Maximize Your Community With a Coliver/Asset Strategy
I hope that at this stage, there is a consensus that a healthy community is the cornerstone of your coliving. Either because you genuinely believe it or because it has already become common knowledge, and you’d look stupid by denying it.
If you are the second type, your lack of understanding might come from spending most of your career with traditional Real Estate, where most consider a building in terms of revenue per square foot. Thus, thinking about a community as a lucrative property “asset” seems like a worthless, abstract idea.
Hopefully, you are open-minded and willing to educate yourself. I’ll be writing a lot about managing and nurturing communities, and perhaps I’ll convince you that there’s no coliving if there’s no community.
If you’re of the first type, glad you’re on board.
Even if you are sold on the value of a real community, there’s still a considerable knowledge gap with how to build, nurture, and manage one. It’s understandable when you take into account how much goes into a healthy community.
In my case, running Startup Embassy, I guess it came naturally. But the fact that I was good at building my community doesn’t necessarily mean that I could abstract my knowledge and apply it to any type of community. Even so, I’ll attempt to do that here on Coliving From the Trenches.
What you must understand is that a single community member, a coliver in our case, is an asset. As such, you identify it, you classify it, and you use it to build that community.
Our single Coliver becomes an asset even before they physically step inside our property—you must filter them, that is, make sure that they’re part of your tribe. Then, before they join the coliving, you will set expectations and make your knowledge base available (at least the most important values and rules).
Once they arrive, your team will transform them into a content and event creator while guaranteeing that they’re a positive addition to your community’s quality. When they leave your coliving space, they continue to be an asset, just utilized in a different way.
Based on this, at Startup Embassy, we classified our ambassadors in 7 unique stages (from 0 to 6).
Stage 0 – Discover
Our Coliver is just a lead at this stage. They might never be accepted into our community, but we still must know how they discovered us. Many avenues are helpful, but these are my priorities:
- Is it a referral? From whom?
- Did they find us via Google?
- Which search terms did they use?
- Are they the result of any marketing strategies? Which one?
The critical part here is that before they apply to stay at our coliving, we must make sure that we set clear expectations for them. When they fill out the application form, they must have aligned information to better ensure a correct fit for both coliver and coliving.
This means that whatever inspired them to apply had to give them a clear picture of what Startup Embassy (or your coliving) is about.
Our marketing strategies must bring a clear idea about what it means to be part of our community across all content channels:
- Instagram stories
- Blog posts
- Clubhouse sessions
- Content from our members
Our Website must set the expectations clearly, have a FAQ section where you not only state what you are, and most importantly, define what you are NOT.
My Coliving in Action:
When we first tried Facebook ads, it was simple. We set our target audience, basically entrepreneurs around the globe. I wasn’t sure which countries would work best, even though I had the feeling some countries in South America and definitely the African continent would not work well. The culture we focus on is too steeped in European/American rules, although we’d like to change that.
But I just wanted to have objective metrics to support my gut feeling, so I targeted all countries. The ad would directly send the potential Coliver to our application form. I measured success of the ad campaign as “submitted form.”
I was excited to see that the next day we had increased our application inquiries by tenfold! But after further examination, I found out that most of the entrepreneurs applying wouldn’t answer our follow-up email.
The reason was simple. They didn’t know anything about Startup Embassy; that ad on their Facebook feed was a first, and they assumed that we were a startup accelerator, willing to invest in their startup and bring them to our space for free! Some even thought that we were paying for the plane ticket. Go figure.
My next step was simple. How would I expect to get the right type of lead if they knew nothing about us? My solution was to send the lead not directly to our application form but to a FAQ section, where we would make sure that they got the most impactful information before applying. The end result? A significant drop in inquiries, but the ones we got, were good leads.
Stage 1 – Filter
Here’s where we make sure that our potential Coliver is the right fit. Ideally, and if we’ve done a good job conveying our community values, our lead will apply to join our coliving. There are several ways to do so:
- A form in your webpage: For us, this was the most ideal, as it meant that the lead found our website and hopefully did some research reading our FAQ before making a decision. You might want to conduct video interviews. We did this with the cases where we weren’t clear about their fit.
- OTAs like AirBnB: I must confess that I hate them, but 30% of our inquiries came via AirBnB, so that we couldn’t neglect it.
The biggest problem is that everything and anything comes from them. It’s tough to communicate your values in an Airbnb profile, and no matter how hard you try, people don’t give a damn, and most of them won’t even read your listing’s description.
In our case, the title would read “ENTREPRENEURS ONLY!” in capital letters, and then the first phrase in the description was: “don’t apply if you are not the founder of a startup, we will reject you.” Even so, we had to reject around 80% of the inquiries because they clearly were not entrepreneurs.
Is it worth it? Well, it depends. Consider how much bandwidth you are using to take care of this. If you have your booking inquiries outsourced, fine. If it’s your house manager doing all the work, it might be too much. Also, consider that typically inquiries via OTAs are for short stays in nature that might fit your business model or not.
- Other channels like Twitter, Instagram, direct email, or even knocking on the door.
- Some people like to mess up your carefully designed and perfectly built processes and have the tendency to put themselves in a stage that has not been defined.
In those cases, simply point them in the right direction, that is, the form on your website and starting point of your booking process. There might be extreme situations like someone knocking on your door at 11 pm. In those extreme cases, the guest is first! You’ll make sure they’re the right fit next morning…
Whatever channel brings your lead in, make sure you have a carefully designed process that helps you find worthwhile candidates. The form questions must derive from your community’s core values. Open questions work best and provide a second set of questions (perhaps via email) that further clarify the candidate’s application process.
This stage is essential to guarantee a good community fit. If you do it right, 80% of the work to run a healthy community is already done. Do it wrong, and you might have just injected a cancer into your coliving!
Stage 2 – Inform
As soon as your guest has been accepted, they’re already part of your community, even if they haven’t set foot on your property. This is the best time to ensure you set the right expectations.
All your content materials must be designed to take this into account. The guest should already have a strong perception of your values, but it’s at this stage that you can further cement them in their minds.
You should have a Code of Conduct. Send it to them, and explain that you need it signed before check-in. This gives your team proper footing should disputes come up—they signed before entering that they understood what is unacceptable in your space.
Another document that must be included is the Length of Stay document. That is, of course, if you have considered limiting the stay of your colivers, which I recommend.
In essence, this stage is when you share your knowledge base with the new coliver. Some facts I include in the info packet are below:
- The story of your coliving
- Your community values
- Your rules
- What you expect from the new member
- What the member should expect from your community
- Anything they should know before checking in, like info on transportation, address, hours of operation, who to contact, what tools to use, etc.
Can you connect them with anyone in the community that is from their city? At Startup Embassy, we have Consuls, community members that help leads transition to a coliving space. You can find a consul in your city who has lived the experience and to answer any questions a new coliver might ask. You can even arrange a meet for coffee to assist the new coliver without overloading them with documents. Sometimes, people need a more casual setting to ask questions.
It’s important to use this stage to have your soon-to-be-guest feel special and part of a family.
Technology can play an important role here. Ideally, they install your app where all the documents and information are accessible via mobile phone.
Just landed in San Francisco? Thirty minutes later, they should be about to get through immigration. Have your chatbot greet them and give the address. Do they need an Uber? Notify your house manager that the guest is arriving in 15 min when they’re leaving the highway and then when they’re near Palo Alto…
The moment they step inside your coliving, they feel like they belong and are cared for. “Coming home” is the feeling your coliving should impart during this entire stage.
Stage 3 – Welcome
This stage is when our guest first arrives at our coliving. The House Manager must be there! Sometimes this is not possible, but your processes must be designed so that it cuts down absent welcoming committees to a minimum— and measure it if it does! This must be one of your KPIs.
The House Manager (HM) is the connection between the new guest and the rest of the community. They are the ever-important first impression for your coliving’s team.
The moment the guest steps in, the check-in process starts. What happens if the guest arrives and the HM is not there? All your hard work will fall flat, so designate an emergency “second manager” just in case.
Generally, the HM has the following tasks:
- shows the space
- introduces the colivers when possible
- explains the rules and what is expected from the guest
- makes sure that the financials and documents (Code of Conduct and rules) are in order and signed
- communicates any soon-to-be-held events
We have implemented a ritual to have the House Manager show the room and make the bed with the guest. This way, we achieve two things. First, it is an excellent way to show that we expect the guest to take care of their personal space (We won’t do everything for you, but we help.), and it’s a nice way to have an initial conversation about who the guest is and why they chose your location. In our case, having only startup founders, we listen to their pitches. Our HM must know what everyone is working on and should act as a mentor.
Stage 4 – Acclimate
This stage takes place while the Coliver actively lives in your space, so it overlaps with Stage 5.
We must make sure that each process and tool reinforces our guidelines with our guests. Slipping into the coliving lifestyle should be effortless. I call it a “knowledge base,” but this means the summation of our rules, processes, and community values.
This must be another critical KPI to help optimize your space’s success. You can even gamify this to guarantee that the Coliver not only has clear direction but is also introduced to these concepts in a fun way.
Depending on the length of a guest’s stay, you should have enough time to transfer most of your knowledge, or you might not. This is the reason why knowledge base topics should be classified based on the importance so that specific topics are guaranteed to be transferred even for short stays.
In my experience, one of the best ways to transfer the knowledge base is by using a chatbot; I’ll talk about that in another post.
Stage 5 – Utilize
If there’s one idea I want you to keep from reading this post, it’s this: A single member of your community is an asset. As a coliving, your guests are your most important feature. Use your processes to measure what works for your community, and then put these learnable moments into action.
From the first moment the Coliver applied to be a member of your community, they’re in an ever-constant maturation process. They can evolve from a shy, inactive amoeba to a full-fledged proactive member. Assuming that they’re a well-balanced individual (I’ve written about how these members can initiate unhealthy situations that can harm a healthy community), you won’t have a better asset to leverage.
How can my guests improve my coliving? Here are two ways:
- Content: Who else is better suited to communicate what’s happening inside of your community? They should write posts, do podcasts, interviews, tweet, host Lunchclub events, post Instagram stories—anything that is content! How to do this is a different matter and out of this article’s scope, but make sure you set consistent processes that help and encourage these super-colivers generate quality content. I’ll write a post on gamification for coliving with ideas on gamification and how to encourage members to generate content by rewarding them.
- Events: I can’t stress this enough: events are difficult, costly, and take a lot of bandwidth from your team. It’s challenging to be consistent and guarantee a steady flow of events happening, not to mention ensuring quality.
Remember that a Coliver is an asset. Have the right tools and transfer of knowledge to allow colivers to self-organize events. Again, measure it in your KPIs and reward them!
Stage 6 – Include
At some point in time, our Coliver will leave our space, but they’re still part of our community! I’ve seen so many examples of operators, once the coliver leaves, forgetting about their members.
You can continue to gather value from them in many ways, and you should also make sure that you implement the right actions to make them still feel part of the family.
- Actions to keep the Coliver in the community:
- Send pictures: If you get to know me, you’ll soon discover that one of my secret superpowers is emotional triggering. Every now and then, I send pictures of my ambassadors while they were staying at Startup Embassy. The last one I sent it to told me: “I felt goosebumps when I saw that picture! I miss Startup Embassy so much!”
- Newsletters: We are all sick of them because most don’t bring value and are a way of self-promotion. But if you target the right community and you show them what they are missing, those newsletters will be perceived differently.
- Tools to notify when they’re in a new city: Imagine one feature of your tech platform allows you to inform your community member that more colivers are visiting their city. This extends your community reach through the future.
- Congratulate when you see news: In our case, we can track our members’ successes following the news on platforms like LinkedIn and Crunchbase. A success for us is raising capital, having an exit (being acquired by a larger company), or any other milestone for their company. This can, of course, be automated.
- Mention them on content: Make your members be part of the stories of your content!
- Value you can get from them:
- Referrals: If you choose your members wisely, guess who is going to be your best advocate? A class-A member will have high chances of referring a class-A lead.
- Potential Consuls: The best community members will be able to mentor new guests. Like I mentioned before, we call these members Consuls, and we have around 100 in thirty-seven countries. I can give you my favorite example:
We got an inquiry from a Pakistani entrepreneur, Salman, who clearly was a fit for our community. The guy was selling his old car to be able to afford his trip to Silicon Valley. Salman was a hustler, no doubt about that. But at some stage, he was asking many questions that we couldn’t answer because they were too related to his country.
I was excited for Salman to joining us. Some people you know in advance are special, and you want them in your community.
We introduced him to Hammad, our dear consul in Pakistan. Hammad met with Salman several times for coffee and helped Salman by answering the questions our team couldn’t earlier.
In this particular case, I remember a situation where the House Manager wasn’t available on Salman’s arrival, something that should never happen. Thankfully, Hammad answered all the emails Salman sent to us from the airport once he arrived in San Francisco. Hammad was in Pakistan, but he felt the need to help Salman. How awesome is that?
If you take the time to build a community around people of good character with a common goal, the network self-regulates, leaving you with more time to focus on the business.
- Events organizing: As I mentioned earlier, events are a time and resource commitment that some coliving spaces just don’t have. However, they make significant instances for a coliver to take charge. When a community member organizes an event, it gives them agency in the space and reinforces a community-led atmosphere. (It’s also an easier lift for your staff.)
- Event attending: Parties are better with more people, right? This can be a great way to keep these coliving events vibrant by involving your entire network. Imagine colivers at all stages interacting and sharing stories in your space; all brought together by their drive and your connections.
- Be a franchisee: Some guests might be inspired enough to take up the torch with you. In these cases, who better to enter into business with? These are folks whom you measured out as people with passion, intelligence, and ambition—the perfect candidates for new location managers.
Mama Carlos says:
Your colivers are (potentially) giving up everything to pursue a dream at your location. You must take care to not only protect this spark but nurture it every step of the way.
I’m sharing this 7 Stage process with you because I believe it accomplishes several challenging aspects of community building well. It optimizes a coliver’s journey from start to long after they’ve left, it increases their value to your business by providing resources, and it ensures they feel valued and protected—a priceless gift for your advocates.
Each stage was designed to reinforce the others, and every step supports several others. Take this journey, use it in your own space, and you’ll find that 80% of your community has already been built.