Francois Mazoudier grew up and studied in Paris before moving to the UK in 1990. He has experienced the highs and lows of tech, with a great ‘start-up to IPO story’ (Real Networks), the dotcom crash of the early 2000s, a company bankruptcy and several companies that were destined to great success but didn’t make it. He is open and honest about the harsh realities of life as an entrepreneur and the particularities that make the tech world so appealing yet so cut-throat. Now as a seasoned entrepreneur, he uses his practical business-building experience, industry knowledge and contacts to help the next generation of start-up talent, using a new and purpose-built tech space (aptly named TMRW) in Croydon.

TMRW will soon be celebrating its first anniversary – tell us what you have achieved so far and the response from the local community?

Well, like all start-ups, we started with big ambitions and little else, and had no idea whether it was going to work. But the product and the many services we offer to the local tech ecosystem here seems to have been well received, so we managed to make TMRW profitable in less than a year and we are growing 10 percent every month, which for a property business is rather good. We are now full with our 100 desk stations filled and around 24 tech companies. Our Byte Café downstairs was voted the best independent café by the locals, which made us very proud (we could have sold out to a big name chain).

As for the locals’ feedback, we have received nothing but amazing support, from day one. Aside from the one or two anti-change, anti-everything naggers (there are always one or two), we have received nothing but outstanding support from the local community – individuals, businesses, local government – it would seem all of Croydon realised that they had a real, tangible chance of having their very own tech hub to build and grow real, fast-growth tech firms in and turn things around. TMRW’s big on tech for Social Good, so all money invested in the project went to the local economy, all Byte staff are locals, the food made locally, even our furniture was cut, built, and assembled by a local firm, so locals took notice.

What do you think has been the key to TMRW’s success?

Three things make us very different from other tech hubs and co-working spaces.

First, we’re the most spacious hub in the UK, we offer more free space per member. Whereas most spaces are focused on optimising revenue for every square foot of space they have (remember, most hubs are run by property companies, not tech firms), we provide the optimal space/s for companies to flourish. And great companies with great staff can’t perform in a shoebox, in a tiny glass bowl, with half desks and all the other tricks used by most hubs. You need space to think, to reflect, share and learn from others, you can’t do that in a confined environment – it’s kind of obvious really, but look around London, free space is something so rare and so precious today. We also provide fresh air (everybody has their own window) and natural light – because to perform at peak, you shouldn’t, cannot be in a tiny space with no natural light and aircon for 10 hours solid. It’s obvious, it’s just bad for you – yet that’s what most others offer.

Secondly, we are true tech, our entire management team stems from tech companies, so we know what our members need and go through because we’ve been there ourselves, and we know that our community is real, not just a marketing tagline. At TMRW, members help each other and share contacts and code and best practices – that can’t happen if you mix industries, they can’t help each other. We were very selective of who we allowed in (which was very testing, as we didn’t have funding and were losing money for months) but it paid off nicely. We have a solid community, with true collaboration and shared values, something nobody can buy or build later on in a shared space. Without a strong community, members are just paying for a desk.

Thirdly, whereas many are huge PR machines, our entire focus is to make our members successful, not glam. Building a tech company comes with super high risk, high velocity, high complexity, massive competition, and typically a lack of funds – so if you’re not ready for this environment, you’re just deluding yourself. So we strip out all the media hype (been to Shoreditch lately? the level of hype is scary) and instead we address the real, hard-hitting realities of where they’re at, what they need to do now and how to get their business to the next stage of development. We don’t hype up our companies, we provide them with the tools and share knowledge, give them honest feedback and early warning signs; we help them plug skill shortages, hire the ‘right’ team; help ‘lawyer up’ properly so they don’t get ripped off; get them financed, and get them to meet industry giants, top investors and entrepreneur celebrities so they learn from those who’ve achieved (and failed) in real life. And that part, we believe, is invaluable – and you can’t get it in hipster hubs.

Croydon has been highlighted as the fastest growing tech cluster in the UK – how does it feel to be a hub for that growth and what is happening to transform Croydon into one of the country’s top locations for tech?

It feels great – Sadiq Khan [Mayor of London] visited us and showed his belief in what we do, supporting TMRW as a great case for regenerating rundown areas, and I really believe that tech is the best tool for harmonious, fast-track regeneration.

This article was originally published on Inspired Homes’ blog. Visit their page for info on their micro lifestyle apartments in Croydon.