Interview | 04 Nov 2016

Building a friendly community - The Brew

Posted in Business, Motivation & inspiration, Startups, Interview, Client,

Andrew Clough, Founder of co-working space, The Brew, talks to The Work Crowd about his inspirations, ambitions and why he loves supporting startups and freelancers.

What was the inspiration for setting up The Brew?

It was more accidental than inspired, but that’s often the case with a lot of businesses that supply a genuine need.

I’m a publisher by trade, and before The Brew, I set up three B2B entertainment mags, so I was very much a media type of guy. I sold the magazine company in 2008, and all the staff bar three went to work with the new publisher.

I was sat in the office wondering what to do with all the space and desks I had – it was a cool, quirky space by Spitalfields. Someone mentioned they had heard about ‘desk rental’, and I thought it would be good to give it a go. Lo and behold, it’s an actual industry in itself, and here I am with The Brew.

So while I was working on other businesses, The Brew started as a side project. I enjoyed meeting other entrepreneurs, and realised I was in a unique positon to do two crucial things for small businesses. The first was to offer genuinely cost-effective, beautiful workspaces and the second, with my own experience, was to help nurture and develop entrepreneurs so that they could create their own successful businesses.

So seeing the struggle facing freelancers and small businesses to keep up with the ever-increasing office rental prices, and using this as the main driver, I decided that the co-working side-project was the real deal, and in 2012, brought on four investors/directors for the company's seed investment.

Now some 500 people are Premium members - resident at The Brew and using it as the day-to-day base for their business. Additionally, The Brew supports more than 1,500 Nomad members (who use The Brew's Coffice – café you can work in), and almost 15,000 people are in its virtual community, drawn from across London's business landscape.

Why do you feel flexibility is important for small businesses, freelancers and entrepreneurs?

Before ‘co-working’ became a sector, the way businesses used to secure office space was extremely rigid. In general, you would be tied into a long lease, often five years plus, you would have a huge deposit, long notice periods and would have to pay for all your furnishing and infrastructure.

That might have been fine in the ‘80s and ‘90s when there was such a thing as a ‘job for life’, but these days, work and business is much less secure – the recession of the early ‘90s and the most recent one in 2008 has put paid to that.

Companies don’t know where they are from one year to the next, and with the rise of start-ups, the risks of putting so much capital into office space are high. People are more cautious with how they manage their cash-flow and monthly payment commitments. It makes sense to reduce your overheads and spend that money on genuine business needs, especially during the start-up phase.

Co-working really came out of the sharing or access economy, which sprung from the 2008 banking crisis - it’s that understanding that overheads are more cost-effective, and can be more flexible if shared with more people, that has made it a success. It also means that if things don’t go the way you hoped, then you can get out quick. It’s good to know you won’t sink if sales don’t generate as much as you expect or the clients aren’t forthcoming – everyone hopes for the best and they believe in themselves when they start-up a business or go freelance, but there are risks. It’s just sensible to mitigate for those. I’m pleased that co-working has enabled people to do that, and it also helps support greater growth in business overall because more people can start without worrying about overbearing overheads.

How many locations do you now have and where?

The Brew started in Shoreditch, London, because that’s where the demand was and still is. The area really is the entrepreneurial heart of the capital.

We have five locations in Shoreditch, which is also known as Tech City or the Silicon Roundabout because it’s where the surge of new tech, media and creative companies started and have developed over the last six years.

We’ll always have a presence in Shoreditch because it’s vibrant and abuzz with energy, but with our expansion next year, we’ll be looking at other parts of London and around the UK.

What type of environment are you creating at the Brew and why is this important to business?

The most important thing at The Brew is that our members feel comfortable. We’re pretty relaxed, so we’re not really into the ‘rules’ approach, it’s about everyone respecting one another.

Because The Brew provides workspaces for small businesses, it's essential that our members can do the things that are expected in an office based business such as make phone calls. But, we do recognise that this can provide a different sort of environment, for say web developers who are stuck in lines of code all day. To counter this, we design our spaces with phone booths for private calls, and quiet break-out areas for those who need some head space.

We also have Community Managers on-site who look after the space and its members so that everyone's happy not just with the facilities but with the environment provided too. And that’s important because the more comfortable your environment, the more productive you are at work, which means more success for the entrepreneur or freelancer.

What type of culture are you looking to nurture at The Brew?

We don’t actually talk about a Brew culture, it’s not for us to impose it onto our members. We let the members create their own culture, and just help facilitate that by providing opportunities for them to meet one another, do business together or socialise after work.

What is your typical customer base?

As we’re based in Shoreditch, we tend to attract freelancers and companies from the TMT (Tech, Media, Telcos) and creative and digital sectors - additionally, these sectors have been cited as the drivers for demand in office space.

However, we learnt early on to not be prescriptive with the industries that we have in our spaces. We have an open community that is accessible to freelancers and businesses from all sectors. We find a mix of sectors within a workspace ensures complementary services, a wealth of perspectives and viewpoints, and a rich, diverse selection of characters.

What’s one of The Brew’s real success stories?

Too many to mention! From the most recent sale to a US firm of a member company that grew 150% to 100 people whilst in our space, to the luxury workwear designer who started out as a ‘one-man band’ but then outgrew us and is regularly featured in entrepreneurial magazines.

But to be honest, success is whatever the member thinks it is – for some, being in a position where they can have a flexible workspace that doesn’t cost them much but is a great environment with a friendly community is success.

As long as they’re happy, then we’re happy. And if they’re not, we try to help them wherever we can, for example, giving advice or recommending experts for them to talk to, introducing them to the ‘money men’ or just providing a listening ear – all of it can culminate in success.

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thumbnail_Andrew Clough - Founder & Managing Director - The Brew