"Coworking is sharing the way you see the world" Interview with Matías Vázquez
Matias Sebastián Vázquez is half Brazilian, half Argentinian, and loves football and his Corinthians. He's married with two children and defines himself as a frustrated media consultant and a connector. He founded MSV Assessoria, Sharing E.C., Coworking na Garagem, Coworking Day Brasil, COLATAM, and is currently in the process of opening a second space in a 10-storey building that will accommodate 1,100 coworkers.
- In one sentence, could you tell us what coworking means to you?
For me, coworking isn't just sharing a physical space, it's also sharing the way you see the world and how you'd like to change it.
- How did Sharing E.C. come about and what is it?
I was with a friend in San Antonio (USA) and we were stuck in the hotel because of a hurricane. I was watching the TV, if I remember correctly, it was Marvin Gaye's biography (you can see just how the whole process had its effect on me). I saw an advert for a coworking space in Houston, which is where we were heading that afternoon. I had never heard about the concept so we decided to visit the space. I fell in love with the idea and when I got back to Brazil I started the ball rolling and opened the space a year later.
I always say that Sharing E.C. is not just a coworking space. I'm in the space every day and I make sure the coworkers and companies get to know each other and do business together. I also try to share my experience with my coworkers in case it's useful for them, and so far I have started three startups and a project called COLATAM.
- What type of profile does Sharing E.C.'s coworker community have? What do potential coworkers look for when they visit the space?
We don't really have a set coworker profile. There are more than 50 different types of companies from car sharing to architects, media consultants, ad technologies, stock traders, digital agencies, tourism companies, etc. This year, we've managed to attract investment funds to work in the coworking space, which makes it easier for startups that come with an idea but no access to resources, similar to the American accelerators.
People that visit Sharing E.C. are mainly looking for what's outlined in our manifesto. We believe that a strong coworking space depends on the coworkers and companies that work there, i.e. we want coworkers to collaborate with one another and for them to refer their clients to other people in the space too. I think that with these simple actions, we can help keep money circulating in the coworking space.
- Sharing E.C. actively helps boost the local community/neighbourhood, can you tell us a little about how you do that?
I am lucky enough to live and work in the same neighbourhood. It takes me 10 minutes to walk to the space in the morning, that's if I don't get stopped on the way to talk about football or nip in a café for a coffee. Being part of the local community makes it easier for me to do things in the neighbourhood.
We have an event called “Coworking na Garagem” where we set up a pop-up coworking space in a car parking area out on the street: we put out tables, a Wi-Fi connection and hire some food trucks. It's a great way to introduce the neighbourhood to coworking and let neighbours have a taster. It's also a great moment for networking and negotiating potential collaborations or doing business together. We also invite market stalls selling local products and crafts. We organise workshops in the afternoon on a range of subjects and we finish off with a party. We ask people to donate something if they want to come to the party, i.e. coats, toys, etc., and then we take everything to the local charity, which hands them out.
You can hear more about this story and others in the interview I did with Tony Bacigalupo recently.
- CWsC recently took place in Barcelona and there was a debate on whether coworking is a movement or if it can be considered an industry in Spain. What is the situation in Brazil and the rest of Latin America?
I think we are currently going through a huge transformation. According to experts, Brazil has been suffering a serious financial crisis for at least two years but the average person has really been feeling the pinch for much longer. People are leaving their offices and migrating to coworking spaces. There's also demand for private offices in coworking spaces.
From 2013 to 2015, there was an increase in the number of coworking spaces that opened. Unfortunately, on the flip side, many are closing because they opened without really understanding how a coworking space works.
Another interesting point is the big coworking spaces, and when I say big, I am referring to size. A few years ago, a coworking space was considered big if it had 100 coworkers. Nowadays, you can see coworking spaces that are "sponsored" by brands like Google, Itaú (Brazil's biggest bank that has a coworking space called CUBO), Plug, Nex and accelerators like Aceleratech or Wayra.
I think Brazil is a step ahead of other Latin American countries, but behind Mexico, which is a lot more developed at the moment. For example, WeWork is already in Mexico City and Startup México is having huge success. I think the American market learnt to look at the Mexican market more affectionately with regard to technology and hasn't stopped investing, which isn't so great for us, since the Chinese market has reduced its investments around here.
- Money is another topic that often comes up at conference debates. Is opening a coworking space lucrative?
It should be. If not, why even think about opening one? In my opinion, it's lucrative if the founder is involved from day one. It's not a good idea to open a space and leave someone else in charge; you can only be sure it's going to grow if you look after it yourself. This is one of the main reasons why many spaces have had to close in Brazil. They opened thinking that coworking was an investment and didn't give them the attention they needed. For example, in Brazil, you can only get a licence to open a restaurant if you prove that the owner works there, that way, they know that the establishment's success depends on the founder's involvement.
- You recently attended GCUC USA in Los Angeles, what are the main differences between coworking in the United States and Brazil?
Firstly, everything works over there (he laughs). Jokes aside, Americans are very number-minded, outcome-minded, and they study everything. It's not like that in Brazil, you start your business with a bit of an idea and a lot of faith.
Another point, and I think it is the most important one, the American public knows how much the service costs, they know it's not cheap and they pay for it, no questions asked. In Brazil, it's a lot more difficult to make people understand about added value and how much things cost, and most generally try to get a discount.
- Sharing E.C. has just announced that it's got an ambitious extension on the way, what's its objective? How do you think scaling up to a bigger building will affect the Sharing E.C.'s current model?
I don't think it will really affect anything as we will keep the current space, increasing the number of desks to 1,100. Our new building has 10 storeys that we will divide into two storeys for coworking, one for meeting rooms, one for events, one will be part rest area, part accelerator/Dragons' Den, and five for private offices. There'll also be a photography and film studio. The building has 50 car parking spaces and there'll also be showers for people that come to the office by bike. We'll also offer electric bikes so that coworkers can go from one space to the other (they're just two blocks apart) and a car share. We've planned to open in December 2016 and we believe that with these numbers, we're going to be one of the largest coworking spaces in Latin America.
"Sharing E.C. vs Myhub Coworking"
- Lastly, where do you see Sharing E.C. in 10 years' time?
Ten years is a long time, and I honestly wouldn't know how to answer that question. Last year, we celebrated 10 years of coworking, and I really couldn't tell you what sort of birthday cake there'll be at its 20th birthday party. What I can assure you is that our collaborative spirit won't stop, we'll still be helping out all the businesses that pass through here. In Brazil, we have this saying “Quem empreende entende”, which basically means someone who has set up their own business understands how things are, and I've put it into practice because I've always had and still receive a lot of help from others. I promised myself that I would do the same, that I'd help whoever needed it. All coworkers in the space take on the same collaborative spirit, and I want that to last for many more years to come.
Valeu e abraços!