Sean Qian is the founder and community manager at Collins Collective coworking space in Melbourne. He moved to Melbourne from Shanghai, China at the age of 5. He was exposed to the self-employed lifestyle while growing up and helping with the family business, so he was naturally drawn to the idea of being his own boss straight out of university. His first serious venture was in events management, and although his team put on a few large and successful events, they ultimately lost their working capital and had to call it quits. However, in the few years of running that first company, Sean found that the experience taught him more about business than all of his business education had previously done. After rebuilding his capital, the itch to run his own venture resurfaced and he was inspired to start Collins Collective.
Members are always impressed when I tell them the tables they’re working on are hand made by me… or maybe they’re just being nice.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
The idea to start a coworking space came to me after a culmination of events occurred. During my time in events management, the shared office we worked out of would always be buzzing with energy. Developers, designers, promoters and agents all in the same room made for some great conversations and collaborations. I wanted to replicate that style of work. The actual space, at Collins Street, came to me through a personal connection. I convinced the owners, who had the property for sale, to allow me to rent it from them instead. I then set to work renovating the space into what I thought would be a great coworking environment. Thus Collins Collective was born.
Please explain your business model.
At the most basic level, Collins Collective makes money from renting our work desks to members. Users of the space pay a monthly (no contract) membership according to how often they use the space. In future I’d like to run more events and workshops, which would bring in some extra revenue.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
Right now the space is still evolving and changing based on member feedback. It’s great to have members take on a sense of ownership and treat the office as their own. A wireless speaker system is on the way which is going to rock. In the next three months, I’m most excited about all the new and interesting people I’ll be able to meet through Collins Collective. Hopefully by then this will also be my full time job. That’s pretty exciting too!
How do you make ideas happen?
Having ideas is great, and everything starts with an idea. But to make them happen, you just have to do it. Cliche Nike tag line all the way. From deciding I wanted a coworking space to having our doors open took a total of 3 months. It would have taken a shorter amount of time if I didn’t try to do all of the renovations myself, but you trade your time for lack of capital, and that’s not always a bad thing. Members are always impressed when I tell them the tables they’re working on are hand made by me… or maybe they’re just being nice.
What does your typical day look like?
Being a new business owner, I wear many hats. A typical day for me will include:
- Responding to inquiries and organising inspections/trial days.
- Space maintenance (cleaning, water plants, ensure all equipment works etc).
- Interact with members, introduce them around to other members if they haven’t already met.
- Be active on social media.
- Reach out to editors, bloggers, businesses and anyone really who might be interested in our space or could help promote it.
- Manage memberships.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
As with any new business, access to capital is probably the hardest hurdle to overcome. This plays into why we need coworking spaces as well – where startups (who have lots of IP but not so much money) can come and be productive in an environment without a restrictive lease or extremely high rent prices. Following capital, marketing for me has definitely been one of the biggest challenges in starting a new business. It takes a lot of time and effort to be noticed by the right people who will then help propel your brand to your customers. Also knowing what kind of advertising to pay for can sometimes be black magic.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment?
I think all the other coworking spaces in Australia and abroad are doing really cool stuff. That’s kind of the whole point about coworking – to not be just another boring shared office. General Assembly, who are one of the earliest coworking spaces in the world (from NYC) are now venturing into education which I think is really interesting and cool. The possibilities are endless when you’re surrounding by inspiring people all trying to succeed in their fields or business.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I believe business plays a huge role in affecting social change. Business is integrated into almost all facets of society, and particularly for a country such as ours, where small businesses accounts for more than 90% of all businesses, what business does is ever so important. Going forward, I think businesses should be looking for ways at minimising their carbon footprint, operating leaner & smarter, and undertaking more resource sharing. These values should then trickle down to the consumers.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
Absolutely! I’m all about collaborating. If you think you can help me, or vice versa, give us a shout!
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
Would you consider coworking for your venture or business?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
There are too many, and I’m terrible at remembering their names… Recently I went to Prospect Espresso in Camberwell and had an awesome burger though, so I’ll give them a shoutout.
We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?
Sure! I’d be happy to kick in a month of free unlimited access to Collins Collective (worth $440).
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