Imagine, if you will, that moment when you wake up after a fantastic night of sleep. Fully refreshed, the blanket wrapped warmly around you. At that moment you stretch your arms out and let out an audible sigh, perhaps with a slight smile. The smell of coffee and bacon wafts lazily into the room. Your roommate is making breakfast. As you enter the kitchen, your favorite pump-up song begins playing through the Bluetooth speaker at the center of the kitchen table. When you settle down to eat, a fluffy puppy snuggles up on top of your feet, under the table. You know, without a doubt, that today is going to be epic.
This is only a fraction of what it felt like attending CU Asia 2017 in Chiang Mai, Thailand in early February.
From the moment Jak and I arrived it was clear that the week promised to be well-organized, filled with meaningful connection, and intensely fun. It delivered on all of those promises and more.
To me, what set it apart from other conferences we’d attended was the very clear and generous intent of the organizers. This wasn’t a money-maker for them. This wasn’t a vanity show. It was absolutely about connecting our community of coworking folks and those from adjacent industries.
The intent that was set was, “This is a safe place to share and ask questions. You belong here. We’re into collaboration, not competition. Let’s do something great together.” This intent was poured into everything throughout the week. It made the attendees engage more with the content, share better ideas, and create truly awesome unconference topics.
Overall, the sessions were informative and highly entertaining. There were very diverse opinions, which prompted intense discussions, which led to enlightening new perspectives for everybody involved. Perhaps one of the biggest, and most entertaining divides was the differing opinions between Alex Hillman of Indy Hall and Mario Stark of FlySpaces.
As many of you may know, Alex is all about community. Mario, by contrast, is all about sales. So you can imagine the laughter and shock when Mario’s opening line at the Coworking Academy was something along the lines of, “You do not need community!” While the sparks were flying at that moment, by the end of the conference, Mario would admit at the closing party, on video, “It’s not about sales, it’s all about community,” which may or may not have been induced by alcohol.
This, of course, is what the conference was all about. At the end of the day, even with differing opinions, we all agree on one thing: that working together is better than working separately. Ongoing dialogue and debate are how we move our budding industry forward. And let me say, there were some really exciting ideas on how that moving forward can happen.
As such, my favorite sessions revolved around the very real potential for coworking spaces to be anchors for positive social impact. This wasn’t a conversation I’d heard discussed at other coworking events, so it was a welcome novelty as something that’s always been close to my heart. In fact, the session on social impact was so refreshing for us that we created an unconference topic to continue the discussion. But even that wasn’t enough, so we are continuing the discussion outside of the conference by planning some amazing cross-border collaborations to share impact stories, create frameworks, and identify more coworking spaces committed to positive social change.
Another hot topic was the rise in the digital nomad community, and rightly so. The Asian coworking market is heavily saturated with digital nomads, those for whom travel and work are not mutually exclusive. They either work remotely for a company or on their own businesses. One session was dedicated to the future of the mobile work market, where we discussed how coworking spaces could be more appealing to nomadic workers as well as what else makes a region attractive to these types of workers. Hint: powerful wifi, comfortable accommodations, natural beauty, and relatively low cost were among some of the top attractions.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve included some pictures and descriptions of the conference sections below. If you’re even considering attending next year, we absolutely recommend it. CU Asia 2018 will be in Penang, Malaysia. We will see you there.
Day 1 was technically not the first day of the conference but was an event called Spotlight Thailand. Hosted at Brick, we watched speakers and panelists discuss the quickly evolving startup ecosystem in Thailand. It was amazing for me to see this growing market through the lens of a totally different culture. People were excited; they were hungry. Thailand is absolutely a scene to watch for tech in the upcoming few years.
Created for new and aspiring coworking space founders and managers, the Coworking Academy was filled with all the necessities, from lease negotiation to sales and marketing to community cultivation. The event was hosted at Punspace Tha Phae Gate, which is located in the Old City and is Chiang Mai’s largest dedicated coworking space. We even got a tour of Makerspace, which is located next door.
We’ve begun making this a tradition. Starting with Coworking Europe in Brussels last year, we’ve found it our absolute pleasure to feed and water (that means alcoholic beverages) some of the best and brightest at each conference we attend.
This was the first day of the main event. There were sessions on every topic you can imagine, from the rise in remote work and digital nomadism to using traditional lease structures vs. CRE partnerships. We started out in the main hall, then broke out into smaller sessions.
At the end of the first real day of the conference, we were shuttled via Songthaew back to our good friends at Brick for an evening reception. I must say, I've decided that Thailand has some of the best fried chicken I've ever had in my life due to this party. For those who weren't ready to stop, we were then invited to a rooftop afterparty.
The unconference kicked off with the typical activity of session leaders pitching their session topics, as with any other unconference. This event differed from other unconferences I've attended in that the topics were highly creative and interesting. There were sessions on everything from remote working visas and coworking spaces as anchors for social impact to building coliving villages and coworking in the developing world.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
There were several excursions for participants to choose from the day after the conference closing. I was supposed to go on the waterfall excursion, but as you probably guessed, the closing party was only the beginning of the prior night. Somehow, I don’t think I was the only one who opted to sleep in. ;)
For more pictures of the event, visit the CU Asia Facebook page.
See you next year!