Competition Makes Us Faster, Collaboration Makes Us Better

I often send friendly emails to other coworking space owners inviting them to coffee, or to exchange tours of our spaces, in an effort to learn from each other’s experiences.

Over the years I’ve gotten many surprised yet welcoming responses, and there’s a handful of emails I’ve never gotten a response to. Though to date, no one has said flat out: “No” or said it was a bad idea.

The meetings that stemmed from this outreach have ranged from simple one-off conversations, to long-lasting friendships.

Now as every business owner should, I stay up to date with industry news and I always know what my competition is doing. But my strategy has consistently been to accelerate my own operation by focusing on what we as a business are specifically great at, rather than what my competition is doing.

Do one thing and do it really well was an incredibly simple yet powerful nugget of advice I received a year ago and has been a guideline for me ever since.

By choosing to focus my time and energy internally, I’ve mastered the particular operation that makes my business successful.

Notwithstanding, I believe there is much to be learned from our industry peers both in knowledge and experience which in turn will helps us each improve.

"By unveiling the differences that set us apart, I’ve learned that quite often our competition is not nearly as similar in operation, or target market, than we think they are."

Recently, I organized the first conference for coworking space owners and managers in Chicago. Many were hesitant to attend but eventually about one-third of the industry showed up to participate.

From the start of the event, the tone was set to focus on collaboration over competition. I prepared a manifesto for the conference based on the values I believed were imperative for the event to be successful, and read it aloud as the opening remarks:

Through awareness and understanding of the current shared space landscape in Chicago, we convene to:

  • Connect with one another

  • Exchange knowledge and information

  • Collaborate and identify new opportunities

Which in turn will improve our own operations, increase our successes, and advance our industry as a whole.

Then, over the next four hours of the conference we:

  • Played a game to learn unique facts about each of our businesses

  • Split into groups to host discussions around topics that attendees had indicated in a pre-conference survey as being most important to them

  • Enjoyed lunch together and a brief talk by one of our industry’s principal founders

  • Collectively mapped the services of businesses in our industry

  • Convened as a group to reflect on what we learned and discuss ways to support each other in the future

At the end of the event, many attendees approached my co-facilitator and I with amazed expressions.

We received a range of positive feedback such as:

“This was so helpful, I want to do this more often,” and

“I had no idea what to expect when I came here today, but I’m so glad I attended,”

and my favorite, 

“I learned that the businesses I thought were my competition, actually have much different services than we do. Now I’m going to refer people to them when our space is not a good fit!”

Even more rewarding, was that attendees asked how they could continue the conversations that were started that day.

One participant already created a private Facebook group as a platform for us to communicate going forward, many others volunteered their space as a venue for future events, and others volunteered to be organizers and facilitators for upcoming meetings.

On my way home and still buzzed from all the positive energy and new friendships that were forged that day, I thought about why it worked and how it could continue.

"I realized that by declaring our values of openness and collaboration at the beginning of the event, and providing a supportive, engaging environment throughout the event, attendees embraced the mission and very quickly became organizers themselves."

In turn, connections were made, conversations were started, and the walls that businesses in our industry anticipated they needed to put up to withstand competition, were never built.