Table of contents
- Tobi Skovron
- Melbourne, Australia
- Started in 2017
- Bootstrapped first two locations then raised venture capital
- 40+ employees
- 4,000+ Tenants
So Tobi, what's your backstory?
Hello, I'm Tobi Skovron, the CEO and a co-founder at CreativeCubes.Co. You might say I'm an entrepreneur who walks a fine line between being blessed and, arguably, cursed with ambition.
I spent a good chunk, over a decade, of my life living in the United States. When I moved from Australia to the US, it was essential for me to compartmentalise my work and personal life. That's what led me to a co-working space in Santa Monica, California - the old Google headquarters, no less.
That's where I fell in love with the idea of community. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals, witnessing them accomplish fantastic feats within their respective industries. It encouraged me to adapt and adopt those ideas into my own field, something I felt deeply passionate about. It's amazing how the thought process can elevate when surrounded by such incredible people; it's a real boost to your ambition.
I had the good fortune of successfully exiting two ventures whilst in the States and made the decision to return home to raise my family. My wife hails from Melbourne, and I'm a Sydney lad. We started our family in California, but I felt a compelling need to replicate the personal experience I had in the States, being part of an amazing community of professionals.
So, that's what led to the inception of CreativeCubes.Co - my very own rendition of that incredible, community-driven experience.
What is CreativeCubes.Co ?
So, at our core, we're a flex office operator. Yes, we provide the bricks and mortar, the real estate for people to set up their businesses, but in all honesty, I take a lot of pride—and so does the company—in being community builders. Our mission is straightforward—we exist to foster success. And we set out to achieve this by engaging closely and by cultivating an environment where everyone genuinely feels they belong.
How did you come up with CreativeCubes.Co?
I came up with the idea for CreativeCubes.Co while I was living in Los Angeles, a stint that lasted for just under 10 years. To better manage work and life, I decided to move into a co-working space in Santa Monica, California, which was the old Google headquarters in LA. They had moved out, and a chap took over, calling it Real Office Centers or ROC for short.
Despite having a wonderful family and great friends, I often felt somewhat of a misfit. The entrepreneurial ideas brimming in my head were simply alien to my loved ones. Not that they were unsupportive; they just couldn't relate. The moment I stepped into ROC, everything changed. The place was bustling with some incredible entrepreneurs, Travis Kalanick who founded Uber, Evan Spiegel who founded Snapchat, and Robert Graham who had a slew of successful ventures. This environment made me feel alive and understood as an entrepreneur. It felt like I had finally found my tribe, surrounded by like-minded individuals.
Looking back, I can attribute a significant part of my two business exits during my ten years in the United States to the inspiration and motivation I found being amidst these professionals.
Fast forward to my decision to move back to Australia, primarily driven by my wish to have my kids grow up around their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My wife then asked what I was going to do next. Throughout this time, the idea of CreativeCubes.Co had been simmering in my mind. In fact, I had registered all the IP and details back in 2014, although we only relocated to Australia in 2017. If you check our Twitter handle, it even says we joined in 2014.
My vision for CreativeCubes.Co was to foster success. I wanted to create a supportive space for like-minded professionals who sometimes feel like the world is against them. A place where they could share their stories without fear or shame, fail in a safe environment and dust themselves off to try again. In essence, that's what CreativeCubes.Co is all about.
People initially come to us because they need office space, but what keeps them is the culture we've nurtured. And this is something I take immense pride in. While from the outside, it might look like we're in the real estate business, I firmly believe we're in the business of people. My goal is to help individuals be better than they were yesterday and not as great as they'll be tomorrow, through our products, services, community, energy, vibrancy, and the inspiration we offer.
CreativeCubes.Co was born out of a personal experience that I tweaked and enhanced. As of now, we have five sites open, with a few more under construction. I believe our future is limitless, as long as we remain committed to our mission, day in and day out.
How did you validate your business idea?
The validation of our business idea wasn't completely conventional. What we're doing, you see, isn't completely new from a mechanics standpoint. Serviced offices, co-working spaces - they're all out there. But our aim was to offer a more hotel-like experience to people in business, which I reckon makes us quite unique. On top of that, our culture and the design of our spaces attract a certain kind of tribe.
Most of the businesses that have set up shop in CreativeCubes.Co are exactly the sort we aimed to serve and support. As for tangible validation, well, our business has grown. We've got five locations open and a couple more under construction, and the demand keeps coming in. Our aim has always been to be the best in our category - co-working, flexible office space, temporary office space, and the like.
We're constantly in dialogue with our customers, receiving feedback, refining our services, and striving to understand how we can improve. We've had lunch and learns, gone out with members, and taken a multitude of different approaches to truly comprehend how we can enhance what we do. Sure, some of that feedback isn't always what you'd call 'good', but it's the negative feedback that pushes us to grow. We've made plenty of mistakes, but the important bit is how we respond to these and become better for them.
The pandemic has brought about a shift away from traditional office spaces. Flex office was barely taking up 3% of commercial office space on a national level, but we're expecting that to surge to around 30%. We're looking at massive growth opportunities here, all stemming from the convenience of a 'hub and spoke' model. It's about living, working, playing, and being local. I myself have two kids and make it a point to either drop them to school or pick them up, sometimes both. The world has changed, and I think people are yearning for more convenience and flexibility.
As for how we draw in tenants and members, we've got a few strategies up our sleeves. We've got social media, digital media, and a whole lot more. We see a lot of internal growth as well, with companies growing with us. Our members are also a source of new tenants - they're happy with what we're delivering, and they're always keen to refer us. Other opportunities arise too, such as our events and meetings by the hour. These expose people to what we do and how we do it, often leading to them becoming members, even if just on a casual basis.
How did you launch your first co-working space?
Our journey started in Richmond back in 2017, but if we rewind even further back to 2013, I was still in Los Angeles and that's when I registered CreativeCubes.Co. Even then, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to create. Upon my return to Australia in late 2016, I got straight down to work. My first tasks were getting to know the neighbourhoods, understanding commercial real estate, and partnering up with a fantastic co-founder who is quite the expert when it comes to property. James, who's still with us today, took the reins of the property side of things.
Our first task was finding the right location. We finally found our spot on Church Street in Richmond, Victoria. We wanted a model that we could scale, and we had a preference for city fringe locations that offered a lifestyle-centric approach. Our next locations were Hawthorn and South Melbourne, followed by Carlton and Collingwood even amidst the pandemic.
In terms of startup costs, we had to invest a significant amount in creating our product. It's really no different from any other business – if you're in a product business, you invest in prototypes, and if you're in tech, you refine your algorithms or codes. Our product, in essence, is a real estate product.
Once the infrastructure was in place, we started marketing. I've always believed that the progression of cloud tech would change the way we work. Being able to respond to emails and interact with customers from a cafe, an airplane, or wherever else you might be – as long as you're connected to the internet, you're in business.
Our approach with CreativeCubes.Co was to build a physical space that enhances productivity. We wanted to help people surround themselves with like-minded professionals and achieve their best work. We aimed to create an experience and culture that goes beyond just office space. If you walk into a CreativeCubes.Co location today, you can sense the energy more than see it – incredible companies doing inspiring work, great people, just a fantastic vibe.
Shardae Mazzeo, my chief of staff and a co-founder at CreativeCubes.Co, often tells me that we're elevating everyone else's brands. We've hosted brands larger than us and witnessed small companies grow from two people to fifty, and they still work out of CreativeCubes.Co. That's us, in a nutshell.
How did you acquire your first 100 tenants?
At the outset, we made a concerted effort to establish not just a brand, but an experience. Regularly, we interact with a broad spectrum of businesses for a plethora of reasons. For instance, I have produced about 586 episodes of a vlog, a content avenue we're now expanding into podcasting for a more extended reach. Our spaces have been graced by remarkable personalities, from local AFL superstars to the legendary Shaquille O'Neal. This gives our brand a unique sense of presence and swagger.
As for customer acquisition, we utilise a myriad of strategies. Traditional digital platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Instagram play a significant role in our social media programmes. We host a substantial number of lunch and learn sessions and other events, not to mention our event spaces for hire. This brings a multitude of people into our premises, exposing them to what we do. The vlog, the upcoming podcast, and an array of other elements also factor into our acquisition strategy.
Personally, I often find myself in the entrepreneurial spotlight, which has its benefits. Furthermore, relationships and networks are integral parts of business for me, proving to be a valuable avenue for customer acquisition. All told, our customers come through nearly 50 or 60 different marketing channels, an approach that's proving to be quite effective.
What distribution channels did you try that didn’t work?
There are several distribution channels we've experimented with, not all of which have borne fruit. We have listings on platforms such as realestate.com and commercialrealestate.com.au. Whilst we maintain our presence on these platforms, they don't generate an impressive volume of leads. Similarly, our collaborations with brokers and real estate agents haven't been as fruitful as anticipated, contributing to perhaps 2% to 3% of the overall business. I initially thought these would be substantial platforms for lead generation, but that hasn't been the case.
Likewise, focusing on sales through social media hasn't been our emphasis. The directive I've given our marketing team is to ensure our presence, engage in conversation, and if that culminates in a transaction, fantastic. But I didn't want them to feel pressured to hit a particular quota of transactions based on their activities. So these are some areas that haven't quite hit the mark as we'd hoped.
However, everything has its place and contributes in some way. Our primary channels today are search engines, particularly Google, and member referrals. The latter is especially gratifying as it signals our members' satisfaction and faith in our offering.
How did you make the transition from side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship?
In terms of transitioning from a side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship, it's interesting. With CreativeCubes.Co, I dived right in from the beginning. However, in previous endeavours, I'd deliberately structure my environment so that I could work odd hours — typically from 4am to 9am and then again from 4pm to 9pm. This setup gave me a decent block in the middle of the day to focus on the side hustle.
I recall back in 2003 when I started my first venture, a company called PetLoo, I was working full-time as a gym trainer. My clients never needed me between 9am and 4pm, so these hours became my window to focus on PetLoo. My girlfriend, now my wife, was working full-time as a social worker in a hospital. During the day, I'd visit pet stores, meet customers, all while still earning a fair income during the early morning and late evening. These were exhausting times, with my weekends spent mostly recovering.
However, there came a time when I took the plunge and committed full time to PetLoo. It was a rewarding journey, and there were other ventures after that which were decent, if not as successful. From there, I've just continued to back myself.
To be completely candid, CreativeCubes.Co doesn't yet fully cover my monthly expenses. We're investing in the future and growing the business. I have enough savings to cover any shortfall, but there will be a point when that isn't the case anymore. We're always looking to grow, to drive more revenue through the business to bridge that gap.
Still, it's important to mention that the dynamics of dedicating 20% of your time to earn 80% of your income, or inversely, 80% of your time to earn 20% of your income, are fundamental components of this journey.
What drives you to do what you do?
What fuels me to do what I do? That's a brilliant question. There are days, if I'm laying it all bare, when I feel much like a mule. At times I sense a certain passivity, a seeming lack of emotion, largely because my mind and body have different opinions on what should transpire. But let's keep this pointed in the positive direction, yeah?
What really gets me up in the morning is a burning desire to make a positive impact, to lead by example, to portray my family in a positive light, and to show my children that they can achieve anything they put their minds to. That's the heart of it. As for the practical side, I'm tireless in my pursuit of an idea, right up to its execution. It doesn't matter if I'm selling dog toilets, my first endeavour, or delivering office spaces and cultivating a community. My goal is to defy expectations and deliver nothing short of excellence. That's something that gets me going every day.
It's an endless cycle. It's never finished. It's never perfect. But it's something that I love, something that brings me true joy. Yet, there are days when I can't quite pin down where this motivation springs from. It's deeply ingrained in me, so deeply that there are times when I'm just following the motions because my mind is teeming with ideas that just can't wait to be brought to life. Sometimes, it might even seem a bit robotic. But that's just me being open and genuine with you.
What advice do you have for other founders?
Here's a golden rule: you've got two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio. Listen twice as much as you speak. Also, make sure to keep your ego in check. That's absolutely vital.
You're not an oracle; you don't have all the answers. But your customers will be quite vocal about their needs. Not that they're always right, mind you. But if you genuinely listen and sift through their feedback, you may strike gold. Let's say you engage with 100 customers, if you're astute enough to find a common thread in their feedback, there's your pot of gold waiting to be unearthed, provided you can execute on that insight.
So, my advice is straightforward - listen twice as much as you speak and make sure to iterate as quickly as possible. Prioritise progress over perfection. I've observed too many startups where the founders and CEOs are hell-bent on presenting the perfect product to the world. That's a noble ambition, but not at the expense of missing the mark. I've seen brilliant products lose their relevance because the market outpaced them. These products were great, but then a giant like Apple launches some groundbreaking technology that renders their hard work somewhat obsolete. They simply didn't act quickly enough.
So, two pieces of advice, really – two ears, one mouth, and always progress over perfection. Bundle these two together, and I believe you'll be on the right path.
What specific tools, software, or resources have been most helpful in growing your business?
It's all about the Cloud for us. The crucial aspect is that I might be dialling in from home today, but tomorrow, I could be at any of our locations, and I must be able to access my business by merely opening my device. Our platform of choice is Salesforce; I'm a proud Trailblazer. There's a considerable amount of collaborative effort between Salesforce and us, and we've got proprietary software that connects into it.
The importance of Cloud tech cannot be overstated. Whether I'm on the move, on an aeroplane, in a building, or at home, as long as my computer is on and I'm logged in securely through multiple two-factor authentication, I'm in business. Cloud Tech has been a tremendous enabler for us.
Regarding the services we provide for our members, we cater to several of our larger ASX-listed companies with server requirements, security requirements, protocol requirements, and more. We offer all of these services out of the box to support them.
In terms of my own company, my staff, the 40 people currently on my payroll, they're significantly empowered via Cloud tech. The tech stacks we utilise primarily consist of Salesforce Marketing, Salesforce Ticketing, and Salesforce CRM. That's CRM, Service Cloud, and Marketing Cloud.
And then there's Slack. We try to avoid cluttering inboxes and instead heavily use Slack. We have a plethora of notifications coming through bots we've enabled throughout our platform stack. If someone's just signed a contract, that information comes straight into our bot NMF channel; every detail from signatures to filing is right there. This setup enables me as CEO to not be engrossed in the business but to oversee it, watching everything unfold in real time. Although it's a complex business, it's tremendously rewarding and, more importantly, a lot of fun.
Cloud tech is where it's at for us across the board, and G Suite is another crucial element. It's essential for collaborating on documents, while PandaDoc is our go-to for executing documentations, among other things.
Who are some recommended experts or entrepreneurs to follow for learning how to grow a business?
I have a great team around me that i'm always listening and learning from.
Outside of that I listen to lots of podcasts and scroll twitter for uplifting content.
I don't pull all my information from one source and don't have any particular person that is THE EXPERT but its absorbing lots of bites throughout the day / week / month that form a perspective and position for me to be able to drive forward.
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