I Created An Airbnb For Startups In NYC & Make $3.6M/Year
Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?
I’m Lucas Seyhun. I’m the founder of one of the earliest New York City coworking spaces, The Farm Soho, established in 2014. Unlike most of our competitors (don’t want to give any names), we adopted the affordable workspace model which became our fuel both before and during the pandemic.
We primarily started focusing on early-stage startups, solopreneurs, or digital nomads to build a place for them to call home, in the heart of New York City, by slashing prices to less than half of what our competitions have been offering.
Now we cater to all these as well as established businesses discovering the agility and cost-effectiveness of flexible office space rental as opposed to conventional long leases; and also to event organizers in need of unique spaces backed up by expert support.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
One day as I was sitting in my 2,700-square foot loft without any furniture, I was dreaming about turning the property into an ‘unauthorized’ Airbnb. When I was on the verge of executing, one of my closest friends asked me “why don’t you do an Airbnb for startups?” I responded, “Is it illegal?” and the answer was no.
Unintentionally and magically, The Farm Soho ended up becoming one of the earliest coworking spaces in New York City. However, we knew so little about marketing and so we were not able to acquire any members.
Sometimes, if you’re running a company with cash flow limitations, you tend to gravitate towards short-term revenue just to help you to survive, although that decision can hurt you in the long run.
After a lot of time on Google and watching relevant YouTube videos, we learned how to conquer marketing which eventually served to place us on the map in our industry. We came through with limited resources, the uncertainty of being able to pay the next month’s rent, along countless sleepless nights and fear of failure. We did our best to learn the business to the level that was required to gain and retain new customers.
Now, fast forward to 8 years later, after coming through the worst of the pandemic and with a huge toll on our membership portfolio, we have survived to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Post pandemic coworking has become one of the most in-demand services in the New York commercial real estate industry and we’re uniquely positioned to capitalize.
Take us through the process of designing the operation
In 2015, after a year running an IKEA-furnished prototype operation, we not only assembled furniture, we also assembled the future of the Farm.
Still, on a shoestring budget, a trip to the farmlands of Southern Missouri led us to a century-old barn that we set about dismantling and converting to materials for our furnishings, tables, chairs, and other props required for the space. It was a mammoth task, but the result is an organic coworking environment inspired by nature amid a bustling city - The Farm Soho, located at 447 Broadway just a half-block south of Grand Street in the heart of NYC, is a very special, unique place.
Our Farm Soho East is located within a classic NYC landmark building in the heart of Nolita, on 188 Grand Street. It offers fully furnished private offices to full branded floors, with several private phone booths, and a rooftop space ideal for events.
And our newest space is Nomad, a fusion of Americana-inspired and minimalist industrial design. It’s located in New York’s burgeoning high-tech business district, at 1178 Broadway in Midtown, and offers private offices, custom full-floors, and a relaxing lounge area.
Describe the process of launching The Farm Soho.
As a founder, I spearheaded the construction day by day, staying on top of every little detail - which included personally loading 30 massive tables and driving them across the country. No job is too insignificant when you are a founder.
The entire operation was funded by hard work and a little bit of cash that we gained from our early-stage marketing. Therefore, The Farm is a true do-it-yourself coworking space - approved of course by experts to ensure the most rigorous safety standards.
Since launch, what has worked to attract customers?
To use the term coined by Bill Gates, ‘content is king.’ As a primary means of attracting members, we have focused a lot of resources on producing professional, well-crafted, informative, original content to both tell our story and share our vision.
Our keyword-rich, high-traffic blog features content of real value to entrepreneurs, startups, location independent professionals aka digital nomads, event organizers, and the like. Our posts are cited across the web, so we’re gaining a solid reputation as an authoritative source of information on coworking, flexible office solutions, starting and growing a business, managing remote teams, hosting events, and everything related in-between.
Thinking and acting as if you are your customer is very important. If you don’t, you’ll never understand why they bought your product or more importantly why they didn't. Once you understand the ‘why’, then you will understand how they’re searching for you - and provide the information they need.
Are they searching for you on social media? Are they just responding to ads? Are they using their laptops and iPads? Are they finding you in their iPhones but then going back to their desktops to click that ‘purchase’ button? Do they want to see your product before buying or would they rather purchase without talking to anyone?
As you can see, thinking as if you are the client is essential for any marketing strategy.
What we understood was that there was a gap between a traditional coworking space and a coffee shop, where a coffee shop can’t give you the flexibility of using it as a homely space while coworking spaces give you functional features such as reliable internet, conference rooms, quietness, and of course a vibrant and diverse community. So we decided to fuse both of these settings as our anchor offering and once we understood that, we knew how to begin telling our story.
Word of mouth has also been a real boon to our business - many of our members have come to us as a result of recommendations, so that’s a very good sign that we’re doing it right.
Apart from learning your customers' habits, what has been your top strategy to keep people coming back for more?
Convenient locations, ease of online booking, full transparency with no-obligation tours, 24/7 access, dedicated support staff, immaculately maintained and fully equipped spaces, an environment that feels uniquely organic, a well-nurtured community providing tremendous opportunities for networking and collaboration, availability of virtual mailbox, HR and other services.
And of course the array of flexible options we provide, everything from day passes, hot desks, and dedicated desks to conference rooms, private and full-floor offices, and event spaces that can be repurposed for any occasion, whether it’s a formal or informal gathering.
We also host events of real value to startups with experts in a range of fields, and similarly routinely create opportunities for networking to actively encourage collaboration among our members. We aren’t just making spaces available, we’re helping our community to interact with like-minded people, generate leads, learn new tricks, grow their businesses. Our ultimate objective is to cultivate success - if we’re going to succeed, we need to provide an ecosystem that makes it easier for our members to succeed.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our occupancies will soon reach pre-pandemic levels, but with one compromise: the prices have been dramatically reduced. Nonetheless, the future of real estate in New York City is going to be short-term rentals of serviced offices.
With our current portfolio, we are attracting larger players in the startup tech ecosystem. Alongside our marketing efforts, word of mouth is becoming another gravitating factor in motivating startups to become Farm members.
We predict that within the next year, in 2022, we will reach and pass pre-pandemic revenue alongside certain anticipated growth that we plan to add to our portfolio.
What benefit has hindsight given you?
My biggest regret has been prioritizing short-term revenue over long-term gain. Sometimes, if you’re running a company with cash flow limitations, you tend to gravitate towards short-term revenue just to help you to survive, although that decision can hurt you in the long run. Such as scaring away customers who have deeper pockets that could bring you to the next level of income. But it’s a double-edged sword. It’s just a question of survival vs. vision.
Therefore, I would advise anyone launching a new project, business, or startup, to always have adequate finance. Because once you start running out of money, the fear will start controlling your company, meaning that you are no longer in charge and that can put you in very dangerous territory.
What platforms/tools do you use for your business?
Zapier, Zapier, Zapier - it was essential to integrate our web applications to achieve efficient marketing automation.
We love Google Sheets. We love Pipedrive. And recently, we started falling in love with Asana and Trello. Trello is good because it's super customizable. Asana is limited but it gives a clear function to users. And having said this, we probably could have been using all of the tools more effectively - but we’re learning fast!
My latest time-saving discovery is Loom! Never send an email. Always send a video. Loom saves you the 30-minutes it would take to write an email when, for example, you need to describe how you want a widget to be placed on your website - a 4-minute video makes everything way more clear. If time is money, Loom has saved us a fortune!
What book has most influenced your leadership style?
I like actionable and result-driven steps. One book that gave me that in recent years is: How to talk to anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes.
Not only did it illuminate the principles of navigating a conference, but it also helped me understand simple human behavior with tips that I could use during negotiations, interviews, or any other managerial tasks that I encounter in my day-to-day work. I highly recommend it - it’s a game-changer.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If I knew this at the earlier stages of my startup, it would have been much, much better for me: mental health, mindfulness, and physical health are of equal importance to how many hours you work.
Because you will never work at the same speed and the same rate. Your focus will vary. But the stronger your underlying physical and mental health, the more likely you’ll become a more effective leader. The standard of your work is going to vary depending on how you feel.
For the first year, you’re going to sacrifice your work-life balance. So you have to be sure that what you’re about to do is the love of your life. Would you marry into a relationship that is not fulfilling? Because you’ll be married to this job; this position, this company that you’re building may be with you for the rest of your life - if you get it right, of course. So consider this relationship carefully and make sure it's exactly what you want.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re focusing on scalability so data entry and marketing are becoming more and more important for us. We’re also implementing the Trust but verify, reward system, meaning: making sure your employees are adhering to procedure and properly executing their tasks. If they do, they're rewarded and if they don’t, well, they’re not.
We’re also currently developing our marketing team because we want to expand from just selling coworking spaces to exciting new products and services that are on the verge of being launched. Stay tuned!
Where can we go to learn more?
You can check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Plus you can also visit our official website for more information and to reserve your space.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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