Loneliness is a problem that Romy Sigl (30) pronably doesn’t encounter too often. As founder of CoWorking Salzburg, the city’s first shared office of this kind, she is surrounded by people most of the time while she prefers making decisions all by herself.
When we meet Romy Sigl at the Business Angel Day, she’s storming the venue like a whirlwind. Telling potential investors about an upcoming pitching event that she is organising, her enthusiasm appears to be contagious. As a young woman with a youthful spirit – a rare species among the crowd of investors – she might also have a bit of a competitive advantage.
“There is a kind of surprise effect when people meet me. Not just because I’m comparably young, short and female, but also because I can be quite a handful”, she laughs. Her mission, as she tells us is, “to raise some dust in Salzburg”. Tumultuous times seem to be ahead of the provincial capital.
From TV to reality
As founder of Coworking Salzburg, the city’s first coworking space, Romy has set an important foundation for the region’s budding startup scene. By offering not just a workspace but a forum for numerous events, she has become an active facilitator of the Salzburg startup environment. With her engaging attitude and communicational skills, we are surprised to find, that she actually discovered her passion through a rather passive activity: whilst watching television.
“In 2010, I saw a documentary on betahaus in Berlin and thought ‘We need something like that in Salzburg!’” This motivated Romy to do more research on coworking spaces and on whether there would be demand for this new kind of working environment in Salzburg. “I started a call on Facebook, asking who would be interested in renting a desk at a coworking space in town. Twenty people got back to me immediately saying they’d be interested, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
A hotbed for self-employment
Before starting her own business, the Design and Marketing graduate had been working in the field of social trend research at Kiska, a major design agency. “The agency was truly a hotbed for self-employment,” she sums up her corporate experience. “Don’t get me wrong, you do learn a lot. But after a while, some of the smart minds just tend to leave to start their own businesses.” For Romy, this took four and a half years.
Hooked on the idea of establishing a coworking space in Salzburg, she got talking to two potential co-founders. They, however, didn’t turn out to be the right match for her. “The problem was, they were always talking in conditional tense: ‘If we did that, then we could…” instead of actually getting things done.” This did not go well with Romy’s hands-on approach.
In the end, she had an important realisation: “We wanted to found a company, but to me, founding a company with someone, is like getting married to them. I had to face the facts and tell them ‘Guys, I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t marry either of you’.” This left the independent young woman with the sole option of setting up the coworking space by herself and without any additional financial means. After a six month test phase starting in July 2011, Coworking Salzburg opened doors in January this year.
CoWorking Salzburg is the city’s first shared office of this kind
16 hour days and a big family of coworkers
Romy enjoys her independence even though it implies working long hours. “I’m cross-financing the working space through other jobs, so basically my day has 16 hours. Half of the time I’m doing Coworking-related work: organising events such as startup brunches, doing marketing and communications; the other half I spend teaching design and product management at the University of Applied Sciences and running my own marketing design agency.”
While admitting that she is happiest when she can make decisions all by herself, Romy’s reasons for establishing a coworking space also have other origins.“I don’t like being on my own, I’ve always enjoyed company and I like the idea of a big traditional family. Maybe that is why I founded a coworking space.” Moreover, she highlights the positive impact is has on her productivity: “I’m certainly more creative in a social environment. This also goes for my coworkers. They join because our space is more appealing than working from your living room. What gets them to stay, however, are the networking opportunities, the way you mutually benefit from the people working around you on different projects. But many only realise that after a while.”
Romy recalls that her family and boyfriend were not necessarily in favour of her starting out the coworking space without any financial securities. “My boyfriend was worried and thought that the risk was too big to take. But the fact that he challenged my dream, made me think about it a lot. In the end, I realised that I really wanted it. And when I told him that I was going to sign the rental contract anyway, he said he’d stand behind me,” she says with a smile. “So, you could say that I have sort of an invisible security net. If everything fails, I know that I have people to rely on, who will support me.”
Romy Sigl in her natural habitat – at one of CoWorking Salzburg’s startup eventsProving the disbelievers wrong
The young entrepreneur’s risk affinity seems to be balanced out by backing not only from her significant other, family and friends but also from potential competitors. “I owe a lot to Yves Schulz, co-founder of Viennese coworking space sektor5 and the crew there. I went there often and got a lot of useful advice and help from them. Sektor5 is Coworking Salzburg’s soulmate, you could say.“
Romy is certainly a people person. So, when she says, “I’m only fine when my coworkers are”, we actually believe her. “I’m not necessarily nice to them, though,” she adds. “I often feel I have to educate them. When you share your workspace with other people, you have to pay respect to them and clean up after yourselves. I’m not tolerating it any other way.”
At the moment, there are no specific admission criteria to Coworking Salzburg other than financial ones, “I accept anyone because I need them to be able to pay the rent.” Romy says and jokingly adds, “So, in the beginning, I might actually be nice to my coworkers.”
It looks like Romy’s efforts are finally paying off. Half a year ago, she got confirmation for funding from AWS for the highest grant, impulse LEAD. “People had been telling me it’d be a waste of time to apply, but it turns out it wasn’t” she smiles. “Other institutions that I wanted to collaborate with in Salzburg have been telling me off, saying that you can’t just tear down and change the world in three days. I want to prove them wrong. ” she says confidently. “You know, there isn’t much happening around here” – Romy has certainly set out to change that.