- Founded in 2009, Convene uses the partnership and management agreement model to power its space-as-a-service products.
- Last year, Convene launched its WorkPlace product to offer flexible and amenity-driven workspaces to mid-size and large companies.
- Convene’s VP of Product, Nick LiVigne, talks about Convene’s WorkPlace offering and its foray into coworking.
Since its establishment in 2009, Convene has been a pioneer in the “space-as-a-service” category. The company partners with landlords to provide hospitality-focused meeting and amenity spaces. Last year, Convene added a workplace product to serve small to medium-size and enterprise clients. Allwork.Space spoke with Nick LiVigne, who was recently brought on to lead Convene’s workplace business, to learn more about Convene’s foray into coworking. Comments have been edited for clarity and length.
Allwork.Space: What was your background prior to Convene?
Nick LiVigne: I’ve dealt with the intersection of place and people my entire career through my work within corporate real estate departments. My perspective has always focused on the impact of the workplace on people, whether at an individual or group level. Most recently at Verizon, I helped to lead workplace strategy globally. I also developed and operated the company’s coworking venture. We used the coworking venture to test new workplace concepts and understand the space-as-a-services industry more deeply. We were able to do that because we had a lot of underutilized space in the portfolio.
We learned a lot from the coworking venture, including how to approach hospitality and customer interaction within the workplace, as well as aesthetics and space types. This also informed how we approached the market in terms of placing Verizon employees into flexible office solutions externally.
All of this experience helps me in my new position at Convene because I know how enterprises approach workplace at scale and how they are starting to think about flexible office space solutions to meet their needs.
Allwork.Space: Unlike Verizon, which is a large legacy company sitting on a lot of owned real estate, Convene is a small, growing firm without any of its own property. What is the space strategy you’ll be employing in the coworking venture?
At Convene, we’re out acquiring space in several different forms. While we will take traditional leases, we’re also pushing strong on the concept of partnering with landlords to find the spaces that can serve both of our needs under a management agreement. Convene’s landlord partnership perspective was one of the things that really attracted me to the company.
Landlords and enterprises at this point are making the decision on whether to buy, build or partner when it comes to flexible office space and amenities. What I saw from the outside and certainly, it’s been reinforced from the inside, is that Convene has always been a key strategic partner to both landlords and enterprise organizations. The companies that will survive and thrive in space-as-a-service in the long run will have a healthy partnership model.
Allwork.Space: Is the landlord partnership the primary way you’ll differentiate yourself from the growing field of coworking providers?
The key stakeholder for Convene is the landlord, which is definitely a differentiator.
Convene’s WorkPlace and Meetings products help landlords increase the value of their assets and deliver a great tenant experience, so it’s a win-win. Convene’s products and amenity options – like cafes, tenant lounges, wellness, and clubs – provide an additional opportunity for tenants of a building to access new experiences, which is beneficial for the entire building. Convene’s full-service approach we take with our products also differentiates us. Whether it’s the fact that we’re grounded in hospitality, we provide enterprise technology, or design our spaces with room to breathe, the holistic approach to the workplace experience sets us apart.
Allwork.Space: How does your role and the workplace product fit into Convene’s overall strategy?
Convene got started in the meetings business back in 2009. We had one core product only – corporate meeting and conference space – which meant that there was all-hands-on deck to support it and all functional groups were aligned on driving its success.
Now that the company has moved into two main products – Meetings and WorkPlace (with amenity management bolted onto those) – the company needs to focus its resources differently.
My role is cross-functional in nature, partnering closely with design, operations, technology, sales and real estate teams to ensure that we have all the systems and processes in place to scale and provide a consistent customer experience.
Convene opened three WorkPlace locations over the past year, with many more coming online this year which makes the scale now so much bigger. We need to align the resources much more specifically to deliver the WorkPlace product, so we’re taking the hospitality, design and services infrastructure that was built into Convene’s best-in-class meetings product and adapt those principles to our WorkPlace product. It’s all about finding the right product and market fit, being able to build a network of locations with a consistent feel but with a local charm, with the right price and positioning. All of that is going to be grounded in tried and true workplace strategy.
Allwork.Space: No other provider has the food and beverage services you do. How will you leverage Convene’s hospitality expertise?
Providing exceptional food, beverage, and hospitality has always been a key differentiator for Convene. The legacy of almost 10 years of experience with hospitality and service at the core of our meetings business made for an easy leap into providing the same experience for our WorkPlace customers. The infrastructure is in place already. Not to mention, we have the training and playbooks for hospitality and food service built in already, and an operational model that will help us move forward with that hospitality approach in a way that will scale across the board.
Allwork.Space: How will you approach the market as far as target customer and positioning?
Our WorkPlace product is set up for teams of 10 to 100, but we also offer individual memberships to our elevated common spaces. We’re not participating in the race to the bottom. We are driving a premium product into this market and our customer is going to be those small, medium and enterprise businesses that are forward-thinking and really understand the value of workplace experience when it comes to employee attraction and retention.
Allwork.Space: Have you found any particular niche you appeal to?
We see a lot of traction with enterprise clients because we’re able to offer a full-service platform to meet meetings and workplace needs, which is unique within the market.
We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from these types of customers because we provide an outsourced HQ-like experience. While large enterprises can deliver a very hospitable and on-brand workplace experience within their own headquarters, they struggle with that same experience at regional offices and satellite locations. Convene is in a great position to provide an HQ-like experience with on-site F&B, wellness and fitness all baked into a full-service workplace environment so the experience can feel much more like their corporate campus or headquarters – but within a Convene space.
Allwork.Space: What keeps large enterprise from meeting the needs of employees at a regional level?
It’s about allocation of capital and being able to spread that across the portfolio and hundreds of locations. Enterprises are going to concentrate that capital in areas where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck, which makes sense to do at a corporate HQ or campus where there are more than 1,000 people.
When there are offices of 20, 50, 100 or 200, you’re not going to get economies of scale. It’s just not an efficient use of capital or time to extend that high level experience to their entire portfolio. This gives Convene an opportunity to provide an affordable option that offers a premium experience based on hospitality, so we can serve all non-HQ employees with an HQ-like experience.
Allwork.Space: What do you have in the pipeline and how does the product mix break down?
We’re looking to add about a million square feet to our portfolio, and approximately 50% of that will be our WorkPlace product, 45% will be meeting and event space, and then amenities and services throughout the building are the last 5%.
We’re already in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.
Other properties are in the pipeline for delivery either end of this year or next, including London which is slated to open in 2020.
Most of our deals will be some combination of our two core products: Meetings and WorkPlace. The percentage allocation will depend on the partnership, the landlord, the building, the needs of our partners and our clients.
Allwork.Space: Besides the hospitality-focus, how would you characterize the Convene WorkPlace offering?
Our focus is to deliver a great place to work that is much more about our customers and their experiences. We provide a simple and elevated workplace experience so our members can focus on growing their business.
At Convene, we also often say, “your brand, not ours.” Our WorkPlace product feels like home for a variety of companies, and that wouldn’t be the case if our branding and logos were splashed everywhere. Our branding will always be subtle in our spaces, giving our clients the opportunity to feel like the space is theirs. Our clients will know that they’re in a Convene but it will feel like their home.
Convene also offers more space per person than other coworking providers, giving our clients more room to breathe, along with lots of natural light. It also feels more enterprise-grade, and is a much more comfortable environment than just a glass box and a coffee table. There are many more choices of meeting rooms, phone rooms, enclaves and places to go that really meet the various activities of a daily work experience.
Technology is also a big part of what we do. It’s linked into everything in the background to facilitate a frictionless workplace experience for our customers.
Allwork.Space: Will you be offering any type of community-building, networking or other programming?
Right now, we’re focused on engaging our members in two-way conversations and trying to provide the types of content and community programming that they really care about. We recently hired a VP of Community, Taryn Miller-Stevens, who is driving this charge.
We have focused on weekly happy hours, monthly community lunches and breakfasts, and occasional educational activities and speakers in the evenings. However, we do understand that people work very hard during the day and many times they just want to go home at the end of their day. So, we try to curate the experience to be impactful and meaningful. We don’t want to bombard our WorkPlace members with too much programming because that can become overwhelming and impact the overall workplace experience. We prefer a lighter touch of compelling programming that is going to be attractive to our members and make it something that they really want to seek out.
Allwork.Space: Convene recently announced a partnership with Eden Health. Historically this industry stayed away from any kind of clinic-like space for fear it might congest the reception area or bring in a cross section of people who not maybe not so conducive to the work environment. How are you planning to handle that?
We’re excited to partner with Eden Health, and provide Convene WorkPlace members with on-site healthcare services. Convene’s in-house architecture and design team builds our spaces with human centered design principles in mind, so the space will be conducive to the members that will be using Eden’s services as well as the members that are just at Convene to work. Our first Convene WorkPlace location with Eden Health will open at 530 Fifth Avenue in NYC in June.