Hackerspace Architect: Paying By the Minute
Whilst in Manchester earlier this week, I took the opportunity to visit Ziferblat on Edge Street in Manchester. This was a new concept to me, though I believe they have been around for a few years in the UK. I’m not going to go into the origins of Ziferblat as the “anti-cafe” and it’s origins in Moscow in 2011, or even explain that Ziferblat comes from ZIfferblatt meaning clock face in German and Russian. Oh.. wait..
The concept is this, it’s not a cafe and its not a co-working space but it costs 8p a minute to be there and everything (food and co-working) inside is free, but the time costs 8p a minute. Once you’ve been inside for 4 hours, any additional hour is free until the next day.
Anyway you can take a deeper dive here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziferblat about the idea and where it comes from. Ziferblat in Manchester is on Edge Street, the same street that MadLab and HacMan used to be situated on, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, literally just behind the Arndale Centre.
On arrival it was necessary to buzz in. I’m good with that. It made it feel a little more exclusive, like I was going to hang-out in someones cool loft. On arrival I was greeted by a member of staff, a young woman, and then by a gentleman in his 30s with a sort of racing dog. I’m okay with dogs, but I’m always unsure if they belong in public spaces. I’m sort of yes and no on it. On the one hand, dogs provide excellent companionship and make about 80% of the population go “Awwwwwwww” on the other hand some dogs are twats. This was a “nice” dog, but I’m also familiar with the sort of dog, and owner who insist how friendly their weaponised dog is who is trying to hump you. I can see a real benefit though for a workspace that allows dogs. I recall my friend Ross being at WeWork in Hackney, London (where he has a desk) with his little pug Rory, who he had to bring in that day for various reasons, and who is at face value very well behaved, and him being told-off by a woman, who possibly quite correctly, didn’t like the dog being there. I felt immediate sympathy for both Ross and the woman, as I have been that woman on a number of occasions at the Hackerspace. I’m a cat person, but it doesn’t mean I think a co-working space should have cats… and it also doesn’t mean I don’t think they should have cats either… or dogs… I dunno. I’ worried I’m becoming a “better not’er” when it comes to animals, their hair and behaviour in public spaces. Let’s not even mention children.
What was I expecting BEFORE I went in? A more of a managed cafe with a higher quality selection of cakes and coffees/teas (I did no research). I was basically thinking it might be a sort of “all you can eat” Costa.
My partner and I had not had any breakfast and we were ready for a brunch, good coffee and for me to work on a blog post. Before going in she said it was £4.80 an hour which was just a little more than a good cup of coffee in a fancy coffee shop. Of course, I blog about such places anyway so we were going to go there and have a look.
The atmosphere inside was pleasant, though I’m personally not a fan of shabby chic. The room was roughly divided into working tables and comfy arrangements of armchairs and sofas. We found a solid table and set out our things then ventured to the spread in front of us. At first I was pretty impressed with the offering. There was porridge oats, breakfast cereals, various family assortment type biscuits, lots of different cakes, croissants, bread for toasting and fruit. They had a complicated coffee machine with pods that made a passable latte and pots of filter coffee. You are to tidy after yourself (somewhat like you do in a Hackerspace). The WiFI was fast and pretty good in there, it was warm, bright and comfortable and everyone seemed friendly without being intrusive.
The main “Sitting” room (3000sq Ft) which can be reconfigured for cabaret or as a theatre of sorts, there are side rooms available at the same rate, 8p a minute, this also contains the big table of food and the kitchen, as well as access to the balcony for vaping or smoking or shouting on your phone or eating your own bacon sandwich (the activities that occurred whilst I was observing with the exception of the shouting).
The “Studio” space (750sq ft) which is also highly configurable for a wide range of activities and costs a minimum of £90 per hour. The “Class Room” (440 sq ft) costing £50 per hour. The “Meetin’ room” (sic) (340 sq ft) costing £40 per hour and the “Dining Room” (250sq ft) costing £30 per hour. Again these spaces are configurable and prices seem to be based on about half the maximum capacity and the 8p a minute model. So to take the dining room, it can hold 14/16 people which would be over £60 an hour at the 8p a minute each cost. A student discount is offered and also a membership allowing you to pay monthly and visit other Ziferblat establishments (there is another in Media City in Salford and one in London as well as the few in Eastern Europe).
Our experience was that the room itself wasn’t quiet but also wasn’t overly noisy. Similar really to a quiet cafe or a library on a Mum’s meet-up morning. I think my biggest disappointment was that though the food and drink offering. I’m word this carefully because I do appreciate this model and want to ensure that y commentary here isn’t seen as a criticism more like an encouragement and me thinking how I’d do it a little differently. Frankly the food on offer was of a very low quality, sugary off brand cakes and biscuits of the cheap cash-and-carry types, the filter coffee was okay and the machine coffee was also okay but not better than something I could get at home and not better, than loitering in a McDonald’s for an hour for the price of a McCafe (internet is good in McDonald’s and you don’t really get chased off if its not busy). A Costa or a Starbucks latter would have been cheaper and would have been a much better coffee. I’d have happily had just one, really good latte for my £4.80 and maybe a home made cookie.
The problem of course with an “all you can eat” type model is that, for some, it is an invite to eat, as well as get ones perceived money’s worth. Problematically for me I lack the required discipline not to eat cheapo, un-judged cake. They had some little lemon slices that I particularly liked but felt mad at myself later for having 3 of them. The fruit they offered were good green apples. I didn’t want an apple for breakfast, nor did I want cheapo cereals. I realise the anything would have been pretty difficult to provide for me as I was/am supposedly trying to do a paleo type diet. Maybe I should have eaten the dog? Suffice to say I ate a lot of sugary cheap cake.
I think this model works well for people it works well for. There was a little group of women who’d clearly come from another business, perhaps without its own meeting room or for a change of scene, to work on something together. On another table was a group of 20 something men who clearly had a relationship to each other too, perhaps a start-up? I can see this working well as a venue for that. Neither me or my partner felt it was a good environment to take or make a phone call, though I suspect this would have been fine. I could see myself using such a space in the future for a work project or meeting, where I’m not really wanting a good coffee… though it’d be just as cost effective and practical to do the same meeting or work in a coffee place with a more traditional cost model.
The best elements for me, is the idea. Pay by the minute, everything else is free. But the “free stuff” has to have the right mental value. You have to feel a little like you are both entitled and that you could feel like you are taking the piss. What do I mean? I mean if I had 10 good lattes for my £4.80 I’d clearly be taking the piss. So what if I had to order my stuff somehow? Or get it from a good (and expensive) machine, like the COSTA machines you see at service stations and mini Tescos? I don’t mean for money, I mean on a free vend. What if the cakes were portioned and high quality and you had to ask someone for a slice? What if there was some other options too? Cleaning up after yourself is okay, only people have a WILDLY varied standard of cleaning up. Some of the cups I saw were dirty inside but had been put back in the cup spot. The curation by the staff in such a place is crucial and i guess, kind of expensive. That’s why the Ziferblat model is so interesting. I’d love to see the economics of it.
Recommended reading here would be “Free, the future of a radical price” by Chris Anderson.
Which you can also find as a free podcast audio book and is very very good at understanding how to charge for things that are “free” and how we, as humans, think about things we engage with for free or even pennies.
I would say that running a section of your Hackerspace like a Ziferblat, during working hours, would be a very effective model for using the space for co-working during the day. Obviously members would get some benefit or discount. You could even run work benches or little workshops on the same model. If you get the chance and are looking for space to work or meet and have a coffee, albeit a not great one, then Ziferblat is worth a look.
So in closure, mixed feelings about Ziferblat, I love the idea and I liked the place. I have no doubt that I’d be told that more expensive food would not be possible/push the prices up/is loved by our customers/is the Ziferblat way/is all we can afford etc and no doubt the best is being done for the largest number of people.
Today’s thumbnail might be a notice board at Ziferblat or it might be in an art shop. I don’t know.