I rather enjoyed my year of living in university halls of residence. I was eighteen years old and for someone who hadn’t previously lived away from home for anything longer than a couple of weeks, the combination of a room of my own coupled with communal living space was an ideal introduction to student life. And the communality was important. Put simply, you couldn’t help but make friends when sharing living areas and kitchen spaces.
That same desire for a kind of targeted communality seems to be underpinning the development of co-living spaces aimed at a new generation of millennial and generation Z professionals and entrepreneurs – at least those who travel to distant cities for career development reasons and consequently require the kind of accommodation that will allow them to settle in quickly and focus on the job in hand.
Here in the U.K. – and particularly in London – the co-living concept has sparked something of a mini-boom in this particular space, with operators such as Mason + Fifth, Noiascape, Vonder and – slap bang in the middle of the Canary Wharf Financial District – the Collective all offering a co-living experience.
All of the above offer accommodation , along with relatively reasonable prices by London standards. There are also – and this may be part of the attraction to residents – a chance to network with others. There is, perhaps, a parallel here with the growth of co-working.
So is co-living a good option for the traveling entrepreneur and if so why? A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to Riccardo Tessaro, co-founder of Gravity Co-Living, a company that operates four properties in London.
As Tessaro explains, Gravity was set up to address a problem that he himself had encountered. “My background is in private equity,” he says. “Every time I moved to a new city, I found it hard to get accommodation – especially short-term accommodation.” Somewhere in between the very short-term – hotels – and the conventional apartments which require tenants to take out a lease for at least a year, he saw the need for something more flexible.
The rise and rise of co-working around the world has been driven by demand for flexible commercial space that also allows “members” to interact and share ideas with other entrepreneurs in open-plan settings. You could see co-living as an extension of that concept. If you work in network-friendly spaces, why not live in something similar.
Typically, co-living spaces make it easy to put down bags and get started on life in a new city from day one. Typically, the rent (aka, membership) covers the accommodation itself, plus utilities, WiFi, and local taxes, so there isn’t any need to spend time finding suppliers. You also – under normal non-pandemic circumstances – get to rub shoulders with other people in a similar situation.
In the case of Gravity Co-living, one of the key elements of the service is a community app, providing a gateway to events and services and the presence of a community manager who is there to help people make the connections they need.
As things stand, the majority of Gravity’s members fall into the “professionals” category but the company is increasingly seeking to attract entrepreneurs.
“At the moment about 25 percent of our members are entrepreneurs,” says Tessaro. “They benefit from being able to mix with other entrepreneurs but also people such as lawyers and financiers.” Tessaro also points to value-add services of particular interest to entrepreneurs, notably a partnership with payments platform Stripe.
Guni Dias is one such traveling businesswoman. Born in Switzerland but with her roots in Sri Lanka, she has worked in Hong Kong and Malaysia. As founder of Dotiv, she is building a marketplace for complementary and preventative healthcare suppliers. The business is at a very early stage and is currently in the process of testing its app.
Coming from Hong Kong to London, Dias was looking for an easy way to establish herself in a city where renting at an affordable price isn’t always easy. She currently lives in one of Gravity Co-Living’s Camden properties. “The attraction was the flexibility,” she says. “Not having to take care of all the bills, such as electricity and council tax.” The opportunity to live in one of London’s coolest areas was also part of the appeal.
The experience in terms of networking has been more mixed – largely because of the Pandemic. “I arrived during the lockdown and it wasn’t easy,” she says. “It was been a limitation but you get out what you put in.”
Nevertheless, she says Gravity’s community management function has helped her meet some of the people she needed to connect with.
We live in uncertain times. Not only has the pandemic shut down much of the movement that usually takes place between countries, but here in the UK, the chaotic decoupling from the European Union means that relocating to Britain from elsewhere on the continent is no longer a matter of buying a ticket, packing a bag and catching a train. Visas are now required. It’s all a bit more complicated.
So is it a good time to be investing in property aimed at the peripatetic? Well, as Tessaro explains, Gravity’s approach has been to reduce the financial outlay by reaching agreements with property owners. “We decided the best way forward was to operate real estate assets on behalf of owners,” he says. “It took us a year to find the right building. We found a family office developing an HMO (multiple occupation) property.
Gravity has raised around £1.6 million and plan expansion beyond the UK into Europe.
But will co-living become a thing? I must admit, I was skeptical. Part of the joy of engaging with a new city is slowly but surely finding your way around and making friends through work and leisure activities. There is perhaps a danger that a carefully managed environment will cut you off from the beating heart of the wider community. That said, settling in can be a slow, painstaking, and sometimes lonely business. So for those needing place to stay and a chance to network, the co-living experience undoubtedly has an appeal. What’s more, finding a peer group quickly, could provide a useful business edge. We can probably expect to see more co-living spaces across over the coming months and years.