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How to THRIVE in Business and Life

Mark Hiss

THRIVE Cofounder Ramon Gonzalez on coworking, keeping employees happy and inspired, and providing corporate workforce solutions.

THRIVE | Coworking and its nonprofit sister organization, THRIVE | Initiative, are a groundbreaking workplace/social engagement concept that melds stylish, conveniently located coworking spaces with philanthropy and community involvement. Founded in 2015, THRIVE offers members a curated workplace culture with scheduled events and adventures, while also providing an economic engine for local businesses by partnering with neighborhood retailers. THRIVE also works directly with companies to provide the flexible work solutions they need, where they want them. The THRIVE | Initiative app allows users to roundup their credit or debit card purchases to the nearest dollar amount and donate the difference directly to the charity of their choice.

How did you get your start?

I come from the Bronx. I didn’t have a lot of stuff and grew up hungry to prove myself. And the easiest way to do that is make a lot of money. My parents, I don’t even know if they made it to high school; I helped my dad learn to read. So after I came out of college, business school in Boston, my parents got a little cash out of a re-fi and let me borrow almost all of it. Then I drove a U-Haul down to Pensacola, Florida, moved down and started investing.

 

How did it go?

I made a bunch of money, lost a bunch of money; I struggled to survive the Great Recession. I was a mortgage broker, I did condo conversion, all kinds of real estate stuff. I opened a property management company, so we’re in the middle of landlords and tenants who are fighting. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep my team happy because every time the phone rang it was terrifying. No one calls to say good things in that business.

 

So, despite my best efforts, despite their best efforts, they hate it, they’re miserable. I learned the value of culture there. And I realized, damn, life isn’t just about chasing prestige and money. My next company is going to be one that’s just a powerful force for good, something that’s inspiring, that’s purpose driven, where we can create a culture and a community within it that just shines. And I was inspired to help other people see that truth. So I came up with this mission statement: To leverage the power of enterprise as a force for good and to inspire others to do the same.

How did you come to the idea of coworking?

A buddy of mine told me about coworking in 2014 and I was like, holy crap, this makes sense. I see what’s happening here — people are going to be able to work where they want. I sold my last company and started a prototype space in downtown Alpharetta, Georgia. The idea was to have really engaging, irresistible environments, with super-cool community managers, unique, homey-but-eclectic design, and do it in these walkable, revitalizing downtown markets. Because most office space is delivered in really boring places, but when you have the choice to work anywhere, you’re going to work in a place where you love to be. It’s as simple as that. And since the founding of the company in 2015, we’ve really refined what it is that makes us different and why we feel like we matter and the work we do matters.

 

Why does it matter?

Look at the marketplace. What do people need right now? They have this craving for experiences. People spend a whole lot more money now than they ever did before on experiential things. And then there is a loneliness epidemic. It’s strange the more connected we are digitally, the lonelier we start to feel. We kind of think these digital connections create relationships when actually they are something that separates us. And the third thing is purpose — everyone is looking for purpose.

 

And how does THRIVE deliver on those?

Experiences are delivered by putting THRIVES in cool places, man. It’s as simple as that. You can walk out the front door and you can go to a coffee shop, go to a bar, go to a happy hour. That stuff’s cool. So, when you have an office here, when your brand associates with that cool downtown environment, it just does something for your business. It does something for the interactions you have with people. Relationships are the currency of business, so when you do something that’s social and fun, it’s easier to develop them in an environment like that. We also drive experience through partnering with retailers like coffee shops and restaurants. We’ve seen more and more of that with new locations, where there’s true integration between us and local business. When you go into the workspace, there’s the coffeeshop, you look through a glass wall over there and you’re looking into the kitchen. You’re just soaking in this vibrant, experiential place.

How about the loneliness part?

We are able to deliver on that in a few different ways. One is through our events and adventures program. We offer really cool events, not just like, hey, come to the conference room and learn how to market your business better and we’ll give you some bagels. We’re getting the music going, serving the drinks, we have the bartender. We’re hanging out, talking, having a good time, regularly, with the people who are here, helping them to get connected to one another. Sounds soft and fluffy, but man those things matter, big time.

 

And we do quarterly adventures, too. Like hang gliding, axe throwing, hiking, all that sort of stuff. Talk about experience, talk about connection. I don’t care if you’ve never talked to somebody before — if you go hang gliding together, you’re friends; it’s as simple as that. That’s magic, we get it. We’re not focused on cramming people into offices. Coworking can be such a commodity-type offering if you let it be. But we’re just hyper-focused on making sure that doesn’t happen to us by doing cool things like that.

 

How did THRIVE Initiative come about?

I heard about a company called Hello Donor that was doing a change-roundup platform for giving and it was just like boom! Here’s what we’re going to do: We create that coalition with shops and restaurants and give discounts to people that give to their neighbors in need by donating to local charities. They pick their charity, whatever attracts them, they enroll in the THRIVE Initiative — it’s a sweet app — then go to the shops and restaurants and get discounts. You probably save two times the amount that you actually donate each month because you’re probably donating 15, 20, 25 bucks a month. The two restaurants downstairs, they’re giving us 20 percent discounts. A single night out at one of those restaurants easily makes up for a month’s worth of giving. The value proposition is insane. You’re helping your neighbors in need, you’re supporting local businesses because that’s who we partner with, and you’re saving money. 

 

Businesses love it because we are promoting the heck out of them to our membership base, which is a strong, active constituent of the downtown market. If you’re a member of THRIVE you love downtown, that’s why you pay money to have an office there or to do coworking there. So, naturally these are the kind of people who are going to patronize businesses, and probably pretty heavily. 

 

How does THRIVE address workforce solutions for companies?

We really kick ass at the purpose thing. We really are great at addressing issues of loneliness and community — we call that engagement. Who needs that right now? Companies do. They’re desperate for that. Most don’t have enough time to really nail that. Employees are leaving in droves because of lack of engagement, because they feel like the work they’re doing is disconnected from purpose. And so they’re just chasing the highest dollar they can, or they’re looking to find that purpose. They’re just not happy so they’re going somewhere else.

 

In a world where your office-space needs have to be flexible and on demand because everything is so unsure and so many people work from home, in a world where your employees are craving engagement and desperately looking for purpose, we’re the perfect partner because we’re experts in all three. We want to bring companies in, provide solutions for all those things and help them to do more with their business. And if we can execute on all of that, the good that we can do, the business that we can build — it’s going to be profoundly inspiring and successful. 

 

We’re a bunch of friends, getting after it, having some fun and making some things happen. And doing good. That’s how work should be done. Business, work is a creation of man, it should serve us. And in most cases it’s not because of the corrupted, perverted view we have on how we think business is supposed to be managed and run, and prioritizing things other than people. When you have an enlightened self-interest, when you prioritize others over yourself, your customers over your bottom line, it’s funny how life has this way of just kind of putting the wind at your back and things just kind of start to work out. And when you don’t do it that way, when you have this myopic pursuit of your own interest, whether it’s governments, individuals, companies — isn’t it strange how shit just tends to get harder over time?

 

We’re driving experience, building relationships, and embedding purpose into people’s lives and into organizations. And by doing good and creating this culture of treating people differently, that’s where we can start turning that ship. Say, guys, what the hell are we doing here? There’s a whole lot more to life, there’s a whole lot more to business. You have to care about people more. 

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