Ellada, Founder of Honoid in Georgia went to Germany in August 2017, to meet Coconat and its team, through the European Creative Hubs Network and our Peer-to-Peer Scheme (P2P). This is his article about the experience of exchanging knowledge, creative hub to creative hub.
I had tough time deciding where to go for Peer-to-Peer program. Before applying, I was not even sure whether I’d be selected or not. Our organization was newly registered and barely operating, and I was quite a newbie in this whole Creative Hubs Network. I thought, they might select someone gone further in development. Thankfully, I was proved to be wrong and I was given the opportunity to be part of this “Great Exchange”.
“COCONAT – Workation Retreat” is located in the countryside, barely 1-hour train ride away from the capital, at 25 Klein Glien, Bad Belzig, Germany. It is a hotel type residence, where you can stay for as long as you desire and have the luxury of working in privacy, or together with whole bunch of crazy people who, by the end of the day, feel like family.
Our organization, Honoid is a Georgia-based networking and synergy platform that provides diverse resources and opportunities to people in creative industries, both nationally and worldwide. In addition to that, we design and implement social inclusion programs for people with disabilities, children and elderly, as well as people with low economic potential, and we actively promote corporate social responsibility.
We do not have a physical space yet, but we are currently working on creating a co-working/co-living space outside the capital of Georgia. So, while being in the process of choosing where to go for my P2P, I looked through my options and thought to myself – If these guys at Coconat can make it work outside the big cities, maybe I should find out How.
And so, a girl from a small, “where-is-it-again” country headed towards Berlin.
My objectives for the program can be translated through several key questions that I had for the hub leaders:
- Where/How did the founders manage to start the whole idea? – This basically includes all the questions regarding money and real estate.
- How do they bring people together in a space outside the big cities?
- What are the programs / events they offer to their customers?
- How the responsibilities of managing team are distributed?
I also decided to conduct a small survey of the hub customers in order to find out, what are the values they get from visiting such spaces. So, I prepared the questionnaire, packed it together with my curiosity, travelled thousands of kilometers by air and marched into the Coconat premises.
Today, I am an observer.
I met three hub founders, Julianne Becker, Janosch Dietrich and Iris Wolfer. After a brief interview with them, I found out two important things:
- They have been working on this project for 4 years. They have changed 2 locations before and opened the current space just recently, in May, 2017. Made me curious about details, so later I’m planning to poke my nose into their 4-year journey a little bit more.
- Iris is acting as a community manager today. Apparently, they rotate the responsibilities among each other, i.e. if Iris is a CM today, she might do some cooking tomorrow. I actually find it to be quite an interesting approach. This way, you are not stuck with routine work, and also, you can have fun by learning more than you might have at one specific position.
One of the important questions I have right now is – how do they manage to get people from Berlin (or any other big cities) to a place so remote? One of the possible ways, I observed, is to invite teams from different companies, offering them a nice atmosphere for working and team building.
I’m planning to have a conversation with Julianne about how they got the initial money for the space. I’m also curious, if the building is rented or privately owned, and how they run everything here, or how they approach their communities, or what are their best practices. My stay here should help me determine which international experiences I can incorporate into our project, taking into consideration our Economy, Society and Culture.
I’m also planning to conduct a small survey within the customers to find out their side of the story. This will help me understand what are they looking for, what are the services we can offer to our own community and maybe, come up with some common projects and programs.
There are about 15-20 people visiting the space right now. We had a wonderful dinner together, so I managed to get to know some of them. Cool people! Sadly, most of them are leaving tomorrow, so I will not get the chance to ask them questions.
By the way, for the evening meal we had some green bean soup and yogurt with cranberries. Both, the beans and the fruit were from Coconat gardens. Natural and delicious. My gourmand self is simply delighted.
I Woke up at 6:37. Planning to go out and look around the surrounding area before the day starts. Curious about what we will have for breakfast (hehe!) and what the day has prepared for me.
_ _ _
Haven’t had the opportunity to property talk to the management yet – they are quite busy despite the fact that there are not many visitors at the moment. Still, I eavesdropped and I ran after people asking questions, so I managed to gather some more information, including about what was happening during the 4-year period of their journey.
Shortly, the reasons for them changing two locations bore settling for this one included: Problems with wiring system malfunction, unbearable landlords, issues with heritage protection (resulting in disability to change anything around the building), etc. As for the financial part of this whole thing – they correlated some initial money using crowdfunding, but this particular place is a result of a private investment and bank loans.
I came here with huge list of questions I want to ask the hub members. I am mostly interested in people who are freelancing or who are working on their own startups. My main mission is to understand, how to reach so-called digital nomads and creative people around the world. I also arranged some meetings in Berlin. I will have couple of days there, and I want to make it as my advantage – I want to visit couple of hubs and gain more insight to a customers’ perspective.
It was a light day. Julianne was really busy, but we still managed to have a good talk before she left for Berlin. I gathered much more detailed information about their previous attempts, including about their crowdfunding experience. She is very open to our collaboration in future, which is also very good. Unfortunately, we could not finish the conversation – there (still) are many questions that I want to cover, but she promised, we could have a talk once she gets back from Berlin tomorrow.
I was trying to talk to some people visiting, but they are quite busy with their own stuff. I need to be more persistent. Though, I keep listening to their conversations during lunchtime, or supper, and I get a lot of interesting feedback on the subjects that interest me – and even on those, that I never even considered considering.
P.S. I love the fact that people spill all kinds of beans when eating.
One thing that I enjoy here the most is the sense of being one big, noisy family, even though we barely know each other. And this is exactly how I envision my project – I want to make our place to feel like home for everyone.
I managed to get some people talk to me and it was mind blowing. I got so much information and so many new ideas… I really hope, this adventure of mine will become the beginning of something great. What’s most important, I can see that the people I meet here are also working to change the society for the better. It makes me feel that I am part of something much bigger than I could imagine when I started doing what I do now, and my little world is expanding day by day.
During the period when everyone’s working, I also work on my questionnaire. I had to record the talking and now I’m putting everything on paper. Quite a lot of work, but definitely worth it. The information I gathered so far will help me shape the idea into a more structured business plan and if everything goes as planned, it will give us a huge competitive advantage.
Had some more conversations with people. There are more visitors today, than before, but they are staying and working in groups, not even paying attention to me.
Julianne works as a community manager today, until 3. And later, she’s cooking for everyone. She invited me to be a sous-chief and of course, I said yes. That was my evil plan all along – to trick her to have me cooking and then poison everyone, mwahaha!
Damn! Now I really hope nobody’s going to get sick, or somebody will think I did it!
Now, more on the subject – Julianne offered me to make a 30 second pitch about my project. Of course, I would hate to do that, because I hate giving any kind of speeches and I might even faint. But I realize that the feedback I will have will help me improve more, so I will definitely do it.
But! I am dragging people down with me!
As a counteroffer, I managed to persuade Johanna to have a small event, where everyone will have to talk about their own projects for 30 seconds.
We did the pitching and I failed. badly. My timing is not as good as I thought it was, but for the first time it was alright, I guess. I received a very useful feedback on my pitch-line, which is: simplify. I also realized, that to talk in front of a public is not scary at all. Though, remind me these words when I have to pitch to a thousand-person crowd.
I’d say that this experience was not quite what I expected. I thought it would be extremely busy and more technical. Though, I had enough time there to simply enjoy my stay in nature and to observe. The thing is – that’s what Coconat is about. Here, your work is not your obligation, it’s your delight.
To sum up – talking to people helped me define the structure of our project and understand the need vs. demand (of people in creative industries) more. The same people expressed great interest in Georgia, generally and collaboration opportunities with us – which made me really happy, cause the whole idea of our project is to share our culture with the communities beyond our limits.
As for Coconat, we will definitely stay in touch and work on collaboration possibilities.