Week 14 – London. In this week’s Workplace Series, we are happy to present a new and inspiring coworking space in the heart of London: Huckletree! Today, eOffice founder Pier Paolo Mucelli is meeting with the founder and CEO, Gabriela Hersham.
Huckletree was founded in 2014, but the journey actually began when Gabriela was living in New York and came across her first shared workspace. From the moment she learned about coworking, she felt an immediate passion for the concept and decided to go back to London to open her own space. And so she did!
In April this year, 2016, the second and newest Huckletree location was opened at Finsbury Square and, today, we are visiting this building to learn more about this new and trendy addition to the coworking spaces of London. We sit down in a comfortable and relaxing sofa area with the words ‘Stay Curious’ shining at us from the wall and Pier asks Gabriela about her inspiration to start her own coworking space. And she explains: “All in all, my inspiration for starting Huckletree came from my passion for surrounding myself with interesting people. I believe that people in general feel much more fulfilled and inspired if there are others working around them. Working alongside others in an open-plan environment leads to a better way of working, where collaboration and connections are key.”
And why did you start in Clerkenwell and now opened in the City, closer to East London? Pier asks.
“We didn’t actually choose Clerkenwell,” Gabriela starts. “When we first launched we wanted to be in Fitzrovia in order to better distinguish ourselves from the many East-London locations. We looked around the area, but we didn’t find our ideal space, and at the same time, prices were incredibly high. However, 6 months later, after an intense search, we finally found a great building which was located in Clerkenwell, surrounded by many places to eat and filled with natural light. And after that, when we were opening our second location, we knew that we had to be in the heart of the tech community and London’s innovation centre and so we chose the Alphabeta Building -located at that perfect intersection between Shoreditch and the City.”
Pier continues and says: I just have to ask you, how did you choose the name?
We learn that the name was created in order to reflect their great focus on sustainability: “One of our early objectives was to be the most sustainable coworking space in London and so we wanted a name that would reflect this, whilst also being distinctive.”
Could you explain, how can you best create sustainability within an urban environment?
Gabriela explains: “I think we started out with the right vision but went off track when we chose a building that was not really sustainable. The building wasn’t a newbuild, so it did not allow us to achieve the sustainability standards we wanted. Now, we have shifted our strategy and purposefully select buildings for their energy-efficiency, such as having automated lighting and heating settings, as well as sustainable furniture.”
We take a moment of silence and look around in the open plan area. From where we sit we can see different elements of the space: from the clean kitchen and break-out area, the bright hot-desking area, and to the inspiring event space. It is easy to understand that Gabriela values a space that allows people to enjoy a bright and colourful environment while they are surrounded by inspiring quotes encouraging to keep a sustainable ambience.
We are curious to learn more about this space, and Pier asks:
Could you describe the main elements of the environment and the interior?
Gabriela replies that there are two main elements they focus on in this particular location: “First of all, we work to create a special environment where people from are able to influence and inspire each other in a creative community. Secondly, we create different pockets within the building in order to construct a variety of areas for the different styles of working. These consist of more formal areas, such as meeting rooms and offices; informal areas including the comfy sofas and break-out areas; focus areas, team-working booths, and brainstorming spaces.”
“The space itself is 17 000 sq ft. arranged over two floors. Here, you can find four beautifully designed meeting rooms for up to twenty people, private offices, and about 250 desks including the hot-deking area. Then we have a library, a great event space that can hold around 130 people, and a classroom for workshops, meditation, and even yoga classes. As the space is quite big, we could have had more desks, but we decided to be true to our vision and fill the remainder of the space with quirky corners.”
When it comes to branding the space, do you focus on your own operator brand or your member’s brands?
“The most important thing for us is that our brand is not in your face when you work here. Of course, you know that it is Huckletree, but it does not take over the space. We want our members to be able to create their own ideas and journeys within the space.”
Moving on to the people working here, Pier asks: From which sector are your typical members from?
“Our members are 100% technology related,” Gabriela says. “That means that they either work within a technology field or that they directly empower technology businesses.”
And do you select your members? Pier asks.
“Yes, we have an application process that they go through. At the moment the process is informal, but we do make sure that every company can contribute to the community. This is something we’ve been doing since the very first day.”
So, Gabriela, how do you manage the community?
“Well, first of all, we have lots of events and learning opportunities,” she begins. Then we have close relationships with all our members which helps know where they are with their business and, in turn, keep our programming relevant.” To mention some, they have ‘Growth Tuesdays’ which is a weekly breakfast for all members, as well as lunches and brunches that allow members to get to know each other and what they are working on. Not to mention workshops and yoga classes that give members the possibility of continuous learning and relaxing.
Gabriela continues: “At the same time, we also manage the community in terms of people. It is really important to have the right people in the space in order to create the best community. Here at Huckletree, we want people with sparkles in their eyes. We gravitate towards curiosity, enthusiasm and cross collaboration between our members and that’s another reason why we are particular about who we bring in as members.”
The interview goes on and we continue by asking about Huckletree within its market:
How do your differentiate from other coworking operators and events spaces?
Gabriela smiles and says that they don’t really like to answer that question. Then she adds: “To be honest, we don’t have a targeted differentiation plan. It is more that our brand is a true reflection of myself and Andrew, my co-founder, and our core team. We feel that there is space for each of the brands in the market and that each coworking space has their own speciality – we’re just doing what we do best.”
Regarding the coworking market, I would like to ask you two more questions, Pier says. First, what are the main challenges and opportunities ahead?
“I have to say that high rental prices and finding good property deals are always going to be the main challenges when running a coworking space, especially with the prices we have in London. Further, one of our main challenges is actually making sure that we stay true to our vision. As our business is developing, it is becoming more important to know when to say no, as well as continuing to be selective in our growth process.”
“It is really interesting to witness our community is growing and developing, and I am already envisioning new opportunities for the coworking concept in the coming months.”
Now, to my final question: what is your view of the flexible office market in the next 5-10 years?
“Today there are so many players in the market that, in my opinion, it has become quite saturated. I believe that it is space for distinctive coworking spaces that offer true added value to their clients, who provide more than desk space.”