We are really excited to share with you the interview we had few days ago with Matthew Lesniak! He is a co-founder and Head of Impact & Innovation at Conscious Coliving. He is responsible for designing community experience and impact strategies and measuring the social value of coliving communities. Matt is also a founding member and current Head of Community of Co-Liv, a co-founder of Coliving Insights and has worked for The Collective on their Impact and Community Experience Teams. Enjoy!
We tend to define ourselves by our jobs a bit too much. So, can you introduce yourself without speaking of work? What do you love? What inspires you?
I love this question! I enjoy asking people ‘who they are’ rather than ‘how they are’. Workwise what inspires me is social impact and sustainability innovation and community building best practices. Personally, what inspires and moves me is live music, ecstatic dance, mountain sports, breathwork practices and many other ways of authentically connecting to myself, others and nature.
Cool! Now we can talk a bit about work: What have you been working on recently?
Lately I’ve been working on a few coliving initiatives including Conscious Coliving, Coliving Insights and Co-Liv. As a co-founder of both Conscious Coliving and Coliving Insights, I focus on product and partnership development, content creation and consulting with clients throughout the shared living sector. With Conscious Coliving we are currently developing a Community Facilitation Handbook and Coliving Impact Framework, open source resources for coliving developers, operators and investors. I am also working on the content of the next Coliving Insights edition, which will be released at the end of September. This edition will be focused on Impact & Sustainability, and will showcase the latest sustainable coliving innovations. I am also the Head of Community at Co-Liv, helping them on the membership experience and connecting like minded coliving professionals with one another.
What inspired you to start Conscious Coliving?
I started working on Conscious Coliving with a handful coliving enthusiasts that I met at The Collective Old Oak, while I was working there during a Community Facilitation Fellowship program. These people that I spontaneously bumped into while they were doing a site visit at The Collective Old Oak are now the co-founders of Conscious Coliving alongside myself. We started working together doing design and research sprints at the Art / Earth / Tech London Hub, where we ended up developing The Conscious Coliving Manifesto. We were most interested in what the potential of coliving is, which we see as places that foster authentic connection to self, others and nature by embedding community, wellbeing and sustainability into their projects. This then became the core of all of the product development and client work that we do nowadays.
Let’s just go for it: is “coliving 3.0” just a way to point out what is missing from current coliving models or can it really become a model on its own?
Coliving 3.0 is the potential of coliving that I talked about above. Everything we do at Conscious Coliving and Coliving Insights is about pushing the industry to meet its full potential. Coliving 3.0 is about embedding impact and sustainability into the core of your business strategies, community experiences and spatial design. It is a human centered coliving model that uses technology to streamline operations so that the community can be facilitated with more ease. Coliving 3.0 models will have a positive impact on their resident and staff wellbeing, the economic development of their neighbourhoods and the urban regeneration of the cities in which they operate. The objective of the Coliving 3.0 in which you are referring was both to point out what was missing but also to inspire coliving developers and operators to go above and beyond where they are already headed.
Companies focus too much on scalability and feasibility and neglect connectivity and sustainability along the way. How do we solve this? What pointers can be given to allow companies to both grow and be in harmony with a bigger more inclusive picture?
Sustainability, wellbeing and community need to be embedded into the business strategies of coliving developers and operators from Day 1. Coliving brands need specific KPIs measuring these core aspects (and value propositions) of coliving and they need dedicated teams monitoring these metrics (e.g. Customer Insights and Impact teams). It is a lot harder to embed these metrics and strategies once a company has scaled and their team structures become more rigid, so we at Conscious Coliving always encourage our clients to embed these processes as early as possible. Another pointer would be that these metrics should align with wider policies and frameworks such as the UN SDG’s, The WELL Standard and the OECD, for example. As a coliving developer and operator must measure what you treasure!
Nevermind coliving 3.0: some cities/countries have not even begun their journey within coliving 1.0! Will they be able to jump straight into a coliving 3.0 model or will they need to go through an initial transformation phase, more conservative such as “glorified shared spacing arrangements”?
I think that new coliving ventures can benefit the progress of some of the early adopters. This means taking advantage of some of the policies that have been created that are bespoke for coliving (e.g. Policy H18 in the London Plan) and also the technology features that have been created for coliving projects (e.g. SALTO KS, The Housemonk, Kndrd, Whoomies, etc.). There is definitely the opportunity for ‘leapfrogging’ straight into more sustainable and innovative coliving concepts by taking inspiration from what’s out there already. The risk of ‘glorified student accommodation or serviced living’ is definitely there, and that is why our aim with Conscious Coliving is also to inspire new coliving developers and operators with industry standards such as The Conscious Coliving Manifesto.
You have been in touch with coliving communities and operators all over the world: what have you found they would all have in common and what have you thought they might be missing?
There are three main aspects of coliving operators around the world: community, convenience and affordability. Whether or not these are simply marketing tools or actually unique value propositions that have been well developed and invested into is another story. However, it is great that coliving companies have these core aspects in their minds and aim to deliver these as some scale. What I find missing is the metrics I mentioned above and more investment into the actual product: the community experience. Community for me is the secret sauce and although a large majority of operators use this term in most of their marketing, there is an issue of ‘community washing’ and actually not investing enough financial and human capital into the actual community experience. In my opinion it’s necessary to put your money where your mouth is, and in coliving terms this means investing more into community and impact.
Many coliving operators have trouble maintaining the services quality and community building when they scale up. Since you worked as Community Experience Designer at The Collective – one of the biggest coliving operators in Europe with more than 550 tenants in one building, what is your key takeaway to manage and build such a big community?
Building and managing large scale communities is no easy task. There are several spatial and experience design hacks you can use to do so but there will always be challenges. Without getting too much into the detail, some things to consider are cluster sizes, strong onboarding processes, clear expectations and resident engagement initiatives. An example of resident engagement initiatives that I helped developed at The Collective was their Ambassador Programme. This was a group of residents at The Collective Old Oak that took on some more formal responsibilities within the community and worked with the on-site teams to help enhance the experience and operations. Your experience must also match up to the expectations you are selling in your marketing: it is better to under promise and over deliver!
Now, let’s have a bit of fun. Say you are living in one of the many coliving spaces (hopefully soon) available in Finland:
- What song would you be blasting?
Probably something from Fat Freddy’s Drop’s ‘Based on a True Story’ album or something chilled out from Four Tet or HNNY or something similar.
- What movie would you watch over and over again in the shared/building’s movie theater?
Anything from Tarantino, Studio Ghibli, Wes Anderson and Judd Apatow. Classic, easy, but always good.
- What food would you teach others to cook?
My signature banana bread with its caramalised mixed nuts and dried fruit topping ;-).
- And then what book would you donate to the building’s library?
Something from my Jack Kerouac collection or one of the Les Cités Obscures comics by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. Definitely also worth checking out Francois’ brother, Luc Schuiten, and the Vegetal City.
Is there any parting announcement you would like to make? We have heard you are working on something really nice…!
Thanks for this opportunity and I’ll use it to announce the imminent releases of both our Community Facilitation Handbook and Coliving Impact Framework… coming out very soon! You can also have a look out for the new Coliving Insights edition that will be released at the end of September.