14. November 2012–
In which Adam Fletcher explores a most unusual coworking space in Tel Aviv – and why Israelis aren't as enamoured as Berliners with everyone's favourite startup trend...
Berlin boasts dozens of coworking spaces, most opening their doors within the last two or three years. While it feels Berlin must be reaching a critical mass, perhaps that'll change as more fresh off the Bahn, digital nomads arrive in the city, seeking fame, fortune and a city that won't take 70 per cent of their income in rent each month.
For a city as famed for entrepreneurship as Tel Aviv, my research turned up a surprising dearth of paid-by-day or hour coworking places. Perhaps because of the success of The Library, a central, free workspace and entrepreneurship outreach centre offered by the Government. Or perhaps not.
Coffee and gossip – are coworking spaces really that productive?
I've heard many theories as to why there is less coworking here, my favourite being the tongue in cheek suggestion that East Germany's socialist history makes us more open to the benefits of collaboration. Most often, I've heard that it's just not the Israeli way and that co-working spaces are not productive environments anyway.
To illustrate that point, someone has also opened an anti coworking shared office in Tel Aviv, called Misantrope. Misanthropy is defined as a general hatred, mistrust or disdain of the human species. Not knowing quite how seriously Misantrope takes silence, I stepped into its small, white, ground floor building, which from the outside has the appearance of a regular coffee shop.
The antidote to buzzing coworking spots
As I was about to interrupt someone to ask if I was in the right place, Misantrope’s founder Ido Angel appeared like a genie of noise control to shhh me and lead me outside where we could talk more, without interrupting the 12 or so people working there in a silence that makes the average library seem like an all-night disco party by way of comparison.
Ido thinks there is less coworking in Israel because it's still a new concept and Israelis "are not very innovative. We like to hold back and wait to see what works in other places, then slowly we adapt to new ideas. We're more into looking what's working in other countries then copying it". I told him everyone always says the same about the German startup scene.
"Maybe everyone says that of everywhere then". He also thinks that Israelis are more used to paying for things they can touch, “time is just too abstract for a lot of people”.
“The only sound you should be able to hear is the sound of keys being pressed on keyboards"
Ido stresses this place is not primarily for anyone else, it's for him. "I created it for myself. I'm a writer and I needed somewhere quiet to write. It's not coworking! It’s actually the opposite. People don't come here to network. It's a place to concentrate, the only sound you should be able to hear is the sound of keys being pressed on keyboards." Something that I can confirm from my brief visit.
The business started in 2010, but had a different model to the hourly rate it now has. Then the space was free, you just paid for drinks and food. Silence was still strictly enforced. "It didn't work, not because people were too cheap, but they were just so busy concentrating, they did not get up to get stuff. So I changed the model."
Of course, coworking is about more than a chance to get out of the house with some vague potential networking thrown in for good measure. The act of paying for your time, reminds you of its value. "People tell me they are three times as productive here than anyway else."
Ido is considering opening up similar places outside of Israel, Berlin is even in contention, so maybe we'll have the chance to test that.
I thank Ido for his time and make myself scarce. After all, he's got work to do and I’m interrupting...
Image credit: Misantrope Facebook page
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