Happy Hubbub are a great example of the pioneering, exploratory spirit present in some of the most exciting coworking spaces around the world. It’s also one of those spaces with a great name that encapsulates the mission at Happy Hubbub: to successfully blend coworking and childcare. So I headed out to the Preston neighbourhood of Melbourne to find out more.
The concept is simple. Parents drop their children in the childcare area and then head over to the coworking space to start working. It’s the execution of combining two distinct businesses into one that’s difficult and Happy Hubbub are committed to creating a winning formula.
As with the best business ideas, the idea for Happy Hubbub came from Managing Director and co-founder Erin Richard’s own difficulties finding childcare while she worked on her own projects.
Building Trust. Building Community
Happy Hubbub were one of the first childcare and coworking in Australia. And as with any groundbreaking business, it’s taken lots of work and time to establish a reputation. “When we were first starting, I was so in love with my own idea, I just thought it was going to be fantastic and just work properly from day one” recalls Erin.
Happy Hubbub faced a twofold challenge: building trust in their services as a childcare provider and introducing coworking to parents as a concept. It took time for parents to both hear about the space and for positive word-of-mouth reviews to filter out that enabled them to trust Happy Hubbub with their two most precious things: their children and their time.
By the end of 2016 Happy Hubbub reached 50% occupancy for their childcare services, with a growing coworking community. Putting the childcare offer to the side for a moment, it’s worth noting that Happy Hubbub have put considerable effort into the space itself with two open plan collaborative workspaces, micro-offices, meeting rooms, workshop space as well as consideration for coworking wellness with a dedicated physical therapy room.
Facing the second challenge, Erin had to build a coworking space that provided value beyond just workspace. “The community are pretty much business people who happen to be parents“. These parents try the coworking space for the childcare, but keep coming back because of the community. Erin noted that one member, who’s a mother and a lawyer, had finally organized her own childcare options so she had the ability to work from her home office, but returned to Happy Hubbub because “she said ‘It’s about the community at Hubbub’”.
Carving out a niche offers great benefits to those that fall within the target market, but the flipside with niches are limitations. Erin notes, “There are a few members who come here who don't bring kids, but they are parents. There’s definitely a psychological barrier for people who don't have kids to come here”.
However, having a well-defined niche in world of coworking is a powerful thing because deeper community connections grow when there’s a shared vision, value or goal that resonates with the members.
Changing to Save Members Money
When starting out in February 2016, they offered half-day care for children. While this service was valuable to a loyal, core group of members, Happy Hubbub learned that it had limitations for parents. “We found we reached a plateau. The feedback we were getting from members was that they weren't able to get the 50% childcare rebate as we didn’t have a full-time license".
The government rebate only applies to centers that offer long-day care. Therefore, many members were using the space as a stop-gap while waiting for other long-day childcare options to open up. Despite keeping their prices as low as possible, without the rebate, Erin found that “our membership just wasn’t increasing".
Seeing this barrier for members, they needed to change their model and the team applied for a long-day care license which can be a difficult process with lots of requirements.
Fortunately, thoughtful initial planning ensured that their location had the required amenities, such as an outdoor space, for the certification. Since the beginning of 2017, they’ve offered both half- and long-day care, enabling their members to receive the rebate, even if they only use the half-day care.
With Happy Hubbub’s passion to succeed and ability to critically appraise their model, Erin is excited to see how things progress this year. “We’re pretty confident we've got the right approach now because with our members now being able to access the rebate it now costs our members less than it did last year, but with more service. And for us it's more revenue so it's a win win.”
A Unique Business Requires a Unique Team
Obtaining a full-time childcare license is a challenging process that is a barrier to entry for many people who are interested in setting coworking and childcare. However, the team is built with the right mix of experience, bringing together 15 years of childcare experience to the coworking space. “We have a great balance between my focus on the coworking side of things and Kirsten on the childcare,” notes Erin.
The team needs to be cohesive as the childcare adds its own issues. There are more staffing overheads than a standard coworking space and the programming and meals for the ‘mini-Hubbub’ers’ need to be high-quality and well-planned. To balance these factors, they have anchor tenants who don’t use the childcare, plus they expect more members with the shift to rebated long-day care.
A lot of consideration into how to make sure that Happy Hubbub is a great day-to-day experience for the children. These include creating quiet zones, ensuring children get great attention with a 4:1 of children to carers, and having mixed age groups.
The Happy Hubbub team sees the potential but is hesitant in confirming its own success. “Lots of people have been dipping their toe in and trying coworking and childcare,“ says Erin, “but no one's really made it work yet. We’d have to include ourselves in that for last year. We’ll see with this year".
2017 will certainly be a big year at Happy Hubbub, with new revenue options and a growing membership. Erin is looking forward to being able to shift her focus from the day-to-day to really building those connections within the hub. Erin notes proudly, “I think we were really successful with the community that we built".
And that’s definitely something to be celebrated in a coworking niche that hold so much positive potential. Coworking and childcare is something that I, personally and professionally, think is important in exploring the vision for the future of work. For those that are with me on this, stay tuned to follow Happy Hubbub’s progress.