“Since our launch in April, we have hosted 90 events,” says Gabriela Hersham, founder of Huckletree, a new co-working space in London. As we pass by an in-house event space that is reminiscent of an amphitheatre, the CEO of the co-working space shows me the hot-desking area which borders a brightly illuminated canteen. She works right here, among other startupers who are building a range of products – some we’ve heard of, and some we will hear about soon.
A neon sign “Stay curious” overlooks soft couches placed in a built-in podium separated with a staircase. Although each area has its particular atmosphere, it is an open space with borders blending. The working environment has changed significantly over the past decade. “It’s much more than just a desk you are working at,” Gabriela continues. What’s on offer, what she values most in her employees, and why she doesn’t like the definition “advice for female founders”. Here is Gabriela Hersham’s take on startup life and work.
Was it challenging to combine your careers as an actress and an entrepreneur?
When I started Huckletree, I thought I could combine both – my acting career and running this business. My husband (a VC investor) was always telling me that would be impossible. It turned out he was absolutely right: you can’t do two things. Running a business takes up 150% of your time and dedication.
As Huckletree grew, I became more and more aware of the fulfilment it was bringing me and grew to believe that my years spent acting were not lost: I realised almost immediately that there were transferrable skills that I could use at Huckletree that I learnt when acting. Public speaking and our filmed interviews with startups being just two of the areas that I feel comfortable in as a result of my first career.
“What I value most in my employees is organisational skills and curiosity.”
When did you understand it was the right time to launch Huckletree?
The moment we raised the money! (laughs). Way before our launch, we did market research and realised there was a need for our product. It was before London was flooded with co-working spaces. We saw interest in the product before it reached its peak.
The co-working spaces are enjoying a considerable rise. What makes Huckletree stand out?
All of our competitors have really interesting propositions, and I truly feel at this point in the market it’s really about building a brand and your success will be determined by your ability or failure to do so. What sets us apart is that we actually know our community, what their needs are, what could benefit them and how can we deliver everything they need. This includes running events tailored to their needs, leveraging connections, making introductions, providing discounts on different products and services and much more.
What’s your value proposition? Can you describe Huckletree in three words?
We offer a community: we ensure our members have a buzzing, inspiring community around them. There’s convenience: the members have access to all useful and valuable services within Huckletree, so everything is simple and within reach. There’s learning: we offer different classes and workshops and finally wellbeing, with outdoor spaces, yoga and guided meditation every Friday morning.
For our generation, the workplace is much more than just a desk to work at. We want to be able to learn, constantly grow and improve ourselves. If I had to describe Huckletree in three words, I’d say at Huckletree – “where things happen”.
Do you have any advice for startups choosing a co-working space?
It definitely depends on your needs. The simplest and most adequate advice would be: do your research before choosing a space. Whether on price, the community or the services, it all depends on what you need to help your business succeed. I think that the community element is crucial for any startup. Also, don’t only think about what you can get from the community but think of what you can give it back.
What kind of environment does Huckletree provide for startups?
Apart from the various workspaces (including private office and open-plan), we also offer classrooms (for the classes and workshops I mentioned), meeting rooms and we have an event space. It is an excellent facility for startups and everyone based here to attend and organise events. In addition, we provide outdoor spaces for well-being, the library for break-out sessions, a great communal kitchen and canteen area which is perfect for networking and getting to know other members of the community. And of course, we’re in the first cycle-in office building in London.
We’ve also organised partnerships and perks to make our community members’ lives at Huckletree more enjoyable. There’s something happening and offered on a daily basis – lunches, beer, workshops and more.
“Don’t only think about what you can get from the community but think of what you can give it back.”
What is your top advice for early-stage startups? And those growing rapidly?
I’ve seen a lot of startups fail once they’ve closed their funding round. It puts them in a position where they think they can be more relaxed with their spending. But the reality is that you must spend every penny wisely, despite the size of the funding you’ve managed to secure.
Also, once you start growing, make sure to process everything. Document all your activities. That’s how we work. When someone new joins the team, we can literally hand them the process document for their role and use it to form the basis of their training.
Last piece of advice: Don’t underestimate the importance of the hiring the right people. Every hire you make needs to be very well considered – you can’t afford yourself the luxury of hiring people just because you like them. Each and every hire is a strategic decision. And make sure you’re offering the right incentives to retain your team members! Set them up not only long-term incentives (eg. equity) but short-term incentives too. Money shouldn’t be a taboo subject – offer good salaries.
You say “hire people whose skills complement your own.” Could you tell us more about your hiring strategy at Huckletree?
My co-founder Andrew and I have a rule that we only hire people who are smarter than us. It doesn’t mean you have to be Einstein, but you should be an expert in what you do.
What are the skills that you value the most in a potential employee?
What I value most is organisational skills and curiosity. We are a people-focused business so everyone – whether they are part of the management or one of our community teams – needs to be in the loop. Curiosity and passion drive interest. It’s more than being just sociable.
“If I had to describe Huckletree in three words, I’d say at Huckletree “where things happen.”
The tech industry is still male-dominated. What’s your advice for women trying to enter it?
There always will be men who will think less of your abilities because you are a woman, and your job is to prove them wrong. I recently wrote a blog piece where I had to offer advice for female founders. Honestly, it was tough for me to get my head around the idea that I had to offer different advice to women than to men.
Your focus should be being the absolute best in your industry. There will be stereotypes against you but you work out how to use them to your advantage. If you are a mother applying for a job, it shouldn’t be a problem. On the contrary, it shows you can handle several things and that you have your life together.
Do you have expansion plans? Any sneak peeks for us?
Our plan is to open more locations across London. As long as the startup ecosystem wants us we’ll be there.
Andrew Lynch’s, Co-Founder and COO at Huckletree, top advice for early-stage startups
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