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The ultimate guide to starting a coliving business and opening your first space

I started a coliving business in 2013.

We scaled it to 3 spaces in Spain, California, and Portugal.

Then we pivoted, and changed the company into a completely different business (company retreats) while still keeping the brand.

You can continue reading my story below or jump directly into the guide:

  1. My story
  2. Why to start a coliving business? (not published yet)
  3. How to choose the right coliving location? (not published yet)
  4. An ideal number of rooms to open a coliving space
  5. Types of coliving properties and concepts
  6. Should you buy or rent your first coliving property?
  7. Profit margins, prices and unit economics
  8. Marketing and acquisition of coliving guests
  9. Pivoting your existing hospitality business into coliving (not published yet)
  10. The most common mistakes (not published yet)

As you see, I'm just getting started and I’m looking forward to sharing all of the insights I’ve learned about the fun parts and the hard things that come along with operating a coliving business.

First things first, the easy parts (community, house rules, software, etc.) about building a coliving venture can be figured out by yourself. Aspects like branding or building a team, apply to any type of business and you can certainly find better resources from other industries.


My Story

Perhaps I'm not the best person to advise people on how to start a successful coliving business but I'm definitely an expert on “what to avoid".

Over the years, dozens of people have reached out to me asking for help with launching a coliving business and I started to see some patterns...

Starting coliving before it was cool

One of our first coliving guests (let’s call her Mary) once told me, that the worst businesses are the ones that everyone wants to start: opening a coffee place, starting a restaurant business, organizing yoga retreats, you name it.

And even worse are the ones that everybody wants to start AND have a relatively low barrier of entry.

Mary said that even though coliving was something relatively new, it had potential to be the type of business that everyone wants to do. And she was right.

Working area of our coliving in Canary Islands (2014)

It’s not rocket science but it takes time

Coming from tech, I was used to making quick iterations of websites and apps.

But with real estate, it takes much longer. We experimented with 3 different property setups: shared apartments, a large villa, and a guesthouse.

Most people eventually figure these things out but it can take years, with the potential to lose drive and money along the way. It can take a lot of time to find the ideal space, especially if you buy a property or sign a long-term lease.

Coliving is a low margin business and there’s not much space for big fails or expensive experiments (unless a VC is sponsoring it).

Our coliving business on the homepage of NYTimes (2015)

The bright future of coliving

A lot of VC money has been burned in coliving startups, and traditional hospitality companies have started to build coliving brands too. Now is a great time to build an independent coliving business and surf the wave they've built.

Many people working remotely because of Covid will realize that they can actually work and live from anywhere. Being a digital nomad for 2-3 months a year will start to become the norm.

As I began to research online, I realized that most of the content out there about starting a coliving business was complete bullshit, so I started to write a series of articles that I'm going to share on my blog over the next few weeks.

I'm excited about this industry, sharing this content and hopefully connecting with people that have a similar interest (which is my goal in general with this newsletter and blog).

It’s important to mention however, that the advice I'm going to share applies primarily to coliving operations between 10 and 50 units.

Focus on the right things

So, where should you spend your time?

Unit economics and property scouting. I started to focus on these too late, and I advise you not to make the same mistake.

For most people (including me) its more fun to look at the marketing strategy or brainstorm how to build a community. While all of that is important and exciting, our first task is to take a deep dive into the property-side of the business and calculate unit economics. Once you’ve established an understanding of these aspects, they’re something you’ll work at constantly when operating your business.

Is something important missing from this guide? Let me know on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Do you want to build a hospitality business? Subscribe to my newsletter where I share my experiments that combine real estate, hospitality and tech 👇

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Hey 👋 I'm Peter, nice to meet you.

I'm the founder of Surf Office, a one-stop shop for anyone organizing company retreats.

A few side-projects I'm involved in: Hoodpicker, Surfpreneurs Club and Epic Monday.

I write about my experiments that combine hospitality, real estate and tech.

You can reach me out on Twitter and Linkedin.

No Playbook 🤷

Subscribe to my newsletter where I share experiments of building hospitality products.

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