14. Matthew Dunstan, Author of the Coworking Revolution
Episode 14 - Matthew Dunstan
Guest: Matthew Dunstan, Rising Tide Ventures Welcome to the Everything Coworking Podcast Episode Number 14!
In today’s episode, I chat with Matthew Dunstan, author of The Coworking Revolution: Four Secrets to Successfully Working for Yourself, just published May 2015. Matthew spoke at GCUC Australia and I wanted to share his story. And to have someone on the show with an Australian accent :-)
I read Matthew’s book on a recent flight and was really struck at the time by his perspective on the problems that coworking solves. And I have to say that since our interview, I can’t stop thinking about his ideas. We talk a lot in coworking about this idea of “serendipitous interactions” - this idea that if you collide with enough people, you’ll make connections that would otherwise never present themselves. And these connections should help you personally and professionally.
The thing I love about Matthew’s value proposition for coworking is that he’s suggesting that hope is not a strategy. I read that book some time ago and love that title and it’s really making me think about what we’re doing in coworking spaces to facilitate more than just lucky conversations at member events.
I know you’ll enjoy our conversation but I also highly recommend the book.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Personally, Matthew is a proud father of two teenage boys, and an avid sailor. Professionally, he started his professional life in marketing, moved to IT, and then into management. He worked in a range of companies, from small local businesses to Microsoft. He was also a lecturer at the Australian Graduate School of Management for five years.
What’s something the average person would not learn about you just from a quick chat at your coworking space’s coffee bar? Matthew has an alter ego - he’s a swimming coach for children aged three through twelve. He and his wife started the business after returning from a sailing trip. His contacts who know him as a swim teacher are usually surprised to see a photo of him in a business suit, and vice versa. He loves the balance that the second business gives him, because getting in the pool and teaching kids to swim is, as Chris puts it, the antidote to a bad day.
After ten years at Microsoft, you decided to sail around the world with your family. At that time, you decided to become an entrepreneur. What kind of business did you set out to start, and is that the path you’re still on?
It probably did change, but one of the big things that went on during Matthew’s transition away from Microsoft was a yearning to get back to more meaning in business. He wanted to think about what needed to be accomplished. On his trip, he spent a lot of time in small, coastal towns and villages. One of the things he noticed was that people in these environments were universally happy, without pursuing bigger houses, newer cars, and higher rungs on the corporate ladder. There was value in relationships, community, extended family, and coming together.
By the time he returned from his sailing trip, Matthew wanted to think about how to rebuild communities, and he had a sense of empathy for people who wanted to work for themselves. He realized that people who worked for themselves, from home, could really benefit from having a sense of community.
Could you tell us a bit more about your book?
The book is called The Coworking Revolution: Four Secrets to Successfully Working for Yourself, and it’s available in paperback or via Kindle on Amazon.com. The eBook is also available on Matthew’s website.
Can you tell us about the role serendipity has played in your career?
Matthew has a passion for both teaching and sailing, and he wanted to bring the two together and create a business around that. He’d just left a cloud computing contract, and was out celebrating the decision with his wife. As it turned out, a person on one side of his table operated a sailing school and was lamenting how difficult it was to find sailing instructors, while a person on the other side of his table ran a sailing adventure business six weeks per year. Six weeks later, Matthew became a sailing instructor, and launched a business called Uncharted Sailing Adventures to take people on trips around the Mediterranean.
What about in the coworking community? One of Matthew’s mentors has a saying, “Big doors open on small hinges.” He notes that you have to be out interacting with people, and be open to opportunities that might not be obvious at the time. You have to engage with people, and things might start to unfold. One mistake that people make is trying to get this kind of serendipitous interaction at a local coffee shop. According to Matthew, that just isn’t the same as interaction in a professional context. You need to be interacting with other people who are running businesses and trying to accomplish their goals. Coworking spaces are great places to make that happen.
Do conversations in coworking spaces tend to start at a more intimate level, since you’re closer to people there than you would be to people in a coffee shop or at a networking event?
Matthew agrees, but he feels that something people may struggle with is the balance between being open to serendipity and wasting time with random conversations. You can put a lot of time, energy, and passion into it, and help other people, but it might be at your own expense. He feels that there is not an easy answer to finding that balance.
It helps if you share what you’re trying to accomplish in conversations with others. It has to go past the usual polite watercooler conversation, and to what, specifically, would be helpful to you. Matthew thinks there’s also a great opportunity to set up more formal teams for people to help each other with their businesses.
How did you find coworking?
Matthew describes his journey into coworking as a common one. He got about three days into running his own business from home, and realized he was having trouble staying motivated without anyone around him. He then ventured into coffee shops, but encountered a similar problem. No one was really interacting, even though there were individuals there who were seeking a social outlet. A coworking space with like-minded entrepreneurs was the solution.
In his search for a coworking space, Matthew realized he was looking for different things on different days. He’s a member of a couple of different spaces. He uses the quiet, more professional Gravity Coworking when he needs to get a lot of work done and work with corporate clients. He also uses Little Tokyo Two, which has a more casual, interactive atmosphere. Matthew even includes the local sailing club and coffee shops in his portfolio of regular workspaces.
What are the four key things you think can be solved through coworking?
Matthew arrived at his list of four things by first thinking about the things he missed from his days as an employee, and realizing that all four of them could be attained in coworking communities. The first thing was watercooler conversations and social occasions. The second was a productive workspace. The third was teamwork and constructive collaboration. The fourth was management - that little bit of direction, leadership, and personal accountability that can be implemented in a coworking environment through the formation of accountability groups.
Do you have any tips for finding the right kind of coworking space for you?
Try a few different communities, suggests Matthew. Sit down, talk to people, and get a feel for what the space is like. Is it different on different days? Do you want the space to be for productivity, or do you want a social outlet? Keep looking until you find a comfortable space that feels like a good fit.
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