Interview with Cate Maiolini - Mayor of London for Startuphome

Cate Maiolini (Photo credit to Daniele Fummo)

The ‘community’ aspect of co-living is on a spectrum. 

Companies like StarCity and Common appeal to a broad audience while other spaces are more niche, designed around a specific mission.  One of the more common ‘themes’ for co-living is entrepreneurship. Digital nomads are in someways, an inspiration for co-living, but it extends beyond the freelancer who goes to Bali once a year. Many entrepreneurs and startup founders are attracted to the collaborative approach of co-living.

We had the great opportunity to interview Cate Maiolini, the Mayor of London for Startuphome, a co-living space in, you guessed it, London, England that believes, “gathering passionate people in the same place is the formula for innovation.” 

We wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. 

How would you define coliving to someone who’s unfamiliar with the term?

CM: Coliving means living with amazing people who share your interests without losing your privacy. Your boring professor from high school would define coliving as the sum of “community” and “living” - the dictionary definition - and they would be wrong. Coliving is not just renting a room in a big communal house to save money, although it allows major cost-saving.

Coliving is not just being able to move to another city or country anytime you want, although it grants impressive freedom. Coliving is all of that, and much more.

Imagine moving into a new big city like London, or New York. You need months to understand the hidden rules, make new friends, and find cool places. Not anymore. In a coliving, you need just one day.

A good coliving serves a specific community - for example, our coliving Startuphome serves startups and remote workers. It’s a community of pairs. They have already solved your issues and found cool places, and they have similar interests so they can become your best friends. Go and have dinner in the common room on your first day, and you will not feel in a new unfamiliar city anymore. You will immediately feel at home.

You are the House Mayor of London for Startuphome. Tell us what you do in that role and a little bit more about what Startuphome is and what makes it unique?

Startuphome is the first social enterprise in the coliving space in Europe, and I am extremely proud of being part of this movement. Our mission is to provide accommodation, community, and sanctuary to entrepreneurs, remote workers, and innovators from any race, nationality, and religion. In doing so, we aim to create a more vibrant, open, and accountable society.

As the Mayor of London, I ensure that everything works, new members onboard, and help the community to grow with events and networking. We are a small community of 20 people and 300 alumni, so it can still be managed by one person on site (Me!) with a virtual team.

Yet, this is where the coliving is much more interesting than a property business. Many of our alumni are remote workers or they moved back to their home country after an acceleration program in London. They are designers, web marketers, and even accountants and lawyers. Our members can get their company accounts done by a bookkeeper on a beach in South-east Asia, or their company created by a lawyer 700 kilometers away - always at a fraction of the cost. We have an army of professionals without the cost of it.

How did you hear about that role and what attracted you to coliving?

CM: Really, I didn’t! I simply moved into the house and fell in love. The previous Mayor of London left to join a startup, that by the way raised $36 million funding from investors. During the vacancy, I was the one organizing events and motivating the community. So it was natural for the community to offer me the role.

The chain of events that brought me here is much weirder. It’s a story of fashion models and catwalks, and trips to Milan, Paris, NYC, London. But it’s a story for another day. (Editor’s note: we’d love to hear that story sometime.)

What do you hear most often as to why people choose coliving or a more traditional rental arrangement?

CM: Many join a coliving because of the cost-saving but stay because of the community.

Our lives are completely different not only from our parents’ but also from our older brothers. They were looking to find a secure job in a big corporation spending most of their life there.The company was the community. Your local church was the community. Not anymore. The secure jobs are gone, and the big corporations are not interested in our wellbeing anymore (by the way, were they ever interested?) They took away our traditional communities, but they didn’t give us anything new to replace them with.

Coliving is the reaction of the smartphone generation. Is still at the beginning, but you can see the trend.. In a traditional community, members were granted security in exchange for a piece of their freedom. In a coliving, you can find all the benefits of the traditional communities - friends, knowledge, partners, and even love - without losing anything.

In fact, you have even more freedom. You can move to another coliving in a new city anytime, and continue working online with your clients and partners and keep in touch with your friends.

What are some of the unexpected benefits people get from coliving?

CM: You don’t feel alone anymore.

We can live in a city of 5 million people and feel extremely lonely. This does not happen in a coliving.

What are some misconceptions people have about coliving?

CM: The older journalists know what’s a frat boy house because they were in one during college or they wished to be. They confuse coliving with a fraternity, simply because that’s the only thing they know. That’s the most common misconception.

They cannot be more wrong. A fraternity is a temporary place, where (mostly rich) college boys and girls have fun. When college ends, so does fraternity life. It doesn’t sustain you (because it’s not meant to ), it doesn’t help you move (because you’ll end up spending the entire time in the same college

Coliving is the opposite. It helps you to work and helps you to move from one city to another. You can do it on your own, getting an apartment (if you have more money) or a room. With coliving you still have your privacy. When you want to be alone, you have your room, with your food, your Netflix, your Kindle, and your social networks. When you feel lonely, the community is there waiting for you, just one room away.

Startuphome is geared specifically towards entrepreneurs and freelancers. Is there a lot of collaboration among people once they get to know each other?

CM: Yes, there is an amazing collaboration amongst the members, and they don’t need to wait to know each other. We offer a platform where you can work with others from day one.

Would you like to move to another city? No worries. Your company mails are scanned and uploaded online. You can access your virtual office from your smartphone anywhere in the world, even all the letters from the past years. We are geeks ourselves so everything is secure and accessible on the cloud.

Do you need to fundraise your startup? No worries. Send a pitch to our alumni that are now investors. Even if they don’t invest in your sector, they will share precious advices. We have alumni in two venture capital, one angel syndicate, and a good number of business angels.

Our mission as a social enterprise is not just renting rooms, is helping the community to grow, and the members to have a happy life.

Of course, we can’t leave this interview without addressing the coronavirus and its affect on coliving. The very nature of coliving is people living in close quarters. How has the coronavirus affected Startuphome? What do you think something like this means to the future of coliving?

CM: The Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis and even highly educated government officials don’t know how to react yet.. People are dying right now, and many businesses will die soon too.

I am proud of how Startuphome is reacting to the crisis. We are in a self-imposed lockdown right now. Outside Startuphome, people living in traditional apartments will be alone for the next two months (or more). It may be unbearable. Inside Startuphome is different. We have the care and company of our community. I don’t want to say that it’s easy but is definitively much better than for many others out there.

The benefits are true also for our members who have decided to go back to their families or into isolation, and the alumni. They don’t need to meet the postman, their letters are scanned and uploaded into our cloud. They can ask the community for work or advice. They can join our virtual conferences and online training.

Because our mission is not just renting rooms, we are in a much better position than any other hotel, Airbnb, or some of the other coliving. We would make money and help our community even if our rooms were half-empty (besides, they are not. Only one member decided to leave to go into deep isolation.)

In bad times it is good to be part of a coliving!