An interview with Matthias Zeitler, Co-Founder @Coworking Bansko and Chief Visionary @Coliving Semkovo, made by Alessandro Nacci, CEO @Sofia Locks.
The differences between coworking and coliving are many, and are generated from their own concept.
The definition of coworking involves the flexible and shared spaces to work, where freelances, entrepreneurs and young professionals among others benefit from shared spaces where to work and establish relationships with each other and share ideas.
On the other hand, coliving spaces are residential ones that offer the same services of the hotel industry, where people can share spaces, interests, and lifestyles.
The community is the common goals of both the models, and the community manager is a new concierge, digital and highly professionalized. A person who has to know the environment in which the building is located, has to know the tenants, has to talk and engage with all building occupants, understand their needs, even the unexpressed ones, and structure them.
The main tool of this figure is a digital platform at his service, keeping him constantly connected to the building, to manage its security, flows, needs and services.
Matthias Zeitler, the Co-Founder of Coworking Bansko and the Chief Visionary of Coliving Semkovo, gave us an overview on the role and the need of flexible working and living spaces, the importance of communities and of technological solutions designed to meet the need of these business models.
Coworking Bansko is a space designed for Digital Nomads, Freelancer and Entrepreneur who wants to face new challenges and grow in a flexible environment surrounded by other experts, it is located in Bulgaria and offers premium services, like events, business challenges, bar camps and other business related events that offer opportunities to develop or enhance businesses, while spending time amongst inspiring and skilful people. Coliving Semkovo, on the other hand, is a brand new project born in October 2022, a unique adult-only coliving destination in a remote location based on community, collaboration and cooperation. It is formed by 200 apartments and creates a one-of-a-kind coliving community in a remote, natural setting, one of the biggest rural destinations worldwide.
With Matthias Zeitler we compiled a comprehensive overview of the new market challenges faced by the flexible spaces, in terms of facility and community management, in order to better understand how to improve and facilitate the business models that are going to drive the future of real estate.
Matthias, you have been working in the coworking field since ages and now you are starting a new adventure with the coliving sector, which are the benefits that you can see working in both the industries?
Coworking Bansko was born in a really small town in Bulgaria with 10,000 people living here and of course in winter the city is full of tourists who come to admire the landscape and proactive winter sports. Generally it is not a place with a demand for a coworking space, as it is more a touristic one, so the local demand is not so high. So there cannot be found companies with startups and teams, but more freelancers and self entrepreneurs that look after running their own business or that work remotely. These people are often also looking for an accommodation that meets their needs of digital nomads, with a community, this is what has made me think about the coliving business.
Although, opening a coliving is a bit complicated as during the last years real estate prices have increased significantly and our customers are looking for less expensive destinations, like places where the cost of living is lower, for e.g. Thailand, Bali and so on.
So we have thought of creating a mountain destination , a remote one, with no restaurants, no hotels, no shops, just this historical building that has been converted into 200 apartments lost into 17,000 square meters of nature. This is the location of our first coliving space, for digital nomads.
What you are saying is that your project involves reviving an overlooked place, where you would be creating a new center like a small village?
Yes, this is my vision, from what I have seen people come to us for the community, they want to be surrounded by open-minded people that want to do a lot together and share adventure, that is way this coliving could be located also in a more natural area, away from the chaos of the city center. As a matter of fact, we will provide the whole infrastructure like restaurants, catering, grocery, shops, services and so on. All this is surrounded by nature, and because we are remote this could be more and more attractive. This is also thought for little companies that maybe are at the beginning of their career and want to be focused on a project, full of energy and peace, in order to be then ready to go to the city and meet customers and large investors.
This is really amazing! And from your point of view, which are the common things and differences between running a coworking and a coliving? I think there are some differences but also many similarities.
The main difference I think is on the timing. Normally a coworking space is something you run during the day, people often spend time after working hours to socialize, take part in events or activities, and create a community, but then they go home. In a coliving an equivalent space is really 24/7, you are always surrounded by the same people, and this is a double-edged blade, as it could be really interesting, but also a challenge, especially if you are far away from home and you need to stay in a small place for months. Conflicts can arise in a very easy way. For this reason, it is more and more important to work on the community side, to create a common culture, to make everybody feel welcomed and like home.
From the point of view of technology, which are the most important elements needed to run these kind of spaces? Which are the solutions that you really need to make everything work? Also in term of cost-effectiveness.
When talking about technology for shared spaces people always think about a booking system, but to me this is not the most important. In the beginning, having a building automation system is essential, to automate the heating system, centralize the management of smart locks, in order to create class of authorizations and manage them, and make maintenance with batteries, for example. I think that these technologies can change the environment. Basic technologies are also essential, to see if they integrate with third party systems and allow management of all the gateways. It is also essential to see which parties of the building are more used, how many people use specific resources, the flow of people during events and the related authorizations to access determined spaces, as someone is public and other private.
The event part is also essential, as managing a lot of people for a short time is different from long time, as authorizations have to be managed in real time to assure security. The system should be smart enough to limit access to people that are not authorized in private areas or specific areas, for example.
Another technology that is under evaluated but could make the difference to me is the one that facilitates the maintenance of resources. A great example is coffee, everyone wants a coffee machine in shared spaces, but then it has to be cleaned and maintained. When we started our coworking business our cleaning team took 45 minutes to clean each coffee machine, and there were five, so it was a real cost.Having a system that allows us to track all the information about maintenance could be useful to improve the facility management and understand how to cut costs. Technology designed to cut cost impacts, like heating and lightning systems, could be strategic in order to cut every month thousand of euros.
You mentioned the hospitality industry, do you feel that it is a market that is more easily approached by someone who works in the coworking world or someone who works in the hotellerie world?
I don’t know, I think it’s all about the challenges you are ready to face.
I think that hotel operators often underestimate the value of community, what you can ask your resident to do is a full service environment. In this business spaces are really well divided, for example there are separate areas for guests and staff and things like this. In coliving spaces you want to operate with less staff as costs are huge, but you want your residents to get involved in activities, like cooking and so on. Moreover, they should also take care of the resources available, for example cleaning the things and spaces used, like owens and fridges for example. In coworking spaces it is the same, the community plays a great role.
People often confuse coliving with a budget hotel, but the expectations should be different. Many are the aspects that have to be kept in mind: the check-in should be easy for them, the cleaning of rooms should be more or less automated, and it should be automatically notified to the cleaning team if somebody is checking out, the laundry should be made smart, so that people authorized can make it run through the smartphone. So, many are the challenges around technology and processes in these spaces.
We have seen that communities play a key role in this context, do you think that technology could be seen as a facilitator in the creation of communities?
Yes, technology can be seen as a facilitator, especially as residents need a communication tool with whom to interact and, most importantly, technology is a tool that allows people to solve most of the challenges that they face. For example, if there is an issue residents can report it to the facility manager through an App, also in order to organize communications, which can become a lot when there are many people in a community team, they need to be streamlined.
Another important thing is that people have to be notified when events and activities are running, but community managers also need to understand how to operate the building infrastructure and how to make it really simple to solve any kind of issues that they might encounter.
I have a last question about your history: what brought you to the idea of Bansko coworking?
I have an Enterprise background, after a long career in larger companies, I decided to create my own startup. I was looking for something interesting and I ended up in this small village in Bulgaria, and I decided to open a coworking space there. I wanted to create a community, invite some friends there; many people come and find the environment nice, so they started buying apartments and at this point the coworking business started to grow. So three years ago I understood that this could not only be a hobby, I needed a more professional structure, people were committed, so I decided to structure more and more the coworking and the activity we were doing.
In the photo there are Cvetelina Dimitrova Stoilova, Operations Manager of Coworking Bansko, and Matthias Zeitler, Founder of Coworking Bansko and the Chief Visionary of Coliving Semkovo