Indycube New Year’s Day blog

You’ll find this post over on Indycube.cymru too

On St David’s Day this year indycube will celebrate its sixth birthday. For anyone who has set up in business, they’ll tell you that just getting to six is a major achievement. I agree – it’s been hard work, but I’m not complaining – I’ve never enjoyed work so much. As many people know, my job basically involves chatting to people over a coffee, or if I’m really lucky a beer or two. Not bad, eh? Even better, I get to have these conversations throughout Wales. Over the past six years, I feel like I’ve become more Welsh – in my outlook, my motivation and my passion. I’ve come to understand what ‘Hiraeth’ means. It may have taken me 40 odd years to ‘get it’, for sure, but it’s definitely been a journey worth making.

As we turn the corner into 2016 we have over 25 spaces in our network, with a further handful agreed to open before the end of February, and we are represented throughout the entire length and breadth of Wales. I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved, but I want indycube to do more, and we need help to do that.

Our focus hasn’t changed since the day we opened at Culverhouse Cross – we want to change the way Wales does business. We’re not happy, that for too long Wales has languished at the bottom of economic league tables, and we’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the lack of trust shown in our own capacity to build a more prosperous Country. What’s happened is that most of us have become used to seeing Wales’ economic policy being skewed by certain interest groups, whether they be international mega-businesses taking grants for creating poorly paid jobs; those moneyed or society types whose voices can have an undue influence on Ministerial ears; or the same old consultants peddling business support, that, given Wales’ GVA performance, evidentially has never worked (doesn’t stop them being paid, mind). Even more concerning is that we’ve collectively abdicated our responsibility to change things ourselves; we expect politicians and civil servants to have the answers. I think it’s fair to say, they don’t, so frankly it’s over to us, all of us.

It became apparent that the only way we were going to achieve our aim, was to encourage our users to do what they do best – run their businesses, but to do it from within their own communities. That doesn’t mean encouraging freelancers and micro-businesses to travel miles to one of our spaces; quite the contrary, we’re bringing spaces where you can work alongside others, to every part of the Country. At the same time, we’re seeing the strength of our network grow, as associates link up between spaces – it’s actually what we’re good at in Wales – real, uncontrived, PRollocks-free networking. We’re a people-centric Country, and trying to be something we’re not, is, at best, a waste of time, energy & money. At worst it represents a huge lost opportunity.

So today – as we prepare to enter a new year, I wanted to take the opportunity to do a few things that I don’t do enough. Say thanks, update you on our plans and, as I’ve alluded to, ask for some help.

Thanks

Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who has ever used Indycube. We’ve had well in excess of 1,500 people through our various doors over the years, and I hope, for however long they stayed, the experience was worthwhile. Many have stayed with us for a long time now, and have become our strongest advocates. I’m hugely grateful for their support and patronage. There’s also a long list of individuals who’ve been remarkably influential in our progress – they’ve challenged, cajoled & questioned me over the past few years, and I’ve done my level best to listen. You all know who you are 🙂

Secondly, I wanted to tell you a bit about our future plans. There’s quite a lot going on in the coming few months, so read on….

We’re giving Indycube away

Most of you will be aware we’re a social enterprise – a Community Interest Company, limited by shares. This has been the perfect corporate vehicle for us to come this far – it’s light touch, the company needed to be able to push on without being held back by too much intervention. I know we wouldn’t have got to half the places we have, had I needed ‘Board’ approval every step of the way. However, Indycube was always ‘owned by the community’, but in legal terms was being held by myself, Tristan Phillips & Kev Moss (our first two, and continuing associates).

We now think the time is right to pass the ownership fully on to the community. On the 23rd December we ‘pushed the button’ to start the process of mutualising Indycube, and on our sixth anniversary, St David’s Day 2016, we’ll convert (subject to regulator approvals etc) from a Community Interest Company (CIC) owned by Kev, Tristan and myself, to a Community Benefit Society (CommBen) owned equally by the members.

From March 1st, if you either live, work or have an association in Wales, you can become a member of Indycube, and be part of our future. You’ll take an equal right in the decisions of the company; electing the Board, agreeing strategic plans & helping the emergent network grow. We want anyone who wants to, to be able to join, so we’ve set the membership levy at only £1 per month. You don’t have to be a user (although they’ll be very welcome) to join. Essentially, if you agree that the status quo just isn’t delivering for Wales, come and be part of something that, with your input, might just work.

For those business anoraks amongst you, the business model we’ve chosen is a type of co-operative. We’ll become a Community Benefit Society, and will therefore be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). We’ve chosen the cooperative route for a romantic reason too – the founder of the cooperative movement, Robert Owen was born in Wales (Newtown) and for many years cooperative organisations were the lifeblood of communities across Wales. We’re keen to replicate the same with our mutualisation.

Price Increases

From March 1st, one thing we’ll be doing is changing our pricing structure. In general our prices will rise, and we’ll be introducing a completely new pricing option (half-timers). Our website will display the new prices, alongside the current ones, so everyone will be aware of what’s happening. 

This is the first time we’ve raised our prices since we started up (it works out at the equivalent of a 3% rise per year), and although we’ve done this reluctantly, it’s important that we ensure the prices paid by our associates matches the costs we expend in order to run the network. I’d hope we can maintain these new prices for the next six years. That’s the plan! But more importantly, this is the last time we’ll take this decision alone – next time this will be agreed upon by the members.

During February, we’ll be working with our current associates to change them over to the new prices. We hope all our associates will understand, and recognise that with desk day prices from marginally over £5 per day, and never exceeding £12 a day, we really do offer exceptional value. More than that we offer the chance to work alongside others and let serendipity do the rest.

The new prices effective from March 1st 2016 are set out here (all attract VAT, currently at 20%):

  • Pay-As-You-Go – our most flexible option will be £12 per day.
  • Part-Time Associate* – £60 per month for 5 days.
  • Half-Time Associate* – £100 per month. 10 days a month working out at £10 per day.
  • Full-Time Associate* – £180 per month. Your own desk, as and when you need it. This averages out at £8 per day.
  • Company rates – teams of between 4 & 8 Full-Timers can take advantage of these special rates – 4-6 desks – £720, 7 desks – £820 & 8 desks – £920. These prices gives an average desk day price of between £5 & £8.
  • Registered Office only – one business registered office is available to Part, Half and Full timers. All subsequent businesses registered will cost £240 pa. Anyone who just needs a registered office can choose this facility on a stand-alone basis for £240 pa.
  • Meeting Room – meeting room hire over 2 hours (which is included in all rates), stays the same and is chargeable at £35 (1/2 day) and £70 (full day).

The Plan for 2016

We want to continue to grow the network, such that freelancers and micro businesses can access like minded people to work alongside, within, at worst, a short drive from home. That doesn’t mean all the spaces need to be 3,000 sq ft offices – far from it, you’ll start to see indycube spaces in smaller locations with maybe 5 or 6 deskspaces in them. We’re planning to find larger spaces that can act as a hub to these smaller satellites.

This continued and accelerated growth will mean we need a few more people to join the team over the next year, but we’re going to be doing that from within our own (still limited) resources – we’ve never believed what we do should be supported from the public purse, particularly when other priorities are so pressing. Many others disagree with this view – could it be, that more often than not, they are beneficiaries of said public sector largesse? Keep an eye out for job opportunities as they arise – I promise they’ll be challenging and rewarding.

Indycube Ventures will continue to support high growth potential businesses to develop, and that opportunity will expand as indycube moves into parts of Wales we’ve not reached before. We’ve already started conversations with those who can help develop the support provided, and we’ll be moving ahead with those in the early part of the year.

And finally…..

I hope you join us (and/or stay with us) on the next leg of our collective journey. I genuinely want to cede control of indycube to a team I’d like to join. We’ve worked hard to get the organisation to the position that it can deliver for Wales, but now we need to realise that ambition – and for that we need you. 

I’m free to chat through anything I’ve written above; the price changes, the mechanics of becoming a member of the new indycube Community Benefit Society when it goes live, or even your interest in jobs that currently don’t exist. If you don’t have my number, best bet is to get in touch via Twitter @markjhooper

Thanks for reading this – Here’s to a wonderful and happy New Year. 

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i Bawb!

Mark

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Because we’re worth it…… Stop the Welsh Jobs Dowry

In times gone by, a bride-to-be’s family would negotiate a dowry, so that the husband would agree to marry their daughter. It was an important consideration as to which woman the groom would marry. I wonder how these women felt – arguably their future life was as much to do with the amount of money her father was prepared to give, as it was the person she was, and was becoming. For me, I would find that deeply hurtful. It seems the same thing is happening to us as a Country today. Welsh Government Ministers from Carwyn Jones down are falling over themselves to pay foreign companies to take us on. These ministers are paying big foreign companies a dowry for our workers.

Every single time we pay somebody to set up in Wales, a little more of our pride gets wiped away. Because unless we pay them, they won’t come here and employ us; because they don’t actually think we’re better than someone else, somewhere else. Well I think we’re better than that, and I’m also completely unconvinced by the economic argument behind doing it too.

Here’s why…

First off, they don’t need the money. Loads of these foreign companies can afford to make these investments from their current resources – they don’t need our money. If they think our workforce is good enough for their investment, they’ll invest in us. If they need a massive (in terms of our meagre cash resources) financial incentive to come here do we really want them here? Are they after us, or just our money?

The Welsh Government have recently announced the following four Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) agreements, and they exemplify the point perfectly:

We (I use ‘we’ as ultimately it’s our money, spent on our behalf, by those we elect, for our collective benefit) have just invested £14.7M in Ford so that they’ll build their new engines in Bridgend. Ford’s latest market cap stands at $61BN. They’ve been in Wales for a while, I accept, but why do they need our money to ensure the overall investment went ahead?

On the 6th of October Edwina Hart announced we were investing £1.4M to support CapGemini (a consulting firm) in creating of 100 jobs in Treforest. The company’s latest net worth is €13.9BN. They too don’t need our money to make this investment.

Here’s a biggy! On September 10th, Sony, with a market capitalisation of ¥4.3TN (yep that’s Trillions of Yen), announced that we had just lent it £1.1M for a new addition to their Pencoed facilities, just outside Bridgend. This one is a loan, but surely there’s no case that Sony needs our money more than hard pressed public services, or even owner managed businesses across the Country.

And then this week, First Source Solutions, an Indian company (capitalised at 22BN Rupees) were given more of our limited cash to add call centre staff to its Cardiff operation. We don’t know how much we gave them, as neither the Company or the government were prepared to say – I wonder, are they running scared of justifiable criticism? Hiding the facts is poor government, as it suggests the officers and ministers don’t have full confidence in the decisions they have made. Perhaps they’re right not to be confident.

There have been others, and there will be more.

Secondly, we need to find wealth creators rather than job creators. Simply put, wealth creators will also create jobs (often higher value jobs too). On the other hand, job creators will never create wealth. Any wealth created on the backs of these Welsh workers doesn’t stay here – it travels straight over the Severn Bridge, on to Heathrow and onwards to a far flung part of the world. I’d call this exploitation – and the fact we encourage and fund it ourselves would be laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic.

Lastly, these huge businesses are highly susceptible to world market movements, and will, with limited warning simply up-sticks and go. The recent FSB Wales report ‘What Wales Could Be’ called for support to be focused on grounded, rooted, local businesses, to encourage them to grow to be the mid-cap businesses of tomorrow. I absolutely agree.

The politicians who take these decisions need to be held accountable. The officials who negotiate the deals too. Their focus on FDI is keeping Wales poor, and is wrong minded. Worse still, it shows they don’t believe we’re good enough to succeed without this ‘dowry’. That diminishes self-belief and hurts our collective confidence.

Some of us believe we’re worth it.

Why Mark Hooper, Founder of Indycube CIC and co-founder of Indycube Ventures LLP is voting Plaid Cymru on May 7th.

This General Election is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory, and from all sides of the political spectrum, business leaders, large and small are keen to tell us why they’re backing one large Westminster based Party, or the other. There was even a group, imploring us to vote Liberal Democrat recently.

Well I run a business, and I don’t agree with their verdicts. Why does my opinion differ and why should that matter? Because, I run a business in Wales, that supports other Welsh businesses to grow our economy, generate wealth, and create high quality local jobs. Indycube now has twenty coworking spaces across the length and breadth of Wales, with a further ten planned for the remainder of 2015. We’re working as hard in some of our hard pressed communities as we are in our cities. Over a thousand people working in small and micro-businesses have used our spaces over the past five years, and I’ve got to know most of these business owners personally. I’ve got a clear idea as to what they need, and as importantly, what they don’t.

The biggest single thing they need is to be believed in. We need our politicians to have faith that the future prosperity of our Country will come from within, and not without. Reliance on the Barnett formula for delivering money from Westminster to Cardiff Bay; incentivising foreign corporations to base themselves in Wales and profiteer off the back of our workforce in the blinkered pursuit of jobs; and, forever following the myth of ‘best practice’, have all failed before, and will fail again. This isn’t the way to build a prosperous (not just in terms of money) Wales.

Our politicians must believe that Wales’ biggest assets are its people. Leanne Wood has stated just that, time and time again. You know what? I believe her. If we can’t rely on Westminster parties to deliver for Wales, then let’s rely on ourselves. When Leanne kicked off the first leadership debate saying that she was interested in Wales, it was music to my ears – that was what I was interested in. If more politicians are sent to Westminster with a clear mandate to deliver for their local community, rather than tow a Westminster party line, the better it will be for Wales.

Business people are often derided as being selfish. I run a social enterprise that has NEVER taken or requested any grant funding – in fact we pay taxes back in to the pot. Like many businesses in Wales (whether formally a social enterprise like us, or not), business people care. If they were only interested in chasing money, they’d probably locate elsewhere. The value of family, community and the fantastic country-scape in which we live are also of significant value to us.

When you run your own business, it’s important that you’re ambitious for it to succeed. When you see an NHS that is being negatively compared to the one across the border; when you see an education system that is missing the opportunity to challenge all our children to become the creative leaders of the future; and when you see far too many children living in poverty (when the UK is the sixth richest economy in the world), it’s apparent that we need politicians who will take on these challenges in a way that suits our Country. We’re a small country, but that is our strength – we can move quickly, try things out, fail and learn, be creative and most of all, be ambitious for ourselves. For Wales to remain so poor that it once again qualified for Structural Assistance from the EU is an embarrassment at best, or more accurately an absolute travesty for those families who are destined to spend a lifetime in poverty.

Most people will have made up their mind which way they’re going to vote on Thursday. Lots will be voting for something they believe in; lots will be voting for the first time; lots will be voting for a different Party than they did last time; lots will be voting for the same Party they always have; and, lots won’t vote at all. In Wales, for far too long, we’ve allowed one Party to dominate. The Welsh ‘block’ vote has kept the Labour Party forceful in Westminster, and of course more recently, in Cardiff Bay. And yet, Wales remains one of the poorest regions in Europe – their centrally controlled policies just haven’t benefitted us, here in Wales. The old truism of putting a Labour rosette on a donkey in some parts of Wales, and they’d still get in needs to be laid to waste – our children and grandchildren can’t afford for us to miss the opportunity for better. The Conservatives don’t get Wales, and probably never will, and the Lib Dems have lost their reforming zeal, in a barely concealed attempt to appeal to the two biggest parties as a suitable suitor in coalition. Neither of them will deliver for Wales, and our future.

I believe in Wales; I believe in my community; I’m fed up of Wales being taken for granted. Plaid’s policies don’t 100% match my views but they’re much more ambitious for Wales than the rest, and that’s massive. That’s why I’m voting Plaid Cymru on May 7th.

Mark Hooper