Coffee With: Hector Kolonas, Co-Founder of Syncaroo
As coworking tech progresses, space aggregation platforms like Upflex are helping workspace operators expand their reach and serve new clients. Space operators who’ve listed their hot desks and meeting rooms on a few — or dozens — of platforms are realizing that comes with its drawbacks.
“How do you maintain all these platforms? That’s the big challenge,” Kolonas said in a recent panel at FlexWorld’s virtual conference. “If you’ve got a small space with 13 desks, it’s fairly simple. Once you get to that capacity, you can keep that maintained. However when you’ve got multiple locations in different cities, different clientele, different messaging, it all comes down to automation: How can you get the pieces to talk to each other, so that your humans can do human-centric tasks, things that need that human touch?”
This make-or-break challenge is precisely why Kolonas, with co-founder Robert Kropp, created Syncaroo, a tech tool that allows space operators to keep key information updated automatically update across all brokers and platforms, and to cut back on time-consuming manual updates.
We sat down with Kolonas to talk about the potential for operators in Upflex’s new Syncaroo integration, about his origin story in the coworking industry, and about what Syncaroo can do for space providers, brokers and workers alike as the user base for coworking evolves.
Upflex: Your story in the coworking world starts in a pretty unexpected place. Tell us how you got into the industry.
Hector Kolonas: In March 2013, all the banks in Cyprus closed on a Friday and said, “We don’t know when we’re going to re- open.” This led to many ad agencies letting go of all, or most, of their staff. I told them, you’ve got these beautiful, well-designed offices just sitting empty, so how about you let me find people to rent the desks sitting in your space? That’s how I ended up falling into coworking.
The banks closed on Friday, on Tuesday we opened the first “rent a desk” space, and by Friday people who were suddenly unemployed a week ago were creating new businesses or going freelance. I was like, I get coworking now, and this is what I want to do.
Upflex: At what point did the idea for Syncaroo come about?
In 2013, I looked at the hardest problems coworking spaces were facing, and saw three glaring ones: people couldn’t find the right space yet; once they were in a space they were all spending money on the same set of things and not sharing any buying power; and they had no connection with anyone in any other space across the street, or even in the same building.
I launched what became included.co, the coworking perks program, which uses shared buying power to negotiate for deals for all the members of coworking spaces. Whilst in America to expand that platform, I spoke to a whole bunch of people here and realized that the race to connect more people with the right spaces had created a new and bigger problem: keeping everything updated and in-sync.
It struck me that if there was suddenly a huge spike in demand for workspace, or a huge availability of space pushed into the market, everyone would be screwed and systems would break down, as no one will know what data is correct across the internet.
I co-founded Syncaroo in December 2019 to help keep things in sync — then March 2020 turned its head. We quickly launched a free version of Syncaroo which just synced lockdown statuses, so platforms and their users could see whether a space is open, only accessible to members or closed for a lockdown. In 2021, we began introducing a full suite of intelligent automations to help workspaces boost their reach and revenues, you can see a few of those on our website.
“It struck me that if there was suddenly a huge spike in
demand for workspace, or a huge availability of space
pushed into the market, everyone would be screwed and
systems would break down, as no one will know
what data is correct across the internet.”
Upflex: From a very concrete standpoint, what is using Syncaroo going to look like for space providers?
Kolonas: I think the best way to draw the benefits out of this is looking at what the process is without it: [To join Upflex or another space aggregator], an operator is going to have to enter all their data saying, ‘This is what we have, this is our inventory, this is what our pricing is, etcetera’ — that takes a bunch of time. Once they’ve done that, what happens when things change? Prices, inventory, and whole markets can change overnight. Spaces can be booked, or memberships cancelled, changing what’s available almost daily. Operators now have to keep it in the back of their mind to also go and update [each platform] — from login in, to finding the right page, to updating what the pricing is or updating their inventory — this can take between a couple of minutes and 45 minutes per platform. If a space is listed on 30 platforms, they’re going to have to choose which ones to update. That creates a huge risk for the company, because they’re either losing an opportunity, by delisting, or confusing prospective customers by having incorrect or out-of-date information on platforms not updated.
With Syncaroo, the goal is for it to be effortless to keep these platforms updated with your pricing, availability and live data. Our Upflex integration also helps handle booking requests. For example, if someone wants to book access to your space and you’re not open on a Tuesday, or you’re full that day, they cannot book, and you won’t have to log into Upflex to do that. It just makes the whole bunch of processes and workflows a lot easier, a lot faster, and makes it all feel more seamless.
Upflex: What are you seeing as the average situation now for a big, bustling coworking space? How many different platforms is one space typically using?
Kolonas: From what we’ve seen, it’s an average of eight used every month. We’ve found that spaces are kind of shying away from aggregators right now… When we asked a variety of spaces where they were generating their leads from — less than one percent were generated from aggregators. So, there is a huge market opportunity there for a platform to become the dominating aggregator.
However, it’s worth noting that the type of flex workspace customer is drastically shifting, and the way spaces need to service those customers is completely different from someone who contacts them directly through their website, does a viewing, and then signs up. For example, employees who are being given permission to pick where and how they work for the first time are not going to come for viewing — they’re going to come to get work done, come back tomorrow, and come back next week. That’s going to be the relationship, and that’s perfectly fine. But it’s very, very different from how the vast majority of coworking space has been filled over the last six years.
“The type of flex workspace customer is drastically
shifting, and the way spaces need to service those
customers is completely different from someone
who contacts them directly through their website,
does a viewing, and then signs up… It’s very, very
different from how the vast majority of coworking
space has been filled over the last six years.”
Upflex: What other tools is Syncaroo developing to keep space providers’ info, you know, synced?
Kolonas: Workspaces spend a ton building beautiful websites, but often have to hire developers to go in and change their pricing, availability, etcetera. We’ve released a tool called website widgets, which allows them to copy-paste a line of code into their website and that stays up to date. This fits into our big audacious goal of keeping everything in sync. We’re helping spaces update their websites, we’re helping update brokers, we’re updating Upflex and other platforms, and we’re also working on more ways to automate the workflows that need to happen each time a booking or sale comes in. We’re trying to make sure that there’s no conflicting information across the internet — and that’s really going to help workspaces convert more customers.
We’ve also added the ability to notify your favorite boutique brokers. Once you give them access, by entering their email addresses, Syncaroo gives them live availability, both for what’s available now, and that will be available soon. This helps prevent brokers bombarding operators with emails and calls to check for current availability. Operators just have way too much to do to respond to all of those requests, which means they’re once again, either leaving money on the table or are burning time that may not always lead to converted sales.
“We’re trying to make sure that there’s no
conflicting information across the internet —
and that’s really going to help workspaces
convert more customers.”
Upflex: This seems like a big boost to making these aggregation platforms more user-friendly, for everyone involved.
Kolonas: Definitely, but on a marketing level it even goes beyond that. We, as consumers, have this two-touch approach to buying things these days: We see something that’s cool or interesting on something like Instagram, you Google it, check reviews or ask others before you buy. We’re seeing a similar trend with workspace. If any information is out of sync or is not up to date, you create this moment of unnecessary friction. So, a big part of our promise to the workspace operator is that we aim to help them keep everything in sync, so that when people find them on multiple channels, it leads to better conversions and ultimately a more seamless experience, from discovery, through to checking out at the end of each workday.