14 min read

Digital 52 1️⃣6️⃣ - Building a purpose-driven coworking brand, getting the B Corp. certification, blending coworking and hospitality with clubspace: the story of x+why.

Discover how a leading coworking brand from London is empowering purpose-driven businesses to thrive by offering flexible workspaces, educational resources, and opportunities for connection and collaboration.
x+why, Coworking London, Coworkies, Coworking Book

Discover how a leading coworking brand from London is empowering purpose-driven businesses to thrive by offering flexible workspaces, educational resources, and opportunities for connection and collaboration.

Their Tags in the book
[sustainability - wellness and wellbeing]

Read the story of x+why on page 293 of “Around The World in 250 Coworking Spaces.”

We have stated on multiple occasions that “coworking is the same dish, everyone cooks it differently”, and the recipe you are about to read is yet another remarkable example of how coworking, as a concept, can be tailored to support specific communities in achieving their purpose. While for some coworking spaces, their greater purpose develops over time and through experience, for x+why, the space you are about to discover, their purpose was clear from the start: to become a coworking brand that brings together and supports purpose-driven businesses. But what does it mean to be purpose-driven? How is x+why concretely supporting these businesses while growing and paving the way for a more positive way of doing business? Continue reading to find out.

➡️ A little refresher

Who’s behind the featured space

x+why was co-founded by Rupert Dean (CEO) and Phil Nevin (CCO). Rupert Dean was a successful lawyer before leaving to start this venture craving something more rewarding. Phil Nevin has worked in the property and design space for 15 years as well as setting up his own charity.

They serendipitously both pitched the same idea (for x+why) to a mutual friend - who then introduced them, as perfect partners, with very complimentary skill sets.

➡️ Key Figures

  • Opening year: 2019
  • Size when they started: 1 space in London
  • Size today: 7 x+why spaces, 2 of which are outside of London + 1 Clubspace.

➡️ A little tour around x+why

➡️ Behind-the-scenes

Things you didn't read in aw250cs

If you wonder what’s the meaning behind their name, Rupert explained it to us: “We get asked this a lot. They are many answers.

The first is that it represented a profit graph (x and y) but making money in the right way by knowing your ‘why’.

The next is solving for X by leading with Why – this implies solving for a fundamental societal issue by knowing exactly the problem you are trying to solve (which is a good way to describe a company with purpose).

The final one is – Brand X and Brand Why.
Brand X = They have customers. They have the past. They have an old business model. They have to be cheaper. They are the status quo. In recessions, their customers leave and go to the cheapest. They have changed very little and can’t remember why they started.

Brand Why = They have fans. They have the future. They have a new business model. They are special. Their employees love them and are proud. Their customers are loyal. Customers stick with them during a recession. They are changing what they set out to do and are ethical.”

Rupert and Phil, the Founders of x+why, both had the idea to start a flexible workspace independently, before being introduced by a mutual friend. Why did they want to start a coworking space?

Phil Nevin worked in the property and design space for 15 years as well as setting up his own charity, Big Change. He has always been incredibly interested in the space between the charity and the business sector – and is passionate about closing that gap. x+why is a reflection of that, and aims to inspire people to look at business differently – yes, profit is important, but so is the planet, and so are people, and their well-being and their lives.

Rupert experienced this very personally, having been an unhappy corporate lawyer for 15 years. He went on a journey to understand why we do the things we do - why we get out of bed every morning, and why we go to work every day. And he found that people who are driven by a purpose and passion - a mission and a very clear 'why' - are the happiest of us all. Having spent several years founding and operating coworking spaces in East Africa, he realized the importance that purpose beyond profit played for businesses, in uniting, motivating, and retaining suppliers, employees, and customers, and decided to bring this experience back to the UK.

"We set up x+why with the intention of becoming a B Corp certified company."

Rupert Dean, Co/Founder and CEO of x+why

➡️ x+why Today

I invited Rupert Dean, Co-Founder and CEO of x+why, to join me online just before the Christmas break of 2022 to reflect on everything that has happened since the book was released. We had been in touch with x+why on a few occasions throughout the year - they were the location partner of our London book launch in June 2022 and we also did a live session together on Instagram, which you can watch here. I thought I was quite up-to-date with their developments, but as it turns out, I was not. From expansion outside of London to developing a new concept blending coworking and hospitality and furthering their mission to become an even better business, the least we can say is that x+why has had a very busy and productive year.

Keep scrolling down to learn how x+why has done it all.

💫 Expanding, Releasing a book, Developing a new concept.

Expanding Outside London.
For the first time since its inception, x+why has opened not just one but multiple locations outside of London, supporting their mission to be the place where purpose-driven businesses can thrive all across the country.
Publishing Mission Lit.
One of the ways x+why has found to support entrepreneurs seeking to become more purpose-driven is by publishing their beautiful book called “Mission Lit.” We had the opportunity to attend the launch party and seeing so much passion and dedication to creating a better world for all of us was truly inspiring. Keep reading to discover what “Mission Lit” is all about and check out their website here if you wish to order a copy.
Developing Clubspace.
As x+why works closely with landlords, Rupert and his team keep pushing their creativity by adjusting the x+why concept depending on the buildings they take on. You are about to discover their brand new concept, which they named Clubspace - a blend of coworking and hospitality, all seasoned with great experiences.

💬 What’s new at x+why since the publication of the book?

Recently, we embarked on a new venture by opening three new locations. One of which was a 30,000 square feet site in Chiswick, London. More notably, we expanded our reach by opening two sites in the city of Birmingham. This marked our entry into a new market, outside of London. Both of these sites offered distinct characteristics, with one being located in the central area of Birmingham and the other being in a prime location. It was intriguing to observe the contrast between the two sites and to transform one of the former WeWork spaces into a unique x+why location, which has a distinct approach and services compared to WeWork.

The other one was located in a more recognized central destination in a higher-end landmark building. We've introduced a new concept of a clubspace, which I'm sure we'll talk about, and it has been highly successful, reaching full occupancy in less than a month. This has been phenomenal.

On the backend, we've been working hard on the cultural side, focusing on benefits, engagement with our mission, and tracking our measurable outcomes.

We've written and published a book called "Mission Lit" which has been a real trial, particularly for those who were more heavily involved than I was, but it has been amazing. The book serves as a toolkit for businesses to identify what makes a properly mission-driven business, what that ultimately means, and how to apply certain skills, traits, and mechanisms to introduce a wider mission beyond pure profit, as well as how to use it to engage their team and build a better culture.

In addition, we've conducted over 100 partnerships, focusing on the impact we can generate on issues in the world, and we've put on over 250 events for our members since then. It has been a busy time, growing our team while maintaining our DNA and focusing on sustainable growth, and we're also focusing on our pipeline for 2023-2024 and beyond, which is looking exciting.

💬 One of the topics I would like for us to delve deeper into is the concept of purpose-driven businesses. x+why places a strong emphasis on this, and I am eager to understand your definition of a purpose-driven business and what makes it important for you to have spaces that support and nurture businesses with a clear purpose.

When starting a business today, it is crucial to consider what you are trying to achieve beyond just making money. Many people enter into business with the sole purpose of making money, but true purpose goes beyond that. I have always wanted to start my own business and I happened to have a prior understanding of the coworking and flexible workspace model. I wanted to set something up in the UK, but I didn't understand what the purpose was. I didn't want to be just another operator of flexible workspaces. I wanted it to achieve something and leave a positive legacy. That's when I came across the idea of purpose-driven businesses.

A purpose-driven business is one that has a big mission that it is trying to achieve, and that mission is broken down into specific outputs that contribute to the ultimate goal. Furthermore, a truly purposeful business goes beyond that, it also considers how it engages with other stakeholders such as people and the planet as well as profit.

It's not about charity or social enterprise, but it's about creating a brand and a business that people want to buy from because they feel like they are contributing to solving the world's problems. Businesses are uniquely equipped to solve these issues while also making money. The argument is if you do good, you'll do well and it's not mutually exclusive. Charity and social enterprise are fantastic, but they tend to not have the same resources as businesses. That's what mission-driven businesses should be able to support. So that's what we mean by a purpose-driven business, considering people, the planet, as well as profit, not just thinking about its bottom line and returns to shareholders.

💬 In terms of leading by example within the purpose-driven business community, can you share with me what specific commitments x+why takes to become increasingly purpose-driven each day, and how do you actively demonstrate this within your community?

Our mission is to change the way the world works for good. To achieve that, we focus on creating environmentally innovative workspaces, fostering engagement among our members, and growing the movement toward better businesses.

In terms of innovative workspaces, we place emphasis on building green credentials, using recycled materials, ensuring a living wage and green consumables, and tracking our consumption of electricity, refrigerants, water, and waste, with the goal of ultimately achieving a carbon-neutral output.

For member engagement, we aim to gauge and support the impact our members are making and amplify their efforts through meaningful connections, attendance at social events, and partnerships with organizations that align with our mission. We also provide proprietary programs, such as Mission Lit, which serves as a toolkit for businesses to understand what makes a purpose-driven business and how to build a better culture and engage their team. Additionally, we partner with organizations like B Lab to help our members become B Corp if they choose to.

Lastly, our focus on growth is to continue to have a positive influence on the better business movement through various channels, such as brand and social media, and by growing our own business, with an aim of having more sites so we can achieve our ultimate goal. To measure our progress, we have a golden KPI, which is a combination of innovative workspace, member engagement, and growth.

💬 x+why is one of the few coworking spaces in the world to be B Corp certified. Can you tell me more about what B Corp certification is and why it was important for you guys to obtain such recognition?

Yeah, so B Corp certification is a movement led by the organization B Lab which aims to redefine capitalism and ensure that businesses are contributing to a fair economy and society. The certification is a framework and impact assessment tool that evaluates a business' contributions to various areas including workers, governance, the planet, and more. It scores businesses on their progress and encourages them to improve over time. It's a rapidly growing movement, with thousands of B Corps being created in the UK, the US, and Europe. It is becoming a recognized benchmark for responsible business practices.

For us, obtaining B Corp certification was a top priority. It required a significant commitment and demonstrated our dedication to creating positive change in our approach to business and policy. We set up x+why with the intention of becoming a B Corp certified company and while we had to go through a verification process, being part of the B Corp community has been incredibly inspiring and engaging.

We have implemented sustainable practices and made an effort to track our positive impact on people and the planet to score well on the assessment and to improve over time. Hearing the stories and learning about the impact created by other companies in the community is what makes it exciting and drives innovation within the system. Additionally, being part of the B Corp community allows us to connect and collaborate with like-minded businesses and organizations, which is extremely valuable and inspiring.

💬 As you have just explained, you've grown quite a lot over the last year and a half. I would like to ask a few questions about growth. The first one is, how do you select the next space you decide to take on? And since you said that you now operate outside of London, could you tell me why you decided on Birmingham particularly and not other cities in the UK?

Growth is important for us to continue being part of the better business movement and building out our brand. Our ultimate goal is for people to see x+why as a kite mark for responsible business, in the same way, that B Corp is seen as a virtual community. But we want x+why to be a physical manifestation of that as well, with communities that are committed to better business.

To achieve this, we needed to continue to grow and expand outside of London, which is traditionally seen as the power base of the UK. However, we also recognize that there are many other cities, particularly in the North and Midlands, that can also contribute to the economy. This aligns with the government's agenda to “level up” and distribute wealth and commitments to other parts of the UK, particularly the North.

Therefore, x+why is targeting to open up locations in most of the gateway cities of the UK. This includes not only cities in the North like Manchester, Sheffield, and Leeds, but also cities in the south like Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Milton Keynes, and Bristol, which are key centers for innovation and drivers of the economy. So, if we are allowed, we plan to open up locations in most of these cities.

💬 Can you tell me about the clubspace? I find the term "clubspace" very intriguing. Can you explain what it is and how it differs from a coworking space?

Sure. So, the term "clubspace" took us quite some time to come up with as there are only a limited number of options for naming this type of space.

However, at x+why, we are primarily focused on aspiration and hospitality. Instead of just providing coworking spaces with desks and chairs, we work with landlords to create wider community spaces that support the landlord's underlying commercial goals, such as leasing strategy.

Additionally, as traditional tenants are looking for more amenities and hybrid working solutions, we also offer food and beverage, events, and meeting spaces.

Clubspace as a concept is a designated work zone during the day but also serves as a place for team bonding, events, meetings, and inspiration. It features a bar, event space, meeting rooms, and breakout areas, and is designed to be high-end and aspirational. It is intended for use by the building's tenants and local community, rather than a wider audience or international visitors. It is definitely an interesting and cool addition to our offerings and offers a different approach to traditional hospitality outlets that blend hospitality with work.

Experience the first clubspace created by x+why, here.

➡️ Reflections on building x+why

💬 Looking back at the first day you decided to dedicate your time to x+why what would you say has been your biggest learning while bringing it to life and growing the brand?

The most important thing for us at the beginning was to be clear in our branding and messaging. We recognized the importance of having a strong brand that people could connect with and that truly reflected who we were as a company. We made a commitment early on to establish a brand based on values and mission that set us apart in a crowded market and helped us to be authentic.

One of the biggest lessons we've learned is the meaning of authenticity. I used to strive for perfection, but now understand that it's a continuous journey and not something that can ever be fully achieved. It's important to celebrate successes but also to embrace the less-than-perfect moments in the journey. Starting and running a business is not easy, it's a lot of hard work and dedication, but ultimately, the key to learning is to keep going. Waiting for perfection will only delay the process and be frustrating.

Planning is important, but you can never do enough of it. The key is to take action and learn as you go. If you can achieve perfection from the get-go, I would be impressed.

💬 If someone would approach you tomorrow and say “Rupert, I want to open a coworking space”. What would be your first advice?

Why do you want to open a coworking space?

I understand you might have your reasons, but I would recommend taking a step back and considering what it is that you hope to achieve. If your only goal is to make money, I would suggest reevaluating your approach.

This ties in with the importance of planning. Many people have a market in mind that they want to target, which is a great idea. However, it's important to consider the viability of that market and to determine the best method for finding and reaching those potential customers.

Additionally, your market research should involve listening to your target market to understand what they want and need. Keep in mind that you may not get it right on the first try, and that's perfectly normal.

💬 If you could chat with coworking operators, not necessarily from the UK, what would you like to ask them?

A question from Rupert

💬 And if you would have the chance to talk with coworkers, what would you like to ask them?

I’d like to ask them about what they enjoy about our coworking spaces, how they could be improved, and what their future expectations are. I know that everyone will have their own opinion, which is why it's important to gather a wide range of feedback.

It's not just about understanding their preferences for the space and services, but also their perception of our brand and the impact we’re trying to make.

💬 What's your biggest aspiration for x+why?

Our goal is to continue growing, but in a sustainable way that preserves our culture. My focus is on building a strong foundation, which we can then expand upon. The majority of my time is spent ensuring that we maintain this foundation and prevent any disruptions. Additionally, we want to create a measurable impact that we can document in our impact reports and continue to improve our brand recognition. Ultimately, my goal is to leave a positive legacy in the next few years. But the future is uncertain, and we'll have to see how it plays out."

Let's keep the conversation on purpose-driven coworking going, join us on Discord!


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