A city teeming with entrepreneurial energy and creative spirit, Buenos Aires is an apt fit for the coworking model. Perhaps unsurprisingly, coworking spaces have gained major traction: they offer an alternative to the expensive prospect of a small company making a long-term lease, or an entrepreneur or freelancer enduring lonely days working from home. Take WeWork—the largest coworking company (which is looking like it may be 2019’s largest IPO, with its valuation skyrocketing to US $47 billion!) Here in Buenos Aires, it has expanded to three locations, and has announced the opening of two more.
But WeWork has been met with ample competition: La Maquinita is Buenos Aires’ largest coworking company, with nine locations spanning all across the city. Other successful companies include Huerta, Céspedes, AreaTres, and TheOfficeBA. There also exists a multitude of other options that, even though only offer one location throughout the city, are chipping away at the market’s demand for office space. The market has adapted, so there’s a coworking space geared toward every type of freelancer: some target entrepreneurial individuals, while others are meant for creative minds.
Coworking spaces operate with slight variances in business models, but the basic economic structure follows that customers make down payments for their time-spent in a communal location. From printers to zones for meditation, many coworks aim to provide amenities similar to those of a typical office. Most offer a variety of packages: individual desk space for rental to private offices for smaller companies and even conference rooms that can be booked out for meetings or workshops.
Often, these spaces demand that customers purchase a membership for an extended period of time. The price tag can be hefty—renting a solo desk is currently going for AR $5,000-AR $10,000/month. At bare minimum, a few offer a day pass option, but most necessitate customers to commit to at least a month of time. But with a fair share of competition and variance in the city, it’s safe to say that the concept of coworking has successfully disrupted the marketplace of Buenos Aires.
But coworking cafes? Not yet.
A New Model Emerges
Coworking cafes charge based on how much time you spend there rather than the cost of beverages or food purchased. They’re not exactly commonplace, but in the United States, several have popped up on the West Coast, and a few exist in New York. There’s also been international success with Ziferblat—a Russian chain that has since expanded to the UK. Coworking cafes also exist in China, Ukraine, Spain, France and more.
Until 2018, no coworking cafes existed in Buenos Aires. But when Florian Urtizberea arrived to Argentina from France, working as a consultant in market strategy using a coworking space, he found himself unsatisfied. “I didn’t like [the coworking spaces] at all. They were a bit boring, with no interaction. The receptionist would say ‘hi’ and ‘bye,’ but there was no community.” Renting coworking space was expensive, too—the monthly fees began to pile up.
So, six months in, Florian decided to discontinue his membership and opted to spend his days working in different coffee shops throughout the city. Occasionally, during his typical work day, a friend would set up shop alongside him for company. As a result, Urtizberea was more productive—and happier, too. Nonetheless, he realized that he was probably a burden on the coffee shops that he inhabited, staying the whole day, mooching off the WiFi, and perhaps only ordering one or two coffees.
When Urtizberea heard about the model of coffee shops that charged for time, he was intrigued. Together with his friend, Bautista Cassez, who often accompanied him in coffee shops, they saw a business opportunity unfolding in front of them. While Buenos Aires has no shortage of coffee shops, it could be prime material for a coworking café.
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Suddenly, Urtizberea and Cassez went from friends to cofounders. Never before conceiving of themselves as entrepreneurs, they took a leap of faith: they quit their respective jobs, went back to France to find investors, and refurbished a small space at Thames 1824 in Palermo. Three months later, Café Flor opened for business.
Café Flor has capitalized on a unique “pay to stay” model, operating as a typical café that integrates aspects of coworking economics into its business plan: Pagá por tu tiempo, no por lo que consumís.
Upon arrival, you may anticipate just purchasing a quick coffee. But Urtizberea will offer you an alternative: you could pay AR $180 for your first hour—and gain access to unlimited specialty coffee, tea and juice, not to mention an abundant display of snacks. After the first hour, each additional 15 minutes costs AR $40 pesos. For the full day, if you find yourself staying put for more than a few hours, the total is AR $800.
“We believe that if you entered, you have a reason to stay,” says Urtizberea. “Now, it’s our job to convince you to do that. And it’s a tough job.” Café Flor does everything that it can, so that morning coffee doesn’t become something para llevar. The space is inviting and aesthetic: its furnishings include spacious tables, and cozy couches and chairs; trendy artwork and warm light enhance the professional feel.
Nonetheless, Café Flor has amassed a customer base that is largely international, and entrepreneurial. When getting the word out about their startup, Urtizberea and Cassez promoted it among their international communities and networks. Now, many venture to Café Flor via word of mouth. Take Sara Esquivel, a Café Flor semi-regular, who came to Argentina eight years ago from Colombia. She dropped by Café Flor with her French friend, only to realize that she had many friends in common with the owners.
Fabien Barralon, another frequent visitor, visited Café Flor for the first time with another French friend, who knew the owners. He calls Café Flor a place that he is “sure he will pass by and see a friend in a similar situation.” Barralon, a French entrepreneur himself, was similarly unsatisfied with coworking spaces in Argentina. After discovering Café Flor, he preferred to work there: “for someone who works remotely, it’s ideal.” But recently, when his business has expanded to hiring several employees, he decided to lease his own space.
Still, Café Flor offers networking opportunities—people can exchange ideas about financial, marketing, and digital questions. “We can ask each other about the problems that we have as international entrepreneurs in Argentina,” said Barralon.
In the mean time, Urtizberea and Cassez are focused on the problems that most entrepreneurs in Argentina face: tackling changing prices with inflation and trying to make ends meet. As Buenos Aires’ first coworking café, Café Flor is here to stay—and perhaps expand. And who knows? If the concept catches on with Argentines, Café Flor could inspire some local competition.
“Every day is a new challenge,” Urtizberea said, with a smile.
At least he’s got unlimited coffee.