Factory Berlin is an international community of innovators – the brightest minds from tech, politics, art, and science together into one collaborative ecosystem.
If you are familiar with the Factory of the old, jump later to "A few years later".
Back in 2017 I decided to start my own venture in Berlin, among the numerous things that I would need, was a place to call "My Office space". A friend back then was working as a freelancer based in Berlin and recommended me to join "The Factory".
I joined her for lunch on a sunny day of June and we chilled in the sunny garden of Bernauer Strasse, then took a walk around the offices and the area.
I was amazed! The building was small but cozy (even during summer). It did not have the best internet connection, the network coverage was flaky (still is, but more on that later) but the people, staff and not were friendly, down to earth. The Facilities were quite up to par with the standard for such a vibrant startup feel city like Berlin. In addition it had one of the best restaurants available for many miles. Great food, for an amazing price!
The desk setup was flex, you find a spot and it's yours till you leave. There are always people hording spots but I did not mind, there was always somewhere else to sit and work.
Last but not least, I was allowed to register my business under that address! No need for extra office, and they would also handle my mail with quick messages via slack to alert me I got mail!
This was all for the price of 50 euros including VAT.
The price was not just good, it was underpriced! But this was all part of the plan.
A few years later..
Jumping to a few years later, you will notice a lot of things have changed and I was there to see them change bit by bit.
To be clear, The Factory did a great job as a venture. It showed exponential growth, it created a fame in the city and could name itself as a hub for professionals and entrepreneurs.
However, on the way to become this, it let most of it's members down.
New office disappointment
I will start with the biggest change that was mentioned, the second office. The Factory was primarily located at Bernauer Strasse in Mitte. For a long time it was announced that they were in the works for a new office location. The Mitte offices were getting crowded and people were getting frustrated so we all waited with enthusiasm for the new location announcement.
Unfortunately the new location did not deliver what the members wanted.
The location was largely flawed, as it is in the middle of nowhere in terms of transportation, with comments like "just bike" were received when we gave this kind of feedback.
Ofcourse there was no way for them to change it, as the public announcement came way later after they had started working on it.
The Gorlitzer Location was flawed in two more approaches.
They made it available to the members while still finishing construction, including a greatly failing door lock mechanism. The lock system is still creating frustrations to the members and if you talk enough with the staff, they did not like it either.
Furthermore the layout is still a complete puzzle to me. They opted in for huge open spaces, without proper sound insulation, large kitchens that serve no value rather than being nice but impractical. Play rooms with huge waste of space just so they can include a ball pit? Meeting rooms with no privacy, that they had to fix in the past few months.
Small offices allocated in corporates just to improve their street credit, and booths that were definitely not used for more than 1 hour before installing.
The main feeling from the new location was, we want to focus on corporate, not you the single member who needs an office.
Restaurant Quality Drop
The restaurant was one of the things that I loved in the Factory. Everyone liked the food, it was tasty, far from basic and had a fair pricing.
Since the new location opened, both restaurants (in the old location and new) declined greatly in food quality, opting in for more "make me full" meals rather than proper, with a really questionable menu focusing more on being instagram than appetite friendly.
The main example for me is the salad. You can feel the difference and you can see the price increase.
For me a downgrade in quality with an increase in price is a no and have yet to ever have lunch in either locations.
Switched their focus to Corporate.
This is by far not a criticism against their business model, but a think piece on how it affected me as a member.
It was obvious that the 50 euro per month including VAT was not a sustainable choice. They decided to go with a low entry barrier price to improve growth fast, show good numbers and then show proof that their model works.
Even their restaurant was build and operated in an way to be able to serve more, faster.
The big news came in August 2018, when they announced a price increase to 119 euros per month including VAT. (There was a hole conundrum in which the VAT price was not very well communicated but I am willing to let that go).
This is an increase of 138%! They gave 1 month notice to everyone that they would be able to cancel the membership if they did not like the membership, but it was obvious that they had not asked any of the members or do a survey.
This started long long conversation on the slack chat between members and staff and it was clear. The members did not like it.
However, they did not care, they would still go forth with it, because they have investors to satisfy, or as a staff mentioned "they do not care, there are 5000 people waiting to get a membership".
This is the exact same situation with the Berlin housing situation. Prices are increasing without notice, to satisfy capital gains just because someone else will come after you that has no problem paying 138% more than you did.
Slow to improve and adapt
I would definitely be ok with the price increase if that price was ofcourse communicated better, or if I could see that it would improve the issues that we as members had.
- But no, network connection speed or reliability is still poor, there were times that a whole floor would lose connection.
- The incredibly awful lock mechanism in Gorlitzer is still under functioning and we were there to beta test it.
- The slack history issue was forever under discussion but no solution was suitable, until in the end they caved in and paid the full price.
- There was no automation, for a long time in order to change your payment details you filled in a pdf form and email it to a factory address. For a new-age co-working space, whose members loath the inefficiency of the paper based German bureaucracy, the Factory was barely 1 step ahead.
My last point is towards the culture. The Factory started as a small family. Honestly I got to know a lot of people by working at Bernauer strasse just because of the setup.
People were like minded, they knew boundaries and we did not have to set a Valentines box to make the community feel better. We did fix a lot of things just by communication and in mutual cooperation.
However when I have to troubleshoot with the technician why I cannot connect to the network (while this is a floor wide problem), or I am told to contact the company that makes the lock system in order to give feedback while paying 119 euros, that is when you are pushing your culture too far.
The Factory used to be a family.