Hello folks! For this episode, we are bringing you an oldie but a goodie, this podcast is the interview with Tobias Kremkau back at the Coworking, Coliving Conference of Southern Europe that happened on October of last year, 2019 in Serbia.
Tobias Kremkau is the Head of Coworking at St. Oberholz in Berlin and he is also the co-founder of the German Coworking Confederation.
In this episode, Tobias talks about the talk he gave at the Tech Festival 2019 at Copenhagen. The Coworking summit has 4 topics outlined which are: Crushing it with Content Marketing, Closing the Deal & Other Sales Tactics, Growing on Fertile Soil – Coworking Ecosystems and Property Technology and Artificial Intelligence.
What is the Coworking Summit about?
It is a coworking summit, which is part of the tech festival. And you must know that tech festival is like a collection of different summits about different topics.
And last year, they asked Ryan to organize it for the second time, and he asked me to join him. It was Mateus from Coworking Bansko. And this year, Ryan and I did it on our own.
And, there’s a rare opportunity to get a small room and some money like something around 4000 US dollars. And because it’s limited in space, we have to think about who should be there. And on the other hand, the beauty about this, we were looking for some opportunity like that, because and I don’t want to complain about the development, but, coworking is growing so fast.
There are new coworking spaces popping up all the time. That’s the reason why a lot of people at conferences like 30, or 40% of visitors are new to coworking. They have the questions that you have if you’re new, and I noticed that some of my friends on the coworking world who are really experienced and mostly like to share the knowledge, didn’t come to the conference anymore, because they offered more than they can get out of it.
And it’s fine to tell a beginner about what this person should avoid or which mistake you have to do to really understand. But something was missing for the more experienced coworking veterans. And on the other hand, we have challenges too.
It’s really difficult to develop a coworking space that is like 10 years old. Or if you have to scale, how do you scale a coworking space?
The real estate business service office owners and they know how to hire the right people for the amount of money, but we’re still small budget space as you can say.
German Coworking Federation
Tech Festival: Coworking Summit 2019
Tobias on Linkedin
Tobias on Twitter
Tobias on Instagram
Bernie J Mitchel 0:01
Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to another of our special Mokrin House Coworking. Coworking Co-living Conference – Coworking Values podcast. Do you ever find, Tobias, in your day you spend a lot of time saying coworking, coworking, coworking and implode?
Tobias Kremkau 0:21
What I find more interesting, since I’m in the coworking world, I see the word everywhere, you know, just passing by a house and I recognize a word written coworking at the doorbell. And yeah, this is something that’s never happened to me before.
Bernie J Mitchel 0:38
Let us introduce you first. So, Tobias, what are you known for and what would you like to be known for?
Tobias Kremkau 0:44
I’m known as the head of coworking in St. Oberholz in Berlin. So, as I’m kind of the face of the space, some people think that I’m the founder which is not true, but I’m very often introduced as the founder of St. Oberholz. The people who found it were the Ansgar Oberholz. Not when they founded it. But yet, so a good example of a relationship at the workplace. And yeah, I would like to be known for somebody who’s observing, but also try to understand what is happening. So this is something that people often miss, I must say, when I talk to them. Let’s say when I meet new colleagues, they always say… Ah you are the great expert… and I said the only thing I did I went and I watched. I didn’t learn it. I just took time to understand.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:45
That’s lovely. And what I want to get into before I get to that, the coworking thing, but when you’re having a child, you suddenly noticed lifts and prams and things like that. I think coworking is like that. You go, oh my goodness, or you walk into a space, or you walk into a cafe and go, this would make a great coworking space.
Tobias Kremkau 2:07
My wife has it every time we are pass by an empty space and she would say: “this would be great coworking space!” And everything that is empty, you see as a coworking space. But you know, there’s something more to it than just space?
Bernie J Mitchel 2:24
Now, my business brain kicked in a little earlier, because I was like would people actually to pay to be in this underground bunker that looks good? But has no natural light. So what I brought you in here for is the event you did in Denmark with Ryan at the end, it was just after I got back off, I’m glad I didn’t go because I had really bad jetlag on the way back from California. So I was like out for a week – and that would have been too much as I suspected. But don’t blush, I particularly liked the way you two put that event together and the tone around it and the interaction. Can you say why you wanted to do an event like that? What came out of it and all that type of stuff?
Tobias Kremkau 3:08
It is a coworking summit, which is part of the tech festival. And you must know that tech festival is like a collection of different summits about different topics. And last year, they asked Ryan to organize it for the second time, and he asked me to join him. It was Mateus from Coworking Bansko. And this year, Ryan and I did it on our own. And, there’s a rare opportunity to get a small room and some money like something around 4000 US dollars. And because it’s limited in space, we have to think about who should be there. And on the other hand, the beauty about this, we were looking for some opportunity like that, because and I don’t want to complain about the development, but, coworking is growing so fast.
There are new coworking spaces popping up all the time. That’s the reason why a lot of people at conferences like 30, or 40% of visitors are new to coworking. They have the questions that you have if you’re new, and I noticed that some of my friends on the coworking world who are really experienced and mostly like to share the knowledge, didn’t come to the conference anymore, because they offered more than they can get out of it. And it’s fine to tell a beginner about what this person should avoid or which mistake you have to do to really understand. But something was missing for the more experienced coworking veterans. And on the other hand, we have challenges too. It’s really difficult to develop a coworking space that is like 10 years old. Or if you have to scale, how do you scale a coworking space? The real estate business service office owners, and they know how to hire the right people for the amount of money, but we’re still small budget space as you can say. And so, Ryan and I invited people that we know, so I didn’t know everybody and Ryan didn’t know everybody, but we made the list of people who should be there. And last year, around 70 people were coming and we did tweet topics at this one day coworking summit. It was niches, recruiting and management challenges. And this year, last month we talked about ecosystems, this is something that is coming up in the coworking world, everywhere. Everybody has the same problem and we talked about… Oh one was about content marketing. So we talked about content marketing, we talked about sales tactics and talked about ecosystem. And we invited three panellists for each topic. And the setup of the coworking summit was that we talked about, like 45 Minutes, we guessed about the topic. And then we separate the audience into three groups and every group can talk to one expert that we had invited more closely for like 20 minutes. So we had this interaction element with the audience and the opportunity to ask deeper questions that are just important for your project.
Bernie J Mitchel 6:59
So that bit’s really attractive to me because I think the unconference model over that 10 years ago, I went to a lot of unconferences, a lot of bar camps. And sometimes I helped run them because I was an event person. So people in industries that I’d never get into, or had no reason to be there would say: “Bernie, come sort this out for me”. And it was great because it was completely free. And it was an unconference, and now they’re kind of not just in our industry, but I think that model has been thrashed a bit and twisted and bastardize or whatever the word is. And where I’m going with this is like the genuine interaction and back and forth and freedom of conversation has been removed. And that’s the secret sauce I would suggest.
Tobias Kremkau 7:52
It is, but also you set the topic first before you go in interaction with the audience. So this is what I don’t like about bar camp sometimes the people that are the loudest set up the topic, and then you have a different level of knowledge. So, what we do here is first we let the experts talk. So everybody has some picture of what the topic is about what are the big questions, and then you can choose… Oh, I would like to talk with this expert more, because she’s from a town that is similar to mine, I would like to talk to this expert, because he has the same background like me… So first, we set up the frame and then people can go and talk to senior experts more closely. This is what I like about this so much.
Bernie J Mitchel 8:36
Is there like a name or?
Tobias Kremkau 8:41
No. From Ryan and my perspective, we invented it. Yeah, but this was around somebody invented it too, but we didn’t know about it. We came up with the idea on our own, but that already existed but they don’t know the name of this type of format.
Bernie J Mitchel 8:58
I want to jump back on the point about the bar camp and the most vocal, because that’s very true. And I think what gets missed by event organizers, is actually making the efforts of like, if the same five people turn out to every conference and I’m one of those loud people, I completely know how to play the thing you know, and get rid of people coming behind beforehand and tell people and set all that up, but other people don’t know how to do that. And a lot of things I’ve been involved in and this podcast is going around and finding those people with stories to tell, actions to take, who are less vocal, and I think people are unique and we should take the responsibility to notice who’s not taking part and who’s not showing up.
Tobias Kremkau 9:45
That this is really important. St. Oberholz is a well-known brand, and this is a reason I want to use that. How we are seen, that we are seen to put the focus on other coworking spaces too, because on the one hand, we are really a normal coworking space, really nothing special about us. But then there’s a coworking space for handicapped people to try to figure out how a working space of a handicap should be. And then there’s a coworking space for women or for childcare. So special needs niches. And what we do is, sometimes we have a delegation. I always try to invite other coworking spaces at the table to show people the diversity of coworking concepts, because I’m really afraid to just copy the owner of coworking space and not see that perhaps maybe it’s a better solution for them.
Bernie J Mitchel 10:41
So what do people ask you a lot about coworking? You said when you go to the conference, you get asked the same things all the time. And yeah, I normally do that. But what keeps coming up for you? What are the evergreen coworking questions people are asking?
Tobias Kremkau 11:02
How to get members and community. Community’s a really hard concept to understand. Because this is one of the few things that you have to really figure out yourself, what the community at your place is. Because of your neighbourhood, your background. Some male coworking managers are wondering why they don’t have more women in the community and stuff like this. It’s the same question also Human Resources departments have about workforce. Yeah. Nothing special about us, but we are smaller and often don’t have the resources to talk to others. Some people perhaps are not getting the idea. I should ask somebody else. And I’m really be surprised how bad coworking spaces are connected. That is how bad we are at networking from time to time.
Bernie J Mitchel 11:17
Is that networking in the immediate local area or network in…?
Tobias Kremkau 12:07
No, in the coworking branch. Coworking spaces don’t talk to other coworking spaces, and I actually don’t get it because everything I knew I just knew because I went to other places and asked people. I didn’t study coworking.
Bernie J Mitchel 12:23
I will be talking about this other conference that I found that was in London, for a long time after we came back from the Coworking Europe in 2014. So the Facebook group, Rebecca and I set up the Facebook group, and it was very hard. And I found that with not just coworking, but other kind of communities and industries. I would come to something like this and there’d be like five people from London, and I’d have a really good relationship and I go and see those people in London for coffee and it’s not like there’s the relationship damaged on the plane. And then when I tried to get them and other people together, it wouldn’t happen. No one for whatever reason, just didn’t happen.
Tobias Kremkau 13:15
Like in Berlin. I can go to every coworking space and talk to the people – they welcome me. And if I invite them for a panel, they show up. So there is like a way of cooperation. But if you try to do a monthly meetup about coworking matters, if you’re lucky six people show up, sometimes two people show up there. And this is what I actually don’t get. So on the one to one, they talk to you, they are open, but don’t come to group activities.
Bernie J Mitchel 13:46
Well, go to story for this is my friend Mark runs an IT support company in London, and he’s been running it for about 25 years now. And in the early days, he was unique because companies ran on Macintosh and Microsoft, and he knew how to work all that out, whereas in the old days, they were like completely alien things. And he kind of lost his edge because those two, operating system spoke to each other better. And then he just became another IT support guy in the company. And then he got an invitation to join. So he was looking around for ways to like, you know, grow his business, continue various business, and he got invited to join a mastermind group, they you pay to join it. And it’s a huge worldwide thing and is supported by Google, Apple, Microsoft and Oracle and all these people, join this thing and you will put in a local group with like six other people at exactly your level. And then you share everything, like financials, sales, marketing plans, goal setting, and everything like that. And he thought it was really weird to begin with. And what actually happened is they shared everything. So they stopped being in competition with each other.
Because there’s millions of people in London to start, they’re going run out of people to hire you. And they save so much time and money and energy in their business. Because someone would say, Oh, we tried that last year. And, you know, don’t do that, do this. And one of the things was about the value of being a Microsoft gold partner, is you pay thousands to do that, and no one actually cares about it anymore. So, they all grew their businesses, and I’m going to have breakfast with them next week and check out if that’s still true. They saved so much money, time and energy and things that money can’t buy, by speaking to each other.
Tobias Kremkau 15:52
Makes absolute sense and I must say, this is my spirit. I am really open about everything. At Oberholz, I tell you what’s not working and don’t make a secret out of it. If you talk to other people who are higher up, I mean, this is something I would say, kind of new to the coworking world employees. I mean, I’m also an employee, that for a long time, it was driven by founders. And our coworking spaces are growing and they have a workforce. So some of the employees of coworking spaces are not into coworking. They do a good job. But if the day is over, they don’t go to the coworking meetup. For them. It’s a job. And at least for me, and for people at these conferences, and I’m not the founder for the space, this is different, this is what we live.
Bernie J Mitchel 16:52
We used to get in the networking group Oran. The owners would come to things. It was the early morning commitment of employees because they started at nine. So why do I need to go somewhere, they knew why they needed to go, it is just the effort of getting to a cafe for breakfast at 7:30, doing some networking and then go to work. That’s a big commitment for anybody.
Tobias Kremkau 17:18
The commitment of time, but perhaps I don’t have a different understanding of work. This is how I get better in what I’m doing. I totally don’t get it sometimes why people don’t try to master their profession. And to master it, in coworking at least if you talk to other people, if you learn about different concepts, what is working and what is not working. And I mean St. Oberholz is not a small space and not one of the oldest in Germany. But I’m still learning from small and new spaces so much great things, especially about community building.
Bernie J Mitchel 17:53
So I deliberately haven’t had a podcast about community for a long time because like I said on the panel, lots of people talk about community, but hardly anyone’s doing it and several times in the past couple of years, I’ve sat down to work with someone and pedantically, cruelly, and being a bit of an ass about it, quiz them on why they have community, innovation, and collaboration on their website, and what does it mean? They said “oh, we do that?” and I said yes, you do. And it goes on and on and on. And most of them wanted to smack me But, you can’t just say you have it.
Tobias Kremkau 18:42
Like we heard from Joana from Dinamo 10, a Portuguese coworking space, coworking is an act not a space. And I totally agreed on that. And yeah, you’re right. I feel really bad to say, I’m good a community manager, I’m doing good community work. Because I think I’m not a community person. But with single members where I have a personal connection. I must say I do everything for them. I help them with hiring people. I help them with research. So, I can’t offer this to everyone, but when there’s a member where I feel a personal connection, I can do it. I would never say we have one community and I’m a good community manager. We are a team. I know some members who don’t come to me if they have a problem. They go to colleagues, they even go to baristas, and complaining about clients who don’t pay invoices. So everybody in our team is part of the community management. And this is something I would promise, you will find somebody here that helps you, but perhaps it’s not me. Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable.
Bernie J Mitchel 20:06
What do you think people should start looking at about community? Like is there a book, or a blog, or a place or methodology that would take them down the right path? We’ve learned by doing it and being above average curious about it.
Tobias Kremkau 20:25
I must say, I can’t say about the thing ‘community’. The single relationships with the people, I must say, I learned a lot when I was reading about how to communicate with people, how to listen. And if you listen, well, you can answer better on what’s actually the topic of your conversation. So, I would recommend people to learn skills and how to talk to other people, how to listen, to first listen and then speak. And for members who want to join the space I mean, this is pretty easy do a tour and look at the person who’s giving you the tour and others, to see if others are greeting him or her. Yeah, this is for me. This is a healthy community. Yeah, they like this person working here. And it’s a different concept of community because I heard from some service office providers, first I couldn’t believe the story. But sometimes companies doing tours in Berlin, visiting several places. So they came to Oberholz and before Oberholz was a service office. And they told me the guy who did tour didn’t know who the teams are. So this is crazy, I don’t believe it, but then I later learned that the space sales guys doing the tour is not the community person, which is a strange concept. I get from the point of selling the product, but doesn’t make sense for me in the coworking space. So, they told me this person was really friendly like the receptionist at the dentist’s office. But here at St. Oberholz it feels that ‘you’ – and point a finger at me – “you are living that”. And this is different. Talk to people about what their work is. And then you feel if they like the work or not.
Bernie J Mitchel 20:36
That tour thing is really important.
Tobias Kremkau 22:29
Tours are, for me, the most essential tool because I like storytelling, and I like the history of our houses. Not only coworking history, the history of the whole buildings. So, I don’t sell well I guess, but I can talk well about what we are, why we are and where we are. So, there’s a really nice coworking space in Berlin, Tuesday Coworking, run by an Irish guy who’s in Berlin, John. So, once I had the team at St. Oberholz and didn’t have the free room that I could offer them, and I explained the situation and then I gave them a tour to understand. I explained to them, please figure out if St. Oberholz is the right place for you, perhaps it isn’t. And this is a room available and you if think we are good place for you, I will call you.
So I gave them a tour without offering anything. And then they went to Tuesday Coworking. And then John called me and we had never met before. And he said, Yeah, I’m John, there was a team, you sent over and I offered them some rooms, but they were talking all the time about your tour at St Oberholz. And then he asked, can I have a tour at your place I have to know what you’ve done, and this is how we met them. And this is something I’m thinking about right now recruiting. I’m asking myself; does a community manager have to do the tours? I have to look for people who can do it. Do they need different skills? And who is doing the tours if not a community manager? Because this is the best thing to explain who you are, to give people an impression to talk about the details, details are so important. Why is there this lamp? Is there a story behind this lamp? Then people see that you really care about the place and that we’re thinking about this place, and not just put some tables and chairs into an empty room.
Bernie J Mitchel 24:33
There used to be a basketball in a coworking space I helped run. And it was just always on the side as you came in the door. And it didn’t take very long to do a tour of the place because it was so small. I’d always mention the basketball because oh yeah, I’ll find a way to talk about it. And we had the basketball because a guy came in one day, an Australian guy and he said to Phil, the owner, I’m out of budget but you know I’ve got this basketball and Phil just said well yeah, sure – come here for a couple of days. And the guy was really friendly. He just said, I’m out of cash and I need somewhere to work. And the exchange and he became a friend of the space and we never saw him again. But he would like things on Facebook and say hello and he gave us a story to tell. And the space closed, now my kid plays with that basketball. And I still tell that story as something and it’s very minor but knowing all these little things.
Tobias Kremkau 25:39
It tells me something about how you ran your space and you were open also for unexpected things. You made things possible, if they were possible for you. And this sounds to me like a space where I would like to be a member.
Bernie J Mitchel 25:56
We loved it. We’d never quite go there. We did get there and then there were about 150 other coworking spaces open in London, so we struggled a bit. And that’s why we’re here now. So we’re coming to the end of our time here, you’re going to be Warsaw? Where’s the best place to find, when I say – be in Warsaw – for the Coworking Europe thing, because we know what that means, but not everyone listening knows what that means. Are you looking forward to anything particular in Coworking Europe this year?
Tobias Kremkau 26:28
Yeah, the topic of rural coworking really got me in the last two years. And it’s also a topic at conferences, at bar camps and not at conference itself. So I’m really happy now that there will be a little side program about rural coworking in that one day, where I want to learn from people from other countries. What are their experiencing? Because France has been in the coworking scene for so much longer than Germany, for example. And then there are countries like Austria and Switzerland that are rural by definition. So this is a topic that really interests me. And this ecosystem thing. Quite often we are asked to consult with doing a coworking space somewhere and then we figure out the space is too big for coworking and there’s no reason that people are here. So, we have to deal with how to create an environment that people stay at this venue and then become coworking members. Or is it more attractive to be a member of a coworking space because that, that and that that is around. So to create like a market hall and coworking space economy. This is something we see in the US it’s quite big, especially in shopping malls, but we now see the request for it in Germany too. And I would like to learn about these connections here. Is it simple like a formula or you need a barber shop and the bike shop to do coworking? Can I change the concept? Is ice-cream also fine? But I know what doesn’t work in coworking.
Bernie J Mitchel 28:21
So, where’s the best place to find you and all your projects, toys, antics – online?
Tobias Kremkau 28:32
Yeah, we don’t have a web presence a St. Oberholz yet. So I must say it’s my own blog and my social media profiles and it’s ‘Isamatrose’, which means a sailor of the Isa River. Complicated sorry, you’re trying to reason on my blog.
Bernie J Mitchel 28:50
I will link to all that stuff in the show notes. Thank you. And thank you ladies and gentlemen for listening today. If you go to coalescentnetwork.com you can sign up for a weekly email of all our podcasts and stories and stuff by myself and our friend from Serbia, and be careful out there it is a jungle.