For this episode of StartWell’s A New Normal series we are joined in Studio A by Neil Martin, a co-founder of the Toronto coworking brand Project Spaces. Neil relates his company’s history, community profile and we discuss the importance of the places which coworking operators provide for developing communities in our urban contexts.Podcast Transcript
Qasim Virjee 0:00
Neil, it’s pleasure to have you on our stage here at start. Well, thank you for joining me here today. I know that it’s interesting times that kind of bring this conversation to stage. And it’s one one way to put it right. I feel like it’s a timely moment for us to look at the coworking kind of, you know, the economy, the businesses that are our customers and suppliers and partners. And, and look to future culture of collaboration amongst that whole ecosystem. And in order to do that, I think we need to address where there’s opportunities and where we also have been failing in recent years, to address kind of needs of those people that fit into our network. So to that end, I hope this conversation is going to be as much fun for you as it is for me, I have no doubt, and I’m sure that the audience will will enjoy hearing from both of us on this. So welcome, Neil. It’s great to be here, like so much for our audience that is unfamiliar with the mark project spaces in Toronto. Let’s dive into a little bit of history, sir. So tell me I guess about your co founder story, how you met your co founder, who’s not with us today. And Jeffrey, and I guess how you guys got started on the whole mission and where co working suddenly landed either in your lap or where you figured out a course of action.
Neil Martin 1:30
It’s a it’s a bit of a windy tale. I’ll I can be very long winded with this. Maybe I’ll try not to be but we’ll see what happens. So. So Jeff Howard is my co founder. And we met at Queen’s University, and I think it would have been about 2007. On campus at Queens, all of the student services are run by managed entirely by students. Okay, so we met in an interview room where he was hiring me to be the events and marketing manager for a on campus, like ticketing kiosk, okay. It’s like an events and ticket service. So we ran events, we sold tickets, to concerts, we ran trips, all this type of stuff. And he was the head manager of this service. Okay. And so he met me in an interview room. And he we had never met before that moment. And I’m told that after I left the room, the adviser who was accompanying him for the interview said that I seemed like I was high risk, high reward. Oh, my God. Wow. Which, like, I’ll always remember that. But yeah, so So anyway, he ended up hiring me for that role. And that’s kind of how we met. And so we spent a year running the student service together, we had a lot of fun doing it, we, you know, introduced all kinds of new revenue streams, and really kind of got to, you know, get our hands dirty with the business, which is kind of the whole point of having these student run services on campus, their one year non renewable contracts. So the next year, another student gets the chance to have this job. And so at the end of that year, we, you know, it was we’re heading into summertime, and we didn’t really have summer jobs, and we just finished running a business together for a year. And so we thought, why don’t we start a business together, that might be fun. And so what we ended up doing was maybe a whole long story in itself, but we started a magazine, okay. And it was called Connect student magazine. And effectively we’re publishing work from eventually Canadian university students, it started with just students at Queens. People could submit, we called like arts and ideas was everything from you know, essays and opinions to photography, artwork, kind of anything that like the campus paper maybe wouldn’t publish, and when. So, so we put out our first issue at the Queen sidewalk sale and frosh week. Okay. And September 2009. Okay. And yeah, so that was a really interesting experience. No, I didn’t know that much about publishing or anything like that, right? The business model was basically, you know, selling ads to the local businesses and Kingston, yeah. And then publishing this free magazine.
Qasim Virjee 3:48
That’s cool that you had a business model, though. I mean, like, I remember when I put my first publication together, it was called the screaming banana. It was just the poke fun at our teachers, the faculty and some of the students in high school in Kenya. And it was like, literally, we just like made up stuff. And it was, you know, really hard hitting journalism for one interview in the whole edition. And the rest of it was just so nice. Yeah, it was ridiculous. But that was high school, you’re talking about university, you got to be a little bit more legitimate.
Neil Martin 4:20
Well, we had to eat and pay rent. So you know, we and we got pretty good at this is, you know, you could say you we sort of, you know, cut our teeth in terms of sales, right? And like just pounding the pavement, talking to mom and pop shops and selling ads. And the way that it started to grow was we would we started expanding to the other kind of campus focused town. So we were at Waterloo, we were in London, we were in Ottawa. And then so we had put out I think, three issues by that point. And we had ambition to be you know, this Coast to Coast to Coast Campus magazine. Yeah. And so we started setting up distribution agreements with I think we’re almost up to 50 campuses and this is one of the decided to move from Kingston to Toronto, okay to be near, you know, ad agencies, and we kind of had to try to make this jump from selling to local businesses and the university towns to selling to national brands. So we could be this national publication. Turns out, we had no idea how to do any of that. There were these funny stories about, you know, we would go to like Apple headquarters, and just say, hey, I can we talk to somebody in marketing, we have this magazine, and they would say, Well, do you have an appointment? First of all? No, we don’t. And well, also, you’re supposed to talk to our ad agency about that. Yeah, like, oh, okay, well, who’s that? They’re like, well, we don’t really just tell you bad, you know, sort of supposed to know that. And they’re like, and also, you know, our budgets for print were set a year. And we’re like, oh, but we’re going to print in two weeks. And so it just became this time of trying to transition and we just really had no idea what we’re doing. But in the background of that. Jeff was living in a townhouse at Kingdom Bathurst. Okay, and we were working out of the living room, and I was boring and lonely. And we coworking was, I’ll say virtually non existent in Toronto at the time. I think there might have been
Qasim Virjee 6:04
a couple back then. But we’re talking 2000,
Neil Martin 6:08
this would have been 2011. Now, CSI was definitely been around for a while. Yeah. I think there were a couple others that I think have closed since then. But anyway, so we sometimes I joke like, well, we might have just joined a co working space, if you know, if we found one. Yeah, we had to build, but I had to build one. I didn’t necessarily know that I was doing that at the time. But yeah, so we you know, real estate’s obviously very expensive. And Toronto, and we looked around for office space, ended up finding this, this space that seems tiny now, but it was huge at the time was 1200 square feet. In this old brick and beam building at the corner of King bath is right across the street from where we were working out of Yeah. And we just kind of fell in love with this, you know, really unique old space, right? sign the lease kind of right away. And they were like, holy crap, how are we going to pay for this? And luckily, we had some other friends, mostly friends from school. Yeah, that were also starting companies. We had some tech startup guys, but also there was video productions and digital marketers. And it was it we didn’t necessarily intend to start a an ongoing co working business. It was just hey, if you guys take a couple days, you take a couple days, we can all make it work. We can share this space and we can all you know not have to work at home. And and yeah, that’s good. That’s kind of what gave birth to it. And August 2011, at the corner of Kingdom Bathurst
Qasim Virjee 7:26
right around the corner from here. Wow, it’s been 10 years, 11 years, how many years? It’s
Neil Martin 7:31
it’ll be I don’t even know what nine days was nine years this past August? Yeah. Nine years, man, which is crazy to think that is
Qasim Virjee 7:38
crazy to think. Absolutely. It’s such a long time. And you’ve seen this neighborhood changed so much, because I guess maybe paint that picture a little bit because I want to talk a little bit about the kind of contextualization from a pedestrian standpoint of the co working experience. So like why it’s important to the street candidate. But before that, I think it’d be worth hearing your take on the king of bathrooms neighborhood nine years ago to today. What’s changed? Yeah.
Neil Martin 8:06
I mean, it’s changed in so many ways. So I live in Liberty Village. So I have about a 10 or 12 minute on foot commute, right. I probably pass 20 condo buildings that didn’t exist when we moved here. Yeah, like right at the corner of East liberty and stron where I live. I think there’s like six buildings going up there right now alone. Yeah. You know, I not come being from Toronto initially, like, not originally from here. But from what I understand, you know, the king West neighborhood. You know, there was a time when you wouldn’t go west of Spadina. Yeah.
Qasim Virjee 8:38
It was like no man’s land. Yeah. And so lovely neighborhood. But it didn’t have like, retail gravitas. There wasn’t necessarily like restaurants and
Neil Martin 8:48
bars. And yeah, King West wasn’t King West. Right? It was just your Queen West. And that was really the place. Yeah. So um, you know, by the time I came here in 2011, I think it had started becoming king Wesley was already cool. It was becoming a cool neighborhood. A lot of like, the bars and restaurants and stuff. But yeah, it’s just been. It’s just been crazy to see. I mean, the whole we’ve seen even just the block that we’re on a king of Bathurst, right, almost like a full rotation in terms of the businesses that are there. Right. Right. Yeah.
Qasim Virjee 9:18
So you guys started with the 1200 square feet in that building? And then you grew in that building? Right. Tell me a little bit about that embrace of what you discovered as a business model for yourselves. Sure. How you became co working operators.
Neil Martin 9:35
Yeah. So we, we had this 1200 square foot space. And we had maybe something like 20 or 30 people, mostly people we knew personally, that were friends that were kind of sharing the space with us. The magazine, which was the spark, you know, that brought us there in the first place, was starting to struggle a little bit. As I mentioned, we were kind of struggling with this idea of becoming, you know, jumping to become more of a national publication. We shifted as a way to save money to shift it to being online printing is very expensive. And it had sort of sort of a short life is just a digital magazine, generating revenue. That was really tough. And it got to the point where we were like, we might have to actually give up the office, we can’t really justify having it anymore. For the magazine. Yeah, make or break? Well, but yeah, but then we had all these people that were like, well, don’t get, you know, like, don’t give up the lease, like, we’ll keep paying, and maybe we can find some more people. And you know, we were definitely really enjoying it. But like having this place, and all these people was like, I just love being around that, like that kind of energy, right? Everybody’s working on their own stuff. Everybody’s working really, really hard. But everyone’s also really kind of tightly knit, and they’re having fun doing it and all this stuff. And it’s kind of contagious, right? So I was like, Okay, well, let’s, let’s see where we can take this shared space idea. And so by that point, I think we’d actually taken the next unit over so we were maybe 2900 square feet or something. But it was right around this time that the the guy who owned the building, yeah, time, told us. He. I don’t want to like throw him under the bus anyway, he hated us. Well, I’ll say love and hate. But anyway, he, he at one point came up and he was like, You know what, guys, I’m selling this building to condo developers. They’re gonna tear it down, you’re gonna be out on the street. Wow. And, and so we’re like, Okay, well, this is our livelihood now. So we’re panicking, right? So we start looking for another location, and the look. And sometimes people ask, Why are two locations but I haven’t got to yet in the story, but why they’re so close together. And really, the reason was, we wanted to find a place that was close enough, he has your back in a pinch, if we had to close down suddenly, we could move there quickly. And hopefully, our members would come with us because it’s, you know, close enough in the neighborhood. And so we very, very quickly found the space at 20 Camden Street, which is a little bit north closer to Queen and Spadina. And it was like, sign the lease on I think February 15. Opened March 1, it was just right away. Total whirlwind, you know, absolutely no sleep. Yeah. Kind of thing. And then the building did sell a kitchen bathroom. Okay. But the hang up, you know, we were so longer story there. But it’s a Heritage property. It will someday be redeveloped, but it’s it’s, you know, it’s a very long horizon. So, and we kind of learned that as we went along. But, yeah, we didn’t get kicked out there. So yeah, like, Okay, well, there’s more space. So as time went on, we grew to I think about 5000 square feet. And then a few years ago, took the rest of the floor. So there were about 10,000 square feet. Now the whole whole top floor. And so yeah, now we have 10,000 square feet there 8000 over at 20 Camden Street. And yeah, the spaces just kind of operate in tandem, my remembers kind of have access to both of them. They will have very different vibes. I think you’ve been to both of them. Yeah, absolutely. Which is kind of cool. Because they they sort of attract different types of people or different types of businesses. Sure. But then all those people get to kind of CO CO mingle as well.
Qasim Virjee 12:59
Describe the building for me at King in bathrooms. You said its heritage? Yes. It’s a demo site. That’s so aesthetically and otherwise, like how
Neil Martin 13:09
how has its, I always say they’re not making buildings like this anymore. Yeah. It’s so it was built in 19 100k was originally the Canada Biscuit Company factory. And then, as time went on, and the area became sort of like the garment, many garment manufacturing was happening. Yeah, became sort of fashion district. So actually, when we were sort of tangent story, well, we were doing some of our expansion, we would actually find spools of fabric, like up in the rafters between the beams. Yeah, so anyway, buildings got a ton of history. Yeah, very, very old. And, you know, it’s got a ton of character, like I say, which is a really nice way of saying it’s four flights of stairs, creaky floors, you know, the odd leak here and there. But, you know, for the people who work there, they love it. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s, there’s nothing like it really, it’s very, very unique. You could say a lot of people say it has sort of like a new New York loft type of vibe. Yeah. And yeah, it’s a We’re the first to say it’s not for everyone. It tends to attract like a really kind of creatively minded people. So we have a lot of like digital markers, marketers there. Some filmmakers, photographers, just because it’s a very cool, unique kind of space.
Qasim Virjee 14:26
Yeah, the aesthetics are inspiring to creatives. Also seeking I think that and this might be a cultural tangent to talk about culture now, but I feel like a big part of co working is about communities but being together like you’re saying the early days was, was not about a business model to to bring people together, but as people came together, especially from creative pursuits, I think that seemed like a natural fit, right? So probably something embedded in the DNA of project spaces, right. But yeah, certainly The aesthetic of kind of these spaces that have the authenticity of a story that goes back 100 years. I think, in a modern, you know, technological society, we all find that those aesthetics ground us. And if you’re at the forefront of technologies, you guys have members who are startups and software coders and stuff as well, right. I think that that plays in a little bit. So, the orders of climbing, you know, for stairs, there’s probably some people’s workout and something.
Neil Martin 15:33
Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s all about the positive spin, right, there’s no charge for the extra workout.
Qasim Virjee 15:39
And then, so paint the picture of the kind of like culture at Camden Street, your sector.
Neil Martin 15:44
So our Camden street space, is I’ll say it’s similar in lots and lots of ways. Hopefully, we cut this with some visuals so people can know what I’m talking about. But still a very, very open concept. But it’s a much more modern building. So you don’t get sort of like the high ceilings and exposed brick and all that kind of stuff. But the building was totally redone. About 20 years ago, it’s in like, beautiful shape. We have the top two floors there. So one floor is kind of our, say event space, lounge, meeting rooms, kitchen reception, and then all of our permanent desks are upstairs. So it’s a bit of a different layout, whereas Congress, we’re kind of spread over over one floor, right? And yeah, it’s, it attracts people that are looking for something a little bit more polished, and professional, if you’re a very client focused, like, if you meet with a lot of clients, you don’t necessarily want them to have to climb four flights of stairs. Right? Right. So the so chemistry actually funny, what happens is often people will have their desk at King last because they like the vibe there. Yeah, but don’t meet their clients over a chemistry, because it’s a more accessible and sure, whatever. Yeah, different vibes, similar, you know, they have their unique elements.
Qasim Virjee 16:50
But I think this is also another interesting thing, about esthetics, about experience and about really cultural relevance of kind of co working spaces that have retail entrances is that you’re connected to the street, you know, people can hop in and hop out. And at the same time, that’s all types of people. That’s your members, that’s their guests. And it’s cool that you guys have two locations in a similar neighborhood. For that fact, right, I’m sure people feel it’s easy to think of going to the second location for about an hour or two.
Neil Martin 17:24
Yeah, it’s rare that I would walk between the two of them and not pass someone who’s on their way to one or the other.
Qasim Virjee 17:31
And that’s about community as well, right? It’s like, being in this neighborhood now for a decade, seeing the change in the neighborhood, and where I was trying to lead you a little bit, and I’ll just cover the story from my own angle is, you know, this neighborhood for anyone watching that’s not from Toronto, or doesn’t know, it particularly, is very interesting, because, as Neil mentioned, of course, you know, there is this like history in the textiles industry, especially as we go a block over or a big block over a couple blocks to Spadina, which you mentioned, were actually I was a member at the Center for Social Innovation back in 2006. And seven was when I joined,
Neil Martin 18:12
what were you working on when you were there?
Qasim Virjee 18:14
Oh, my God, what it wasn’t I worked back then. I was a man of many brands. So I actually had, I founded a record label called Indian electronica. I founded that back in 2003. And it was kind of like, maybe the one of the first marks in the world in, in media that covered an emerging South Asian diasporic kind of sentiment in music. Yeah, so quickly, the record label grew, we had artists like Telvin Singh, who worked with Bjork, you know, on that label, all sorts of talent from around the world. And so any electronica was actually, you know, on the list of tenants in the interest of the Robert Robertson building, you know, 215 Spadina. We, of course, yes, yes. So that was the building that I moved into the first Center for Social Innovation building right on the fourth floor, when the CSI itself was two years into its story and was just growing to its second floor in the building. So it started with a really campy kind of 2000 square foot space or 1500 square foot space in the like, kind of back of the first floor with no real bright windows was a real kind of like, a dynamic space for people in the nonprofit sector. That was its hook. And then as they grew in a couple of years to take on the fourth floor of that building, it was motivated by the Zeidler family buying that building. So that’s an architecture family in Toronto, or at least. Mr. Nadler senior is a known architect to build many big projects in the city and this is weird connections. I’d interviewed him on Tamra for the Canadian Heritage projects in conjunction with the design exchange in like when I moved here from New York in 2000. Everything’s
Neil Martin 20:07
Qasim Virjee 20:08
know it is, it is, at least in Toronto. And these are also connections that we, I think are, you know, fast forwarding to COVID. I think it’s it’s important more than ever before to maintain these and like, you know, strengthen relationships in this time. Because we kind of forget when you’re when business is good, and everyone’s busy. It’s so hard to find the time make the time to kind of have conversations like this. Yeah. So I’m thankful for that, in this time, at least, that we’re sitting here together having this conversation. But anyway, that time was very interesting, because Toronto did feel very small. And in terms of the community of people that were like creating things, creating new brands, the coffee shop explosion hadn’t happened yet. Right. Darkhorse, which was the ground floor tenant moved in in 2007 of that building, and that was their first location or second location. There were no independent espresso bars really
Neil Martin 21:03
remember how popular Jimmy’s coffee on Portland was? Still, it’s still so popular that there’s literally another one across the street, right. But yeah, I remember they had opened I don’t know exactly when but shortly before we had come here, yes. Like, just if you’re in King West, you get your coffee. And Jimmy
Qasim Virjee 21:20
Jimmy, it was the yellow lid. Everyone knew that yellow. So Toronto at that time was just so emergent, I think for so many reasons. But yeah, the zandalar family, essentially, I think Margie Ziegler bought that building and bought the Gladstone hotel and was responsible for turning the Gladstone around. And that became, of course, this one of two boutique hotels in the downtown core, the Drake and the Gladstone. And I remember, I mean, now, okay, I’m playing old man here. But at that time, you know, paint painting the picture for the audience that may not be in the city. It was really interesting because Starbucks was new. Starbucks was new in Canada. It’s crazy to think like just over a decade ago. And now they’re pulling back. I don’t know if you heard this announcement, like 200 stores across Canada are closing really. So I think there’s a kind of cultural resurgence in a way that’s kind of happening. But anyway, going back to those days, yes, when the Center for Social Innovation was new. Starbucks had just opened their first location on in Queen West. And Parkdale was a rough and tumble neighborhood. It still in some ways is, but people threw bricks in the window, you know, and this happened multiple times, they kept breaking it and saying, Do not come here, we don’t want you here. And that happened into the Drake hotel. And the Gladstone kept it’s kind of aesthetics to the to be accessible to anybody, and kept that bar that used to be there when they renovated the building. And then Ziegler family, kind of like new architecture and respected the heritage of these brick and beam buildings that were being turned into condos. And that started around that time that you guys found yourselves, right. So it’s really interesting to paint the picture of the evolution of this neighborhood in the last decade, because I think it’s remained a pedestrian friendly neighborhood. And we have a lot of like, the retail landscape pre COVID was so bustling, that you know, quality of life for all of our members, you know, here at stairwell and, you know, just a few blocks away at product spaces. I think that’s a big thing that people like, it’s like, the neighborhood provides them entertainment in the evening, lunch it in the middle of the day. And a lot of people, you know, live in the neighborhood as well.
Neil Martin 23:32
Well, now, we’re a few years into that King Street pilot project, right with the TTC. And I feel like that really kind of changed, as you’re saying making being sort of pedestrian friendly. You don’t see nearly as many cars Kingstree is not really as clogged as it as it once was. And it’s interesting,
Qasim Virjee 23:49
because, of course, in the last few months, as construction projects have been accelerated by the city, because there isn’t as many cars due to, you know, the pandemic. There’s all that construction that’s happening to the roads. But so that’s also had an effect on slowing traffic. But, but also, there’s so much densification happening in this neighborhood, that I think we sit on a precipice of a great opportunity. Who knows how the municipality is going to work with this? You know, I guess the protection of the retail streetscape coming out of COVID. But the way I look at it with an increased densification in the neighborhood, and a reduction that’s forced of vehicle traffic, or cars, motor vehicle traffic on King Street, with the what would you call it, I forget what they call it. But essentially, they put all the pylons in and turn two lanes into one right. And you can only go one block at a time before you have to turn right or left, which worked really well in Manhattan. They did that in Manhattan about a decade ago and that worked really well. Yeah, I’m hopeful that like we have a race towards a more pedestrian focused experience in this neighborhood and I think it would benefit all of our members because that’s something that everybody loves. And it’s really interesting. Like, even when we’ve had members driving in from like Markham, every day or like the outer suburbs to come to work at start well, because their team is based here. We find that like, they’re so thankful that we’re not actually in the core core. Like, right. So they tell their family everyday. Yeah, I’m going into Toronto, I’m going downtown. But for them, they’re like few, at least it’s not the downtown core, you know, downtown, this next to the core. So they could jump on a streetcar and in 10 minutes be in an office for a meeting in Bay Street. But when they get back here, it’s like they can breed you know? Yeah, totally. I think people like that. So coworking has changed as well, in the last decade. You know, you guys grew to two, two locations. And then you’ve seen, you know, so many different brands come up. What are some interesting names in the game that you’ve seen in Toronto, from outside or from with it?
Neil Martin 26:02
Well, I just had a lovely tour of this place. I’m a big fan. Thank you. It’s a great, great spot here. Thanks very much. We actually became pretty good friends with Rachel. She’s the founder of make lemonade. So I don’t know if you’ve if you’ve ever chatted with her but big fan of what what she does. She’s really, really great at kind of building a community and a vibe. And
Qasim Virjee 26:24
this is a female focused. Yeah, yeah.
Neil Martin 26:27
Opened a few two or three years ago, I think. Right. So they’ve been interesting. I mean, there’s so many. When we, when we started, there were other than some kind of longtime players, like, say CSI? Yeah, you know, it was really us, at least at least, you know, in this area. And so that kind of meant, like, you didn’t really have to think too much about who you are ideal for. Right? Because if you were nearby an area and you needed to get out of your house, or you needed affordable office space, or whatever the use case was for you. Right, you would probably find us, right? But as the landscape has changed, and there’s so many spaces that cater specifically to specific people, as time goes on, you need to really, or at least we’ve had to kind of go through this exercise of really nailing down, like who is project spaces for, right, because now there’s so many options, like I think just even, you know, within walking distance of where we’re sitting right now, right? It’s probably 10 different options, you know, some cater to very specific audiences. Some are, you know, more general, like, say, the Wii works, etc. So, I mean, there’s so, so many different ones. Some of them will be, you know, associated with a brand or a company. You know, there was I remember the was the bank ING Direct teta. Yeah, working space on Young Street. At one point,
Qasim Virjee 27:44
I actually, I was one of the first people to test that place. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I spent like a week there. And then I just couldn’t hack it. And the location was wrong. For me, that was the main thing is around the corner from my house.
Neil Martin 27:57
Qasim Virjee 27:58
No, now we live up at at St. Clair. So um, north of here, okay. So I always stay just I go north south every day on the western part of Toronto, and avoid all the traffic. But I used to Yeah, I have a much more pedestrian focus lifestyle, and, you know, didn’t own any cars. My, at some point, you know, my, my guilty purchase was a RESPA. And that’s how I got around, you know, the larger distances. But otherwise, I had a couple bikes. And you know, I was on foot. And I used to live right by the St. Lawrence Market, because I really liked being in the, you know, the beginnings of the city. So I lived at Jarvis and Adelaide, and then I walk over this way to work at the Center for Social Innovation every day. But yeah, so you’re right there, there has been an emergence of so many different options. And
Neil Martin 28:48
so some yeah, like I was saying, you know, associated with, say, a brand, or sometimes you’ll have, say, a startup that just has an abundance of space. And so you’ll see them kind of launch a co working space, right, that maybe fizzles out a little while later when they realize they want to use the space or, you know, can’t afford it anymore, or whatever. You know, we definitely pride ourselves on being, you know, this is what we do. You know, we’re not a something else slash co working space. Right. We may have started that way. Yeah, magazine office slash co working space. Right. But yeah, that’s, you know, it’s, it’s our specialty at this point.
Qasim Virjee 29:19
It’s really interesting, because I think, and I’m sure that you guys have heard this story, but it’s something that we hear time and time again, from particularly independence. And I think it might be worth drawing this line. To just explain to anyone watching that, I guess, let’s talk a little bit about project spaces, plans. And the type of you know, if you are project spaces, paint the picture of who you think fits the Sure. The working lifestyle of your culture.
Neil Martin 29:51
Yeah. So I would say you know, if you’re someone who so the vast majority of our community project spaces, which I think fundamentally as a starting point makes us a little bit different is that we’re primarily home to what I call one person companies. Right? Alright, so solo calling them a company is, uh, you know, being tongue in cheek a little bit, it’s it’s freelancers, a lot of just remote workers, solo founders, some smaller teams. And with some exception, we do have a few, a few larger teams, but so it’s, it’s, it’s people who could be working at home, they don’t necessarily have to come into the space because they need to work with a team there. Okay, so they could be working at home. But they’ve chosen not to, because working from home sucks, as we say all the time has hashtag working from home sucks. So, so they end up at the space. Yeah, so what that means it sort of creates this environment where the, the kind of like community and social element is actually very important for these people. You know, I’ve been through other spaces where they’re say, mostly home to large companies, or their satellite teams for Fortune 500, companies, wherever very, very different vibe there. I’ve even seen when we’ve on, I’ll say, rare occasion how to say a 30 or 40 person company, it changed, it starts to change the dynamic in the space, right, because they’re kind of their own enclosed environment. And you know, they already kind of have their own community, it starts to kind of take away from, you know, starts to feel like their office. And so, we’ve really focused in now on you know, where we are best for one and two person companies often early stage, not always, who kind of just want to be around other like minded people, our spaces are very, very open concepts. So we don’t actually offer any, like fully private offices, we do what we call flex memberships, I can tease that out a little bit. Because we’ve been trying some new stuff there. And then, you know, permanent desks for people who say, have monitors need something a little bit more full time? But yeah, they’re very, you know, we say we have a lot with less walls, not more walls. Yeah. Which is even just to kind of our origin story, the way we grew is, we would just, you know, take the next unit and knock the wall down. Yeah, we literally, you know, get a case of beer and ask our members to come hang out for the night with some sledgehammers and just knock a wall. So, yeah, we’re not, we’re not big on putting up walls, to say, I like that. But But yeah, so it, you know, results in a space that’s very, very open makes it very, very easy to meet the people around you, which is, I think, a huge reason why the people are there,
Qasim Virjee 32:13
it’s a fascinating thing, because, of course, we have to talk about this current context of the pandemic. And like, I feel like, you know, kind of March, April, May 2020, you saw a lot of articles being published, in everything from, you know, entrepreneurial focus magazines, down to, shall we say, Linkbait, you know, bloggie websites. And in between, which includes, you know, even television, a lot of reports were filed by journalists that kind of were talking about the future of work. And it was all fear based, and it was all about, let’s put up more walls. You can look through them, there’ll be plexiglass, but let’s hide everyone from each other in whatever way we can isolate them into their own bubbles, so that, you know, contagions of all sorts could be controlled. And then the question is called into, like, you know, everyone’s mind reading this stuff, especially us operators, I’m sure we share this that, well, what’s the point of working together, so it’s kind of like, I felt like there was a lot of reportage on this kind of like knee jerk reaction to fear. That said, the workplace is dangerous. So let’s hide each other in the workplace, or let’s escape the workplace. And this fueled this kind of narrative of an approach to an entirely remote from home concept. Which is totally disadvantageous from, you know, team culture and from kind of inspiration and spontaneous collaboration, all these things. So, you know, my lens on that is that open spaces are very, very important for people to be able to feel free together to interact. And yes, we all want to be respectful of each other’s hygiene and health. But working in common space is great for so many reasons. So how’s that felt in the last few months, you know, being primarily configured for as open space desks, in terms of some of the maybe some anecdotes from questions that people have asked you who are looking for membership? Or who are your current members trying to make sense of this craziness? To you guys have been looking at maybe whether you should change things and rethink how you use space?
Neil Martin 34:30
Yeah. So it was kind of funny were overnight things that maybe would have been weaknesses for us. One time became strength. So we, we always say that companies kind of come grow and go and the reason is that we don’t we don’t offer sort of like fully private suites. So let’s say once you hire 10 people and you want to, you know, have your own space to create your own culture and all that you eventually go. Not having tiny enclosed offices right now is a huge advantage. because it means we can use all of our square footage. Which is which is nice. Also, you know, we’d like to, you know, paint a rosy picture of it. But climbing four flights of stairs isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. But what it means today is you don’t have to take an elevator. Right? Exactly. We don’t have any of those issues around density or having to stagger arrival or whatever. Right. So there’s always a, you know, optimistic view. Right. You know, and then in terms of what you’re saying about, you know, what, I think that if, if someone’s starting the conversation by asking like, what’s better work from home, work in a coffee shop working in office? It’s kind of like you’re asking the wrong question, I think kind of right off the bat. Right? The right question is, is a personal one. So whether you’re a business owner, or an employee, you have a set of deliverables, tasks, goals, whatever it’s going to be in your day or your week? What is the approach for you, that’s going to allow you to maximize your, you know, both your productivity, but also your, you know, your happiness and your overall, you know, joy with whatever it is you’re doing? And what we’re finding for most people is that’s a mix of things. Right? So most people we’re meeting today are people in the neighborhood, that, you know, they might have a decent work from home setup, but maybe they’ve got children or pets, or they just don’t have that much space and getting to leave the house even say once or twice a week. It you know, it makes a world of difference to them. Absolutely. Right. It’s all about is that person, you know, performing at their peak, whatever that means for them in whatever context, they are trying to deliver things. Yeah. Right. And so, I think coworking has, will have a big role to play in that. I think, and a lot of these people, what’s interesting about it is a lot of these people have never looked at coworking before. Because there, at least for us, anyway, we were mainly home, traditionally, to business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers, people that were, you know, kind of already, you know, writing their own story and doing their own thing. And now we’re seeing a lot of people that, you know, they’re remote workers for a company that maybe used to have an office downtown,
Qasim Virjee 37:05
right, they belong to a team. Yeah, but they’re, they’re going
Neil Martin 37:09
crazy in their condo, and they need to get the hell out of there. So, so it’s, yeah, it’s not it’s not a one size fits all. That’s for sure. I mean, if that if that wasn’t obvious before, it’s very obvious to me now that it’s really just about looking at an individual’s situation. Yeah. Maybe working at home all the time is great for you, for whatever reason, maybe working at home is the worst thing imaginable for you. And you should not do that at all. You know, like, it totally, totally depends. And so as I mentioned, we’ve been sort of trying some new things. So you know, introducing what we’re calling these flex memberships, where you can, you can have the once a week, or the twice a week, package if you if you’re a side Hustler, and you have a full time job, but you just want to add weekends, you can do that. And some of the newer systems that we’ve that the lockdown kind of gave us time to implement, like the PC system that turns your phone into a keycard for writers that don’t know, right, allows us to do these kinds of things. Because now we can assign someone a package that says, give them access, you know, twice a week. So effectively, eight day passes in a month, they can show up. And because it’s all tracked via their phone, you know, first of all, it’s contactless. Second, we know who’s coming and going when, if someone runs out of their day passes, they can upgrade to the next package, if they, you know, decide month by month, they don’t need as much access next month, you know, dropping down to once a week or whatever, all of this stuff is now possible. And it seems to be resonating with this group of people that just need to friggin get out of the house once in a while. They don’t necessarily need an office or a full time. Place. Right. So yeah, that’s been really interesting for us to try to play with. I mean, obviously, business is down overall, right? I mean, even with, with this new kind of wave of people we’re seeing things are still slow and a little bit scary. But as entrepreneurs, we have to find the silver lining. And so we’re excited about about where things are going there.
Qasim Virjee 38:59
I think so I think, of course, and this is something we were saying before camp, before we jumped on camera before we jumped on stage is that, you know, the context for or the justification for people seeking out co working solutions for as places for to do their work? I think the context has shifted leading up to the pandemic, anyway. For many reasons, I would chastise you know, the efficacy of WeWorks marketing campaigns globally. Because a lot of it has been, you know, based on selling lies, but the culture that they picked up on through their marketing to propagate globally, and the aesthetic of that culture as being a place where people can be creative can be together and enjoy that togetherness is valid and is something that’s, you know, certainly a key ingredient in co working. So I think just spite WeWorks you know, any falseness that they may have had in their product, in their marketing in their business practice and all that dramedy, that has ultimately led to, you know, their downfall in many ways. I think that they opened up a lot of opportunity for the sector by introducing co working at this, like, ridiculously unsustainable budget for marketing. Yeah.
Neil Martin 40:29
All of a sudden, everyone’s heard of cowork. Exactly. Right.
Qasim Virjee 40:31
Exactly. And was very interesting. If you’re, if you’re up for talking about it, I think it’s very interesting to consider how, really in the last five years, the commercialization of the sector, and the kind of participation in the purveyors of co working from all sorts of other groups, whether they’re hospitality groups are real estate groups, or even, you know, REITs, trying to figure out how to animate unused commercial real estate. I think co working as a sector has evolved and grown and, and I guess, flexible workspaces, a larger catch all has so many players in it from different financial backing, and different financial justification. I like the story of we work, I think is an interesting cautionary tale
Neil Martin 41:23
is actually a great podcast series on it. It’s called, I think week, we crash or we crashed, right? It’s like five or six episodes worth checking out a few
Qasim Virjee 41:34
I’ll put a link, we’ll put a link on this. I haven’t checked it out. I started I started listening to it. And then I was like, This is gonna be too demanding.
Neil Martin 41:41
It’s pretty well done. Yeah. Yeah, it’s a, it is a crazy story. I mean, it’s a crazy story, especially when you get into, you know, hearing some of the nitty gritty details what was going on behind the scenes, it’s, it’s kind of wild. And to think that, you know, we started, I’ll say, virtually the same time as them, maybe they were, maybe we were a year behind. Yeah, but same period, they had two or three local locations in New York around the same time, we were kind of one or two locations, here. And then to just think about, you know, what happened next, in both of those stories. It was kind of mind blowing,
Qasim Virjee 42:14
it sounds like it kind of fits the ethos, a little bit of project spaces in terms of your, the cultural makeup of your community. But something we’ve always been pretty proud of at start well, and something that business practice wise, that I’ve always been encouraging of new founders, you know, kind of chasing is an approach of bootstrapping, that’s not to say be cash limited, and cash poor, and how you approach a new business so that you can kind of triumph over evil, for the sake of it. But it’s more like, controls your destiny, in line with your vision for what success is because the profile for a lot of entrepreneurs, I feel has been corrupted by mass media in the last few years. And this kind of like, corruption of, of Silicon Valley ethics, you know, and it’s broadcast on this large stage. But the idea that like, you know, fake it till you make it, hustle, hustle, hustle, make as much money as you can. And like closing deals with VCs is the equivalent, like bringing in revenue in a lot of founders minds,
Neil Martin 43:21
the idea of an amount of money, you need to give back to them exactly. With interest, yes,
Qasim Virjee 43:26
pound pounds of flesh have been cut, and cut and cut. And I think people don’t understand the business model of venture capital when they take money from venture capital. And that’s a whole nother series that we’re producing here at start. Well, it’s on pyramid schemes in, in what seemed to be kind of like, founder friendly environments. And, but bringing it back to co working I think, is really interesting to look at the WeWork story, because it’s one of these examples of a company that gets hyper funded with an infinite growth strategy that is not financially sustainable for even the core investors. So Softbank poured a bunch of money into this company to accelerate its growth. And what’s mind blowing about the story for me, and anyone who’s interested in startups is to say, okay, infinite scale might work conceptually with software, where you don’t necessarily have incremental, you know, expenses along the path to sustaining scale or delivering to scale. As your customer base grows, and you’re a co working company, you got to outlay so many millions of dollars to build out space and real estate, leave aside the leasing costs, you know, and deposit structures and all of
Neil Martin 44:40
that, that seems to be part of the big part of the magic there, if you want to call it that, that, you know, they were pretty successful at convincing people that they were effectively a technology company. Yeah. And to the end that they could you know, sort of scale at the rate and demand the, you know, valuations of a of a growing tech company.
Qasim Virjee 44:58
What I find is interesting about it is that there’s so much to the WeWork story that is a Plottable. You know, I think in terms of the execution of the rollout of that new real estate, I feel like that is is amazing. And I want to hear more about that, you know, I hope that someone’s able to document those stories about like, how did they actually technically, from an operational standpoint, turn on a new location that’s like, let’s call it, you know, 30 to 50,000 square feet or something every two weeks or something for a little while. It’s pretty wild, pretty amazing. And there’s a lot of lessons to learn there. But regardless, as I bring it back to this, kind of like our owner, operator table here, it’s really fascinating to consider how companies in this space, you know, can be funded because the margins can be good in an ideal market, with the right location and the right property, and the right marketing scheme, but fundamentally, I think, you know, we’re seeing, this is what I’m calling coworking, 2.0. But we’re seeing, from my vantage a divergence in the sector, where you have a lot of kind of either venture backed or high financed entrants into the flexible office space market. And those products are typically coming on market to be quick and easy solutions for not necessarily culture companies that are agile by nature, but maybe by context. So I’m seeing a lot of companies even locally, like King set, you know, King said is a is a commercial property group. Essentially, like reallocating, you know, pension fund type money like big money, private equity, let’s say it’s a private equity, real estate play. And they’re saying, Okay, well, with the COVID situation, they had like floors and floors empty in their building. So really, let’s create a product all internal is going to be flexible office space, people can sign up for month to month leases, that’s all they really want is something that looks funky and is flexible on the pricing and terms. And that will take boxes for a lot of people. And that will be probably more sustainable from a landlord perspective in the long term. Because they won’t deal with as much churn of individual tenants, and the legal costs of lease restructuring and stuff.
Neil Martin 47:22
But all of a sudden, they’re in the business of managing a shared space, which, as you know, comes with countless specific challenges, right? I mean, if you’re, if you are not up for being really, really good at that, yeah, then that’s gonna be huge.
Qasim Virjee 47:40
And I think that that’s the interesting thing about co working that doesn’t get talked about is as value added property managers. And we’re both in these REIT redevelopment site properties where you know, the buildings need work, you’re typically on kind of net lease. So plumbing, electrical, everything’s on your head, you know, anything that won’t bring the building down, the landlord doesn’t want to touch. So it’s both exciting as an operator, but also restrictive to most people considering being an operator in the space. So typical commercial landlording would require you to like hire a property management group to come in. And they’d basically just liaise with like Otis, and you know, syntax or whoever you’re using to come in, keep your buildings clean, keep them smelling fresh and keep the elevator running. But now, I think the role that we’ve taken on as part of our operating guideline, and the way that we run our businesses, as owner operators, and co working, is to say, we’re going to manage this property, we’re going to animate it with a whole suite of smart technology to make us be able to run our business. And our business really is just about making that building work for more people in an individualistic way. That still connects them, it’s, it’s so ahead of its game, in calculating community, through ease of access, and through agility, and making this physical thing kind of work a little bit more like software. So I think that like that story definitely was distilled and marketed by WeWork. You know, right. But I do think that it’s this value added property model that costs a lot of money from an operator standpoint. And landlords will definitely figure that out as they try and do these ventures themselves that the upside gets eaten up, just in our backs, you know, which comes to this kind of thing of like for me, as larger commercial interests are kind of looking to co working for clues on how to animate commercial real estate. You know, I think there are a lot of lessons like we were talking about these technologies like Smart Entry System, you know, connected security systems, cameras that inter connect with your doors to take a picture of who walks in, send you a message on Slack, all the stuff that we’re hacking together. enables us to be a little bit more autonomous in how we run the space and give freedom to its occupants. Yeah.
Neil Martin 50:06
Well, and ultimately to operate in elite in a in a lean fashion. Well, that’s, which is a huge element. I mean, we way back, you know, we described it, we were very, let’s say, raw and gritty. And we call it the founder friendly approach. It means I’m not wasting money on a really expensive chair. Because you don’t want to have to pay for that. Yeah, right. Yeah. So like, I’m helping you. Right. Right. It’s always about the rosy spin. Right. Right. But but you know, that there’s a very real impact there. Like if, if we weren’t able to use all these tools and kind of pieced them together, as you described, we would need a lot of humans. Yeah, that’s very expensive. That in turn, would make a co working membership cost way more to the to the customer than it does, right. So I think so it’s thank God, right? We get to play with all these tools, and, you know, not need to have a human doing all of these things, as would have been the case, you know, probably even, even just a couple years ago,
Qasim Virjee 51:05
right? Absolutely. No, absolutely. Agility is necessary for our business model. And again, it ties in with that whole off x being lean thing, like you want to cut your OP x as much as possible. Because especially like, I’ll tell you a little like anecdotally, on a net lease, if we have anything going wrong with our plumbing, you know, and I’ve got a random 1000 $2,000 Bill to replace a toilet, because it’s back flush system is unique or something. You know, I’ve got to replace a toilet. And that’s on my head. And that’s something that wasn’t budgeted for. And if we budget for all the, like, Danger Zone things. I certainly can’t have someone eating that budget with salary. Absolutely. Yeah. So lean and mean, gives you that kind of embrace of technology that can automate space. Absolutely. And so I think that’s really interesting that like, this is a common thread that I’m picking up as I’m talking to co working operators, of course, as being one, you know, one that we’ve had to face is like, how do we maintain a mindset of agility? And how does that interrelate with the culture of our customer? Right, I think there’s a symbiosis there. Which, you know, a massive corporation doesn’t necessarily think like that, or have the agility to make decisions and quick ways to implement technology, like procurement departments themselves, for REITs will limit their ability to implement the technology that we can even recommend them. Part of the co working 2.0 packaging for the series that I’m doing is going to open source, the playbook of start well, so I’m taking our whole tech stack, I’m taking our service stack. And I’m kind of liberating it in a creative commons license, and publishing it online for anyone to be able to learn from, because we’ve taken a series of meetings with with landlords, not just during this pandemic lockdown scenario, but in recent years, and last couple years saying, you know, people come to us and they say, How did you do it? You do? And I’m like, Okay, well, I don’t have time to consult with you. So I can’t necessarily come into your space and do it, even if it’s lucrative for me. So finally, I took the time in the last couple months to say, Okay, I’m going to document what we actually do, and give people the tools because I think the nature of our work should not be reliant on competition, it should instead be one that is welcoming of community, in a real manner sense. It’s not just about the people in this building, or between our buildings. It’s really about the industry and commercial real estate staying relevant. And I think that this is a big elephant in the room, right? Is with public opinion being a question mark, on proximity, physical proximity. I’m anticipating for the next couple of years out, it’s now October 2020, nearly November, I’m anticipating at least until the end of 2022. You know, we’re going to be dealing with a lot of uncertainty in terms of how urban populations in North America and specifically in Canada and here in Toronto, choose to come together through daily life. Like the way I see it. This will have such lasting effects. However, I see co working campuses that are you know, really focused on amenity rich experiences and community as being sanctuaries. So I think we’re the new community center, you know, and for all the people that are unfortunately trapped in the confines of their house for 24 hours a day outside of being able to go to grocery shop or see grandma or don’t see grandma. It’s not safe everyone You know, people crave social interaction. And we’re seeing that with our right now limited member base where the fewer people are coming in are even more thankful to be able to focus, do their work, feel safe, feel comfortable, and have the opportunity to feel what, you know, to experience opportunity itself. So, I know this is like a larger rant. But I have this whole thing where I don’t believe that
Qasim Virjee 55:32
poverty is simply a financial state. I’ve always believed, and part of this is growing up in East Africa. But I’ve always believed that poverty is a mindset created by a lack of opportunity, when you don’t feel there are any doors that you can open, you feel trapped in your life, your poor. Opportunity affords you the ability to think expansively to communicate with others in an open and free fashion, you know, and all of these other things, and I, I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for our communities to come together, you know, at these places that we’re building for them.
Neil Martin 56:11
Yeah, I feel like we’re I don’t know where I’m stealing this from but, you know, broke is a temporary financial situation, but poor is a mindset.
Qasim Virjee 56:18
Neil Martin 56:20
Qasim Virjee 56:22
Yeah. Okay, let’s talk about the things that make people comfortable. From your list. What do project spaces members find comfort in?
Neil Martin 56:38
Well, I want to answer this Well, I think, you know, for us, it’s it’s intangible, but we use this word all the time. It’s, we have a vibe, we have a unique vibe. When you come in, someone says, Hi, you know, if it’s your first week or first month, we’re going to be introducing you to people left, right and center. This is a very hard thing to scale, by the way, but, but it’s, but it’s kind of, you know, if I had to say sort of our secret sauce, it’s that like I said, people want to get out of the house, they want to actually meet people. And so we kind of we make sure that that that that happens, like we haven’t done been doing it for nine years. Now. I can think of so many anecdotal stories of people that have formed, you know, lifelong friendships out of the space people that neither of them are members anymore and haven’t been for years, but I’ll see them out at a bar. Not in a few months, but you know,
Qasim Virjee 57:27
I’m out on a bad yeah, separated at least six feet.
Neil Martin 57:31
So you know, that’s what I when you asked me about that, that’s kind of what I think about is that there’s a there’s a real say authenticity to the connections that get made. Yeah, and that’s something we pride ourselves
Qasim Virjee 57:43
in terms of the things that they look forward to enjoying while they’re at work that you provide. What does project spaces provide for their members that they know that they can just trust will be there when they get to
Neil Martin 57:58
work? Sure. So well, we’re very serious about our caffeine as I know as are you Yeah. So we you know we grind our coffee beans fresh on site you got it you just oh wow you do Yeah. So we’ve got these big industrial grinders and we have we don’t have the the Italian espresso machine but yeah, coffee you know really really fresh really great local coffee we loose leaf tea, sparkling water all these types of kind of staples right? Yeah. We actually always have like music playing in the lounge and I think is a is a big part of it. So it kind of creates you know our space is sort of a cross between like an office and a coffee shop and a social club a little bit you know in normal times are obviously very big on hosting events and because it’s you know, it’s it’s work hard and play hard so it’s we’ll do you know, some educational and you know, help you with your business type stuff but then we’ll also just do you know, whether it’s member happy hours or we’ll do every year we’ll do like a Jays game you know, a mix of fun stuff and serious stuff that obviously you can opt into as much as you want or don’t want to on any given month depending on how busy you are or whatever but yeah, it’s it’s it’s the vibe whatever that river that means.
Qasim Virjee 59:13
What infrastructure, technical infrastructure, like internet and so on, do people do you think if there’s trends amongst your population or your community what technical infrastructure do people all look for to be able to do their work when they come to work at project space
Neil Martin 59:35
right so we being a very kind of like open both in terms of sort of the the field but also physically open space. You were home to a lot of what you might call digital nomads, right so right so people that are used to basically working on their laptop you know jet setting around the world
Qasim Virjee 59:54
Elon on often right getting things done. So yeah, we
Neil Martin 59:58
so you know, the technical interview The structure is fairly you know, it’s all Wi Fi based. So we don’t do I know that you were showing me some some crazy you know, cat five cabling and stuff. They have been right again, six all over the globe. We do. I mean, we on rare on some occasion we’ve done that for people but but by and large it’s very simple kind of Wi Fi setup we’re using Meraki as you do, and it’s yeah, it’s another one of these tools that allows us to, you know, very easily manage things in the cloud and see what devices are on the network and troubleshoot things when we need to. Oh, yeah, it’s so helpful. Yeah, that was that was a real, it’s hard to imagine the time before we were on that system.
Qasim Virjee 1:00:35
I used to run around first year, no first six months of start, well, maybe your I literally used to run around and like reset routers all the time. And like unplug things and plug things and then move something based on how many people are clustering and what part of the building, but I wouldn’t know that until I walked around to see that. Because I couldn’t tell how many devices were connected to which piece of equipment? Wow, it’s, yeah, it was a big learning curve to try and define what kind of network infrastructure we needed. People
Neil Martin 1:01:07
really do underestimate what’s required to power, you know, a network that, let’s say, at any given time might have, you know, 200 devices on it. Yeah. Some doing really bandwidth, heavy things, lots of video conferencing, you know, it’s it’s really tricky.
Qasim Virjee 1:01:23
On average, we’re seeing on campus, this is like, this is seasonally it changes a little bit. But typically, we’re looking at like six devices per person, that are all connected, you know, phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, a camera that might have Wi Fi connection. You know, I don’t know, some sort of Fitbit type thing, like, people have the weirdest devices that they’re plugged into their screens of it that are like, you know, an Apple TV, I don’t know, like every day. So you’re absolutely
Neil Martin 1:01:54
right. Like the expectation is that it just all works flawlessly all the time. What’s very
Qasim Virjee 1:01:58
interesting about this is that these the the network infrastructure that I think we both enjoy the product suite from miracIe, from Cisco. You know, it’s really, yeah, it provides that agility, but it’s truly enterprise technology. And yet, it’s not used by a lot of enterprises that I know who use it in that way. So it’s interesting. It’s like, how do we take the best not just from like, ghetto tech, bootstrapping stuff, but even enterprise and say, what fits our purpose? And knowing our purpose and how people use the space? I think that knowledge base is what is so important in being able to procure these technologies with agility. So that’s why I’m hoping to open source our stack because I think it’ll really help a larger sample. Yeah, the goal for us, and for me, is to be able to encourage, like, anyone who’s responsible for Facilities and Operations from, you know, from a corporate level, to a real estate manager level to anyone, anyone from a hotel, to a co working space, just getting started to someone who’s nice to floors of a building for their law firm, and is the single IT manager to be able to say, okay, how can I take the best from these agile co working spaces that, you know, this, for me anyway, the stuff that we had to learn that, you know, along the way to create our suite of tools? That’s not the secret sauce, right? You’re talking about the vibe, the vibe isn’t the tech stack. And yet, in conventional kind of like enterprise economics, it’s always the secret sauce. So I’m very happy to be able to open source that stuff.
Neil Martin 1:03:46
That’s cool. I look forward to reading that.
Qasim Virjee 1:03:49
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it’ll be online soon.
Neil Martin 1:03:51
I feel like I wanted to jump on something. You said earlier that, you know, you see co working spaces, being sort of these, like, modern temples of Oh, yeah. The neighborhood and the community. And it made me think and, you know, maybe this is a bold statement, right. But it almost feels like our industry has been getting ready for this moment. Like, like, what is to come after? I don’t know if it even makes sense to say after COVID Or just what, whenever things are back to whatever they’re going to become whatever that is, yeah. We’re ready for this. You know, we’ve been getting ready for this. Right. You know, for us for nine years. You know, I feel like what the world is going to need, as you’re saying, like, everything is shifting and companies are getting rid of their large square footage with a lot of them with no intention to go back. And they’re realizing that remote working by and large is working. Okay, great. Right. But as we’ve discussed, you know, it doesn’t work for many people for many reasons. And so, co working spaces I think are set up to be this solution. Right? It’s this is almost new. So but we’re not new. We’ve been at it for a while. Yeah. But now all these types of people who have never thought about why they might need a shared workspace are realizing or starting to realize why. You know why it’s been so popular among startups for so long, right? It’s so true.
Qasim Virjee 1:05:15
And, again, the network, the entire network, or ecosystem around our business models, is inquisitive, inquisitive of how our business model works. And again, it’s not just about profit in the generation of profit, it’s about just simply providing the products and services that we do to our members, and having members feel part of a community at that place. Like, again, that’s the vibe, that’s the secret sauce. It’s about kind of how you stitch people together and stuff.
Neil Martin 1:05:46
Well, it’s not a whole, you know, Simon Sinek, they don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it, right. You can find any, you know, any number of parking spaces in the city that have this awesome tech stack and blah, blah, blah, as you mentioned, right? And it’s like, why do you go there?
Qasim Virjee 1:05:59
And now I take a step back, and I look at society, I look at the pressures on society today, urban society specifically, you know, sitting here, how many months are we seven months in North America into the pandemic? And a lot of people are still looking for whatever path to a return to normal looks like and for us here at start? Well, through all the content that we’ve been generating all the conversations like this I’ve been having with people, all indications point towards everyday being normal. You just have to see it. Right, right. So I think as this new I would say, like the new embrace of change, takes effect on people and people on mass start welcoming the change that is a facet of life into their lives, they will certainly seek out experiences that our members enjoy every day. And the retail landscape is changing dramatically, right? Like, unfortunately, restaurants, bars, shops, will close and unforeseen rates. And, and the extent of that detriment will be massive. And who’s to say what the next steps will look like for the retail landscape of our cities, and definitely of our neighborhood here in Toronto, I know, Queen Street West, like you take a stroll, and it feels like it’s 30 40% shut down, who knows what winter will bring? Yeah, but for us here, I mean, I’ve been really focused on kind of this hybridization of space, and how we can monetize it in multiple ways, but also give our members reasons to come to start well, that enrich their lives make their lives full of wellness, you know, it’s everything from caffeination, and tea and hydration, to community and interaction with other humans, to, for us, even developing this relationship with a local yoga studio called downward dog that moved from Queen Street to Arlington recently, where we’re taking their practice, and we’re working with them to digitize it in our Innovation Studio on Niagara Street, creating an on demand catalog that will be available to our members as just in school. Yeah. And we have in person private yoga classes that’s included in membership. So I think the idea of like going to a place to belong, to enrich your life, and have really a place, I think the importance of that place, even if it’s a singular place in your life is going to become even more important to people, you know, in coming months, because you can’t go to the four or five places that you used to.
Neil Martin 1:08:38
Well, and this is reminded me of something actually that my co founder, Jeff talks about a lot. And we call it the the new lifestyle stack. So it’s, you know, our parents generation wanted to be in the suburbs, right? So we grew up, you know, in a large place with, you know, got a big kitchen for entertaining guests, you might have a home office might have a home gym, yeah, right in this in this enclosed environment. Our generation wanted to migrate back to the cities. When you’re in the city, you have way less square footage, you can’t necessarily entertain at home, etc, etc. So you stack together a selection of effectively private member clubs, whether that’s a working club, a social club, like say, you know, the smokehouse or so fitness clubs, yoga studio, spin class, you know, whatever, whatever it is right to create this lifestyle, the lifestyle stack that you want. It’s like, it’s like this quintessential element of being downtown. Yeah, you kind of have to think about what are the things you want to do? Chances are you can’t do them at home. So where can you go what’s nearby? You have to create the lifestyle. That’s it and, you know, co working is going to be a huge part of it. I think.
Qasim Virjee 1:09:45
I think it’s interesting, especially the way you describe it. generationally, you know, it’s fascinating because I think it plays in with this concept of work from home, right? You know, the horrible, unforeseen Should it simple, overly powerful branding in the last few months of stay home, stay home, stay home, stay home, on the DVP on the signs like on the highways in Toronto. When I cruised around in the early months of the pandemic, that’s all you’d see everywhere and the ghost town of the empty highway is a sign telling you stay home stay home, no justification or explanation. And just like Danger, danger, and it’s a synonym it there. And the question becomes, well, yeah, home can offer me what it did when I was a kid, or what my baby boomer, you know, parents had in the suburbs. So no, I don’t, I want to stay safe. But I don’t want to stay home. Because my home is distributed. My home isn’t a box, you know, it’s everything in the box gives me access to. So I totally concur. And I feel like the more that we can do, as you know, as, and this is the way I look at it, like we’re not commercial real estate operators, we’re not landlords or sub landlords. We are people who take waking life into our responsibility set, and afford people literally access to a better life. You’re spending your waking life for the most part five days out of seven, maybe for early stage founders, seven out of seven with us, and you go home to sleep, you’re living at start, well, you’re living at projects basis. So I think that that’s a very enriching experience that we afford people because we know of its impact, we know how important it will be also in the not just the career trajectory, but the long standing life that we hope our members, you know, flourish in.
Neil Martin 1:11:47
Yeah, and I like that a lot. It’s like, life is short. And I think that’s why people like us, get up every day and keep doing it. Because I you know, I love to be around the energy of people who are spending that time doing something they really love, absolute, whatever that is, yeah. And yeah, if we can, if we can be a part of that journey by creating a space that they can come into, and be productive and be happy and make friends and all of that. It’s what what more could you want? Exactly.
Qasim Virjee 1:12:13
Agreed. It was a it was definitely a pleasure spending time to kind of work through some of these thoughts. Explain to our audience a little bit about our individual approaches to co working, where we see things going, the relevance of co working in Toronto, and hypothesize a bit about, you know, what the future looks like. And thanks very much for joining my pleasure. It’s a lot of fun. Thanks for having me. For anyone looking for more information about you and Jeff, and what the work that you’re doing project spaces and how they can, you know, come check out your space, what links can you drop.
Neil Martin 1:12:46
So typically, I direct people to our Instagram, actually, it’s a really good, great way to kind of get a vibe for the spaces in the community. So just at project spaces correctly spelled, and if you’re interested to learn more, there’s there’ll be a link there.
Qasim Virjee 1:12:57
Awesome. Yeah, we’ll put something in the bottom of the screen. Once again, thanks for Moser. Thanks for having
Neil Martin 1:13:01