When Co-founder and CEO of iQ Office Suites, Kane Willmott, began his career, he never expected to end up in the coworking industry. However, in just a few short years, Willmott has changed careers (from broker to coworking space owner and operator), started iQ Office Suites with his business partner Alex Sharpe, and scaled his business to include five locations. His goal is to have 20 locations for the company by 2020.
How did he do it? In addition to business savvy, a willingness to take risks, and good, old-fashioned hard work, Willmott said the core of his business endeavors has been the need to be passionate about what he does and to help others find that same passion in their work through quality work environments.
LEARNING WHAT YOU DON’T WANT TO DO
After completing his university degree in accounting, Willmott didn’t even have coworking on his mind. His first position out of college was with one of the top five accounting firms in the country, and it took exactly one day for him to realize he’d chosen the wrong career path.
On his first day, Willmott was sent to a car dealership and seated down in the basement, in a room with no windows and way too many spreadsheets. “I spent about 12 hours in the basement,” Willmott recalled. “I realized in about hour six that I’d made a huge mistake.” Willmott said the lack of interaction with people—the lack of personal connection that would allow him to feel he was actually providing a service and adding value to someone’s life—was notably missing from his accounting job.
Years later, however, Willmott said he’s glad he had the experience at the accounting firm so early in his career. “It taught me… you’ve got to love what you do,” he said. Eventually, that lesson would land him in coworking.
BROKERING AND “BUILDING SOMETHING”
After accounting, Willmott got into real estate brokerage, a job that allowed him to have regular social connections with a large number of people on any given day. He was also able to connect his day-to-day tasks with the real, tangible benefits they brought to the people he was directly serving. The job also allowed him to work in and with a number of different spaces, and he quickly developed a sense for what types of spaces he enjoyed working in and what types he didn’t. He began to see patterns—people who worked in a well-curated space that they enjoyed tended to be both more productive and more satisfied with their jobs.
“If [employees] are in an environment which allows them the space to think…allows them to collaborate and allows them to nurture their best attributes, [companies] are going to get the best out of people,” he said. “They’re going to be in their best state of mind.”
With the effects of workspaces in the back of his mind, Willmott turned toward business ventures outside brokerages. While he said he enjoyed the work, he was also frustrated by the fact that the transactions he worked on every day weren’t building up to anything. “I wanted to build something,” he said. Eventually, he and his business partner Alex Sharpe rolled up their sleeves and did just that. They bought a small town, unfinished townhouse development that had gotten stuck in phase 2 of construction. By revamping the plan, Willmott and Sharpe were able to enhance the development and sell it.. For Willmott, the project was all about problem solving to build. “There is great value in being able to solve problems,” he said.
BUILDING IQ OFFICE SUITES
With the profits from the townhouse development sale, Willmott and Sharpe went looking for a more repeatable business model to provide cash flow in the long term. Their lead investor encouraged them to look at coworking. They did so and, after running the numbers, decided they liked what they saw.
“We were convinced this was a good business model because it worked well with our experience and strengths,” Willmott said. “We loved real estate, we liked to serve people, we saw there was a margin in it, it was a repeatable model, and it was scalable.” They opened their first coworking space on November 1, 2012. Two years later, they were able to open a second space and currently have four open locations in Toronto and one in Vancouver.
While coworking started out as a financial exercise for Willmott, it didn’t stay that way. The effects of workspaces on morale, productivity and overall quality of life that he had noticed as a broker now became the forefront of iQ’s mission. “I found a passion for it,” he said. “I can affect lives.”
Willmott focused on creating spaces that were flexible for members while also making sure the architecture of the space was inspirational, comfortable, and supported focus and productivity for the team and members. “We’re providing quality of life,” he said. “As we grow, we have the opportunity to serve our staff and our members.”
TAKING RISKS, REAPING REWARD
Willmott said that although his move into coworking, and even his decisions since then regarding how to scale the business, have required a great deal of risk tolerance, he doesn’t regret pursuing what he loves. “It’s a much bigger risk to waste your life,” he said. “Take those risks to go for what you really want.” Loving what you do will help you excel in it, he added.
As coworking continues to find itself “untethering the tenant from the traditional lease,” Willmott said, the rewards for the risk in starting or expanding a coworking space are greater than ever. The important thing, he said, is to focus on quality. Traditional office leases were about renting space; coworking spaces are about serving people. Thus, Willmott focuses on hospitality, service, and a better environment for the future of work.
Learn more about Kane Willmott - https://iqoffice.ca/about-us/kane-willmott/
iQ Office Suites: https://iqoffice.ca/
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