Coworking in Paris: be inspired by Maxime Chouraqui of Coworkshop
Here at MyFrenchLife™, we love to be inspired by the amazing stories of entrepreneurs, creatives and innovators doing fabulous things in France. And, our partner Nomador feels the same way!
As an online, peer-to-peer website for house-sitters and home-owners, Nomador understands the ups and downs – and huge rewards – of stepping out to do something different. The modern world offers so much possibility for new businesses, initiatives and trends. Although at first glance France might not seem like the centre of innovation, what with their love for tradition, heritage and la patrimoine, there’s a lot happening that might surprise you…
So, Nomador and MyFrenchLife™ have been seeking out these hidden stories, to show you another side to France. Come with us as we explore the many entrepreneurs, creatives and innovators in France: this time, we meet Maxime Chouraqui, co-founder of Coworkshop in Paris.
It was a crisp and peaceful morning in Paris; the refreshing kind, that only sunshine through cool air can bring. And, it was the sort of morning that is the most disappointing to leave behind, as you step inside the confines of your office for the day.
Yet here I was, set up on a couch with my laptop on my knees, staring out at the sunshine and shadows over the buildings of the Canal St Martin neighbourhood. The couch belonged to Coworkshop: a new coworking space at 29 rue des Vinaigriers in the 10th. I had found it purely by chance, walking by one day.
Speaking several weeks later to Maxime Chouraqui, one of the co-founders of Coworkshop, he tells me the light and airy aspect of the building and its design was no accident. “We invested a lot in the design and architecture of the space,” Maxime explains to me via Skype, his voice as bright as I remember that coveted spot on the couch at Coworkshop to be.
A perfect Parisian location
He and his cofounder Stéphan were keen to set up a space in the République area, because as Maxime explains, it is accessible by different transport options, is lively and has a lot of restaurants – in short, there’s a lot going on. So it was even more lucky that they were able to find such a quiet pocket of the quartier to call home. “When I was looking for a place, by chance we found something near the Canal St Martin, and it was the cherry on the cake!” he laughs. “C’était superbe. Because it’s such a great neighbourhood, and even more – it corresponds with our aims.”
“We wanted to be different, different – and different again to other coworking spaces and offices” – he emphasises ‘différente’ pointedly with each repetition. In his mind, even traditional coworking spaces weren’t offering the right environment for the growing ecosystem of nomadic workers and freelancers.
“[With Coworkshop] we wanted to create a space that was accessible, with reasonable, simple prices, avec des services. We always wanted to make a space that was friendly, in order to facilitate connections between people – because we have a lot of people who work alone, people are looking for a beautiful space, somewhere friendly and comfortable.”
A truth universally acknowledged – not just in France
The idea for the space came from a very simple – and very common – problem. “I’ve always worked on the web, in e-marketing,” he tells me. “So, I’d have a meeting in Nantes at 10am, then another at 2pm, and each time I’d be looking for a place to work.
So, I’d go to a café and ask for the wifi password; try to connect; then the connection wouldn’t work – and so I’d bought a coffee for nothing. As a result I’d end up in Starbucks, but the wifi was always at full capacity and you could never find a seat.”
“At that moment I thought to myself, this is incredible – that there’s no place like this to work, when you work as a nomad.” The alternative option – that is, working at home – is, in Maxime’s words “horrible.” He laughs as he says the word – and I do too. I’ve spent many a day trying to work from home, only to be distracted, or go almost completely insane with the lack of human contact.
“So I started to work on the project,” he explains, “which was to create space for people to work and to respond to the conundrum of freelancing; to create a social environment where they could meet people.”
The journey to coworking in Paris
“After that, I visited lots of [coworking] spaces in France – in Paris, and I didn’t see any that I really liked,” he says. “I found the spaces weren’t always très jolie or très agrèable; I found it all a bit closed-off – but the concept of coworking is openness!”
When he mentioned the idea to co-founder Stéphan, it was immediately met with enthusiasm. “He said, why didn’t you propose this [to me] earlier?” Maxime relays to me animatedly in English.
“He liked the project as soon as I talked about it. And for me it was cool to work with a friend – even if I know it’s very difficult. Because you know that it will be difficult to create a company, and you don’t want to break your friendship because of that… So, il faut que ça marche,” he slips back into French. “Il faut que ça marche.”
He says this with good reason: the journey from ideation to opening was a long haul – two years in fact. “You have to write the business plan – it took four months; then you have to find the place – six months; when you’ve found the place after [you] have to negotiate the contract for the rent; then you have to see the bank; [and] you have to wait for the bank’s response.”
I remark in awe at how long and complicated it all sounds, and Maxime interjects with a very French “oh la la la” in agreement. “C’est très, très longue – très, très longue,” he repeats for emphasis. “Mais là, c’est Paris. And in Paris, it’s even more complicated, because everything is expensive. It’s very, very complicated.”
“… when you’re afraid you won’t get financing, when you’re afraid you won’t find a place. It’s important to meet people like you.”
This seems to be common amongst small businesses in France. When I cautiously ask him if organisations like the Mairie de Paris and the French government could do more to help small businesses, Maxime steers clear of being critical, instead choosing to focus on the positive: “Sometimes – and I have to say it – the government help people like us to develop. Sometimes.”
Maxime says the most important thing for him during this time were personal connections. “It was very difficult,” he says in a sombre tone, before the smile appears in his voice again: “The good news is that I have my girlfriend, and she was there to motivate me when I was down.”
He also found making connections with other like-minded individuals in a similar situation to be invaluable. “Six months before [opening], I met a guy who wanted to create a restaurant. And he told me, I have finished my business plan, now I’m looking for a place, and I told him ‘Oh, like me, like me!’
It’s very cool to find people who know this kind of situation, you know – when you’re afraid you won’t get financing, when you’re afraid you won’t find a place. It’s important to meet people like you.”
And these connections are at the heart of Coworkshop. As Maxime explains in English: “The goal is to create ‘complementaries’ between members, and not similarities.”
“En anglais,” I tell him, “on dit : to broaden your horizons.”
Forging French connections at Coworkshop
“The biggest challenge is to generate these connections between coworkers,” he explains. Coworkshop aims to create connections in three ways: first, through their own interactions with workers. They get to know the people in the space; find out what they do and what they need, then suggest others they should get in touch with. Second, they have developed an online portal on which members create profiles and share news.
Third: Coworkshop is especially keen to develop their events. “At the same time that we want people to meet one another… You can’t force it. Because people are there, after all, to work,” Maxime explains. Events are the perfect antidote: after-hours meetings with members that allow them to get to know each other and how they might be able to work together.
Though the idea began as a solution for nomadic workers and freelancers, Coworkshop is the office space for many other types of workers: consultants in everything from communications to engineering, as well as established companies and startups of two, three, even ten salaried workers.
The companies and individuals who work there choose Coworkshop for the “simplicité d’accès” and because it “corresponds with their image”, Maxime explains in French. “Chez nous, we promote an image of openness; sometimes they choose us because it’s a space that is assez qualitatif. Their clients say ‘oh, I like the space you work at’ – it projects a dynamic, and often young image.”
Over and over again, Maxime uses the word ‘qualitatif’ to describe Coworkshop. The common English usage of the word doesn’t quite allow for what he wants to evoke: in our vernacular, it simply means measuring qualitatively, that is, by physical characteristics rather than numerical.
For Coworkshop, the emphasis is placed on what is in the space: the atmosphere and people. It’s not about how many pairs of feet walk through the door; about how many big companies choose to make it their home. It’s about something intangible, which is lacking in many other spaces of the same nature. “It was so difficult to create this,” says Maxime. “It took two years. Now it’s very cool to have people like you who are very happy for us, and tell us it’s a good place!”
I ask what’s next for Coworkshop, and Maxime replies with his signature laugh and a smile in his voice: “The world!”
Have you visited any public workspaces such as Coworkshop in France? Where do you like to work away from your usual place? Share your experience in the comments below.
Come with us and be inspired:
Introduction // Quelques Femmes du Numerique // Kasia Dietz
Sandrine Benattar // Christina Montenegro // Maxime Chouraqui
Tom Clarke // Felipe Perez // Marie Van Haecke // Nicolas Piègay
Lucie Knappek // Paul Arnephy // Caroline de Marchi
We love our partners! This series was brought to life thanks to Nomador: be inspired and amazed by entrepreneurs, creatives and innovators in France. All images courtesy of Coworkshop, or via Coworkingdesign.