also what people nowadays want out of their working environment, they don’t want to sit in a silent space and look at each other because where is the innovation in that?”
Peter and Max quickly add that since technology enables people to work from anywhere, you have to think of why people still come together. According to them, the answer tends to be that people want to communicate and have close moments of interaction in order to collaborate. Therefore, offices should be designed for this community of collaboration instead of somewhere for people to be from 9am until 6pm.
The interview goes on and Pier asks:
So, you have five spaces. Are the members using different spaces or do they tend to use just one?
Andrew replies that the members do move around, use different meeting rooms, and if they want to meet someone in Old Street instead of Hoxton, they do that. He then explains that it is all informal and that they have a team of community managers who the members can work with in order to set it all up. “At the moment we are growing and we are working on a new project over the river which will have a coffee concept, a micro-brewery and a retail as well,” he adds. “I will not give too many details, but when we have that up and running with the technology in place, our members will be able to move around quite freely.”
Pier: Andrew, you have now been in the sector for many years, have you noticed any changing trends or different ways your members use the space?
“Not really,” he responds. “I think it is all about the flexibility. The main reason for The Brew’s existence, is to provide a great working environment for everyone here and it is to make sure that everybody can walk through the door, come in, sit down, and get on with what they are here for; to run their business. That is what they expect and pay for, and as an operator, you have to make sure that you keep this as your goal.”
The interview is coming to an end and Pier asks one final question:
Coworking is the buzz word at the moment and a lot international operators are also setting up spaces in London in the last couple of years, how do you see the market evolving in the next 3 to 5 years?
And Andrew explains: “Well, I read the reports about the growth in the flexible office industry and I think it is going to grow because coworking is the new way of working. I believe it is going to become more prevalent. We already see that a lot of bigger companies are joining the coworking ethos because they understand that it will bring innovation into their supply. Therefore, I believe that coworking is a part of a much wider cultural change, in which is all about the acceptance and desire to share space and economy.”
Thank you for the great hospitality Andrew Clough and The Brew!