Marcela Cutelle, Manager of Urban Station in Mexico, opens up about being one of the first coworking spaces to have opened in Mexico City. Willing to discuss the good and the bad along the road, Marcela makes a strong point as to why coworking is here to stay in Mexico, and across the world.
Urban Station Mexico opened its doors in October, 2012. Back then, coworking was still an unknown concept in the Latin American country.
“In Mexico, coworking was still a ‘virgin’ market; there were less than 5 coworking spaces operating in Mexico City when we opened our doors,” says Marcela.
This meant a big opportunity, but also a big challenge for Urban Station. Being the first to enter a new market can help you position your brand as a leader and trend-setter; but it also means that you have to do the ‘breaking-in’ of the market.
It’s like when you buy new shoes. At first, you’re not that comfy wearing them, you need to break them in; get your feet accustomed to the sole, the shape, the material. Oftentimes, you get some blisters along the way, as you keep walking, forcing yourself to keep moving forward even though your feet hurt.
Well, Urban Station’s story goes along the same line of breaking-in new pair of shoes.
The State of Coworking in Mexico in 2012
If you do a quick search for the term ‘coworking’ on Google Trends and set the date range from January 1, 2012 to October, 2016, you’ll quickly be able to tell that coworking was not nearly close to being a trending topic four years ago.
It’s actually not until the first quarter of 2015 is over that you see a more steady rise for the number of searches conducted for ‘coworking’.
“People didn’t know about coworking, and it was astonishingly complicated to get people to understand (and accept) the concept. They didn’t fully grasp how it would be possible for people from different industries and companies to share the space and work from there.”
Talk about a tough pair of shoes to break-in. The Mexican market turned out to be more of a challenge than Marcela expected.
“We would have people stop by Urban Station and they would ask us if we sold furniture or lighting fixtures,” Marcela says with a chuckle.
Luckily, things have improved quite a bit since then. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at some of the challenges Urban Station had to overcome, and how they managed to successfully do so.
The Challenges of Entering an Immature Market
Urban Station is Latin America’s largest coworking brand; with locations in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. Before entering the Mexican market, Urban Station was already successfully operating in the Latin American region.
So, what happened in Mexico?
The first and probably the biggest challenge was educating people about new ways of working. It wasn’t only about introducing the brand, but also of finding the right channels to do so.
“After some time, we figured out that traditional publicity channels weren’t working for us. Billboards and press releases in newspapers or any other type of mass media weren’t getting us any traffic. We quickly gave them up because of this and because of how expensive they were.”
They weren’t seeing any ROI. They also weren’t welcoming people to their space–that is, other than the ones seeking furniture and lighting fixtures.
This is where Urban Station got its first blisters.
“We opted to try digital advertising afterwards. It was by doing so that we realized we had to feed our ads and our information to a highly segmented target audience. Social media and Google adwords proved to be the formula that started to give us some results.”
Finally, the word was getting out there. But this didn’t mean people were willing to adopt the coworking concept.
“We had to create opportunities for people to come in and try working from Urban Station before they would fully embrace it. So we opted for organizing and hosting various workshops and courses, free of charge, that would bring people in and get them to try coworking out.”
“Eventually, this had its results.”
“Slowly and steadily we started to see how word of mouth got us loyal and valuable members.”
By this time, Urban Station had been around for almost 18 months. It wasn’t an easy or fast process, but it seemed things were about to get better.
Unfortunately, the shoe wasn’t yet fully broken-in; it took an extra set of blisters and sores before Urban Station was able to fully start ‘running’.
Just as more people were starting to come in and stay, Urban Station met with a new rock.
Urban Station Mexico is located in the prestigious neighborhood of Polanco, specifically in the area known as Polanquito. They are actually located in a corner of one of Mexico City’s most renowned streets: Avenida Presidente Masaryk (it’s the equivalent of Fifth Avenue in NYC).
Sounds pretty neat right? Well, back in 2013, Avenida Masaryk didn’t look nearly as good as it does today.