Strong business idea that people understand — find words and visuals to quickly explain what your business offers and what problem you are solving. YOUBE story: we have worked a lot with this and, to our benefit, during the pandemic, people have gained an understanding of what a hybrid office solution is, based on their own experience working from home and not needing to go into an office.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Co-Founders Jenny Berglund Castro and Stephan Agerman.
Jenny Berglund Castro and Stephan Agerman are two of three co-founders of YOUBE. All coming from their own unique backgrounds, they found a gap in the co-working market and sought to fill it.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you for having us! We are YOUBE a Los Angeles-based co-working startup comprised of three freelancers turned entrepreneurs. At the height of the Los Angeles gig economy (pre-pandemic), we were all freelancing or running our own businesses and kept finding ourselves needing a place to sit and work for a few hours before it was time for the next meeting, dinner date, or pick-up from school. What we needed was an easy space to drop-in by the hour, get online, have a sit down to get some work done, catch up on the news, or just have a quiet moment to meditate and be alone.
There were no affordable co-working spaces nearby and the cafés were always too loud and crowded. The seats were filled with the background noise of coffee grinding, phones ringing, and loud conversations. We weren’t looking to have another cup of coffee — we just wanted to be productive, have a comfortable place to sit, and an outlet to charge.
At the same time, we passed by all these beautiful, empty storefronts and kept thinking: wouldn’t it be great if, for the cost of a coffee, you could get the drop-in office you need to work? We envisioned our perfect flexible, shared office space, and then turned that dream into a reality. Step 1 ideation — this business concept idea came from a personal need, a bit of a frustration of not finding a flexible co-working space that we all needed — every day. Step 2 was research — and we quickly realized that the ‘co-working’ market was much bigger than we thought and that it was growing quickly. But we also realized that there was a gap in the market for YOUBE. That led us to Step 3– formalizing our business ideas into a complete business plan and starting to reach out to different technology partners for the infrastructure that was needed. Step 4 was looking at different spaces, both retail spaces and malls, and testing different lease models with the respective landlords. We got very excited about some of the spaces we found and put together a pitch deck and started reaching out to investors. By now, we had spent approx. 1 year of our time with no pay. It just HAD to work out.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
We have actually had multiple aha moments. The first came from an early series of meetings with property owners who quickly understood our vision and who could imagine actually being big clients of ours. We realized the customer base was not just freelancers and entrepreneurs but an entire community of salespeople who regularly work on the go. Then the pandemic hit and our customer base exploded.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
The strong support and understanding from each of our life partners. They had to take a bit of a financial burden as we were developing the concept and were looking for funding. It was about one year without any pay to really pursue this business idea and find funding during the concept phase. That was tough for all of us but at the same time we all had that amazing feeling that we were “onto something”.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are 3 of us Co-Founders and you can see a little bit of all of us in YOUBE. YOUBE is a very personal story where we enjoy diversity, different experiences, creativity, and problem solving. We knew what the co-working industry was doing firsthand. It was rigid, unwilling to cater to its clientele and, frankly, impractical. We wanted to get rid of all of that and create a unique concept that offers that flexibility but even more than that, offers useful engagement for our guests and the brands that we choose to partner with. I think it became apparent when we were launching our first location and invited friends and family to come work with us before we officially opened. More and more people kept showing up, not to just support us but because the space was so engaging and effective, not to mention after a year of working from home, they needed a reprieve.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
YOUBE thrives on community involvement. Bringing people together in a positive environment is a component that’s really important to us. Each YOUBE location is filled with art from local artists and local products. Not just decor, we encourage our guests to engage with the products. If they like the art, the coffee, and even the furniture, they can simply scan a discrete QR code to purchase and support locally. We are all about community and elevating each community we call home.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Goals: Belief in the end goal and aligning on short-term and long-term goals. An example is that we stuck with the plan of opening a drop-in co-working space with focus on hot desks during a pandemic where people did not want to be close to strangers.
- Flexibility: Capacity to listen to each other and keep an open and flexible mind. We were working for months on closing a deal downtown. We loved the space and had pretty much ‘moved in’ mentally. However, the lease fell through on a few points and we decided to move on. If we hadn’t done that we probably wouldn’t have opened up in West Adams just yet — and we are so happy we did! Everything happens for a reason.
- Intuition: Trust your intuition in business — when hiring people, signing a new vendor, making decisions… the gut will know it before your mind does. We all benefit from listening to that inner voice. It definitely becomes clear to you when you don’t listen to that inner voice and things don’t go as you hoped they would.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I might be naively unaware of this — but can’t think of anything right now.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Yes, believing in something so strongly and having the research to prove it — but not getting across to investors. The chicken or the egg situation; most investors want you to have a physical space and some customer stickiness in order to get their investments. However, most of us need that start-up capital to be able to put our concept into physical form.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
That strong feeling of “we are onto something here” kept us going. However, we did have a deadline that if we didn’t find funding by then we had to go get paying jobs. Unsurprisingly, we pushed this date a couple of times. We also lift each other up — to find balance. Our support of one another was instrumental. When someone is having a rough day, we point out all the good things to remind each other of the dream we chase.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
It is definitely a rollercoaster, but the highs are so amazing and, for us, off-set the negative ones or at least help put perspective on the negative. Things may change, but for now we are on an expansion roll and as we are getting out of this pandemic, we know YOUBE will become a natural part of everyone’s daily routine. An amenity — just like your local coffee chain!
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
If only there was an easy answer to this! It depends so much on your own personal situation, access to capital, friends and family, size of your network, type of business you have etc. It is not cheap to start up your own business and it always costs more than you estimate — on top of that you need to be able to support your family in the startup process.
In theory, bootstrapping would be the most beneficial scenario since you then control the entirety of the company, but you might not be able to put all of your ideas into motion due to lack of capital. This is also the most risky alternative from a personal situation because you risk losing all of the money you have invested — many times due to things out of your control. You must ask yourself if you can handle these challenging situations.
There are many benefits to having external investors — such as great input from established and experienced business leaders. That investor could also use their network to support your business in many ways including investment rounds. Having that external party that you report to and that ask questions has been very valuable to us. We have a great relationship with our investors, so we are a bit biased in this matter
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Partners — find partners to work with. You need partners that are as invested in the start-up as you are so that you can bounce ideas off each other, celebrate wins together and support each other when things go wrong. It is not easy going at it alone. YOUBE story: there’s 3 co-founders.
- Time allocated towards the start up — Where attention goes, energy flows. If you split your time on too many things, the startup might not get the attention it needs to take off. YOUBE story: 2 of 3 co-founders worked full time on this for over 1.5 years, unpaid. It was tough on many levels.
- Strong business idea that people understand — find words and visuals to quickly explain what your business offers and what problem you are solving. YOUBE story: we have worked a lot with this and, to our benefit, during the pandemic, people have gained an understanding of what a hybrid office solution is, based on their own experience working from home and not needing to go into an office.
- Money — sounds terribly boring but you need money — everything costs; legal fees, accountants, transportation, hiring, production, your own salary… YOUBE story: in our case, we took it as far as we could personally, then we found our investors.
- Passion and ambition — if you don’t have this, you will not have the energy to keep going. Find that thing you get excited about. YOUBE story: YOUBE came from a place of a personal need, we were the customers building this for ourselves and a big group of likeminded people.
- Good timing — if you feel like something is missing in the market, chances are that others do too. YOUBE story: opening during a pandemic could be the worst or the best idea ever — we decided to go with the latter.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Giving up control of the company directly, co-founders not aligned about timeline and workload, building the company to sell it (never a good idea), co-founders that do not know each other or have never worked together. We believe honesty and open communication should help here — in business and in life in general.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
- Meditation, long walks, and exercise: on a regular basis. The brain needs rest, you’ll lower your stress level, and you’ll have clearer and faster answers in your mind if you take these breaks. This is scientifically proven and a must for any person living, not just start up founders.
- Healthy food. You are what you eat.
- Open communication: both with your partners, co-founders and with your family.
All this is easier said than done but take one step at a time. As you are getting more proof that it is working — it will get easier to stick to healthier routines.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We care for the well-being of humans and our earth. If we can help with inspiration, to some extent education, offer space and bring communities together in which our fellow human beings can find new ways, thrive, and create — then we have done some of the work.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Barack Obama. He is one of the greatest leaders during our lifetime. As President, he dealt with so many challenges and always handled them with intelligence and grace. Not only a leader, but President Obama is also an icon, one that has been a huge inspiration for many people who now know they can do anything they set their minds to.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!