Before I visited the WeWork in Medellín, I had the perception that I can’t afford a WeWork membership, at least in the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey because WeWork is the Rolls-Royce among co-working spaces in terms of amenities and pricing. A while ago, I read an article that WeWork has a similar valuation like Airbnb, which caught my eye. WeWork is still flying under the radar given that they are the largest office tenant in New York City (sic!). At the time, I checked the prices for a hot desk in Berlin and was appalled by the high price tag. Right now, a hot desk in Berlin costs between 350€ and 380€ (plus taxes), which is more than I am willing to pay for a desk. I think this price point is only attractive for large companies who have remote employees.
I assumed that the prices were the same everywhere, but there is a considerable variation across countries, cities and locations within a city. That makes sense given the local differences in co-working offerings, real estate prices, local demand and purchasing power. For example, a hot desk in Medellín costs only around 155€ (plus taxes). Therefore, it’s worth checking out the prices in your city of interest and decide on a case by case basis.
2. The benchmark: La Casa Redonda
I love La Casa Redonda, my current co-working space in Laureles, but when I heard that WeWork has opened up a co-working space in Poblado recently, I had to check it out. I have never been to a WeWork co-working space and I was keen to see what all the hype was about. Co-working spaces come in all forms and sizes and La Casa Redonda and WeWork are both on opposite sides of the spectrum. La Casa Redonda was started by a collective of Colombian friends and has a very artsy and personal feel to it. The crowd is a diverse mix of creatives, entrepreneurs, freelancers and startups. It has a studio which houses a painter, a paper artist, and a tattoo artist. The Redondos are one big family and two adorable dogs are part of it.
WeWork, on the other hand, is a multinational with a valuation of $20 billion and deep pockets to expand aggressively. They have 477 locations in 95 cities at the time of writing this article. They are known for their state of the art offices in prime locations, and they take pride in their global community.
In a way, it’s global capital vs. local creatives. Both co-working spaces are located in different neighborhoods, so they are not competing directly yet. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if WeWork opens more co-working spaces in Medellín soon. For me, it doesn’t make sense to commute from Laureles to Poblado and vice versa because I am a big proponent of living within walking distance of your workspace to save time and nerves.
3. Working for a day at the WeWork co-working space in Medellín
I booked a free tour online. I recommend using the contact form of the specific location and not the general one for a free day pass, where I booked two times without getting a response. Before the tour, I listened to an episode of How I Built This, where one of the co-founders tells the founding story of WeWork. I like the podcast How I Built This in general, but this has been my favorite episode so far.
On the day of the tour, I took a taxi to the Santa Fé Mall and walked from there to the neighboring WeWork building. I arrived at 10 AM and talked to the receptionist, who sent me to the 17th floor, where the hot seat area is located. The community manager welcomed me and showed me around the building. The kitchen and the community area were huge and impressive. Everything was bright and modern and similar to how I would imagine the offices of companies like Facebook or Google. WeWork spaces are known for perks like free craft beer on a tab and micro-roasted coffee. According to a recent WSJ article, the unlimited beer is going to be limited soon though. I was pleasantly surprised to see a sufficient number of phone booths in the hot desk area. Shockingly few co-working spaces have them, and people have to misuse the meeting room or find a quiet corner for calls. The best part was the big terrace and the view over the high-rise buildings in Poblado and the surrounding mountains. There is something magical about working on your laptop and overseeing the Andes Mountains.
The hot desk costs COL$570,000 (plus taxes), which is excellent value for money, considering the amenities and the view. By comparison, I pay COL$433,000 (plus taxes) for my monthly La Casa Redonda membership. The only catch is that the hot desks were fully booked at the time of my visit, which is remarkable given that it just opened a couple of weeks ago. The small offices (1-4 people) were also already fully booked. WeWork offers more expensive dedicated desks for COL$820.000 (plus taxes) as an alternative. With a dedicated desk, you have your own desk in a large private office. The offices are quiet and situated on a lower floor, but you can use the hot desk area as well. Naturally, the number of tenants is fluctuating and you can always check online if a spot opened up and pounce when the opportunity presents itself. The hot desk area was relatively empty even though it was fully booked at the time and I sat down at the desk with the best view over the mountains.
The majority of tenants were young Colombian professionals (≈90%) dressed in business chic. During my visit, there was a pitch event with education startups in the communal area, and in the evening there was a member networking event with free finger food and superb gin and tonic. I talked for a bit with the friendly community manager, who told me that he was the first hire in Medellín.
4. La Casa Redonda vs. WeWork Medellín
I left the WeWork space impressed. If I would start a company with employees, I would probably rent an office there. It’s the perfect working environment and very representative at the same time. I can also see myself working from WeWork for a couple of months for writing a book. The view is very inspiring and pushes you to creative peak performance. Based on my small sample size of one day working there I got the impression that the community is more geared towards startups and Iess towards freelancers and solopreneurs.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to miss the creative vibes of La Casa Redonda. Not to mention the dogs and the overall friendly atmosphere. You can feel the difference between a collective, which grew organically over time and a multinational, who hires a community manager for each city. The community manager was great, but you can still feel the difference between a top-down and a bottom-up community approach.
5. Alternative in Poblado
For the sake of completeness, I am going to mention another nice co-working space in Poblado. I have worked for two days at the Selina co-working space, which is a good alternative when you want to work within walking distance of Parque Lleras. Selina is significantly cheaper then WeWork. A monthly hotdesk membership sets you back a measly COL$225.000 (plus taxes). That’s less than half than what you pay for a WeWork membership. The co-working space is also new and stylish, but less so than WeWork. To be fair, it’s going to be hard to find a more dapper co-working space than WeWork.
Selina Cowork has one cool feature, which WeWork (to my knowledge) doesn’t have. They have a relaxation room with mattresses, where you can take a break and meditate or nap. When I worked there, I used the room for a 10 minutes power nap. I had the room for myself and afterward, I felt refreshed and ready for a second writing session. More co-working should have a relaxation room, IMHO. Another key difference is the demographic of the coworkers. I saw mainly freelancers and solopreneurs and fewer startups at Selina. The Colombians to Foreigner ratio is 10/90 and therefore inverted in comparison with WeWork. The more international makeup makes sense given that the co-working space is part of the Selina Hostel. The hostel factor contributes to a fast turnover of coworkers, which can be seen as a positive or negative depending on your preferences. As a side note, the WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann has invested heavily in the Selina chain.
Long story short, the choice of a co-working space comes down to your personal budget and preferences. To allow a better comparison, let’s assume La Casa Redonda and WeWork were located right next to each other in Poblado. WeWork has the resources to invest in state of the art amenities and design and it shows in their co-working space. Therefore it’s almost impossible to beat WeWork in this domain. A unique feature of the WeWork space in Medellín is the spectacular view over the Andes Mountains. The price of 155€ (plus taxes) for a hot desk is also great value for money. If you want to work in a sleek and modern office, there is no way around WeWork. The only downside is the shortage of hot desks, so you might have to pay for a more expensive dedicated desk.
In comparison, I also like the artsy and creative style of La Casa Redonda, but it can’t compete with a view over the Andes. The biggest strength of La Casa Redonda is its awesome community and welcoming atmosphere. The exchange with my coworkers so far has been invaluable. Right now, the community aspect is more important for me, so I am still preferring La Casa Redonda. Nonetheless, the rapid success of the WeWork co-working space in Medellín demonstrates the huge potential of the city and it’s always good to have more options. Now you know everything you need to know about WeWork in Medellín. The rest is up to you,
PS: Feel free to use my referral link when you sign up for a WeWork membership.