It all started 7 years ago

Seats2meet.com started out with her first friend-chise location in the Netherlands. I tried to manage the overwhelming success of the very first location, with the dream of once opening my very own location in Amsterdam. A dream with hurdles, when you don’t have any investors and an average of 200,- on your bank account. Real estate with their crazy prices, seemingly impossible investments and other obstacles that kill dreams in a second. Still, we made it work, thanks to a collection of partnerships that we connected into one exploitation. I am writing this blog to hopefully inspire others to leave the beaten paths and look for new ways to make your dream happen.

Any businessmodel in a physical space can be made quite simple. You just buy a lot of furniture, equipment, staff and inventory, buy some marketing power and you work hard for 4 to 5 years to pay off the loans you’ve had to make to buy all that stuff. Then if you’re quite lucky, you might make some money in the following years. High risk and scary as hell. Also, impossible. I started meetberlage at age 29 with a tiny track record. Since all banks are pretty much locked up right now, there’s just no way of finding that kind of cash. And also, i wasn’t looking forward to the risk. Because even when you do everything perfectly, there’s always a big bunch of unexpected factors that will influence your organisation. The line between success and failure is a small one to walk, and a gust of wind can throw you over, either way.

So, what did we do differently

To realise our dream, we’ve re-examined all traditional standards and we’ve started to think from a standpoint of abundance, in stead of the scary approach of debt and high risk.

Real-estate is locked up

I must have visited 25 locations. 25 broker and building owners later i finally figured out why. Big buildings are investable, and a lot of people have invested in them at book value. Based on the good old days of high rents, companies renting them that had been doing great for many years, and not a cloud in the sky. A lot has changed now, expect for this valuation. Admitting they all like Seats2meet.com, me as an entrepreneur and our business plan, they just couldn’t lower their crazy rents, because people invested at these high book-value rates. They are locked up in book-value, while there is a large market who would love to operate at another value and re-commercialize our dutch unused 25% real estate. Catch22.

Until i ran into the Beurs van Berlage thanks to Joop Hazenberg. Here i found a fairly traditional organisation, but they had an amazing vision for an amazing building. 16.000 square meters of space where the people of amsterdam could meet and collaborate, inspired by the socialistic thoughts of the architect, mr. Berlage. And here was this 1000m2 corner that nobody wanted. I promised Seats2meet.com would facilitate meetings and connections between people like no other, i we could agree on a revenue-shared rent model. And we did fairly quickly. I’ve paid rent since day one, and after 2 days we’re up to 50% of the book-value rent, while growing rapidly.

Furniture

So, we’ve got the place, now we need furniture. Mr. Berlage left us with beautiful rooms of which some are decorated already. And then the team of the building introduced me to an amazing person, Mariska of Zetel Foundation. She knows a lot of designers, just starting out or world-famous. And while the design business is not doing great, Mariska was looking for great ways to promote these designers. Before long the place was filled with beautiful design furniture. A friendly company caterer had a warehouse filled with big tables, chairs and a fridge for the coworking lounge, and after two weeks we were pretty much set. In the meantime we already opened our doors to coworkers, and started meeting the first people from our local mesh (loosely connected big group of people that form the eco-system)

Food and drinks

With no kitchen, food and drinks were an issue. But we’re a hospitality business, so good food and drinks are very important. We just started out with a small coffee maker i got of a second hand marketplace, and we threw together a small lunch for the coworkers and offices. With the first meeting space groups coming a long, we scouted the neighbourhood for a good sandwich deli and caterers for the bigger events. Within a radius of 100m we now can facilitate all needs, from easy to luxurious.

Staff

What a hideous word:) And i fell into that trap myself, i still can’t believe it. After not too long, we had build up a nice mesh of coworkers, companies in our offices, meeting space guests and events. There’s always a hard-core that forms, that started helping me out when i couldn’t manage it all by myself. I figured ‘it’s becoming too crowded, now there’s room to hire people! So i did. And we were lucky at first. Carlijne had just finished her studies, and Simina was just starting out as an event manager. And while it became even busier, we started hiring people. And none of them (except for Carlijne and Simina who popped up in the network just when they were needed, and started to help from a inner driver to build our shared vision) could really find their place and roots in the organisation. When one of them told me they weren’t happy at work, i realised i had created the hell i was trying to prevent.

Everybody should be able to find a place to work where they grow and they are happy, but these people didn’t. So we sat down and spoke for a long time. Since then, a vision has formed when people want to join our team. Somehow they always pop up at the right moment, so we need not be scared of not finding the right people. And then they should; believe in our shared vision; want to realise it from an intrinsic motivation; there should be a click or chemistry with the rest of the team and there needs to be abundance. This can either be in the organisation (money to pay for work) or with the person (time and energy on their hands to help out and grow their own network in the mean time).

Recently, our greatest example came by named Remco. Being unemployed for some time, Remco loved working in our free coworking space. He was able to pay with social capital, and bring value to the world finally. So he started helping us out with some events and other jobs. Within 1.5 months Remco had met the right people in the eco-system, and found 2 jobs giving him full-time work. Something bigger was working for and with us, and by embracing it beautiful things happen.

Network – mesh

Last but not least, by far! In my years of working with Seats2meet.com, i’ve gotten to know some great people, who are gatekeepers to amazing networks. These people have opened up their networks to us, enabling all those people to become a part of our growing mesh. This is at the hart of any Seats2meet.com, wether it’s a meeting space location, an in-company location or any other environment where the serendipitous connection between people leads to new value and innovation in the environment.

While i translate this year old blog to english, we have now been operating for 2 years. Slowly we’ve used profits to invest in furniture, upgrading coffee facilities, carpets, wifi and countless facilities. We’ve put together an amazing team, are learing more about sales to improve our numbers even further, are trying out holacracy as an organisational structure to empower every team member to grow from full autonomy, and are still growing in a rapid pace. Even outside our doors, where we are meeting organisations and environments that have a need for Seats2meet.com, since we’ve proven the concept in over 5 countries since the beginning.

While constantly adopting our learnings into the underlying vision of society3.0, we are creating environments where this vision can be brought to life. Enjoying every day of it!