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Coworking: 'the sector is not built on sand’

Why Huckletree co-founder Andrew Lynch wants the Irish coworking powerhouse's members to outgrow it


Huckletree D2 is a workspace accelerator for high growth tech companies to come together and innovate in the heart of Dublin city


About this time, two years ago, I was on the verge of sleep deprivation. I was moving furniture, stocking fridges, and making sure every bulb in every light fixture was working, as we opened our first Huckletree space in my home city in Dublin, on Pearse Street in the old Academy building. 

When we first opened, the ambition was fairly straightforward. It was, to be a challenger to the traditional office space by inviting the brightest people in tech and entrepreneurship to give up stuffy corporate environments and trial the concept of ‘coworking’.

Huckletree co-founder Andrew Lynch
Huckletree co-founder Andrew Lynch

Two years on, I would never have imagined it to turn into what it has. In what feels like an overnight change, coworking has boomed, normalised and become part of the playbook for entrepreneurs everywhere. Here in Dublin, serviced office providers now account for more than 111,000sq m (1.1 million sq ft) of office space, a figure that is expected to increase as co-working facilities gain popularity across Ireland (BNP Paribas Real Estate), and the boom in entrepreneurship has been matched with capital (capital invested set to hit $110B in capital invested across Europe).

At an independent operating level, we’ve seen and felt the impact. Our D2 hub has taken on a life of its own, led by the contribution, innovation and creativity of the people who have become our members, including those who have graduated and outgrown us. Huckletree D2 has grown to a community of over 50 high-growth teams occupying over 26,000 sqft, all disrupting the vibrant Irish tech scene. It’s become a central town hall for enterprise teams, investors and founders to not only share space, but share experiences, and solve challenges faced in their industry. It's the proud address of Silicon Valley Bank, shipping pioneers Kontainers, sustainability champions Evocco, Tech recruiters Nine Dots, and the force that is Girls In Tech Dublin. 

I’ve always believed that in the quality talent in Ireland and am excited by the new generation of founders coming through

With 44 per cent of companies within our space being international, it's also exposed smart Irish talent to global connections and facilitated new hires, partnerships and mentorship. This part means a lot to me personally because I’ve always believed that in the quality talent in Ireland and am excited by the new generation of founders coming through who are not playing small - they’re thinking big and global from day one, they just need the base to do it. 

But two years on, it felt like we were due for another shake up. And it came in the last 90 days, in the fallout of the most established and well known player, WeWork (the company retracted IPO plans, had a step down of leadership and went form a proposed $47bn valuation to reporting a net loss of $1.25 billion in the third quarter of 2019). 

Large valuations and leadership aside, and with total respect to the work they did in laying the first foundations of coworking, I do believe the model of ‘hype now, fix later’ and high-growth at all costs has not done them any favours. I’ve been asked if this is a sign of the utopian coworking bubble bursting, but I don’t see that happening. I know from the support and stability that we’ve been able to afford our members, that the the value is tangible, and very much real. While the WeWork effect may create natural market shifts, it is not symptomatic of a sector built on sand. In fact, I believe in the importance of shared space to drive shared outcomes more than I ever have before.

While the supply market is under pressure, the demand is not slowing. And despite the uncertainty ahead, we pride ourselves on remembering where our value lies. For Huckletree, we believe that social capital, not just venture capital, will steer the future of business. Companies, now more than ever, are looking for people-centric and personalised workspaces and employee experiences to not only retain talent but to help them perform at their best. 

This month we announced our newest venture, Huckletree Places, a bespoke concept to give large established teams the flexibility to grow in and out of our spaces with customised and curated workspace design. Places allows us to do what we had always set out to do - help companies outgrow us - only this time with support, structure and minimal risk, and the chance to stay connected to the Huckletree global network of likeminded members, investors and advisors. We’re saying you can have your cake and eat it too - privacy and personalisation shouldn't come at the expense of community and network, because both sides are crucial to healthy operating teams. 

People may think we're mad for expanding right now, but this is what happens when any sector goes through a shake-up; consolidation, sure, but more importantly, innovation, and the chance to rewrite the rules of the game. A few years ago, people were asking me what lessons we were taking from WeWork, and I always said we would listen to our members first over our competitors - today I’m glad we stuck to our guns.

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