By Maria Grusauskas:
“Sign into the online Seats2meet interface, list your skills and talents, take a seat in one of the 61 physical spaces at the reserved time, connect with a network of hundreds of by-chance coworkers doing the same as you, then sign out at the end of your reserved time.
In a James Bond kind of a way, it’s like you never came at all. Except for the magic that may have happened in that window of time. Like maybe you found an editor for your book, or a designer for your latest project, or picked up a much-needed freelance gig.
That is kind of what it’s like to use Seats2meet, an innovative take on coworking—free coworking, mind you—that is spreading like wildfire across the Netherlands and beyond.
Founded by Ronald van den Hoff and Marielle Sijgers, S2M takes the already serendipitous networking of traditional coworking and shakes it up to a whole new expansive level. It’s free coworking with a third, ever changing dimension, and it hints at an exciting possible future for coworking: an open-sourced global network.
Since it began in the Netherlands in 2005 with just ten people, S2M swelled to 250 users within the first month, and it’s been growing exponentially ever since.
Last year, a total of 15,000 people, or “knowmads” as van den Hoff calls the independent coworker, used S2M. The model now operates in 61 (and counting) different physical locations all over the Netherlands, as well as “The District” in Cairo, Egypt, and most recently, “League” in Tokyo, Japan.
The innovation begins here: S2M encompasses all kinds of physical spaces, not just average office spaces. The 61 spaces that are currently offering seats include some traditional coworking spaces, and also everything from a yogurt shop, to a golf course, to business centers, museums, a theater and even a hospital.” (http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-future-of-coworking-is-free-and-augmented)
“So basically what we are saying is that you can create value in any physical place, as long as you are connected,” said van den Hoff.
Seats2Meets is the Freemium Model Applied to Physical Spaces. How it Works:
Van den Hoff hesitates to call S2M “free” (even though it is) because space owners make money on premium services and users “pay” with social capital.
Venues that participate offer 20% of their seating to S2M coworkers for free, but if a S2M user wants to hold a meeting or an event, then the spaces can charge for that. S2M receives a small commission (less than $2 per seat) on these rentals which keeps the S2M platform running.
So what, exactly, is this social capital that users pay with and which van den Hoff believes is “highly underrated,” yet extremely valuable?
It’s the rich pool of knowledge and skills that the knowmads have to offer to the network on a daily basis, and it’s what is keeping the network growing.
S2M users, a diverse bunch that ranges in age from 17 to over 60, are required to tell the S2M network who they are, and what their talents and knowledge are on that particular day. And then naturally, share it. That’s how users pay with social capital.
“A lot of people underestimate ,” says van den Hoff. “But we see that a lot of the traditional corporations, they are booking the meeting rooms and the office spaces just to get in touch with those people.”
For van den Hoff, the knowmads that use S2M are a resource in and of themselves.
“These people are self learning, they are continuously developing themselves because if they’re not, they’re out of the game,” says van den Hoff. “And they’re highly connected, they’re more connected than your average corporate player.”
When coworkers get assignments from corporations, they generate revenues for S2M since assignments usually require some private face time. Last year, the reservation system handled 132,000 paid meeting seats, and 60,000 free coworking seats.
And do the golf courses and yogurt shops who offer seats get anything out of this?
“Yes, because the key thing is, the coworkers are highly connected people, so whenever they’re in our space they start communicating that they are in our space, and that means they start to advertise your location,” says van den Hoff.
“And people are saying ‘I’m going to Seats2meet in Amsterdam X and X location,’ and somebody else is saying ‘Seats2Meet, what is that?’ And then number three is saying ‘let me explain it to you.’ And number 4 is saying ‘here’s the link and you can reserve your seat.'”
It’s the reason that S2M is able to operate with just four full time employees—the knowmads—although still self-employed—naturally become ambassadors of S2M. They play the role of advertisers and customer service representatives. In the Netherlands, at least, the S2M logo is getting pretty hot—people want to be associated with the prestige of this network which is so rich in social capital.
And as often as entrepreneurs meet and chat within the virtual space of S2M, they are also inviting each other to have coffee (or yogurt) at the physical site. It’s a win-win relationship: The businesses that offer free seats enjoy a swell in business, and the knowmads are a valuable resource that attracts corporate players.
Next month, on request of the S2M community, a new service called “Residency” will be added, where coworkers can pay 50 euros per month to have access to the database of knowledge and people at all times, as well as free access to the last unsold seats at commercial conferences. These members will also be granted full access to the S2M software and they can use the logo as a badge on their business cards and websites.” (http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-future-of-coworking-is-free-and-augmented)