Branding Insights For Workspace Operators: A Q&A With Hygge Coworking Founder Garrett Tichy

Q&A Garrett
“No one is scrolling through Instagram looking for an office” - Garrett Tichy, Founder of Hygge coworking

Have you seen the word “hygge” floating around and wondered what it means? It’s a Danish word that’s pronounced “hooga,” but it doesn’t translate well to English. As Garrett Tichy, founder and owner of Hygge Coworking in Charlotte, North Carolina, explains it, hygge is a feeling of mental well-being—a feeling of comfort and coziness.

When Tichy and his then business partner Kayla Duggar opened the first Hygge, that’s the feeling they wanted to create—and they have. Hygge is a thriving coworking brand with three locations now and a diverse, engaged membership. Hygge is also one of the most well-branded spaces in the coworking industry, thanks, in large part, to Tichy’s background in design and marketing.

Allwork.Space spoke with Tichy about what makes a strong coworking brand, common mistakes he sees workspace operators making, and why the community should inform the brand, not the other way around. Here are the highlights of our conversation. Let’s start with your coworking story. What was your introduction to this movement and industry?

Garrett Tichy: After working as a marketing manager for a little over a year, I decided I’d like to control my fate in the workforce. My partner at the time, Kayla, and I decided to head out on our own as a little agency of two. We started working out of our house and grew very fast, but we realized that working from home was not healthy for us as a team. Two days in, we were considering that we had likely made a big mistake.

At the time, Charlotte had almost no coworking spaces. There was one called @809. They felt like a secret society, you had to apply and get approved. We went in to meet them at their happy hour and walked out saying, ‘I think they liked us, I hope they call us.’ It felt like a first date. We ended up getting in and we took an office there in 2015. That was my first step into the coworking world.

How long were you there before you started thinking about opening your own space?

During the year or so we were there it was apparent that, for the people running the space, coworking was clearly not their main business. They were a bigger company that had a lot of space and realized they could cover their costs by renting out offices and offering a coworking membership. But they didn’t cultivate it. All the things that make up coworking and the community-building were not a priority.

I started thinking, ‘What would happen if someone just cared?’ We started looking at spaces just for fun—just to see what was out there. One morning, I was sitting in @809 when a woman knocked on the door. She asked if I knew if anyone was looking for space. I asked here where it was and she said, ‘Next door.’

We walked out the front door, 20 feet to the right, and in another door. It was a 3,000 square foot, tiny half office/half open workspace with a meeting room. Everything was painted beige. The company was downsizing and needed to sublease it to get out. Rent was $2,200 per month with only a one year lease.

We were doing well, and that felt like a small amount of money, so we figured we’d give ourselves a year and we signed. On September 1, we officially took the space. We gave ourselves two months to build all the furniture, and to paint, and do all the things we thought we needed to do to open a coworking space, including what we were going to call it. And this was all on top of running the marketing company.

With Hygge, you took a chance on a curious name and it’s paid off. What was your approach with naming and branding Hygge?

The cool thing about Hygge was, we picked a word that became very trendy years later. What are the chances? The way we came to the word is not super exciting. We looked for words that don’t translate well to English. I only remember one other one, “tortle,” but for one very funny Urban Dictionary reason, we did not choose tortle, and we went with hygge.

Hygge, as a concept of mental well-being—that feeling of comfort and coziness in a space—was very important for us to get through what we were trying to create. When we left our jobs, we didn’t hate our jobs, it was the work environments that were bad. We wanted to create a space where people can not only enjoy the job they do but enjoy the space they get to do it in.

There are people who get up and they hate their jobs and don’t want to go to work, but with the whole idea of creating a space you want to go to, the core of it is that you feel good there. You go to a space and it makes you feel great, and you get to do what you do. That’s how we came to the name.

Branding, for any company, is a lot more than a name and logo. What are some of the elements that go into creating a strong, memorable brand, especially in the coworking sphere?

Our brand definitely came over time. It’s kind of like selling the idea of community when you don’t have a single member. How do you develop a brand when you don’t know who’s going to use your space or why they’re going to use it. We’re not a niche coworking space, we’re for everyone. That makes it difficult to develop a brand.

When we were talking about how we wanted to communicate our brand, the first messaging that came out of Hygge was, ‘Our name is hard but our space is easy.’ That was intentional.

Meg Seitz, who does all our writing, was one of our first members. I remember her walking into our little space, with just me and Kayla working alone. Those early days, we hoped everyone who walked in would be our friend. Meg asked if she could work with us for a couple of hours. An hour in, she said, ‘That’s the most productive hour I’ve ever had, I’m in. Sign me up.’ She’s still probably the most loyal and biggest advocate we have.

That’s a good start for a space—to have an immediate and loyal advocate.

That instance, where we made it easy by lowering the bar and inviting someone in, started to define how we think about coworking, in general. When you engage with us, it never feels like a place that is being too judgemental. We’re bright, we’re happy, we’re supportive—we want you to feel good here. Even if you have a weird style or sense of being or you’re not really sure. It’s not revolutionary, but when you don’t have community yet, when your community is literally Garrett and Kayla, I think that’s where most spaces should start. Design is by far the least important thing. I look back at pictures of the first space and wonder what we were thinking.

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Our first ever Instagram post is of two gentlemen, Dave and Josh, sitting in front of a wall that says, ‘Great things never came from comfort zones.’ They just showed up, walked in and, for four hours, Kayla and I sat around and talked to these guys.

After the visit, they said, ‘This is it. This is everything I want in a space.’ My background and history in Charlotte has me positioned well. I’ve done community building stuff and people know me for that, but that moment was profound. They were two black gentlemen who had a lot of feelings on finding a space where they were accepted—a space with lots of artists and creators. We didn’t tour them, we just sat there and chatted with them about creating community, and inclusion, and diverse thinking. We’re very open minded and we’re trying very intentionally to be that kind of space. It was another thing that started to define our brand.

We don’t post if we have an office available. No one is scrolling through Instagram looking for an office. I want people to see people like them, to see things they want to be a part of. Then one day they’ll have a situation that leads them to need space.

We market human interaction and people. It works, and it worked really early. I love talking about my members. We tell their stories and celebrate them. I want someone to read their story and ask, ‘What the heck is Hygge?’ If the members share their story and introduce Hygge to their community, that’s a big win. The cost for me to have Meg share their story, and Julia [Murray] to take quality photographs of them, is the best paid marketing I’ve ever done.

What are some common branding mistakes you see in the coworking world?

The first thing people love doing is to name their space. I’d like to go on a mission to stop people from naming their spaces cliche growth terms. There’s a new coworking space in Canada called Canoe Coworking. I’m excited for the potential of what Tara is working on up there.

Outside of that, I think people are too hyper-focused on the visual side of a space. The over-focus on community that doesn’t exist is really hard to pitch. I’d challenge people to be even more transparent early-on.

I’m totally fine being the person who says the thing everyone is thinking. It’s very hard to be self-deprecating and admit that you’re nothing. Every month I stand up and tell our members that we’re literally nothing without them. Without them, we are the most boring thing you can think of: empty space.

That is welcoming. I wish we could stop selling what doesn’t exist. People want to cheer for you. When we build the next location, we will show the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m excited to do it because people love to rally behind you. I’m also excited to be a little more transparent for the coworking community so new spaces value that.

Being transparent is wonderful—it’s humanizing. Coworking is all about the human element, but we’re so quick to hide from it all. Go be human and, if you’re not likeable, go find somebody who is the right person to be the face for your company. Put someone out front who does this well.

Another thing that’s so integral to our brand is that we use our space, we love our space, we are an integral part of what we’re building. Obviously, the visual side of a brand, and consistency, is important. At GCUC in New York, people were coming up to me and saying, ‘Everything you guys put into the world looks great.’

I don’t like the look of cream in coffee, especially in a photograph. It looks like mud. I sent some feedback to our photographer about why I didn’t want a photo of a half cup of coffee with cream in it. Black coffee is considered strong, and a full cup is better than a half cup. That’s the kind of care and attention to detail I want every space to have.

It’s all in the details. We say it all the time and we think out every little thing. If, in a new space, a small team could spend a little bit of time thinking about what they could do, and then crush it, they could knock it out of the park rather than having 50 different things that are all kind of mediocre.

Let’s pull back and talk about your big picture view on coworking. Why is this the industry for you? What are your thoughts on the coworking movement and global community?

As an industry, it’s still so early. You start to look at the numbers and the market is still really tiny. We’re still so young and there’s so much room for growth—especially in the indepently-owned space.

I’m excited to be part of it, and I’m excited to find spaces that need support. When you think about our industry, there’s something really fascinating: community is really hard to find. In your city, there might be one or two people to be friends with. And it can be very competitive within city limits. I’ve made it my mission to be friends with as many coworking spaces as I can. That’s where I see my role going.

The other thing, as an industry and as an independent owner, we need to stop thinking about the big players. WeWork is not on my radar. I went to their space—it’s beautiful, it’s busy, they’ve got nine people working. And it’s not my world. I didn’t recognize a single person in the room and I know a lot of people in my city.

I desperately want people to re-prioritize what drives them. That’s why I try to develop relationships everywhere I can. What’s worked for me might not work for everyone, but I think there’s somewhat of a shared strategy out there, and it’s definitely not following WeWork and Industrious and all that.

Thanks, Garrett. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m very open to being somebody’s coworking therapist. People can email me. I’m around. If I can help somebody over some an issue, that’s pretty cool.

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