In a world of increased connectivity and a heightened desire for social inclusiveness, the hospitality space has been abuzz with concepts like ‘co-working’ and ‘co-living’ in recent years. At the same time, social clubs, which have traditionally been built on creating a sense of luxury and exclusivity with joining fees in the thousands, have continued to thrive. While the end result of the two concepts seems to be at odds - inclusivity vs. exclusivity - their core purpose appears similar: to bring together people who share similar interests.
In a webinar with EHL, Federico Folcia, CEO & Co-Founder of Crane, shared the club’s journey to bringing together the best of both worlds, by creating an inclusive community for like-minded people in the name of knowledge sharing and lifelong learning.
Roomorama was started around 2008 in New York. It’s like what Airbnb is today – a peer-to-peer platform for short-term rentals. The concept was started out of a personal frustration, as well as an opportunity that I saw in that space. The frustration was that I had always found it difficult to find affordable places for family vacations and vice versa – I left spaces vacant when I was returning to my country. I thought it would be really great to have something that could connect demand and supply and that was how the idea of Roomorama started. That was back in 2008 and the company was around for approximately 8 to 9 years (until 2017).
Crane also came out of a personal frustration and an opportunity that has come along the way. The frustration comes from the fact that I have been out of my country for 20 years [and away from my aged parents. It made me want] to help improve the quality of life [of the older generations], by helping them socialize and stay relevant as they age. As we developed this further, I realized that what I was tackling – the loss of sense of purpose, loneliness, boredom etc. – actually affected more generations. So rather than focusing on one generation, I realized I should be creating something of value to a multi-generational audience. And that’s what Crane is about today – we’re tapping into people’s skills, people’s experiences, people’s passions [across generations].
Selected spaces at Crane. Source: Crane
We try to explore as many areas of interest as possible. We’ve done events where we’ve had 100 clickers running through dinners, couple massage sessions, yoga sessions, lots of master classes etc. Sometimes we combine different activities, like yoga and wine, or ‘Lindy Hops!’ which is music and alcohol. We try to be creative and make even the most difficult-to-digest topics more engaging and entertaining. In general, the content at Crane follows certain principles: it has to be purposeful and participative. Where possible, it should also be repeatable – so that the content creators and the community can engage with the same people over and over, and this engagement can become more meaningful over time.
We looked mainly at two types of services: one is the co-working spaces and the other one is social clubs. In the landscape of social clubs, usually, the core pursuit is exclusivity – prestige, luxury etc., and I think Crane is sitting on the other side of that spectrum. Looking at co-working spaces, what they emphasize is this idea of a very dynamic environment that is very Millennial-focused. [For us,] we started from the notion that we wanted to create both a space and a community as well. Whether you look at it from the perspective of us versus co-working spaces or versus social club spaces, we’re actually sitting on the opposite side of the spectrum. But with that said, there’s nothing wrong with the way that co-working spaces and social clubs are working. I like them, but it’s just a different emphasis; they serve a very different purpose.
There’s a lot in the pipeline, and I do feel that we still are at the beginning of the process. The ambition of Crane is not to be a social club – it’s to be an ecosystem. At the physical level, we would like to look at expanding to more locations, both within and outside of Singapore. At the digital level, we’ve created a platform called Crane.Live, where the idea is to create more links to the physical spaces, so that the engagement between services, people, content can be more seamless. It’s like an offline Netflix for grown-ups. In a way, what we’re trying to do is the opposite process of what a lot of other marketplaces are doing; we try to move people from the digital space, back to the [offline] space, to engage with real experiences in real life.
There are certain limits about Crane that I do not intend to compromise. One of them is the fact that we are very inclusive. We wanted to break all the barriers to entry from the start. In effect, we are attempting to democratize the culture [of sharing]; you don’t need to be invited to be a member of Crane, pay a joining fee, or even pay for a long-term subscription – if you want to just stay for a day, you can stay for a day. In fact, you don’t even need to pay for a membership – you can just come and attend that class or that event, if that’s what you want to do. We also need to think of how we would need to contextualize our content [based on] the different geographical contexts. That’s why we try to partner with others who can help us grow in their countries.
Snapshot of selected events featured on Crane’s website. Source: Crane
Two things come to mind. One is the importance of structure. When I look back at the mistakes I made with Crane and Roomorama, I think that was one of the common denominators. It’s important to start with something with a solid [structure]. The other is adaptability. One piece of advice I would give is to acknowledge the importance of staying curious. And I mean starting from the little things – reading the news, finding out what’s going on in the world. Having an open mind and an informed view of the world is very important and can very often trigger new ideas or may help you change some of your previous concepts or ideas. I think that’s very important and it’s what helps me stay active – I observe how people deal with problems and how they progress over time.
The first thing is to be able to make firm decisions. If you make firm decisions, you can reduce risks. This goes back to what we were saying before – you need to stay curious, read, research and assess how feasible your ideas are. Talk to people who are knowledgeable about the field – that creates a good base, even in terms of structure. At Crane, we have this one person who has a very strong profile and background in hospitality, and she’s been helping us with anything to do with structure. Without her, we would not be where we are – and we’re nowhere yet. This is one of my learnings from the past few years – acknowledging how important it is to surround yourself with people who are more knowledgeable than yourself and who carry more experience than you do.
This also applies to how you structure your company. You may want to start a business fresh out of university, but my recommendation would be to at least master one discipline – [maybe] you’re good in marketing, business development, or sales – but make sure that there’s at least one thing you can be responsible for, before you explore your ideas. It becomes very problematic when you want to try different things and you’ve never tried anything – then you get lost. If you don’t have much knowledge, then maybe it’s not time for you to start a business, or maybe you should look for somebody who can start the business with you. Then you can make more firm decisions, and you will probably have a better structure and organization.
First, you need to look for people who buy in to your concept, not just people who want to do the 9 to 6. That’s part of the selection process. The second one is to give people responsibilities. At Crane, we keep people involved in different areas of the business but make them accountable for one area. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work out, we sit down and try to do a re-assessment. Then, I would say that part of it is to make sure people are rewarded for their hard work. Have a plan and vision, and make them participative in the vision; be very transparent of where the company is and what the vision is. Also, keep an open communication; I like to meet my team at least once a month and we have a one-to-one, each one of us. I like them to give feedback about me and vice versa. Open and consistent conversation are very important.
This is a challenge that every company has. There are a lot of reasons why finding the right talent can be problematic and it’s not just about budget. Sometimes, you are trying to bring something new to a different culture and the local talent may not be in sync with what you have in mind. The storytelling is very important. It’s important, once again, that people buy into your idea and your vision. That’s one way to get their interest and hopefully their commitment to want to start something with you. You don’t have to start with 100%, it could be in the form of an internship, partnership, or some sort of collaboration, and eventually you may end up bringing in the person as a partner or employee.
In the small context of Singapore, Crane is, I hope, an established name as one of the ecosystems or spaces for anything that favours topics related to lifelong learning. We focus on mental health topics in general, mindfulness, sustainability, skill sharing etc. in our social media and communication. That has attracted the right pool of partners and potential partners reach out to us. I also go out to platforms like LinkedIn and seek potential partners – I just reach out and say, “Hey, this is what we do, are you interested? Let’s have a coffee.” And sometimes, we have very interesting conversations. You have to be proactive about it.
It depends on the kind of business you want to be in, but firstly being multi-lingual – and not so much for the sake of speaking the language for when you travel, but also to cultivate open-mindedness. For example, speaking English has opened a lot of doors for me over the years. I also wish I spoke Chinese, so that I could do business with China, or I could understand the culture. I think again, that goes back to adaptability. And nowadays, anything that has to do with technology is very relevant, whether it is digital marketing or coding – try to develop as many skills as possible to be adaptable. And that’s what the concept of Crane is about – the intersection between people and technology.
Tune into excerpts of the webinar here.