Joel Dullroy is co-founder of Deskwanted, a global network of coworking spaces and shared offices used by a community of independent workers.
1. If you could trade places with an entrepreneur living or dead who would it be and why?
I’m inspired by the community managers of coworking spaces everywhere. They’re entrepreneurs, but more importantly, they’re social leaders who are creating an environment in which individuals can interact, improve their personal situation, and create links between each other that can be quite powerful, both in a business and social sense. Coworking space community managers are nodes in a network of otherwise fragmented individuals. We’re yet to see the true power of this network, but I believe it can have a huge impact on our atomised society. Coworking space managers will be central to the re-empowerment of freelancers and the development of strong communities.
2. What has been your most effective business decision to date?
We decided early on to become an information source about coworking. The coworking world is still new and growing, and many people are searching for news, facts and figures about it. With my background in journalism, I knew the value of such information; founders need it to make business plans, media need it to build stories around. We at Deskwanted decided to devote resources to collecting and disseminating information about coworking. We run a huge global survey each year, and we publish three news articles a week about developments in the coworking world. By doing this, Deskwanted has become the main source of information about coworking. Our users often tell us that they couldn’t have started their coworking space without our facts and figures. I’d suggest any startup should aim to do this: create survey, gather numbers, produce infographics, become a source of information.
3. Describe your ‘Eureka Moment’ with your current endeavour?
I realised the value of our concept through personal experience. I was operating as a freelance journalist, working from my lounge room. It was a horribly isolating experience. When my colleague Carsten invited me to join him in creating Deskwanted, we began working in a borrowed office in the former entrance building to an old public swimming pool. Now there were two of us, but we remained quite isolated. We needed a community as well as a place to work, and we knew we weren’t the only ones stuck in this situation. How to find such a community? That’s where Deskwanted comes in.
4. What’s been the best advice you’ve been given about being in business?
My mum always said: “Aim for the stars and you’ll hit the moon. Aim for the moon and you’ll hit a street lamp.” That’s good advice when setting targets.
5. What has been the biggest failure to get ‘swept under the carpet’?
One big mistake we made was to be too protective of our idea during the start phase. We were paranoid that someone would steal our idea, and so we didn’t talk about it with anyone until it was ready to launch. Later, we realised that we could have made great connections, received feedback, and achieved more if only we had talked about our idea openly. The reality is that no-one wants to steal ideas; they’re all to focused on their own projects.
At the start we wasted a lot of money by starting to build elements of our website without planning them out properly first. It is important to sit down and plot out every step of the process. For web development, that begins by taking a pen and paper, and making simple drawings to show what you want a page to look like and what it should do, adding pages as you add functions that flow on from that. Non-technical people tend to overlook the small functionality that is critical on a web page. We think programmers should intuitively know how things should work because, to us, it makes sense. But programmers require detailed explanations of every element, and non-nerds need to learn how to explain what they want in a way that someone else can build it.
6. How would you commence a motivational speech for budding entrepreneurs?
If you’re like me, you’ve probably got a million ideas swilling around your brain at any given moment. It’s tempting to try to do all of them at once. That’s what I did for a long time, but I only started to get anywhere when I began to focus on the one idea that seemed to have legs. It’s difficult to let an idea fade, but sometimes you just have to let them go. Besides, do you really want to devote several years of your life to that particular idea, or is it just a nice concept? If you can’t see yourself working on that idea in the medium-term future, perhaps you’re not too passionate about it anyway. Give it away, and focus on the thing that is both exciting and viable.
7. What is the most important part of a sandwich?
I’ll turn to coworking for an answer: the combination of various individual elements in an arrangement where they work harmoniously together creates the perfect sandwich. Or perhaps it’s the pickled gherkins. I’m not sure.
8. What’s the dumbest thing an investor/mentor/adviser said to you, in hindsight?
I don’t discount anyones advice. I know I don’t know everything, and I’m an eager learner. That said, I do differentiate between advice that comes from experience, that which is based on predictions of the future. In general I prefer experience over prophecy.
9. What do you think will be written on your epitaph?
You can’t say I didn’t try.
10. Has your brand of underwear elevated with your success?
No, but I’ve traded up from Sternburg to Augustiner when I’m at the spätkauf. Berliners will know what that means…