Written by Roupert Muller | Amsterdam
on January 25, 2016

Is the traditional office dead? Some people think so, and not just those of us at UP THERE, EVERYWHERE. UP member Roupert Muller interviewed Tribes CEO and Founder Eduard Schaepman for the start-up's viewpoint on this future-changing idea.

UP is known as a pioneer in the area of cloud-based working. And the idea is one that is catching on. More and more businesses are turning away from the idea of a 9-to-5 office and embracing new ways of working. In the Netherlands, one company that aims to foster this idea, is Tribes. The start-up offers a way for professionals and business-people to find like-minded colleagues to work alongside in several countries around the world with virtual offices, meeting rooms and flexible workplaces throughout a local, national and global network.  UP member Roupert Muller interviewed Tribes CEO and Founder Eduard Schaepman. 

Tribes Global Virtual offices New kind of workplace

To state the obvious: indigenous tribes form the root of your inspiration. Where did the initial connection to tribes come from?

Actually, my inspiration comes from my family. When my father passed away I started to trace our family’s history and I basically created our family tree. I knew we were part of the Dutch Patricians, a group of non-noble families who effectively helped to create what is now known as the Netherlands. My family name – Schaepman – literally means ‘sheep man’, i.e. I come form a line of shepherds. The interesting is the fact that shepherds are the world’s oldest tribe and the earliest record of my family dates back to 1313. Over time they spread across the world, from the US to South America and Australia. Family connections are truly fascinating. For example, my brother works for the pope and an aunt was Miss Australia!

And how does your inspiration weave into the values of your brand?

Historically speaking, there are 34 nomadic tribes. All of them held communication in the highest regard. It is key and one of, if not, the most important element in a tribe. Another integral characteristic of tribe culture is demonstrated in the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Ubuntu can be interpreted as ‘humanity towards others’. This to me essentially means taking care of one another. Furthermore, nomadic tribes do not actually own any property at all. Looking at people such as flex workers, freelancers and even the larger corporate companies and you’ll notice they display nomadic behavior. All of them are on the move but need an inspiring home as well. This home is a place where they can maintain proper communication and take care of each other. We at Tribes see ourselves as the 35th tribe. We try to implement the values of the 34 tribes into the 35th tribe.

The surge of ‘inspirational flexible workspaces’ has gained significant momentum over the past decade. A few players have been around for a while and there are new players entering the market. What sets you apart from the crowd? How do you feel you can change the game?

We don’t believe in just offering functional square meters. We believe in offering an office experience, see it as a 5-star hotel. Tribes has created an inspirational experience where people feel part of a community, a tribe. It’s about meeting people and connecting and communicating with them. Tribes is not an office, but a meeting place. We don’t only have meeting places where people can work, but we also have cafés and restaurants integrated in the concept. Furthermore, our target audience definitely helps; we don’t only focus on freelancers but also attract larger companies and corporates. This means we can effectively service SMB’s, multinationals as well as freelancers.

How has the market (customers and competitors) reacted to your concept? 

(Laughs) To quote Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” We started under a year ago and we’ve had quite some success given the amount of clients and meeting places we’ve been able to open. Being the winner of the National Flexible Workplace Award is also proof of the success and potential of our concept.

Is the Dutch market an ideal market to test the concept? 

I have quite some experience in this industry, both on a national and international level. It’s safe to say the Netherlands is the most difficult country to launch a new concept due to the mentality. However, once the Dutch are convinced I believe they are the most open to change and are quickest to actually adopt change.

Do you really feel the traditional office is dead? 

Yes. I expect offices will no longer exist within 50 years.

The upcoming generations (millennials and beyond) are clearly a different breed and are accustomed to more flexibility than ever before; both at work and in their personal lives. How do you see the evolution of people’s behavior towards working environments? 

The people decide how they work and where they work. However, the deeply rooted desire for communications and human contact remains. It’s about meeting and connecting with people. Did you know nomadic tribes essentially consist of only 100 to 300 people? 300 people are the maximum number of people with whom one can maintain a consistent and engaging level of contact. And if you look at the coming generations, they’re more accustomed to connecting (both online and offline) and moving within a social environment. We believe we offer that social environment where people can really connect. In nomadic tribe culture, there was no preparation. There was more room for spontaneity. And I really believe that spontaneity is an important ingredient in making meaningful connections.

Do you feel large corporates are ready to embrace this change and invest in a new sustainable solution for flexible offices?

Most definitely! You know, currently 60% of our clients are corporates. It’s actually quite simple to understand why. Real estate is a heavy cost for corporates or any company for that matter. A CEO has more interest in the level of what I call ‘idea flow’ and the return on investment. A CFO will on the other hand focus on lowering cost. We offer an inspiring solution for both. 

How do you see Tribes evolving? Which countries are you targeting next?

As I mentioned earlier we’ve been able to attract both freelancers as well as corporates. This clearly fuels our confidence moving forward. Our ambition is to grow to 2,000 ‘meeting places’ in 100 countries. These are places where people can work, but also Tribes cafés where people can work and meet in an inspiring and enjoyable atmosphere. A license model will drive our global expansion. We’ll obviously continue to test and grow in the Netherlands but we’ve already ventured past our borders and recently opened a space in Brussels. If you can make it in the Netherlands and Belgium, then I’m pretty sure we can succeed in other countries!

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