Good Bye Kodesk!

In January 2011, Kodesk won the very first startup weekend in Brussels and it was the kick in the butt I needed to become a “real entrepreneur”. Later I was joined by Frederic and we founded the company and launched the first version in May 2011. We started from a coworking space with a coworking culture at heart, and we were convinced the only thing coworking missed to become mainstream and expand beyond the walls of dedicated spaces and into companies was to make it easier to manage. Little did we know that the problem was way bigger than that and was rooted in the management culture of most corporations. Kodesk solved a big problem for office space consumers, but for its peer-to-peer foundation to work, it needed to solve a problem for office providers too… and it didn’t. Even worse than that, it created new problems linked to security and confidentiality, and that was the case whatever the type and size of companies we talked to. After some time, we lost motivation to keep pivoting as Kodesk was not the best way we could think of to realize our vision anymore: connect people in order to participate in creating one giant brain made of human neurons. And we hesitated for a long time before shutting down. But when we saw that another company with a very similar business model, but having raised 9+ million dollars failed in the US, the sign was just too big to ignore.-

For all those reasons, starting Monday, November 19th, Kodesk’s website won’t be available anymore. It should not affect you in any way since it appears that nobody was booking any office desk slot anymore. But we just wanted to use this opportunity to thank our 571 users and 123 space managers throughout the world for their registration, support and feedback. As far as I am concerned, I have already moved (some would say the “P” word) to other projects like PeerTrust and others I can’t talk about yet. And Frederic moved to other horizons and other missions as well. That’s how entrepreneurship goes. Kodesk was an important chapter in both our lives, and a very enjoyable one, but it’s more than time to move on.

Thank you and farewell.

Sebastien Arbogast, on behalf of the Kodesk Team

…signing out

The Three Pillars of Collaborative Consumption

Ever since I discovered AirBnB, I have been fascinated by collaborative consumption and the potential it has to radically transform our economy and the very fabric of our society. I love the way Rachel Botsman characterizes it:

Reputation over credit.

Community over advertising.

Shared access over individual ownership.

What is even more interesting now, with the advent of collaborative consumption successes like AirBnB, Getaround, TaskRabbit and others, is that we are starting to see trends in terms of the generic problems they all face.

1- Trust and safety

It’s funny to notice how all those services have each implemented their own trust and safety mechanisms. In every case, it is based on the same basic principles:

  1. A rich user profile with real-world identifying information (rich identification)
  2. A strong integration of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others (peer-to-peer validation)
  3. A bilateral rating-and-review mechanism (reciprocal reputation)

Indeed, all collaborative consumption services are built to facilitate real-world interactions thanks to web and mobile technologies. In other words, they all have in common to ease transactions that start online and end offline. For this kind of transactions, the legendary anonymity of the web is not adapted at all: when everything happens online, you don’t care if people hide behind avatars and nicknames. But it’s not the same here. So we need a way to bridge the gap between the online and offline identities of our users.

Then, of course, once you have this information, you need a way to cross-check it, to validate it. And if traditional centralized approaches like certification authorities work for things like ecommerce, they are simply not scalable when it comes to validating millions of individual identities. Hence the integration of social networks but it’s certainly not spoof-proof.

Last but not least, reputation is clearly becoming a key asset in these services. The problem is that before you can get a reputation, you need to use the service at least once, so you need other users to trust you beforehand. And even once you have used the service, the other user you interacted with needs to be incentivized to leave a comment about you. This makes it even more absurd to have such a fragmented reputation landscape in which the same person can have multiple reputation profiles in different services.

Obviously there is a big opportunity here: collaborative consumption needs a generic transversal identification, validation and reputation mechanism, something like an electronic passport that can easily be integrated into third-party services, that is peer-to-peer to remain scalable, and creates one reputation for each user. At first, I thought it could be a startup and a business could be created out of this. But then I realized that it might be even better to make it a joint venture between collaborative consumption companies. An open standard that would be free to use and integrate, that would be developed and funded by major actors in this field. For me, it’s the number one condition for collaborative consumption to become mainstream.

2- Payment and taxes

eCommerce and traditional online businesses are still based on an old centralized model in which providers centralize goods and skills and sell them to businesses or consumers: those models are well-known B2B and B2C. And beyond the fact that those transactions happen online, they are still very similar to the way traditional commerce works. As such, they are also perfectly fine with the way payments and taxes are designed, that is in a very centralized fashion.

But with collaborative consumption, services merely act as brokers or facilitators in what are really consumer-to-consumer (C2C) transactions. In such a decentralized peer-to-peer model, we are all forced to struggle with a huge impedance mismatch between the way payments and taxes are designed and how our services work.

Take payments for example. Most collaborative consumption services are based on a transactional commission-based business model. Only a small part of the money that comes in stays with us, and the rest goes out. So every payment processing fee can have a very big impact on our business models. But most of the time, those fees are justified by the fact that payment processing is a very complex business. It involves a lot of actors, including very risk-averse ones who have to fight against fraud everyday. So how do we make this system lighter? How can we simplify it?

And of course it is the same for taxes. I am a company, I provide a service to a consumer who buys the right to use a room, a car or a desk to me. Then I have to pay taxes on my benefits, which is the difference between how much I sell and how much it cost me. But what it cost me, I pay it back to another consumer, not to a business. So what do I pay taxes on? There’s got to be a better way.

For me, it’s all a currency problem. I’m convinced that the currencies we are using today (dollar, euro, etc.) are defective by design for society in general, and even more in the context of collaborative consumption. And I’m convinced that collaborative consumption is the ideal loam for a brand new currency, designed from the ground up for it, and that will allow us to bypass centralized banking systems as well as archaic taxation mechanisms.

3 – Regulation and liability

Most laws are designed around the idea that the best way to control a collective effort, to prevent it from going nuts, is to create a central authority to apply laws and sanction those who don’t respect them. Take food as an example. At TechCrunchDisrupt, one of the Battlefield contestants was Grow The Planet, which I found very interesting as a concept. But they seemed to be struggling with their business model because it’s illegal for people to sell the vegetables they produce, unless they have a legal allowance of some sort, meaning that they are controlled by an official authority every once in a while. In a centralized economy where government is the only gatekeeper, this makes a lot of sense. But what about it in a decentralized peer-to-peer economy when your online reputation becomes much more reliable than any corruptible government organization?

And then of course, this issue is very related to the way most insurance contracts work. They are all based on a centralized liability mechanism: in which the provider pays to alleviate the risk of something going wrong in the transaction. And then of course, the cost of this insurance is propagated to customers. But does this mechanism still make sense when the service provider is merely a broker and the real provider is a consumer? It is simply not possible to ask end-users to pay for their own insurance, at least not in a one-shot premium like it is done today.

I think the regulation problem can also be solved by an alternate currency: most laws prevent you to sell (provide a service or give a good in exchange for money). But is it selling if I’m giving it away in exchange for Monopoly bills (at least in the eyes of the law)? Until legislation adapts itself to this new form of exchange (which will take a long time of course), I think that will do. As for liability, it’s simple: we need a new breed of insurance companies, we need a new form of insurance contracts capable of covering peer-to-peer transactions.

Conclusion

I really love collaborative consumption. I’m convinced it will drive us out of this financial and economical disaster we are still in and create a brand new economy based on real exchanges between human beings. Finally, it’s not social OR profitable anymore. Finally we can make a business based on sharing.

But we are still at the very beginning of this revolution and while some people think the best way to move it forward is to protest and occupy Wall Street, I personally think we should instead start creating a new system that will naturally take over when the current one eventually collapses. And we should definitely stop thinking it is out of our hands, that nothing can be done about it, or even worse, expect our politicians to create this new system for us.

Collaborative consumption will become mainstream when we implement the framework it needs to strive:

  • a decentralized, peer-to-peer and unique identification, validation and reputation system
  • a decentralized, negative interest rate and international currency
  • a new kind of liability and insurance contract

What makes these times particularly exciting for our generation is that we are back in charge. The internet is providing us with all the tools we need to create our own system for generations to come. Let’s use them wisely and efficiently.

Simple and easy

Because simple and easy matter to us, we made few changes on kodesk.com.

Today, you will find :

  • a new landing page including a video explaining our business
  • a lighter FAQ more straight to the point
  • a new pricing model based on the feedback we received
  • a 1-step process to signup, list a space and publish office space availabilities
  • a separated search page to look for a space
  • a new message : we are now focusing on people willing to share an office and people looking for one. We removed the swapper profile for the moment to make our services as simple as possible and ready to use. We narrowed also our message towards Startups and Entrepreneurs who seem to be our early adopters.

Of course we are very proud of our work…

Of course we may think our platform is one of a kind and the best….

But what is the most important for us is what you think and need…

So feel free to give us a feedback on http://feedback.kodesk.com.

Big Thanks

The last few weeks have been very interesting. Basically after releasing the first version of Kodesk and getting a lot of visibility around it, we decided to step back a little and try to understand our customers better. Instead of just throwing features in, we chose to get out of the building and interview both business owners and freelancers. And boy it was good! So much feedback, so much learning, so many assumptions verified, so many mistakes that we would have made if we hadn’t done that exercise! So now that the first phase of this process is over, I wanted to thank publicly all the people who have helped us:

Big thanks to all of them because their feedback has been invaluable and we can’t wait to let you play with the new version of Kodesk.

The Importance of Business Networking for Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur striving to become a legitimate business owner it’s important to understand that without proper business networking you may fall short when it comes to your competition, letting them get the upper-hand, and the better clients you tried so hard to get.

There are plenty of easier ways to do proper business networking now that websites like FacebookMyspaceTwitter, and others like it are available.

Whether you’re trying to promote that new t-shirt line, a new website, or perhaps your everyday consumer product it doesn’t really matter: as with proper business networking, it will help your business grow.

There are many ways in which using proper business networking will help benefit you such as finding more clients, understanding your clients needs, and one of the most important things being that you’ll have a closer relationship with your clients.

Expanding Your Client Base

One of the most important reasons that business networking is essential is that as an entrepreneur you’ll help expand your client-base right from the get-go.

While others are still struggling to promote their business, you’ll already be building up your client-base and slowly stepping ahead of your competitors without them even knowing.

Then you can help promote your product and/or service with much more ease as you’ll have more money to spare.

Understanding Client Needs

Another important benefit to business networking is that you’ll really start to understand your clients needs.

Since you’ll be talking to them directly you’ll be able to interact with them more as a whole and to help provide them a better product and/or service without worrying about them being frustrated that the product didn’t quite turn out how they expected it would.

A happy client after-all is a client that will stick around for the long-term rather than the short-term.

If they end up being really happy clients you might get an added benefit of them telling the people they know that may be interested in the same type of product and/or service and ultimately make your business stronger and more financially stable.

Creating Client Bonds

One of the most important factors as to why business networking is essential is it will help you to grow a much closer bond to your clients and thus end up treating them more as a person, rather than someone you work with.

A closer relationship is essential to knowing and understanding how your client feels. It can perhaps make negotiations for future contracts much more of an ease as you’ll have a feel for your client whereas before – you really didn’t.

In Conclusion

In the end, these are just some of the many reasons why business networking is important for anentrepreneur and why any current or future entrepreneurial business owner should adapt business networking to the constructs of their business framework.

So when it comes to your business and your entrepreneurial spirit, don’t let it falter by not getting in the groove with the world.

Take time to network!

Make sure to implement proper business networking into how you run your ventures and you’ll be amazed at the results.

The ultimate benefit to business networking for an entrepreneur is greater success for self – as well as for clients. It’s a win/win for all involved.

 

NB: In this period of summer vacation, while we are on the road, it’s always interesting to see what others to say about what drives us: making business networking easier. This article is another gem we found on GhostBloggers.

5 Tips for the Introverted Networker

Networking is hard, if not brutally painful, for a wallflower. But if you want to get new clients you have to network—there’s no way around it. This doesn’t mean you have to be the life of the party, you just have to be interactive.

Suppose you decide that joining a particular group would be perfect for your business. They do the same types of things you do, they believe the same things you believe, they complement your business in many ways. You see that they’re having an event and decide to go. But once you get there, you see people mingling, conversing, and laughing, and everyone seems to know each another. You freeze, then turn around, and head out the door for home.

 

There’s no reason to let a great opportunity pass you by. Instead, try these 5 tips:

  • Arrive early. If you get to the event early and are one of the first attendees, you won’t feel so intimidated. Gone is the room full of people who are engaged in conversations with others, seemingly blocking you out. When you are one of the first people there, you can strike up a conversation with one of the other early birds. Tell them that you’re new, and they may be inclined to introduce you to others so you won’t have to break the ice.
  • Help out the organizer. Find out who is in charge beforehand, then seek him or her out and introduce yourself. Ask if there is anything you can do to help, but don’t be surprised if they put you to work. Volunteers are often needed yet few in number. You’ll meet other people who are volunteering, and they’ll remember you for offering to help. Again, you can tell the host or hostess and volunteers that you’re new, and they’ll embrace you for being willing to help and introduce you around.
  • Look for other wallflowers. There is absolutely no way that you’re the only introvert in the room. Find other people who are standing alone or who look uncomfortable. Introduce yourself and ask if they’re new to the group as well. They may be waiting for someone else, but you can chat to help pass time, and when his or her friends arrive, you’ll get an introduction. If the person is a newbie just like you, that’s a commonality and it gives you someone to hang out with.
  • Be curious. One way to be part of a conversation without having to say much is to ask people about themselves. When you ask questions and are genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, you will be remembered as a good listener. As time passes, you’ll become more comfortable so if you are asked a question in return, you shouldn’t be so nervous when answering.
  • Take a friend. You don’t have to go to the event alone if you can talk someone into going with you. This is especially helpful if your friend isn’t shy and is willing to meet people and introduce you. Just make sure that you don’t spend the whole evening talking to your friend as this defeats the purpose of networking.

Even if you are brave and introduce yourself to someone, you may get the brush off. There is nothing worse than being rejected, but don’t be apologetic about it. Maybe that person is having an off day, doesn’t feel like talking, or is the type of person you wouldn’t want to know anyway. It doesn’t matter why he or she was rude; what matters is how you react. All you have to do is walk away and find someone else to approach. Remind yourself why you’re there, and if you find more people like this, you’ll know this isn’t the group for you.

Some of the best networkers are introverts, and you’d be surprised how many people don’t have a natural ability to engage with people they’ve never met before. They understand that networking is necessary, and even connecting with just one person, if he or she is the right person, can do wonders for the business.

NB: we didn’t write this article ourselves. We purchased it on GhostBloggers.net. Another way to put it is that we bought some very good and exclusive content to publish it where it is relevant. And GhostBloggers is an awesome platform for that.

Story of a Lean Startup Presentation Video

After our first release, besides feature requests, one of the remarks we heard the most was that there is too much text on the home page, which makes it hard to understand what Kodesk is really about, or worse, makes it look like what it is not. Now we sure have a lot to do in terms of web design to make the message clearer, more visual and better structured. But we thought something else could help a lot with getting our message through: an explanatory video.

So we started looking around, asking a few video agencies how much it would cost to produce an AirBNB-like video of a few minutes. And clearly we had underestimated the budget: somewhere along the lines of a few thousands to a few tens of thousands of euros. Clearly out of budget scope for a bootstrapping startup like us. So we thought, since we want to be a lean startup, it’s time to get creative and do some lean marketing.

First things first, let’s throw in a scenario. Let’s tell a story, actually 2 stories and how they mix thanks to the beauty of Kodesk. A simple text editor and I got this.

Next, let’s add some graphics. Meaningful, consistent and expressive graphics… at no cost. Hmmm… The Noun Project of course. And a little bit of Keynote to organize it all and get this.

In parallel to that, I wanted a nice, clear and joyful voice-over to actually tell our little story. A very talented entrepreneur friend of mine had done his own video for Ghostbloggers and I liked the voice on his video a lot. He pointed me to the incredible Fiverr, where I found this wonderful lady with this amazing voice. I bought 3 gigs from her, sent her my script and after two days, I got this.

Now, how about some animation. Keynote itself is too poor for what I want to do. What better tool to tell a story than the infamous Prezi. First I took a subscription because I wanted my Prezi to be private until it was complete. It was the first time I used Prezi, so there was some learning curve involved, but it was worth it since I got this:

Then I wanted to turn this Prezi into a video so I needed a screencast recording tool. Actually I already had one that I have been using for years because it is very powerful and yet pretty simple to use: let’s go for iShowU HD. I know I could have used one of the free tools that do almost the same, but I already had a licence for this one, so why bother.

To do the actual recording I needed to play the Prezi on my desktop at a size of my choosing. The online player didn’t allow me to do that so I upgraded to Prezi Pro so that I could use the full power of Prezi Desktop (remove the Prezi logo and so on). Then I launched Prezi Desktop, sized it to fit in iShowU’s preview window, played laika’s voice-over in background and advanced Prezi steps with the keyboard in sync with the audio. I didn’t record the audio at this point, I just used it as a sync track.

Next, I needed some music. Once again, Davy’s help was precious as he found me this marvel on AudioJungle. The original story was a little too long and there were some parts I was not satisfied with, so I removed a few steps in Prezi and cut out the corresponding parts in the voice-over using Audacity until it was 2:20 minutes, right about the length of the music.

The last step was to launch iMovie, import the Prezi screencast, the voice-over and the music and almost by magic, it all fit together. Each section of the animation mapped perfectly to a section of the music track. Et voila!

Now remember the 20-grand budget I was talking about earlier? Sure, this video may not be as good as what we would have gotten through a specialized agency, and it’s certainly not as good as AirBNB’s (hint hint hint ;o), and we will probably hire one once we get out of bootstrap mode. But I think it does the job pretty damn well and here is what it cost us:

  • Script: 0€
  • Graphics on TheNounProject : 0€
  • Keynote: was not essential and I already had it
  • Prezi Pro subscription: $159, around 110€ (that I’m probably going to reuse, but even then…)
  • Voice-over on Fiverr: $15, around, 11€
  • Music on AudioJungle: $19, around 13€
  • iMovie: not essential, had it for free on my Mac when I bought it, you could use Windows Movie Maker or any other free video montage software

Total budget: $193, around 133€

Now that’s pretty lean, don’t you think? I just wanted to write this post because I thought maybe other startups were in our situation looking for a quick and cheap way to explain their concept visually. So what do you think?

ICT Spring and other important news

Today was a great day for Kodesk. First because we were exhibitors at ICT Spring in Luxembourg and we were very excited. But also because we have a little surprise for you for this occasion.

The second most popular feature request from hosts and swappers was to make it easier for space managers to publish recurring availabilities. Let’s say you have one or two desks available every business day from 10am to 5pm until the end of the month. Before today, you had to publish one availability for each day and it was very painful. As of the new version we have just released, you can now create recurring availabilities and even manage exceptions for them.

Another improvement that a lot of people have requested was the ability to search only for spaces that are available on a certain day. We have added an optional field to the search engine for that.

Last but not least, now when you want to see more details about a specific space, you can see when it will be available over the next 7 days without having to book and see if it is possible or not.

We hope that those improvements will make it even easier for hosts and swapper to share their space, and for swappers to find a suitable space. Of course a lot of work still has to be done, and as always we’re listening to your feedback very closely. So if you have any idea, suggestion or constructive feedback, feel free to leave a comment here, a feature request there or drop us a note.

A few improvements

Just a quick note to let you know that we have just released a new version of the platform. Nothing fancy, just a few improvements to prepare the grounds for bigger changes, and a quick fix for a legitimate request.

First off, let’s talk about the daily digest. Just before we launched, we were afraid that hosts and swappers would register their space and never publish any availability. So we thought of this idea to monitor searches and ping space managers every day to let them know that their space was demanded. But since it was a quick feature, we didn’t include the capability to opt out of this mailing. So some users started to tell us that they were fed up with all the spamming. This is now fixed: if you edit the details of your account in the dashboard, you can uncheck “Receive space manager daily digest?” and you won’t be spammed anymore.

Second of all, what we realized is that the best way to increase the number of available hours published in prevision of the commercial platform release is to make as easy as possible to publish those availabilities. For now, you can only publish availabilities day by day, which gives space manager full power but is also very cumbersome, especially when you have desks available on a regular basis. That’s why we are working on a simple way for space managers to publish recurring availabilities, things like “I have 2 desks available from 9 to 5, every week, on wednesdays and fridays”. Once it’s done, you will be able to define exceptions or just forget about it.

But before we could implement this new feature, we needed to adapt the way time credit works. Until now, time credit was calculated right when you published a new availability. The purpose was to let you book a desk right after you published your first availability. But what happens when you publish a recurring availability every day until further notice? Well, then your time credit becomes infinite, which is not very fair. With the new version we just released, time credit is credited to your account only when it has passed.

We are working hard on improving the overall fluidity of the platform, both for hosts and for swappers, so that when we release our commercial platform, everything will be as streamlined as possible. In the meantime, don’t forget to suggest your own features or vote for existing ones, and we always welcome your feedback by email, twitter, facebook, linkedin, or travelling pidgin (the window is open).

Exciting Times

The past 2 weeks have really been a blast for Kodesk since we launched:

  • DataNews coverage here and there
  • French-Connect interview here and there (thanks a lot Stéphanie)
  • TechCrunch coverage here
  • And yesterday we presented Kodesk at BetaGroup

Just a few figures 2 weeks after launch:

  • 5000+ unique visitors
  • 316 members
  • 42 spaces
  • 37 cities
  • 13 countries
  • 1109 hours of availabilities

Clearly we are on to something here. But what was even more interesting is all the amazing and constructive feedback we got. We had live conversations with more than 70 people thanks to our live chat. 111 people used our “Don’t Sign Up” form, 24 of which even gave us some explicit advice on how to improve Kodesk. Among the requests that came first on all these channels were:

  • The ability to see Kodesk spaces on a map without having to sign up first
  • Automating recurring availabilities
  • And probably the most incredible for us: “I don’t have any desk to share, but I want to rent some, so please release a commercial offering”.

We love pragmatism. We love agility. And of course we love disruptive ideas. For all these reasons we have decided to grow Kodesk as a Lean Startup, following the principles of Customer Development, which for us implies three main consequences:

  • We release as early as possible, even if things are far from perfect right away
  • We listen to all the feedback we receive very seriously
  • We release new versions as often as possible to test new hypotheses

The first hypothesis (actually we tested a few other ones offline before launch but that’s the first one you saw) we wanted to validate is that some companies would be willing to register their space into Kodesk, all over the world, even if there is no money in it, just because they understand the importance of serendipity and they value mobility. And for us, having 42 spaces in 13 countries publish more than 1000 hours of desk availabilities in 2 weeks is an amazing proof that this hypothesis was the right one. We know that there are still some issues, but nothing that our innovative creativity can’t fix.

In addition to that, we deliberately released this first version without a commercial platform because we wanted to test if the demand was strong (OK, and because we are still working on the technical details behind it of course). And strong it is! We intended to wait until September to release our commercial offering, but seeing all the positive frustration that we have created, we will do everything we can to do it as fast as technically and humanly feasible. How great is that?

Overall, those really were 2 amazing weeks. Kodesk is on a roll, my friends, and it’s just the beginning.

Oh, and by the way, we just released a new version of Kodesk with a few additions:

  • You can now see all our spaces without having to sign up (still with me?)
  • We added a press page and a team&story page
  • We changed the home page to make it clearer for users to understand what are the benefits of Kodesk depending on their situation
  • We added an event ticker on the home page too, so that you know when things are happening in the Kommunity
  • We removed the “Don’t sign up form for now” but don’t forget you can still suggest features and improvements on feedback.kodesk.com (you can even vote for features suggested by others so that it increases their priority in our todo-list)

Of course, there is a lot more stuff on the way and we will keep you posted as they become available.

To conclude this post, I want to take this opportunity to thank all the amazing people who helped us give birth to this baby (in no specific order): Bruno, Southa, Cindy, Robin, Brigitte, Lara, Eric, Ramon and all the BetaCoworkers, Said and all the people at Vivansa, Ivan, Olivier, Antoine, Frédéric, Philippe, Frédéric, Serge from Idealy and all the people I forgot to name but whose contribution will never be forgotten. Make no mistake people, we really are changing the world here ;)