Everybody who has entered the world of coliving in Spain has probably heard of Sun and Co. at some point.
Located in the beautiful small town of Javea, just about 100 kilometers from Valencia, Sun and Co. earned its recognition due to its long history and a thoughtful, dedicated, community-first approach. And today, we’re bringing you a part of their story.
Jon Hormaetxe, the co-founder and former general manager of Sun and Co., one of the first colivings in Spain, shares their journey from opening the coliving in 2015 until today, just days before leaving Sun and Co. after 8 years of being at its heart.
This is also the first Travel & Tapas interview focused on showing the beginnings and the journey of the pioneers in the coliving world in Spain.
Without saying too much, we invite you to read the first part of the interview with Jon below and learn about Sun and Co.’s beginnings, followed by years of exploration of the community, dedication to hosting, and reinvention of the work-life balance in the digital nomad era.
Disclaimer: This piece of content may contain some affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase or book through one of our links, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Interview sections Hide
How it all started
“To make great ideas a reality, we must act, experiment, fail, adapt, and learn on a daily basis”
-Jocelyn K. Glei
1. Could you tell us a bit more about the journey that led to opening Sun and Co. back in 2015? As one of the first colivings in Spain, it must have been a different motivation and path than what we typically see today.
Jon: It all started in 2015. I was attending a coworking conference in Valencia. I used to work in real estate in Edinburg (The Melting Pot) for about 2 years and was already familiar with the coworking movement so I decided to attend this coworking conference in Spain.
That is where I met Eduardo, the owner of Sun & Co. Eduardo already had the idea of creating a coworking space in Javea (the town where Sun & Co is, about 100 km from Valencia) as there was nothing similar there.
He was one of the last speakers at the conference and presented this idea which I loved. I remember thinking to myself Wow, this looks like the best idea ever.
Javea is a gorgeous destination surrounded by beautiful beaches, nature, with great weather, and this seemed amazing to me – especially after living in Scotland for years and originally being from the Basque Country, I’ve never actually lived in a sunny destination. So, after Eduardo presented his idea, all I could think of is how it sounds like such a cool project.
Fast forward to the conference end, there was one last dinner for the attendees, and by chance, I ended up sitting next to Eduardo. It was a complete coincidence, but we started talking about his project with Sun & Co. and started brainstorming around the idea some more.
At one point, he told me he was looking for somebody to join the team and help him launch it; somebody who could do marketing and just a bit of everything else along the way. Even though I love the project, I wasn’t sure at that moment as I was not planning on staying in Spain, but we kept in touch. I went back to Edinburgh for another 3 months. During that period, we had another chat and I decided to come to Javea and launch Sun & Co. with Edu.
The property was Edu’s family house he previously refurbished and redesigned to be a hostel. He’s an architect so he made quite a nice place. The reality with the hostel was that there was a high demand for this service during the summer as there was nothing like it in Javea back then, however, during the colder seasons, it was not fulfilling its full potential and was sitting empty.
That’s why he wanted to find a solution how to fill the space up during the low season, and that’s how we came up with the whole concept of a coliving.
We already had a few references. There was already a space in the Canary Islands called Surf Office, another one in Morocco (SunDesk), and there was also one in Galicia named Sende. We also knew the market was growing and that there were more and more digital nomads traveling to Southeast Asia.
In 2015, there was already a group of pioneer digital nomads leading the path and setting foot for others to follow. Being a digital nomad was still a new concept, something unique and innovative that brought together different people ready to try out new concepts like coliving, so it was a great time to open a space like this and experiment.
2. Even though there were not as many direct reference points (colivings) to take influence from, when building your coliving space, was there something that influenced your approach or inspired you guys to create the space and experience you have now?
Jon: I think when you start, it’s always good to look at some other references that are already making this happen. Of course, you get some inspiration, copy the things that you enjoy or improve things you think you can do better.
For us, in the beginning, it was very important to see that there was already something like this existing; that there were already a few places like this, and that they were getting clients.
Background in the Coworking niche
Jon: The biggest influence, however, I think, in one sense, came from the fact that I had already been involved in the coworking movement. Back when I moved to Javea, in a way I was already a part of the coworking community in Spain. I had already attended a few coworking conferences, so that helped us gain inspiration.
Also, in 2013/14, I couldn’t say it was the very beginning of the coworking movement, but it was still in the early phases. The conferences were full of small operators. The biggest ones had only 2-3 locations, no more.
The coworking movement came from something very aspirational and very passionate. Most coworking owners put a lot of passion into what they were doing, and there was a lot of focus on community. They used to see the coworking space as a tool to create meaningful connections that will improve people’s lives.
The coworking was supposed to provide a nice space that will spark those connections and potential collaborations that could be born by meeting other freelancers.
So, there wasn’t a big focus on growing and making a very successful business out of a coworking space but rather putting a lot of focus on the community aspect. So coming from that atmosphere of co-working communities to co-living, I think it was one of the biggest influences.
We knew the importance of creating a community and putting our focus there and making sure we create opportunities for our guests to connect.
Experience in hospitality
Jon: Besides that aspect, we also had Eduardo’s perspective that came from his experience in running a hostel for two years before opening the coliving space.
So we had a lot of input on how to run a hospitality business in general. The logistics were more or less already implemented when I arrived.
Providing the local experience
Jon: And the third influence to me would be the booming of Airbnb.
In 2015, there was this vision of utilizing empty rooms and renting them to other people so they can make the most out of them. You rent them out, people use them, and you get some money. It was kind of a social impact project. Many people started getting interested in hosting and trying hard to provide the best hosting experience: to welcome their guests, show them around, make them feel special, etc.
And also, there was a big focus on how you can get a local experience by going to an Airbnb because you will be sharing a house with local people who will welcome you and show you around. So there was also this aspect of the local atmosphere, the local experience, the local host, and so on.
That was something that we knew we really wanted to implement. We wanted to allow people to experience the local culture and create this local atmosphere where not only me or Eduardo are the locals but also other people working with and around us. We knew we wanted to involve different local people in the experience.
Creating a personal experience
Jon: And lastly, we wanted to make this experience as personalized as possible. This was not supposed to be a place that you come to and just leave like another client or just a number on our guest list. We wanted to make sure that our guests feel that we know who they are and we welcome specifically them into our experience. We know your name and what you do and what you like and welcome you to our family when you arrive. That was the experience we wanted to provide (and still do).
So those are more or less a few influences we had back then.
The interesting thing was that for us, there wasn’t a huge risk involved in opening this space, because we already had the hostel. We already had a good business, even if it was open only for 2-3 months. The space was also already refurbished and renovated for the hostel, so we didn’t have that challenge or the need for that kind of investment. That gave us a lot of security and allowed us to be patient and take our time with the Sun & Co. coliving brand and work on the concept.
The security from the hostel allowed us to be flexible in the first few months and not rush into any decisions. In the first month, we didn’t have anybody in the coliving, it was just me living there. After two whole months, we had our first client ever – a Finnish girl named Kaisu.
We went to pick her up in the car and I stayed with her for two weeks and we had our first real coliving experience.
Kaisu had an amazing time and came back to Sun & Co 10 more times after that stay. She even met her boyfriend in Sun & Co. And that’s exactly what we wanted to create – a place where people can create meaningful connections and a place they’ll want to come back and feel like a part of something. And after a few months, little by little, we had the first few people and by having them, we were able to slowly improve the experience.
3. Did you have any challenges in marketing/educating people on the coliving concept at the beginning of your operations? How did you approach the market back then when people still haven’t had much knowledge of this concept?
Jon: Mostly in the rural areas or those who are more focused on digital and remote workers, the operators might fear offering a product or a service where the main value is the community, but being empty when they open the space. But, I always say the same: the space is never empty because you are there. You are the first member of your community.
The same went with us. In the beginning, we knew that if anybody was going to decide to come to stay with us, they first had to like our personalities, or at least like our values and our way of doing things.
So during the first few months, even a year, we were exposing ourselves quite a bit. We used a lot of comedy and humor because that was something representative of us. A lot of funny videos were a big marketing tool for us because we wanted to share a part of ourselves in the marketing. If somebody comes, we don’t know how many people will be around, but we will, so if they seem to like what we do, they will probably like the experience.
So in every email we sent, we were adding a picture, not of us, but a picture of the concept so they get a taste. There was a lot of marketing around who we are, our values, and our visions in order to connect and link other people who identify with the things that we envision or enjoy doing.
I think this is the very best way to start a community, to connect with the founders’ personalities and values.
A community is something that always starts very small and then grows by word of mouth, and little by little because human relationships evolve slowly. Building a relationship with someone is not something you can do in one day; it’s something you need to work on and invest time in. So, when you’re building a community, you also need to build it slowly, one person at a time, starting with yourself.
That is why the passion and the transparency the owner puts into setting up their space is critical. It is the only way to make other people connect to the same values, and the same vision, and make them engage. And then, slowly, people start talking about you and their friends start talking about you, and that’s how it begins.
Having said that, for us, there weren’t many coliving around when we opened. So if you were to type on Google Coliving in Europe or Coliving in Spain, we were coming out on the very first page. Even though the term wasn’t very popular and not many people were searching for it, it definitely helped us get discovered by the few who were.
There was also a growing trend for people searching for coworking spaces or coworking in a hotel or similar, trying to figure out how to work and travel, and they were finding us. The people who came like that also helped us shape the concept throughout the years.
I remember the first year, being there with everybody was a part of my everyday life. We were all together, working socializing, and I think the people who came then really felt as if they were a part of what Sun & Co. is today. I think they feel that Sun & Co. maybe wouldn’t be what it is now if they haven’t contributed with their presence. And it is true. It’s all about belonging.
That’s more or less how we started and marketed. We also went to a few conferences and marketed ourselves in Facebook groups.
4. After 8 years of operating, what would you say was the most difficult or challenging phase of operations and the most difficult year/period for the business?
Jon: The most difficult was the Covid situation and the lockdown.
We had a few guests stay in the house when the Spanish government announced that all of the hotels and hostels had to close their spaces. So since we are registered legally as a hostel, we had to close our doors.
It was a struggle, so we decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign. It was just donation based.
We asked our members if they could donate some money to keep Sun and Co alive during this period and to make sure that we were able to cover our costs to open again when the situation gets better. And one of our main quotes at Sun and Co is Communities are built when you give to others without asking for anything in return. So we always try to encourage everyone to give unconditionally to others and care about each other.
But we were asking ourselves how can we ask our members to give something to us without expecting anything in return. But, of course, they knew that there was an end goal there. So the campaign was quite impressive because we raised 17000 euros out of donations.
Our biggest donation was made by a guy whose name is Javier. He said that he felt that Sun and Co was like his own house and when you have your own house, you sometimes need to pay for some additional costs to keep it in good shape. He donated 1000 euros just for this reason. So, for us, all that was extremely surprising and we weren’t expecting that at all. We were constantly thinking of what makes Sun and Co affect people’s lives in a way they want to support us and donate their money.
When that was happening, one of our members, Remi, who actually moved to Javea now, posted on Facebook how much money was collected and said how we were always so generous with everyone in Sun and Co, so now they wanted to be generous towards us and give back. This made me think a lot. Generosity is a big word. And with generosity, there is care. When you put generosity and care together, you create a safe space.
With only a few of these ingredients, you create a space where people truly feel comfortable and free to express themselves; a place where people feel comfortable sharing their biggest fears, talking about love, family, or those type of topics that actually make us grow, and improve and transform our lives through relationships and conversations that we build in an environment like this.
So even though it was the hardest period, it let me realize that we’re creating this kind of environment in Sun and Co. that creates a transformative experience where people actually end up donating 17,000 euros for it to keep going.
5. Lastly, after many years of operating, where do you find the driving force/passion?
Jon: First of all, I think coliving is a very aspirational business. Like often with hostels, many people open a space like that just so they can combine their life with their work and meet people who fit that picture. For example, people who want to move to a rural area open hospitality space there so they can remain there, meet like-minded people, and share their passion for the region or the lifestyle.
I also started this business from a bit of a selfish perspective. I wanted this lifestyle for myself and it seemed like a great job to do. But after we opened, I started questioning myself if I am really making an impact, leaving something good for the world.
We talked about this in one of our mastermind sessions and I had some of our members telling me how they found inspiration here and that’s the impact we’re leaving with Sun and Co. but I still struggled to see it clearly.
I later volunteered as a case study participant in a session about finding your life purpose, and this helped me realize how connected my current life was with my childhood and my younger self. I found connections in my family relationships and realized that I was building this company and the customer experience based on something rooted in myself.
I realized one of my goals or missions in life is to create safe spaces where people connect in meaningful ways and that I was doing it every day by running a coliving space. When you look at it from that perspective, from your life purpose, the chances for you to keep the excitement and motivation about what you do for a long time are higher.
Over time, I run more than 100 mastermind sessions in Sun and Co. And how we do these mastermind sessions is that usually for an hour, we focus on one person who is facing a challenge and for that hour, we all try to help them solve it.
The session is usually run or moderated by one of the hosts. But for me, hosting these sessions, and seeing that 10-12 people are willing to spend an hour focused completely on somebody else, all thinking together to help another person, a stranger they met only a few days ago, solve their challenge, and then the outcomes – it was very enriching. That was very much aligned with my life purpose.
And of course, this is only my example. We all have different purposes and life paths, but connecting what you do to that is what helps you maintain the motivation and excitement for it.
On the other hand, in this business, even if it aligns with your life purpose, it indeed seizes to be sustainable at one point, and you need to know when to take a step back or go further. Meeting so many people over and over again, it’s true you get a bit blind. Instead of seeing one individual at a time, you start unconsciously grouping. So, at that point, you need to take a step back and give space for other people to run things while you focus on other parts of the business and take more managerial roles. For the past few years in Sun and Co., I’ve been taking care of things operationally while the other team was running things more from the management, leadership, and BD aspect.
This month, after seven and a half years, I’m leaving Sun and Co. to continue creating spaces where people connect in meaningful ways but through other coliving brands and projects. That is my step further.
It’s very easy for the host to burn out if he/she lives in the house because it’s very easy to mix what work is and what is not. You might have a great relationship with your clients and even become friends, but I think it’s important to differentiate between when you’re working and when you’re not. It’s a very social job, but it’s crucial to take clean breaks and know when you’re going home on your own to rest and do your thing and then come back to work and be in full working mode.
Then, another challenge is when you have a small coliving space to provide opportunities for your employees to grow and advance in their careers, and the job and day-to-day easily become very repetitive. And if your employees feel like their job is repetitive, they might get frustrated, tired, burnt out, and so on. That’s another challenge.
That’s why you have to be really, really connected to your mission in life or the lifestyle that you want, and you really need to be able to balance that lifestyle properly. Because, if not, you can easily get tired (literally, but also from what you do).
This is just the first part of the interview we did with Jon from Sun and Co. To find out more about the Management, Community, and Future goals of Sun and Co. check out part two.
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