Co-working is meant to be collaborative but for some founders the right space has led to life changing business relationships.
Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga, 42, got to know his co-founders in a small shared space in Cremorne almost 10 years ago.
The business they went on to create is now forecasting $100 million in revenue by 2020, and Elzinga says the relationship is a direct result of co-working.
Elzinga had moved to Melbourne from Adelaide in 2009 and was working on his idea – an employee engagement and culture tech startup – when he was invited to a dinner for local founders and entrepreneurs.
It was this dinner where he would meet his future co-founders Jon Williams and Doug English. On discovering Elzinga was working from home , the pair encouraged him to take a desk at a shared space they used, one of the first in Australia, on the edge of Melbourne’s CBD.
The office had a strong community and entrepreneurial network and Elzinga joined, working side-by-side with the Williams and English.
He says he witnessed their abilities, struggles and persistence first-hand, and also became friends.
“I came and sat next to them for six months and one day we looked at each other and I was like ‘we really should join forces’,” says Elzinga.
“I needed some people and I had been trying to find people that could come and help so they came in and the rest is history.”
Finding a suitable co-founder is a common battle for startups, according to Elzinga, who encourages founders to network through co-working.
“People ask ‘how do you find co-founders?’ and I say I have no idea,” he says.
“We sat next to each other and got to a point where we said we would do this together and it would never have been possible in any other environment.”
Culture Amp’s team grew quickly to 35 people using co-working desks before they moved out into a private office.
“The reason that we did was because we realised we were over a third of the people on the floor,” Elzinga says.
“Co-working spaces work well when you have got a good mix and no one group dominates.”
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The company now has four global offices, located in Melbourne, London, New York and San Francisco.
They handle people and culture for over 1500 companies including; McDonalds, Airbnb, Etsy and Oracle, and operate in nearly every country including Antarctica.
Splitting his time between Australia and the US, Elzinga says getting bigger doesn’t necessarily mean things get easier for founders, and a startup is not a career choice for people not willing to hustle.
“You have a chance for a whole bunch of nice stuff but just be clear you don’t get it without pain,” Elzinga says.
“So much of the story told in public is just the nice bits that everyone wants to talk about, but the startup world isn’t just that.
“It’s important to realise when you start a company, particularly a tech startup, chances are you will fail.
“Most of us do, so it has to be something that you care about.”
He also recommends $1 million in revenue as a key benchmark, especially in the tech industry, as it shows “you’ve got something people either need or want”.
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