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cobot was created to free coworking space managers from mundane tasks, giving them the time to do what is important: attending to their coworkers.

Cobot goes to Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and, though more famous for its canals, red light district, coffee shops and 17th Century Dutch painters, the city also has a growing community of social and creative entrepreneurs and a number of coworking spaces offering them a place to work, away from home.

Amsterdam is a small and cozy town. Everything is at an easy walking distance and there is a great cycling infrastructure with bicycle paths everywhere, bike racks in every street and even guarded bicycle garages. Around 50% of the city’s population consists of foreigners and each year over 3 million people visit the city - some for business, some for pleasure. The city surprised me with its artisanry (traditional shoemakers and tailors, handmade carpets and furniture, etc.) and its concentration of art galleries.

Though I couldn’t find any coworking space that is part of the Coworking Visa programme, I spent some time visiting other spaces around the city. There’s a variety of coworking spaces and coffee bars - the kind that actually serves coffee, which is an important distinction to make in this city! - where freelancers and entrepreneurs get together to work, away from the isolation of their home offices. When it comes to coworking in Amsterdam, there’s a fit for every style.

SPACES

Spaces is a network of work spaces with offices, open areas and meeting rooms. They have three locations in Amsterdam, one in The Hague, and plans to expand to other European capitals. My Spaces of choice was their Herengracht location. I had written them in advance and upon my arrival Stephanie, one of the space managers, was kind enough to give me access to the Internet and let me work there for a few hours, enjoying the natural light and relaxing atmosphere.

Highlights

Spaces Herengracht has a restaurant/café and I love its concept, not only due to the fact that I always need something fast and healthy to eat on my busy days, but also due to the space it offers for meeting customers outside a meeting room and in a more relaxed atmosphere. Oh, and they also take care of your laundry if you want!

IMPACT HUB

Impact HUB requires no introduction. This international network of work spaces has locations in most big cities around the world where things happen, and Amsterdam could obviously not be missing from this list. This space recently moved from the city centre to a location a bit further away, close to the beautiful Westerpark. The space is still under construction (they were getting some phone booths done when I was there), but since its relocation it has filled up with busy bees again.

Highlights

The Amsterdam Impact HUB has differentiated areas based on noise levels - just like we do at co.up. I find it great to either be able to work in library-like silence or be as loud as I want in a room full of people networking and exchanging ideas. Another thing I loved at Impact HUB were their convertible whiteboards, which can be aligned to divide spaces or flipped over to be used as standing desks that can be written on.

KNOWMADS GREENHOUSE

Knowmads Greenhouse is a coworking space in the suburbs. It’s by far the most alternative of the spaces I visited in Amsterdam. Knowmads Greenhouse is located in a large, semi-industrial building and the character of the community can be seen everywhere: artwork and posters hanging on the wall, signs on the fridges, you name it… In addition to coworking, Knowmads Greenhouse also offers a programme for students who want to learn about entrepreneurship the hard way.

Highlights

Three words: Swings, Fitballs, and… ClubMate!

Which city shall we visit next?

Custom fields in CSV

We just enhanced our members CSV export. From now on when you have added any custom fields to your members these will be included in the export.

To add custom fields to your space go to Setup -> Custom Fields. After you have added at least one field there you can access and fill them in on each member’s page via the Custom Fields button.

To export your members as CSV click this little button at the top of the members list:

Partial invoice payments and more

We just added partial payments to invoices: whereas before an invoice could only be paid or not, now you can record multiple payments per invoice.

Say you have a member who regularly pays you by bank transfer. They upgrade their plan but forget to amend the transfer amount. Now you can record the amount you have been paid and Cobot keeps track of how much they still owe you.

Of course we track each payment made (or removed) giving you a nice audit trail of what happened with each invoice.

In addition we added a button ‘write off invoice’. Should a member not pay you you can now close an invoice instead of having it lurking around under open invoices forever.

Post mortem of yesterday’s outage

Yesterday the Cobot website was down for a bit over one hour. Downtimes are very rare at Cobot, so this was very annoying for you our customers, but also for us who strive for 100% uptime as much as possible.

As we tweeted yesterday…

… the hard drive our main database runs on ran out of space. Contrary to the tweet we did monitor that hard drive’s capacity, but unfortunately in a wrong way.

We use scout to monitor our servers and applications. This includes CPU load, hard disk capacity, memory usage, response times etc. For every hard drive we had set an alarm to email us should the drive become more than 80% full. At least we thought we had. By accident we had set the alarm to 80GB - which on a 20GB drive would never have fired. This is why the full hard disk was undetected until our database started throwing errors - which was around yesterday evening.

After wasting some time trying to free up space by compacting data we eventually added a new drive (actually a virtual EBS volume), shut down the site …

… and copied over the data. After that we spun up our database and the site was back up.

Conclusion

As usual it was human error. Had we thoroughly checked our alarm settings we would have been notified of the disk problems and could have solved them without any downtime. We have of course corrected the settings now so this should not happen again. We are sincerely sorry for what happened and have learned out part. Off to the next months with 100% uptime - like it should be.

Pfsense 2.1.0 ready

A few days ago we released a new patch that allows you to use Pfsense version 2.1.0 together with the Cobot wifi integration.

Our wifi integration allows you to force members to log in before they get access to the internet. This way you have control over who has access and how often and you can track attendance and usage of your space.

Prorated invoicing

Our new prorating feature allows you to invoice all your members on the same day of the month. In addition it creates an invoice for a new member for the time they started until their first “normal” invoice.

This is how it works: We just added a checkbox to the member confirmation dialog called “send prorated invoice”.

Suppose today is Nov. 6th and a new member signed up.

You want to charge your members on the first day of the month, so you select the first invoice to be sent on Dec 1st and check the checkbox.

The member is confirmed as normal. In addition they receive an invoice for their membership fees from today until Nov. 30.

To make this even easier you can set the default invoice day under Setup -> Invoice Settings. This way Dec 1st would have been filled out already as the first invoice date.

Customize your space Home page

We want Cobot to be the main tool you use to manage your relationship with your coworkers. Face to face personal time can’t be replaced by any tool, but technology is handy in many situations - also for members. We’re proud to be the ones helping you get rid of many of the repetitive tasks that can be automated, and we love to hear from your members from time to time, but in the end, they’re your crowd!

This is a long time feature, but did you know that you can customize your home page with your logo, a banner, and your copy and images? Cobot home pages support Markdown, that lets you enrich and organize your text, add links and images… Markdown can be intimidating at first, but you just need a little practice, and it is like riding a bike: you won’t forget.

Here’s an example of what you can do adding Markdown to your Cobot Home page. You can see it live in our demo space (feel free to register as a member to sniff around!). If you want a template, or just a little help getting around Markdown or coming up with ideas on what you can include, ping us at support@cobot.me and we’ll give you a helping hand.

Faster servers

We just completed moving most of the site to new servers. The new hardware is a lot faster so you should notice faster page loads. In addition page speed should be much more consistent now, i.e. instead of one page being fast and the next slow, all page loads should be equally fast now.

For the technically inclined: our main box is now an EC2 m3.xlarge instance with 4 CPUs and 15GB of RAM. In addition we are running a few c1.medium instances (2 CPUs, 1.7GB RAM) and some Heroku dynos. We are also using Amazon’s DynamoDB and a platform called IronWorker.

Coworking invoices: what to include? (II) - The invoice details

Part 1 of our post on coworking invoices dealt with setting up templates for your invoices, including all the information you legally need to, plus any information that is the same for all invoices. After finalizing your template, it’s time to focus on the details and make sure you don’t miss a thing.

There are two main things you should be extra careful about in your invoices. The first is typing errors; How easy is it to accidentally type 300 instead of 30? The second is outdated or missing information. Which membership plan does your coworker have? For how many hours has he or she used the meeting room this month? Does he or she really still have that extra key set? This can be especially tricky when billing new coworkers for the first time.

Descriptive service names

Make it easy for your customers to understand what they’re paying for. ‘Coworking Membership - Full-time Plan’ or ‘Drinks & Snacks’ are good examples of names for your services and products. ‘Green Unicorns Academy’ (for a software development workshop) or ‘Brew’ (for coffee) may go with your community’s tone and style, and are great for your marketing materials, but you do risk driving a couple of accountants crazy. And take it from us: you will want happy accountants :).

Important dates

These three dates should always be included in your invoices.

Service dates: Whether a monthly fee or a one-time charge, you should always refer to the date on which the service was provided. This small detail can save you emails back and forth finding out at what time and on which date meeting room bookings took place. The service dates are also particularly important for spaces that charge membership fees in advance and services at the end of the month, as this might otherwise cause some confusion concerning the basis for the total amount on the invoice.

Invoice date: When was the invoice created? This date will help you calculate how long it takes before you receive payment. For variable billing periods it usually denotes the cut-off date for one-off fees.

Due Date: Always include a crystal-clear due date in your invoices. If your invoice does not display the payment date, it can easily be interpreted as “pay when you can”. The use of expressions such as “30 net” or “next month” can lead to confusion. Be human. Speak in terms of days. For instance “Please pay your invoice within 30 days after the invoice date” or a simple “Due date: 31 March” have proved effective. From experience, we can recommend the first formula as the most effective - irresistible. If you use Cobot, you can include your payment terms in your invoice template footer to ensure they’re printed as part of every invoice you send out.

Correct figures

It may sound obvious, but you also need to ensure that the total invoice amount is the sum of all the items you have listed and check that the VAT calculation is correct. However, this is not so obvious when using a spreadsheet template or a text editor. Tools like Cobot can help you with this by keeping track of memberships and recurring fees, offering a point of sale to add one-off charges, tracking meeting room usage and bringing all of these fees together in the invoice. Automated billing is not error-free, but it does reduce errors and save time.

Of course, if you prefer manually writing every invoice, you can always continue to do so as long as you are aware that this makes you more likely to make mistakes. You are therefore advised to think of ways of reducing any errors, for instance by using checklists or running pre-invoicing checks.

Now it’s time to open your Cobot space, tune it up with this advice in mind, and start getting paid today!

Are you missing anything in our system?

At Cobot we keep simplicity as one of our top priorities and we use invoicing settings and invoice templates that are convenient for the majority of the spaces using Cobot on a daily basis. However, if your country has different requirements, do let us know. There’s a lot we can do to help! Here is a link to a Country Billing Requirements form you can fill out.

PS: You know we love your comments, so feel free to leave them behind!

­Coworking invoices: what to include? (I) - The Invoice Template

All written communication to your members are essentially messages and invoices are no exception. It is important to structure your invoices effectively, making sure that the message is clear, the information is correct and payment of the invoice is made convenient. In this two-part post, we will be looking at 1) How to set up a system for generating invoices, so you don’t end up creating them all from scratch, and 2) What details are of absolute importance for your invoice. Check, check, double check!

Eyes on the goal

Invoices send an important message to your coworkers. Invoices outline what amount they owe you, what services/products they owe you for, and how they can make their payment. Getting paid might be a different story, but it is certainly not a separate process. Therefore, it is important to design your invoice in such a way that it supports the goal of receiving due payments.

Getting organized

When getting started, individuals or small contractors might initially get a little overwhelmed and will need some time to get organized when it comes to setting up an effective invoice system. After all, invoicing does not only entail drawing up and sending off the bill; you’ll also have to follow up and make sure the check arrives in good order and in the right hands.

Large companies tend to have much bureaucracy, and your invoice may have to pass through several departments before it is processed. Some very small details can make the difference between an invoice that is paid directly upon arrival and one that stays on a desk for weeks or months - and might even end up written off in your books. Don’t leave this to chance. Be the master of your destiny and do what’s in your power to make immediate payment a habit of your coworkers. Offer automatic payment methods to shorten the time it takes to process invoices and ensure a fast resolution of billing queries, increasing your accuracy and making communication seamless.

But first thing’s first: If you want to receive timely payments, the first step is to make sure that your invoices are compliant with your local laws and regulations and that all the information your coworker needs is included. We have put together some tips that will make your invoices send a clear message and make payment easier for your coworkers - and payment collection easier for you!

It is a good idea to have an invoice template with all the information you need to display in ALL your invoices. For the moment, let’s leave the details and the appearance of the invoice aside and focus on what is legally required or part of your business strategy.

The word INVOICE and a unique invoice number

As well as the word invoice, you should always include a unique invoice number - and invoice numbers must be consecutive. This is not just a best practice; in most countries it is the law. If you are a new business, check with a local consultant to find out if there is a standard invoice number format that applies in your country and if so use it on all your invoices.

All your up-to-date contact details

Add your complete contact details to your invoices: postal address, phone number, and email. Do you have a fax? Then add that, too. In some countries you are even required to add the name of the founder of the company in your invoices, or in what your registration number is with the chamber of commerce. The key is to make sure that invoices include all your details and that of your coworkers’. Doing this will reduce the time it takes to resolve any disputed invoices and save money you could otherwise spend paying tax fines.

The correct payer’s contact details

Pay attention to spelling, both for names and addresses, and make sure you include their tax payer ID if this is mandatory in your country. This unique reference number is used for tax returns and differs in format and name in each country. In some countries, this ID must be included in invoices that fall into a certain category, in other countries it is never used (only when filling out tax returns) and in again others it is mandatory in every invoice, subject to huge fines if you break tax law. Check with an expert to find out what is mandatory and then include this field in your invoice template to make sure you don’t ever forget it.

Ensuring that you collect all the information and documents you need from your coworkers at the earliest stage of your relationship, or whenever there is any change, will save you the time and hassle that comes with correcting and reissuing invoices. Keeping an up-to-date contacts database and storing whatever documentation you could need from your coworkers (passport copies, company registration papers, etc.) in one single place will help you in this endeavor. Use Cobot or another collaborative management software and ask your coworkers to fill out and maintain their own contact details. This way you will save time and ensure that your database is always up to date.