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From Receptionist Service to Coworking Space: the Story of Victory Workspace
When Victor Mataraso started Reliable Receptionist more than 10 years ago, the company was one of very few offering standalone, off-site telephone receptionist services. Unlike answering services that simply took messages, Reliable Receptionist empowered businesses to train the off-site receptionists so they functioned as an extension of the business’ own staff.
Once Mataraso was ready to grow the company, he saw coworking and the shared workspace industry as an obvious fit for what he and his team were already doing. Mataraso launched Laptop Lounge in 2012 in Walnut Creek and hasn’t looked back. Recently rebranded as Victory Workspace, the company now has two locations in Northern California—a new, larger space in Walnut Creek and a second location in Danville.
I chatted with Mataraso about the suburban coworking market, how Victory Workspace has evolved, and why a strong focus on community is at the heart of his business.
Cat Johnson: Once you established Reliable Receptionist, a logical next step for you was to move into coworking. How did you make that decision and transition?
Victor Mataraso: One of the things that consistently set us apart is that we were focused on the local market. Most of the businesses we served were local and many of them had come in and met our team and trained us. After five years of doing that, I was looking at ways to expand the business. We didn’t want to morph reception into a big call center or a national product, but I was intrigued by the coworking movement that was gaining a lot of traction, especially in the urban centers like San Francisco and Berkeley.
I did some research and met with some of the bigger players in the city. I was curious why nobody was thinking about this for the more suburban areas outside the city because I thought the concept could do okay in the Walnut Creek market. I already needed to have a workspace to house my receptionist team, so I decided to build out something nice and offer that service to the community.
Originally we launched as Laptop Lounge in 2012 as a hybrid between pure coworking and an executive office suite because we were trying to serve our market. In the city, you get a lot of 20-something hackers in these kinds of coworking spaces, but out here we wanted something that had more of a professional front-end.
That dovetailed nicely with the live receptionist service we were already offering. When we built our space, we built it to include a formal reception desk and nicer furnishing and fixtures around meeting rooms. We did well with it. Over the past five years we built a community of over 100 members working out of our space, to the point that we outgrew it. In the last couple of months, we’ve relocated our Walnut Creek space to a larger location downtown and, at the same time, opened a second location. It’s been a busy six months.
How has Victory evolved as the industry has grown and evolved?
One of the biggest changes we’ve seen are new segments in the market. When we first started, we were focused almost exclusively on business owners, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs working for themselves. What we’ve seen over the last five years is a proliferation of corporate executives and other employed professionals that have been granted more flexibility in how and where they work.
That’s got the potential to really be a huge growth area for us, to provide workspace on an outsource basis to traditional companies that may have previously leased their own space directly. That has been a nice complement to our base membership of solopreneurs.
Victory has a mission to create a coworking community that “inspires extraordinary success.” How does community fit into what you’re doing with Victory?
One of the things we’ve always focused on is the community aspect of what we do. By actively cultivating a community and making introductions among people, we’ve been able to add value for our members beyond just the workspace itself. Everyone makes their own decision to what extent they want to be involved with the community, but we’ve seen some nice crossover between those that may be employed as executives versus those working for themselves. They all benefit from meeting other people and having interactions.
We built our space, from the ground-up, to be coworking for suburbia. Demographically, our membership base is a little older, a little more traditional, and they came up through a more corporate structure. This blend we’ve put together has been a nice way to introduce the benefits of coworking to a demographic that might not feel comfortable walking into a more bohemian-style space that certainly is right for some folks, but not the best approach for our market. We were able to adapt and create a blend that has landed pretty well for our target market.
Being in the extended Bay Area, where there are hundreds of coworking spaces, how do you differentiate Victory?
I think every space has its own personality and culture. It’s about the members you attract. That ties back to the physical design of the space and the types of things you offer. We differentiate ourselves by having a dedicated community manager at each location who is tasked with getting to know our members and what they do, and what their goals are professionally and sometimes personally. They make an active effort to introduce them to other members who might be complementary.
We also try to plan events and activities that are relevant to our members and add value for them, whether it’s a business event or a social event. We’re fortunate in Walnut Creek to have the theater arts here. Sometimes it’s just organizing a group of members to go out to the theater. You might enjoy the theater independently, but it’s more fun with a big group. We’ve tried to partner with our local neighbors, as well—restaurants and other business—in ways that we can support and promote one another.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced with Victory Workspace, and how have you addressed it?
The biggest challenge always comes down to marketing and awareness. We live in a fairly large, dynamic community and we have no doubt that our target members are out there. Raising awareness to the point where they can find you and take the time to come in and see the space and understand how it can benefit them is a challenge. Marketing has the potential to be quite costly and it doesn’t come easily, so we’re always looking for ways to stimulate interest and generate those inbound inquiries where people say, “I want to learn more. Tell me about it.”
It’s a little bit like a treasure hunt. The treasure is out there, but we’ve got to find a way to uncover it and bring it into our community.
How did you decide on Satellite Deskworks to run your spaces?
A couple of years into running Laptop Lounge, we were looking for a software solution that would help us run the space more efficiently and came across Satellite Deskworks. At the time, I was comparing a lot of different solutions and I was drawn to the Deskworks product. It seemed to me to be intuitive and clean and it integrated a lot of the features we needed, so we jumped on-board.
One of the nice things for us is that the Deskworks team has been pretty accommodating about features and functionality we’ve needed in the early years. The product has evolved quite a bit and fairly rapidly by adding features and functionality to accommodate the space operators.
In fact, we were pleased enough with the software product that, when we opened our second location in Danville, we got involved with the network side, as well: the network check-in and all the features that tie back to Deskworks. There are challenges when you’re dealing with technology and we’ve had our share of them, but by and large, we’ve been able to work through whatever challenges have come up.
How would you advise another shared workspace operator who is considering going with Deskworks?
The product is well thought-out. It’s intuitive and it provides a lot of flexibility as to how you want to manage your space. Whether you want to offer people day passes or hourly bookings or other combinations, there’s a good amount of flexibility built into the program. And it continues to evolve and add new features all the time, which is helpful.
We’ve even made use of the API that’s available for our own custom integrations, which is something that, with larger company or a larger product you might not have the opportunity to do. We’ve been able to access those features and give them our own twist.
Thanks, Victor. Anything you’d like to add?
We did business as Laptop Lounge and we were successful with it, but as we looked to get to the next level, there were a couple of things about the name that didn’t sit well with me. It’s a little bit passive, the idea of lounging; and even the term laptop is passe now, in a time when people are using tablets and watches and smartphones.
The idea of victory is one that is more active and engaging and we felt better represented the passion that we see our members bring to their work and achieving their goals. We adopted Victory Workspace, with the tagline, “Inspiring success.” We want to help people be inspired to do their best work and achieve their own personal victories. I do get a little bit of flak because my name is Victor. I’ve never been one to want to slap my name on everything—it just occurred to me in the middle of the night that the name I was looking for had been right in front of my face all along, and I never saw it.
So far, Victory Workspace is working well and I think our members can identify with that. In our new space in Walnut Creek, we even have what we call a Wall of Inspiration, which is a plethora of quotations and things designed to put you in the right mindset to do your best work.