Ep5: Investing in Community: How to Crowdfund a Coliving Space with John Ho

🎙️ Join us for a conversation with John Ho, the innovative mind behind Alt Chiang Mai, as we explore the dynamics of crowdfunding and community engagement in coliving spaces in Asia. 🏠 

In this episode, John explains how he used crowdfunding to successfully expand Alt Chiang Mai, sharing the lessons learned and the community’s enthusiastic involvement. He also discusses the challenges of maintaining privacy while fostering a sense of community in a coliving setup with more rooms than usual. 📈🚪

Learn about the practical aspects of designing coliving spaces for both privacy and interaction, and how John’s approach has led to a robust and engaged community. Tune in to hear how these strategies can be applied to your coliving adventures. 🎧

Read John's Interview

Ramón & Sole: Welcome everyone to the first on-site episode of Colivers Club. We’re thrilled to have John, the owner of Alt Chiang Mai, with us today. We’ve been staying at Alt Chiang Mai for a few weeks and have thoroughly enjoyed our experience. John, it’s great to have you here.

John: Thanks for having me. Hello, Mapmelon and Colivers Club podcast viewers. As Ramón mentioned, I’m originally from Hong Kong and moved to Chiang Mai about six years ago. About three years ago, we opened this coliving and coworking space, Alt Chiang Mai. We have 27 bedrooms and a coworking space for about 30 people, making us a destination coliving. We’ve been doing pretty well so far.

Ramón & Sole: We’ve noticed, and it’s quite interesting, that you hadn’t experienced other coliving spaces before opening this one. Yet, the concept seems quite similar to what we find in Europe, albeit on a larger scale. How do you manage to build such a community here in Asia where lifestyles can be quite different from Europe?

John: It’s not that we intentionally copied the European model. In Asia, coliving and coworking spaces are still quite new. When I started, I relied heavily on learning from the community. A lot of what we’ve implemented comes from feedback and ideas shared by visitors from Europe and the Americas.

Ramón & Sole: What were some of your thoughts when designing the space specifically for coliving?

John: We focused a lot on the balance between private and communal spaces. We avoid bunk beds because, while socializing is significant, we value privacy. Each room is private, with some having personal bathrooms, while others share. In terms of common areas, we designed smaller communal spaces linked to several rooms alongside larger areas like the rooftop and garden for bigger gatherings.

Ramón & Sole: With the construction of a second building underway, what changes or learnings are you implementing based on your experiences with the first?

John: The spatial design hasn’t drastically changed, but we’ve refined the balance between private and communal areas based on feedback and a more scientific approach to space utilization. Cost-efficiency has also been a focus for us in the new building. We’re expanding the coworking space in the new building after realizing the demand from local community members who wish to return just for work.

Ramón & Sole: And speaking of community involvement, you crowdfunded the second building, right?

John: Yes, it’s incredibly exciting and gratifying to see not just the residents of Old Chiang Mai willing to return and live here but also to invest in our second project. It really showcases the strength of our community.

People here are so talented and resourceful, whether it’s financial resources or knowledge that can enhance our operations. When we were considering how to finance the second location, a resident suggested crowdfunding. We were initially uncertain, but decided to give it a try. After about six months, we successfully raised enough to move forward confidently.

Ramón & Sole: That’s really fascinating.

John: Currently, we have about 20-ish people on the cap table. More than half of them are former residents of Old Chiang Mai, which is pretty awesome.

Ramón & Sole: We’ve noticed that many people want to open a coliving space, but there are also those who just want various bases around the world. They invest to secure a spot they can return to without the commitment of staying long-term. It’s challenging to match these different desires in one place, but your crowdfunding approach seems to allow for both possibilities.

John: Most of our investors, who are also digital nomads, appreciate the value proposition we offer. We provide dividends and perks such as discounted stays. It really depends on where they are in their lives. For those who have grown fond of Chiang Mai, having a stake in a coliving space here offers a sense of having a home base.

Ramón & Sole: And that must feel reassuring, like having a tangible connection to a place, which isn’t common in the typically digital and transient lifestyle of nomads.

John: Absolutely. The concept of tangible ownership adds a layer of satisfaction that complements the digital nomad lifestyle. Many who have taken this step, though few, find it rewarding despite the challenges. They enjoy the process and

the sense of belonging it fosters.

Ramón & Sole: Opening and running a coliving isn’t just for profit; it’s about investing energy into something meaningful. If it were only about money, there are certainly easier ways to earn it.

John: Exactly. My background in hospitality has always revolved around serving and hosting guests. What brings me joy in a coliving space is not just the business aspect but seeing residents interact, form friendships, romantic partnerships, and even business collaborations. These interactions are what I find most fulfilling. It’s about facilitating connections that might be less common in the purely digital world.

Ramón & Sole: Speaking of which, you spend a significant amount of time here observing and interacting with residents, which must be challenging given you also have a family. How do you balance your personal and professional life in this setting?

John: It’s a pragmatic approach. I have my family, and I need to spend time with them, but I also have the flexibility as the owner to manage my schedule. This flexibility is a stark contrast to the rigid schedules of traditional employment. The laid-back pace of life in Chiang Mai also helps maintain this balance. It’s about finding the right equilibrium between my responsibilities here and at home.

Ramón & Sole: Some of our colleagues in Europe struggle to find the right balance between the number of rooms and pricing to make their colivings profitable. Does having more rooms at Alt Chiang Mai help with profitability?

John: I don’t have precise figures on the room count or profit margins required to sustain a coliving in Europe. However, in exploring this business model, I realized that here in Chiang Mai, we’d need about 30 rooms to ensure sustainability.

There’s no set industry standard; the viability of a coliving can vary. For example, some coliving brands in other locations enhance their profitability through food and beverage outlets, which isn’t as feasible here due to the abundance of local dining options. Understanding the necessary scale for sustainability was a crucial early step for us.

Ramón & Sole: Absolutely.

Ramón & Sole: Thank you, John.

John: You’re welcome. And switching gears a bit, I heard you were quite the star on Periscope back in Hong Kong. Do people even remember Periscope these days?

Ramón & Sole: Some do! It was quite the platform, similar to Twitch but not focused on gaming—more general live streaming from your phone.

John: Yes, those were exciting times. I jumped into live streaming with Periscope, which was perfect for me since I dislike video editing. The real-time interaction was what I loved most—being able to chat directly with viewers as I streamed.

Ramón & Sole: From that experience, did you learn anything about community building that you’ve brought into creating a more tangible, on-site community at your coliving?

John: Absolutely. Transparency and intentionality are crucial in community building. It’s important to be upfront about your intentions. Online or on-site, consistency matters too. I learned to delegate community management to my team here, especially with expanding to two properties. It’s about quality over quantity in relationships, whether online or in person.

Ramón & Sole: It seems like managing on-site communities might allow for more immediate feedback and connections.

John: Yes, both online and on-site communities require adaptability and understanding your audience. For instance, many people on Periscope were curious about travel and life in Asia, which I could bring to life for them through live streaming.

Ramón & Sole: And your decision to focus on digital nomads for this coliving, given the prevalence of more residential-focused colivings in Asia—what drove that choice?

John: Chiang Mai naturally attracts digital nomads, so it felt like the right fit. While other colivings in Asia might cater to different demographics, here it makes sense to focus on nomads because of the existing demand.

Ramón & Sole: It’s fascinating. We’ve also spoken with owners who have colivings in more remote or lesser-known locations. They face additional challenges in drawing people in.

John: That’s true. Those locations require unique strategies or exceptional marketing to attract residents. Some colivings in

Europe face similar challenges but remain popular due to their unique offerings or remote charm.

Ramón & Sole: Yes, exactly.

John: Definitely.

Ramón & Sole: For us, we were drawn to Chiang Mai for the art scene. Was that your reason as well?

Ramón & Sole: It was one of the main reasons. We had heard from our digital friends that ALT was the only coliving in Asia comparable to those in Europe.

Ramón & Sole: It’s good branding for you. We wanted to see if it lived up to the hype because we aim to promote colivings that foster a sense of community, which seemed rare in Asia. Here, traveling seems more individualized or couple-focused compared to Europe where group activities are common.

Ramón & Sole: Typically, coliving life revolves around shared meals and cooking, which is less common in Asia due to the ease of finding food outside.

Ramón & Sole: Here, it seems like the community might replace the European dining culture with a focus on wellness activities like ice baths, group exercises, and yoga.

John: When we started ALT, we didn’t have much insight into how European colivings operated. They’re generally smaller and host more activities on-site. Here, although we have a communal kitchen, there’s less incentive to cook because of the readily available local cuisine. Instead, activities like the nearby Muay Thai gym become central to our community.

Ramón & Sole: Most residents participate in ice baths simultaneously, so it’s become a popular group activity here.

Ramón & Sole: It’s a highlight for many, especially given the heat in Chiang Mai.

Ramón & Sole: To wrap up, John, how do you define coliving? It’s a broad concept with many interpretations.

John: Coliving goes beyond just sharing a physical space. It’s about the intention to share experiences and resources. It’s somewhat of a return to traditional communal living, where knowing your neighbors was commonplace. Modern coliving reintroduces this concept with organized efforts to foster community engagement, which is crucial for building lasting connections within the space.

Ramón & Sole: Makes sense.

John: It’s about genuine intention to create a shared living environment.

Ramón & Sole: That sums it up well. Thanks so much for sharing your insights. And for those interested, where can they find more about ALT?

John: You can visit our website at https://www.altcoliving.com/, and we’re also on social media, Facebook and Instagram at @alt_coliving.

Ramón & Sole: Fantastic, thanks again for joining us today!

Ramón & Sole: Thanks for listening, everyone.

Ramón & Sole: Bye!

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