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CU Asia 2019: it's a wrap.

Learn and Launch.March 11, 2019
By Elisabetta Crovara

A kaleidoscopic writer and academic researcher, with an interest in urban culture, conscious living and future of work.


We did it, Hubud and 91springboard team, together! The Coworking Unconference Asia – CU Asia 2019, happened in Goa, India on February 20-24. It’s still hard to believe: 200+ participants from 22 countries – traveling from all the corners of the globe: from Kuwait to Japan, Israel, Indonesia, South Arabia, Lebanon, New Zealand and everything in between. We also had 40+ speakers, 5 keynote sessions, 12 panels, 1 fireside chats, 2 workshops, 20 unconference sessions, 1 dinner, 1 (+1!) party all across 6 different venues! And… Bollywood dance session and the Coworking Survey Gameshow (shoutout to Carsten from Deskmag for that!). We worked played hard(er), but, most of all, we learned a lot and we would like to share some of those key takeaways and inspiring quotes with you.

But before getting deep into what happened during the unconference, let’s get a bit emotional: here’s the recap video. Time to be nostalgic, for those of you there, and to get some FOMO if you’ve had missed it.

Spotlight India

The video shows off: we’ve picked a magical location for the 2019 edition. Thank you so much to the 91springboard for hosting us.

We haven’t chosen India only for its kaleidoscope of colors, sounds and culture (and food!). This year’s theme, “growing up,” called for a country with a scaling ecosystem, and India is the epitome for it.

As Varun Chawla put in

“India, is the next big thing.”

During Spotlight India, a day dedicated to the coworking industry of this year’s hosting country, we had buzzing conversations, guided by speakers like Varun Chawla and Anand Vemuri, co-founders of 91springboard, the largest coworking company in India, which, with more than 30 spaces around the country, is on a everlasting growing curve. That’s right, “India,” continues Varun, “is one of the largest economies and largest coworking communities in the world.” Therefore, it has become a forefront protagonist in the new age of working and a good testing ground on how governments are supporting entrepreneurship and the emerging startup scene — all topics, among the many, covered by talks and panels happened during Spotlight India.

On this day, we also had an appetizer of what actually an unconference is: participants write on post-it subjects they’d like to be discussed — then they stick it on a board and pitch in front of the rest of the audience. After that, participants choose the main topics of discussions, divide in smaller groups based on their interests and the panels can start. It is, indeed, the ultimately participatory experience.

Coworking Academy

The second day started off early, with the 2019 edition of the Coworking Academy and its dense inspiring program, targeting coworking operators and covering the A-to-Z of coworking: from how to create a successful coworking space, marketing it, organise events, and to ensure team wellbeing, to create strategic partnership, design the space, and scale it beyond its walls.

The first presentation by the coworking consultant Marc Navarro set both the tone and the thread of the day: it’s all about your members, your community, and your purpose.

As Marc beautifully put in

Do Care. Care about what you do. Care about your members. People can tell the difference.

Marc’s talk gave us a bigger picture on the expanding coworking movement, reminding us the very core of what coworking is: “a shared workspace in which the main manager adds value to the community.” And, continues Marc “a good coworking space is one that helps its members to be successful.”

“Know your members.”

“Ours, at Hubud,” continues Maria, “are risk takers that value being overdoing. They like experiences more than possessions.” What about your members? Do you really know your community? Are you able to make strategic partnerships that bring them value and strengthen your ecosystem?

CU Asia Day 1

The first day of the Unconference started off at the beautiful Clube Tennis Gaspar Diaz, in Panjim, next to Miramar Beach. It’s been a full-on morning: we shook the ground dancing on Bollywood music, guided by the expert 91springboard team, we played the 2019 Global Coworking Survey Game Show, and, the highlight: this year’s keynotes.

From creating a thriving creative city in Estonia to building an hotel-co-living chain in Latin America; from harnessing the power of data to understand community to investigate who hijacked coworking, and, of course, showing the latest data on coworking in Asia, this year’s keynote speakers gifted us with some important takeaways.

The first one comes from Jaanus Juss, founder of Telliskivi Creative City. He told us his story on how he and his team managed to create a creative city in Estonia, with hundreds of yearly events, an ever-growing community of entrepreneurs and companies. He said

These are all questions we tried to answer during Coworking Academy, ready to then dive even deeper into the coworking debate during CU Asia Day 1, keeping a thread that almost all the talks and panels had in common: community.

“Do the right things for long enough and good things will happen.”

And it definitely happened for Telliskivi, also because Jaanus and his team understood that, in his words, “cities are not made of buildings and streets, but of communities.”

People and their connections are at the very core of placemaking and sensemaking. Without them, it’s just mere architecture and design. After all, what’s a space without the stories of its dwellers?

New technologies can also help coworking operators to better understand their community. In his talk on how to harness the power of data, AI, and meaningful communities, the second keynote speaker, Mahdi Shariff founder of Guanxi.AI, took a more pragmatic turn and showed us how the use of data can add commercial value to a community. Indeed, says Mahdi quoting Peter Drucker,

“What gets measured, get managed.”

And what gets managed, can drive value from revenue to exit. Employing data, when done responsibly, is also a way to get to know your community deeper, which takes us back to what Maria was saying about getting to know your members. Data, in Mahdi words, help you to

“Make community yours.”

Speaking of data, the power and value of community are also emphasized in the results of the 2019 Global Asian Coworking Survey, created by Deskmag and presented by Carsten Foertsch in form of Game Show “Who wants to be a Coworkaire?” — following the format of “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”

The survey covered diverse topics, from financial questions to operational and more socio-cultural oriented ones. For example, when asked what’s the most important reason for members to keep working from their coworking space, they answered “interaction with others.” And, the most mentioned motivation to run a coworking space in Asia turned out “to be connected with other people (70%) and to improve the work life of other people (63%).

People make the space. There’s no doubt about it. Also, Lachlan Sloan, keynote speaker and former co-founder of BizDojo and now of CoLo life, told us the story of when, for the first time, he entered BizDojo space: “the moment I got in, I realised it was not about the space, but it was all about the connection among the people. His talk at CU Asia 2019 had a precise call to action to all the coworking movement: 

“We need to take back coworking and protect our community”

from the people/companies who have hijacked it. Lachlan raised a crucial question, which definitely inspired the unconference sessions happened on CU Asia day 2: “how can we make sure that what we love is not going to be taken from us and transformed into something bad that we don’t want?”

CU Asia day 2: The Unconference

The day that everyone usually waits for: the unconference! Participants pitch their ideas and then panels are then organized around topics, challenges, and burning questions. One above all, this year, started off a thread of panels that participants used to create a “model of community evolution and experience in coworking.” The question, asked by Michael Craig founder of Dojo Bali and CEO of Hubud Dojo, who then facilitated the panels, was

“WTF is community?”

Fair question, Michael. Indeed, if the community is at the core of the coworking business, from design, management, financial, social etc. point of view, seems compulsory to go as deep as we can to understand what community is, how does it work, how does it evolve. Michael pointed out that coworking communities have the resemblance to “cults,” tribes with rituals and symbols, permeated by magnetic energy able to change the vibe of a space and to attract and, at times, to reject, people.

At the end of the unconference, participants shared their findings and discussions to the rest of the crowd, presented proper mind maps and ‘models’ and raised important questions for the future, instead of giving definite answers. Because coworking is not static. Coworking is not a noun: it’s a verb, as Alex Hillmann founder of IndyHall once reminded us. Coworking is something that “you do.” It’s ongoing and it’s evolving.

And that’s why CU Asia keeps on growing and expanding

C U next year! In Bali!


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