For this Paris specialty coffee feature, I sat down with Gaël, the co-founder of Matamata to discuss the rise of the co-working space and the friendship at the foundation of the shop.
In case you hadn’t noticed, co-working spaces are a thing. What started as “hackerspaces” for 90’s computer nerds in Berlin have exploded into an estimated 10,000 spaces worldwide that give over 735,000 freelancers of all professions a happy working home.
I was maybe one of the few global citizens who was entirely blinded to the sweeping nature of this form of working until I became a freelancer myself. During my approximately 47,893,509+ hours spent toiling away as a college then graduate student in coffeeshops, I at times suspected that my habit of setting up shop for hours on end over a single latte was seen as a nuisance. Sometimes it was the evil eye of baristas when I asked for the wifi password, other times it was the cranky lunch-goers who (goodness forbid) asked to share my table, and rarely, it was owners who kindly asked me to remove my laptop from sight on weekends. Eventually, the buildup of these hints left me to believe that the laptop lounges that anglophone coffeeshops have become may not be the desired business model.
During my freelancing summer spent in Paris, I became acutely aware of coworking spaces as an alternative business model when I suddenly stumbled into one. It can be hard to freelance in Paris because the anglophone coffeeshop doesn’t hold the same cultural acceptability as in England or the states. So when I found myself in a silent coffeeshop lined with quick-typing millennials on laptops, I thought that I had entered freelance heaven… that is, until I went to pay for my cappuccino and was told by the enthusiastic barista, “That will be 5 Euros per hour, thank you very much!” Gulp.
Co-working as a business model works for one big reason: the 9-5 job no longer makes sense. The outdated 40-hour work week was originally created in the 1800’s as a reasonable ceiling for factory workers who were oppressed and underpaid. Yet in our modern society, being tied to a desk is simply illogical when technology allows us to work remotely and on our own time. The 9-5 lacks flexibility, it leads to dips in productivity, and it overvalues hours worked over impact created. By contrast, working as a freelancer or in other non-traditional professions can be liberating - especially for women, allowing us to maintain a career even on our own hours through raising children when in a typical “day job”, we may be forced out of our careers.
I’m a firm believer that the job market is changing in the favor of freelancers. And as for our shared co-working spaces, I would absolutely buy into it if my freelancing rate were high enough to afford more than forking over enough for my typical latte while scraping by with my student loan payments. So for now, the continued haggle over space at my coffeeshop office is in my cards, but eventually, I may graduate into a real co-working space.
Luckily for Parisian freelancers at all stages of their careers, Matamata has both options – a brunch and coffeeshop spot and a lunch and coworking space, both in the second arrondissement. The co-owner of the shop, Gaël, explained to me that the business was born out of two principle elements: his friendship with his co-founder and the fact that he no longer loved his traditional job. He explains, “The product is very much based on my friendship with Gerald. My wife was from Matamata in New Zealand - a big country in terms of specialty coffee… We got married in New Zealand, and Gerald was my best man. Basically, it was like, ‘Hey we should do something together!’ I knew about his heart for opening a coffee place. I had been going off of my previous job, and I wanted something different so we decided to have a fun business experience together.”
Not long after his commitment to the business relationship, Gaël was fully convinced that coffee was the key ingredient to their future. He recalls, “Gerald became a barista with me. We discovered the coffee in Australia… I realized that it was life-changing experience to drink such a beautiful coffee compared to what we drink in France.”
Despite his assurance in his objectives, the transition from 9-5 to entrepreneur came with its own set of challenges. Gaël continues, “It’s totally different, physically speaking, has a lot to do in terms of the way your energy is being used, so it’s a big shock at the beginning… a very big change in lifestyle and rhythm.”
Gaël says that he eventually settled into his new rhythm, resting assured that he is giving freelancers their necessary fuel for their work and traditional job-goers a necessary break from their monotony. In order to make this fact a reality, quality is key. He explains, “The quality of the service is as important or sometimes even more important than the quality of the product so we often say that coffee is the pretext – the reason to simply open a place that’s all about welcoming people and giving people a good break from their routine. The attention we bring to people is always as important as the quality of the cup.”
Looking toward the future, supplying the tens of thousands of co-working spaces that continue to pop up may absolutely be part of the plan. Gaël says, “(I hope) to continue what we’re doing, to try to improve, and to eventually connect to opportunities to open more shops. Whether it is our own shop or whether it is a coffee bar within someone’s space. We’d love to develop, we’d love to continue to make coffees for more people in the future, to tell people what true coffee tastes like, and to get other people to discover it as well.”
As for Paris as a whole, Gaël predicts, “I doubt we will have as many coffee shops as you can see in London so maybe we will have more instances to make specialty coffee inside corporate business environments or inside Michelin centers, maybe there is a different way to develop the shop so it is integrated in other businesses.” With more and more freelancers on the market and with more and more coffee venues looking for alternative ways to get their product out there, specialty coffee and co-working may synergistically spread like wildfire.