May 29, 2018 The Story of Meet Berlage: A Conversation with Felix, the Founder

Felix was on a mission: to change the way our society defines “work.”

Meet Berlage founder Felix Lepoutre didn't agree with the “rules” society often placed around work — and so he decided to make new rules.

“Since I was very young, I didn't agree with a lot of stuff the world around me accepted — like that you’re not gonna be happy in your work, that you have to work 10 hours a day — that sparked my entrepreneurial life,” he said. 

After connecting with Seats2Meet founder Ronald Van Den Hoff, Felix began a traineeship at S2M’s Utrecht location.

“I fell in love with the concept, because it was a platform where all the rules had to be closely observed and changed all the time — that really sparked something in me. It was now possible to build a place where we can break stuff and change stuff. And the results that you see — you get addicted to it. That outcome is a really beautiful thing.”

Expanding Seats2Meet to Amsterdam

“The S2M business model is correct," he said. "So I thought, ‘Let’s start one in Amsterdam’ — it took me five years. I was searching for spaces in Amsterdam with no record, funding, or money — I didn’t want to start this place with funding. I wanted to try and do it a different way.”

Usually, when you invest in a building, upfront costs are very expensive, leaving large payments to pay off for years to come. Felix’s goal? To rent a building for variable rent (a proportional payment of 30% of income). After receiving dozens of ‘no’s to this system, he didn’t give up. 

A dream turned reality

He began discussing a collaboration with the founder of a small co-working space in the Beurs’ basement — meanwhile, the space just upstairs was huge, beautiful, and, sadly, sparsely used — except for the occasional kitchen space for Beurs events and a few occupied offices upstairs.

The space was far from its real potential: “It was not worthy of what Berlage has built at all." A year later, the founder offered the basement space to Felix. The best part? The spaces upstairs were now open for rent. 

With the same business plan in hand that had been rejected so many times before, he gave it one more try: “I knew these people [at the Beurs] were very nice and might be open to some cool, new ideas."

He was surprised to hear the commercial director share his interest in pursuing Berlage’s dream of making the space a “palazzo pubblico” — a place for the people.

“He said, ‘we want this building to be accessible to the public on a daily basis, like it was intended,’ and I said, ‘I know a perfect way.’”

“I didn’t let go. I kind of started harassing them, and they were open to it, because they knew the variable rent model. They had a thousand square meters that they didn’t know what to do with, and I was completely attached to this vision — so I got the key, and I freaked out. I didn’t know what to do. If you ask an architect, this is one of the top 3 most beautiful buildings in Amsterdam. And they just gave me the key.”

Opening the doors

Felix used €5,000 of his own savings to get the place started — the tables and chairs still in the Artist’s Foyer today came from his mom’s hospitality catering service.

“We were still building and decorating, but we opened the doors as soon as possible. It was a very natural way of starting.”

On the first day, six people came, even though they’d done almost no marketing or advertising.

“Most people found us by word of mouth,” he said. “That’s always how S2M locations grow very quickly.”

His vision was contagious — over time, more people wanted in.

“After 6 months, it was so full that people were working in the hallways,” he said. “It was really incredible. The beauty of it? There was € 0 in advertising being spent.”

How the S2M model really works

How does such a business model as S2M thrive? “It’s socialism and capitalism combined. The free, social capital workspaces lead to a good business model. You cannot have one without the other. It’s completely asynchronized. The core is making sure people meet in the Artist’s Foyer — if that works, then the meeting spaces start filling up. The rooms will sell themselves. And your career is being built on this platform — there’s nothing better than that. If this can help you grow your organization, there’s nothing better.” 

“If you had only the paid meeting spaces, you’d have to go into advertising to even get somebody in here. It’s a golden combination. In the meantime, it’s a beautiful platform for starting out entrepreneurs and freelancers. The business model makes a lot of sense.”

The true value of serendipity

Felix knew that fostering connections was not only good for the business model, but it was also a great way for entrepreneurs to find new business.

“We know it works — there’s research about serendipity; people in companies are starting to understand that it works. It’s not in our culture at all, but it works — if you look at the math, if you met one person here every day for two months, you’d be completely booked for business.  The moment you start charging even a euro in the Artist’s Foyer, then people will have the right to work privately— it would be completely silent; everyone would have their own bubble. If you want a private space, the library’s right there, or you can rent a room. But here, you have a social contract with us. Otherwise, you’re just using up space which is meant to be really cool.”

“It’s a different community every day. And it’s really cool to see those interactions happening.”

"Jump out of your comfort zone, meet at least one new person.  If you met 30 people one day, you might think, ‘I didn’t get anything done,’ even though you may have gotten 6 new leads — we have to re-think this. At least one connection every day: that should be the golden rule.”

The bigger picture

What would Berlage think about the Meet Berlage? “When he finished the building, he said ‘it’s gonna be a palace for the people.’ So I’m pretty sure he would be pretty excited about this.”  

“I’m really proud that this place has made it to 5 years. I still can’t believe they gave me the key.”