Co-working player Huckletree has ambitions for Dublin, London and further afield.
In 2009, Andrew Lynch had just earned his degree in quantity surveying from Waterford Institute of Technology. It was a bleak time when you consider the financial meltdown and that the bottom had just fallen out of the property construction industry worldwide. The downturn had a particularly nasty velocity in Ireland, so things weren’t looking good for young Lynch with his new piece of parchment.
Not one for dwelling on setbacks, Lynch took himself to the UK where he did a master’s degree in real-estate investment and somehow ended up working in private equity and venture capital (VC) investment in London.
‘We’ve seen companies join us as start-ups and grow and expand and, as they take on investment, grow very quickly to 30 or 40 people’
– ANDREW LYNCH
Today, Lynch is chief operating officer of Huckletree, a growing co-working space empire he co-founded with Gabriela (Gabi) Hersham and Alex Vaskevitch, which has just opened its doors in Dublin, in the building that Twitter had originally occupied on Pearse Street.
Huckletree recently raised £4.5m in a funding round led by real-estate investment firm Meyer Bergman, following a £2.4m Series A round in 2015.
The Dublin space – dubbed Huckletree D2 – marks the company’s first international expansion and brings its global member count to 2,000 people.
The co-working firm now has 100,000 sq ft of office space across four locations and is currently looking into several additional locations across Europe and beyond, including Copenhagen, Barcelona and Tel Aviv.
“I met Gabi through her husband who worked in venture capital, and she had worked in a co-working space in New York and came back brimming with ideas. She was convinced there was going to be an explosion in this industry – she was right – and we joined forces to establish Huckletree.”
Co-working is indeed big business as cities such as Dublin and London are filling up with tech companies, and office space is at a premium. Players such as Huckletree, Dogpatch Labs and WeWork represent a different vision on shared office spaces, bringing with them a sense of curation and community building – more than simply renting a desk or an office.
Taking founders to the next level
Lynch explained that founders and start-ups – keen to escape home offices and coffee shops – want to belong to a community, but a community that connects them with investors and opportunities to learn and grow.
Hersham and Lynch established their first co-working space in Clerkenwell in London – a modest affair of just 2,000 sq ft – in 2014, which they followed up in early 2016 with a bigger space in Shoreditch, complete with a novel cycle ramp right into the building.
“Our first space, which had only 40 or 50 members, was quite homely but, early on, we created a community feel. The goal very early on was to try and nail the product, find out what the members wanted, and how to best deliver it and refine it. After we opened up in Shoreditch with 300 members, the world seemed like our oyster, but we also were aware of how competitive it was, too.”
So, while the numbers looked good, Lynch said the bread and butter of what Huckletree was going to be doing was in curation.
“We wanted to create a community of aspiring businesses, whether early-stage, venture-backed or corporate innovation teams, who wanted to escape the corporate setting, and we evolved. Shoreditch was followed by our west London office and then Dublin, which opened in November.”
Crucially, Lynch said it is about creating a place where entrepreneurs and founders want to be.
Staff numbers at Huckletree across its four locations have grown to 34 people and Lynch believes further international expansion is the way to go.
“It’s really about how companies themselves want to exist and how flexible they want to be. Gone are the days when you would start a company, find a landlord and then sign a lease for 10 years. People want spaces that are in harmony with whatever phase their business is at and, for us, it is about giving that ambition a home.
“It’s very different than it was five years ago and the co-working revolution is a product of a slightly more entrepreneurial, founder-friendly environment.
“You have lots of VCs now investing in early-stage companies, lots of emerging tech and government incentives to foster innovation.
“But, as a generation, we are always looking for something a bit different. People just don’t want mass production any more, they don’t just want an office and a desk; they want to be surrounded by people doing similar but different things but with enterprising outlooks.”
And so, Huckletree D2 is 30,000 sq ft of working space for up to 400 people, and is designed to cater for workshops and events.
Lynch said that each Huckletree location is designed to be different. Anchored around iconic buildings – D2 is in the 19th-century Academy building on Pearse Street – they come festooned with breakout areas, no-tech yurts and even meditation huts, if that’s your thing.
“For Dublin, we took everything that Twitter had, including the whole front of the building and its facade, including two top floors, or about 80pc of the building. We have an urban jungle, hot-desking areas and more. It has to be more than just an office and that’s why we put such an emphasis on people who can help enrich the community through curation.”
The general manager of Huckletree D2, for example, is Aislinn Mahon, former head of global partnerships at the Web Summit.
“There’s an emphasis on programming that is crucial,” Lynch explained. “It’s always important to have a punchy schedule of speakers and advisers.”
One of the interesting things about Huckletree is its Alpha programme, a three-month accelerator aimed at pre-seed start-ups.
“We’ve seen companies join us as start-ups and grow and expand and, as they take on investment, grow very quickly to 30 or 40 people. We also have a strong relationship with Silicon Valley Bank, which also uses Huckletree D2 in Dublin.”
Early tenants at Huckletree Dublin include HouseMyDog, a previous Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week, shipping marketplace Kontainers and SaaS player DataDog, with more coming on stream.
“Dublin is growing fast for us and we haven’t ruled out perhaps other spaces in Dublin, but also elsewhere in Ireland,” said Lynch.
“As a business, we are trying to push ourselves away as much as possible from the typical definition of co-working. Co-working has always existed in some way, but we try to differentiate ourselves by being a workplace accelerator. Yes, we provide all the functionality of shared office space, but we try to add a lot more.
“Early-stage start-ups don’t really want to be working in living rooms or in Starbucks, so we try to add a place for them as well. We have people who mightn’t have a budget for space but they are ambitious and want to grow as fast as they can. Sometimes it isn’t about a desk; sometimes they are paying for a network and access to potential growth opportunities,” he concluded.
“When it comes to working with start-ups, having that network and content in terms of events is a huge draw when you are taking that leap from the kitchen table or home office to something more structured.”