In the spring of 2014, during a fortuitous meeting in a cafe, two entrepreneurs noticed a real gap in Neuchâtel:
- no available office facilities
- no peer-to-peer/entrepreneur support
While coworking has become a worldwide phenomenon and has spread throughout the Lake Geneva region (Lausanne had five spaces, Geneva around ten), there was no such place in Neuchâtel (a Swiss city of 34’000 inhabitants). The challenge was launched, we decided to create such space.
The themes, the questions
Soon, the questions emerged:
- What will this space look like?
- Who is the audience?
- What business model?
- Where will the coworking space be? Which place is ideal?
- How do we launch? How will this space work?
- How to make it autonomous, with a minimum of intervention?
- How much will the coworking space cost? How many people do we need for funding?
The different stages of the Coworking Neuchâtel project
1. Decision and communication
Having taken this initiative, we began by tackling the promotion and communication of this idea. We bought the domain name coworking-neuchatel.ch and launched the website, all in less than a morning. Thus, we set up this first channel of communication.
2. Brainstorming meeting
In April 2014, we organized a brainstorming evening, in a Neuchâtel bar, gathering about fifteen participants. The aim of the evening was to bring together interested partners, to understand the motivations and needs of future coworkers, and to promote the project. Incidentally, the brainstorming session produced data that was proved useful. The participants suggested rates, logistics preferences, and one of them, Yann Heurtaux, suggested us to create coworking days.
3. Quick prototypes
With this suggestion, during the summer of 2014, we organized coworking days in third party locations, such as the Swiss Creative Center, the restaurant Bureau, and the restaurant Chauffage Compris. Interesting fact: for each day, we had coworkers… but it was never the same people! As our communication was not perfect, we had difficulty attracting a multitude of professionals but some highly interested people. We concluded that there was an interested public, but that stability overtime was not guaranteed. In addition, this experience has taught us more about people’s needs.
4. Actual prototype
One morning, Giovanna Papa from Infoclic.ch called us. Giovanna was closely following our initiative and wanted to collaborate with us. After a coffee and a discussion at the rue des Sablons 2, in Neuchâtel (Switzerland), we decide to organize together a test week (October 2014) in their 70m2 premises in order to assess the viability on the Neuchâtel market.
The success was moderate – interest was exclusively among people who had understood the concept of coworking. We have learned from this experience that awareness should be raised around the English term “coworking”.
Following the week of testing, we opened the space in November to test its viability in the medium term.
We defined the business model more clearly, i.e.: customers, advantages and benefits, services, tariffs, etc. We decided to make the service accessible to as many professionals as possible.
On a side note, one year after the launch, we were contacted by an entrepreneur who wanted to create a similar space in the city of La Chaux-de-Fonds. Within a few weeks, we launched the Coworking La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Between 2014 and 2016, more than a thousand people passed through this collaborative space located 700 meters from Neuchâtel Station. Either to drink a coffee, to have a training session, to come and work individually, to participate in an event, to offer us a book, to steal a chair, or to congratulate us for having created an open, friendly, and productive place.
In 2017, the coworking space would welcome about twenty members. Each member signed a contract, usually an annual one. Coworkers are experts in their field and come from different backgrounds, such as software development, web design, marketing, translation, consulting, engineering, coaching, academic research, etc. We also welcome teleworkers, students, and entrepreneurs who wish to domicile their company in Neuchâtel.
But why do they come to coworking? There are three levels of the coworker motivation pyramid. Primo, people who come because it lowers rent costs and increases flexibility at work. Secondo, people who come because this environment increases motivation at work and allows them to meet other professionals. Terzo, people who come to discover new ideas, learn new things or find a person to develop a project.
In spite of the impression that our project can portray, there were also some difficulties. Financial viability, administrative management, management of the premises (also dirty dishes!) or the animation of the space … these are the challenges that we have not always managed to solve.
However, this experience has created a new way of working that is even more open, cross-cutting, and collaborative at the regional level. It has also connected the region nationally and beyond (for example Coworking Switzerland and Coworking Europe). With this project, we have learned three key fundamentals aspects:
- Nothing is more valuable than confronting a problem directly. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes – in our case being the direct user – allows you to better understand a situation and create solutions that make sense.
- Nothing is perfect the first time. The most important thing is to follow a step-by-step approach. In addition, we are collecting comments and suggestions from direct users to improve this project.
- Nothing is more important than to involve the project partners in the reflection process from the start in order to simplify, clarify and make the solution more relevant.
In 2018, we have done a lot. We have pushed Coworking Neuchâtel even further.
First of all, the location was an important criterion in developing our project. From now on, we are located in the most emblematic building in the Neuchâtel region: Hôtel des Postes, Place Numa-Droz 2, in the city center (in the port of Neuchâtel, “au bord du” for locals). A total of 400m² of workspace, meeting rooms, and conference rooms with an abundance of light and a breathtaking view of Lake Neuchâtel.
Then, we changed the furniture. More than CHF 200’000 of investments, in collaboration with our partner Kinnarps, to improve the quality, comfort, and ergonomics of the space for our members. We invested in secure access allowing each coworker to access the space 24/7. Whole new level.
Finally, we redesigned our structure and rates to provide more services and even more affordable prices for every professional. Today, we are an association and a limited liability company. We have also invested to support our community with high value-added events (not just business card swaps 🙂) and 360° services with our partners to speed up the development of each of them.