The best tips on how technology can be used in coliving. Hint: It’s not only about saving energy.
There are several phases that pop into your head while running a coliving. The first one is, “will I fill the space up?” I have a firm opinion on why a true coliving should align its members to a specific tribe; you’ll read about that in two weeks.
Then, you’ll want to start applying these tips to have the space run like a perfect Swiss clock. At one point, you’ll face delegating part of the work to a House Manager.
And one day, you’ll ask yourself, “how the heck do I replicate this?” It’s just part of the game. Once you’re consistently attracting the right guests, got processes in place, and have a team that you trust, it’s only natural to open new venues.
But hold on. Look back and watch your baby. I hope she’s pretty. You took care and love to build the perfect community. How on earth can you make sure that the next space will hold the same quality? How will you measure it? That is, of course, if you care in the first place.
Delegation – Don’t Wait til It’s Too Late
A few years back, I faced this myself when I was forced to delegate the operation of my first Startup Embassy house. I had been taking care of it solo until 2013, when my second child was born. Startup Embassy is in Palo Alto, California, and my wife and son were in Madrid, Spain.
I was naïve because come on, you’ve got nine months to think about how you’ll run your business from 10.000 km away. But the truth is that I was so obsessed with micromanaging things that it wasn’t until one month prior to my child’s birth that I was out of options and time. Someone else had to run my business while I rushed back home.
Believe me, it’s painful. We scheduled a set of daily calls to keep me updated with everything. Before leaving the house, I installed a camera in the kitchen. My thought was: “If the kitchen is tidy, the house is being run properly.” It was a high-level measure of Quality of Service.
Ever since I delegate the day-to-day operations of my spaces.
But there’s one issue, you’re relaying your business to a third party, and it’s all based on trust. And then, the more spaces you open, the more people you need to trust. This is obviously inherent to any business.
I must admit that this has always been my biggest pain point. I wake up every morning and rush to unlock my phone to see if there’s been a fire. It’s so stressful that sometimes I can’t even sleep. Is the kitchen tidy? Are the bins in the bathrooms overflowing? Is the house clean enough? Are my guests having any issues? Do they have complaints? I’m stressed because I do care.
I’ve been anxious about this for so long that I’ve had enough time to create solutions. Being an engineer, I tend to solve problems using technology.
Technology – Optimize Your Coliving Space
My solution is to use IoT and chatbots to measure KPIs from coliving spaces.
The issue with IoT sensors is that people are blinded by one solution: energy saving. Hey, that is all good; I did put a sensor on our main door, and guess what? I discovered the door was opened at freaking 2 am, but the guy didn’t close it! It was all open for six hours until someone left the house at 8 am and closed the door. I’m not only thinking about security and safety– it’s winter, and now the heater is running up the bill.
How would you know that happened if you are not measuring it? How many times did people leave the door open before I put a sensor on the door?
Energy-saving and security are important enough to take IoT seriously. But there’s so much more you can get out of it. To me, it’s the way to stop relying on trust when you delegate your business.
There’s an additional and significant benefit: you can use technology to improve your guest’s experience.
Example Story: Mike, the Entrepreneur
Take Mike, a soon-to-be guest. He’s planned a trip to Silicon Valley and makes a reservation via our website. He passes our filter because Mike’s clearly an entrepreneur. We ask him to download our app so he can have the full experience.
One great thing about our business is that we can literally force our guests to use our platform. Otherwise, they’ll miss the community experience.
So, we got Mike on our platform, and we introduced him to other guests that previously stayed with us and are from Mike’s city. They lived the same experience Mike’s about to live; we call this the Consul’s Network, and they take the role of advisors to our new guests. Mike can ask any Consul any question he might have about his trip.
The chatbot confirms if he has booked a flight. He says yes and gives us the flight number. Now we know at what time he lands and if there’s been any delay. Fifteen minutes after landing, we know that he’s at the immigration lane. Time for the chatbot to remind him of our address. “I can order an Uber,” the chatbot asks. “Sure!”The House Manager gets a notification with Mike’s estimated time of arrival so he can be there to greet him.
Think about this, when Mike arrives, he’s already lived an experience. The Consul has given him advice and has been a point of contact. When the House Manager checks him in, he’s already felt what being part of Startup Embassy means and is welcomed effortlessly into the community. The House Manager introduces the guests to him and walks Mike around the house detailing the house rules.
The chatbot provides a ton of value to guests like Mike. Not only can it prompt reviews of experiences like check-in, but it can also relay important information about the surrounding area, the best feedback for improvement, event details, and how to get involved.
Measurements – Gamify Your Data
Then we have all the sensors (IoT) to measure what’s going on inside our coliving. I could literally talk for hours but let me give a few examples.
Bed sensors will tell us if the bed has been used tonight (I know what you’re thinking! No, we don’t measure that). The system checks with the booking platform to see if that bed has been reserved. An excellent way to know if the House Manager is trustworthy.
Another sensor measures if it starts raining. The moment it does, it alerts the House Manager via the chatbot, and it triggers an Asana template with To-Do things like cover the outside furniture with a tarp or store the BBQ in the garage. This way, the team knows exactly what to do, when to do it, and I can measure if it’s been done. We can take it a step further by having our chatbot ask a guest to please check if the outside furniture is covered.
It only gets better from here; we’re already researching the next level. Our AI agent checks video streams to extract metadata. We can know if the kitchen is tidy or who was the person who left a dirty plate on the coworking desk. Or who was the guest that emptied the dishwasher.
This, of course, shouts Gamification! There’s a vast potential to gamify all this data. The basic idea is to use gamification to guide the guest on being a good community member and rewarding them for it.
Privacy – It’s All About Balance
I know what you’re thinking. Hey, what about privacy? Well, we’re talking about a coliving here. Coliving is about community. Yes, you might have the perfect one, but I’m sure you’re relying on a trustworthy team that’s all good and great, but the moment you’re not there, or you plan on opening more spaces, can you really trust them?
There’s one real fact about coliving, like it or not. Guests exchange part of their privacy for more affordable living, being part of a community, and enjoying large shared spaces. They expect things to run smoothly and share the space with people with common sense (sometimes, as it turns out, they lack that common sense). There are only two places where guests can have total privacy, and that is in the bathroom and their private rooms. Shared rooms, not so much.
But the truth is that people are complex, have different cultures, come from different socio-economic backgrounds, and all this diversity in the same space does bring issues.
Tech – Real-Life Solutions
Think tech as peace of mind. Ninety percent of technology won’t even be seen by guests. And the benefit is to them, things magically work. The magic stems from measuring specific data and using that knowledge to keep things running smoothly.
One option we’re playing with is giving guests access to their own data via a private dashboard. In some regions, it might be mandatory. My take is that if we are transparent about the data we collect and why we collect it, then guests will feel more comfortable.
In the end, it’s about guaranteeing safety and quick, knowledgeable action. When you step in at Startup Embassy for the first time, you are guaranteed to live the right experience because we know what happens inside.
If you don’t behave community-minded, you’re out. If you don’t like it, maybe you’re not the guest we (and our community) are looking for.
To summarize, we can apply two main technologies to a coliving: chatbots and sensors (IoT).
Serve several functions:
- Provide guests with information about their stay, and that information is given the moment they need it.
- Provides a channel to transfer our knowledge base to the guest. We can assume at least two of these messages per day:
- “Hi Mike, good morning! Did you know that the Seven Eleven next door offers free refills for the day if you buy a soda?”.
- “Hey Mike, ten of our members are going to the cinema today, are you in?”.
- “Remember that you can start your own event at Startup Embassy! Here’s how: …”.
Messages are set up on our back end and categorized by importance. If the guest stays with us for two months, there are many opportunities to message them. But if they stay just for a week, then we’ll send information with the most relevance.
- Gives the guest opportunity to be heard with feedback:
- By sending them a direct message (once per day) asking questions that allow us to measure our internal processes.
- “Hey Mike, how was your check-in? Did the House Manager tell you about how to use the space in the fridge?”
- “Did the House Manager introduce the other guests to you?”.
- “Good evening, Mike! Can you please do me a favor? Can you do a quick check and tell me if the BBQ is inside the garage? Thx!”
- By having the opportunity to tell us what’s not up to their expectations:
- “Hey Bot, there’s a bulb that is not working.”
- “There’s a guy in my bedroom that snores too loud!”
- “Look at this picture I took! The bathroom is not clean!”
- …and a more positive message like “Hey Bot, Salman introduced his investor to me, sending Karma points to him!”.
On the other side, sensors give us valuable and hidden information:
- The kitchen this week has been a mess on average.
- There was a bed being used that didn’t have a reservation.
- There’s a lot of noise in the hangout area from 10 pm to 2 am. Good thing: There’s community.
- After 10 pm, if there is noise in the living quarters, a message is sent via the chatbot to the guests “Guys! Please be quiet, people are trying to rest. Please go to the hangout area!”.
I could give examples forever.
Mama Carlos says
In the end, it’s all about having as much information as possible to make decisions. What I envision is a panel with smart KPIs that show all my spaces and how well they compare to each other. “This Startup Embassy in Shanghai has 100 points, but this other one in Berlin has 85 because of X and Y”.
With this information, each space’s director can have a weekly report automatically delivered so that he can have a conversation with his team. What went wrong and can be improved? What did they do that was awesome and unexpected? Your team needs to have candid feedback so they understand what’s expected from them. How will you give them feedback if you don’t have real, objective data?
And then, once per month, you can have a conversation with the director about how things are running. You’ll have real information, and it won’t go like:
-“How are things?”
Moreover, your guests will have the certainty that whichever Startup Embassy they choose to stay in will be a real Startup Embassy. Now you’ll have peace of mind, and you can scale your coliving as you won’t be the bottleneck anymore. You will have the information to know if something is not working and why, so you can act before seeing a complaint on TripAdvisor or Airbnb. Technology and smart data are the ways to scale your coliving.
My question to you is, do you use tech in your coliving? How? I would love to read your comments!
This was an amazing read. I feel inspired to do many of this and more at MyGhar. We are already big on tech, our onboarding process including the Agreement signing is 100% digital. We also force our members to lodge their complaints using the MyGhar app or our online complaint portal otherwise we don’t guarantee that the issue will be resolved on priority. And we also use the app to send them important notifications like upcoming community events. Hoping to use the app to make the community experience even better
Hey Carlos, very good insights. Why don’t you write a book about it? It would be awesome!
Hahaha! Well, I am, my friend 🙂
That’s a very good idea with the chatbot integration. Thanks for the experience sharing.
Carlos I am exploring chatbot for our coliving, more for customer FAQs during our downtime initially. Your experience sharing has given me a wider view on how we can utilize them. Thanks!!
Loved the raw ideas on the use of technology, have expanded on the technology use to make it more scalable in the comment section. Keep them coming 🙂 hashtag#colivinglife
Thanks for posting! I like the idea of forcing people to use 😉 That’s half the job done.
Well, yes! For us it was easy, it was sort of an emotional blackmail technique: If you don’t use our tools you will miss most of the experience, and you are here for that experience are you not? Also, if you want our team to get back to you almost in real-time, email is not going to work; Phone call? Oh, that’s sooo from the 90’s! So if you don’t use the tools we make available to you, don’t expect our service to excel because the tools you are using don’t allow us to give the best service.
We had close to 100% of our guests using our tools. The people who didn’t use them were typically very short-term guests (one day or two) and mostly people that turned out not to fit into our culture.
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