Co-work out a culture of inclusivity and shared responsibility
When I was listening to Anton`s story about how Puzl CowOrKing emerged, I had the feeling that it kind of happened unexpectedly and totally unplanned. Puzl (a free website builder, helping SMEs become more visible online) has been around for a while, located in the beautiful city of Varna, Bulgaria. If you have found a company situated in one of the vibrant but still small towns, at some point your eyes start rolling towards the city where the hype is, where there is a bigger and stronger community. And you know that if you want to grow, you gotta go.
So that is what Anton and Thibaut did. They went hunting. Sofia is the capital of the country, where the Bulgarian tech happens. First thing you need – an office space. “We couldn`t afford an office class A, these fancy looking big glass buildings, you know. But even if we could, we wouldn`t want it. The work environment and the work space are something really important for retaining your talent, right? And the culture we want to build wouldn`t survive in a corporate looking office. I do believe that for a huge number of developers in Bulgaria and around the world, the salary is not a number one priority but the work space is much more important to them.”
So while going into all kinds of interesting-looking places like kindergartens, theaters, abandoned spaces they bumped into this huge communistic building that used to be a factory. Looked into a few spaces with low ceilings in mid-level floors when all of a sudden the technician of the building, Valery, asks them if they want to see another space on the top floor. Only because of how enthusiastic Valery looked like, they agree on seeing the space and voila – “After we crossed the doorstep, Thibaut and I looked at each other and we knew it – that`s it!”
So this is how an empty and dirty storage, and non-utilized huge pet food storage with a stunning view attracted its new homeowners. Puzl`s team was after all about 10 people, and even given the fact that they wanted to grow to 20, 30, it is still huge for them alone. Given what Puzl does online, bringing SMEs closer together, taking that concept offline is the perfect representation of what Puzl CowOrKing is. So that is how the co-working came to life, why not share this magical place with others and turn it into a collaborative beneficial-for-all deal? They reached out to some friends and turned them into partners in crime. “We wanted to do it right, something we believe in, there were many people who believed in us, and the concept we had and since then it all went like an avalanche.” And today, less than 2 years later we have Puzl CowOrKing with its 3 huge shared working halls, a 4th one coming and it is a home to more than 400 people and 40+ companies, contributing to the IT community with more than 100 events in their list already.
How did you choose the first 100 tenants?
Co-working as a concept includes mainly sharing, helping each other out, working together for each others` benefit, right? One is a client and a partner to other at the same time. In the beginning people would come over and say that they want to be part of the space and we would say ‘Fine, let`s go to lunch.’ and with everyone of the first 100 we sat down and had a get-to-know-each-other time. As we knew that the first 100 will be the base of the community. We needed to know that they will be ready to help and collaborate, they will be communicative and ready to share.
How do you work internally, what`s the structure of Puzl CowOrKing?
We have what`s probably called flat management structure but we apply it in a bit different way. We do not have funky positions to our names, like CEO, CFO, COO, etc. What we do is we look at day-to-day tasks and we define the areas of responsibility for which we have people who are leading each one of them. It does not mean that these people who are responsible for leading the process do not have others working for or with them, depending on the nature of the task. So when something needs to be done the responsible one comes to me and requires what I need to do, then goes to the other person and requires what needs to be done from the other person. That way it does not matter who is a founder and who is not, what matters is who does their job on time and the way it needs to be done. And things go well and smoothly. There is nothing like ‘I am the boss.’ I can also be wrong, late, so everyone from the team has the right to come to me and tell me – ‘Man, you`re late! I need this now.’
What we noticed in the beginning is that people who were coming from other companies, big ones usually, were not expecting or even able to take responsibility as they were in a habit of not doing so. We started delegating a lot of tasks as well as expected accountability for their fulfillment and the consequences . And it was weird in the beginning and it was a shock for some of the team. Then a few months later, they started becoming more and more independent. So I would call this a systematic responsibility structure, we do not have a hierarchy that is only an obstacle, just everyone knows what they gotta do and they do it.
How do you look for and respectively receive feedback internally?
The responsibility zone or as we say responsibility structure gives you the chance to receive feedback all the time without having to actually look for it. Everyone who is responsible for a specific task looks for what is needed from whoever is needed and if things don`t work well, then that is being addressed right away. So giving feedback in that case is an automatic on-going process.
What helped you to get to that level of communication?
The fact that Thibaut and I are very open and we make sure that everyone knows that they can come to us any time when they feel we are not right or we are blocking what needs to be done. We encourage everyone to prove us wrong if they feel that way, we challenge everyone to stand for what they think and try to get everyone else on board with it. Everyone knows that whatever they say will not backfire on them.
How did you manage to get to that level of trust then?
First, we believe in our common team capabilities. If people believe individually in themselves, that is another question. But we do and we know that we can accomplish anything, sometimes alone or with a bit of help. And when you consistently put your trust in people and they feel it, they start believing in themselves as well, their confidence grows. If we did not have this level of independence and accountability in the team, we would never be able to get to where we are now as fast as we did, as well as we would never be able to accomplish what we have set to. We have a great respect for each other and it is all based on trust and belief.