Expert Interview: Fernando Mendes

Fernando Mendes is a Portuguese designer and entrepreneur. He talks to us about coworking, startups and his first love.

By Cat HowPosted in Ideas

Fernando Mendes is a Portuguese designer, lecturer, photographer and entrepreneur. Together with his wife, Ana, he launched the first coworking space in Portugal back in 2010 (Coworklisboa). The pair co-organised the Coworking Europe Conference Lisboa in 2014; and this year have integrated Coworklisboa into their new company NOW_ No Office Work. NOW has three locations across Portugal: LX Factory (Lisbon), Porto and Beato (Lisbon). Our creative director, Cat How, caught up with him.

What inspired you to open up the first coworking site in Portugal?

I was a freelancer struggling with what became a big crisis in Portugal. I wanted to do something for myself, something in between an entrepreneur act and a socially relevant project. I came across the term "coworking" in 2008 or 2009, a few years after the trend begun in the States. For someone with my background, working with and along other people, from other areas other than design - it sounded perfect. Going from the initial idea to opening Coworklisboa took us only two months.

There are lots of international companies moving to Lisboa. Do you have any advice for them in how they can set up their businesses and make new contacts?

Short answer: go to a coworking space! The city is not a big one, knowing people is rather easy. I’d say there’s a pool of key local / global players any company should try to reach, like Startup Lisboa and Startup Portugal, Beta-i, Acredita Portugal, Fábrica de Startups, and many more. In Lisboa and Portugal, it always starts with someone inside these organisations and we all know each other so you’ll get much more than you expect, every time. On the flip side of it, beware of the long lasting bureaucracy issue Portugal still faces. Things are changing rapidly but you must get a local lawyer or similar in order to get things done smoothly.

What makes Lisbon a great place to set up a startup or expand a scale-up?

We are open to all. Portugal has the best welcome practices among the EC countries. The city is an oasis in terms of safety, weather, cultural offerings, gastronomy, beaches, etc. Add a growing contingent of digital nomads relocating to Lisboa and a still low cost of life and you’ll get the perfect setup for your startup. Oh… and Web Summit are staying for another 10 years in the city!

Your first company, Coworklisboa has had a complete rebrand: NOW_No Office Work. What are some of the things to look out for when rebranding?

Retain what made the brand a good one, which is the case with Coworklisboa. Although an integrated project, NOW_ had the perfect notion that this brand is more notorious than the new one. So we had to find a way to show a new umbrella without damaging almost ten years of history. Rebranding is about making better what you already consider a good product. People expect to understand an underlying narrative when these things happen. It was a natural step so we treated it with a natural approach.

Why are you opening a new coworking site in Beato?

This is long way path. We started NOW_ 4 years ago in a different location but the whole process got stalled at some point. Just 4 months ago we almost dropped the towel on it, but then this building just fell from the skies (perhaps a more complicated story than this, but hey!). Everything was perfect with the new location, the owner, the surroundings, the three floors, and the new Hub Criativo do Beato as our neighbours.

What is your first love - coworking, designing or lecturing?

The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed! They're the ones I know the most about... But I love to teach and learn. I’m a natural problem solver so being a designer suits my personality perfectly. I also discovered, through life, that I’m pretty good as a mediator, and coworking is about being all of that. Finally, I see new roles for designers being catalysts, people that gather other people around, create and manage communities, help solve complex problems (or that annoying sound coming from the toilets). But at the end of it all… I’m just an average guy (quoting Lou Reed).

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