Jermaine Ijieh knows how seriously the coronavirus pandemic has affected the social lives of millennials–the generation of folks generally considered to be in their late 20s to early 40s today.
Ijieh, 31, is a co-founder of Groundfloor, a sort of coworking space/social hub/friendship incubator that started in 2021 and has locations in San Francisco, Oakland and now San Rafael.
“We had such a unique work-life experience prepandemic, where things were organized for us–even in the jobs that we maybe had,” Ijieh said. “Then pandemic hits and social interactions–in terms of the volume–significantly drops, even if you are in an office. And so you start to realize there’s something considerably lacking.”
On a recent tour of Groundfloor’s new San Rafael space in the city’s downtown, Ijieh shared the origins of the business, why he believes connection and relationships can foster wellbeing and how the club landed on its monthly membership price of $200.
Q: What can you tell me about the business?
A: The way that we think about Groundfloor is that it’s more of a social community hub. We always envisioned it to be like the new town square. Coming out the back of the pandemic — and I think just as time has gone — what we’ve noticed is there’s certain institutions such as church, university, the office that were hubs for socialization in people’s lives. The pandemic shook things up a bit. People are spending more time in their neighborhoods, trying to get a bit more connected with their surroundings and just want to know their neighbors.
We wanted to build a place that was really more about cultivation of community while focusing on what people do day to day. You think about work — where you go to work — but you’re still building connections at work. We’ve all have built a lot of friendships at the office, right? Church, college and so forth. Just places where you have this natural nature of what it takes to create relationships. Time, duration, consistency, spontaneity.
So we’re trying to build that in. The fact that people can work from here. People can socialize. People can go to our yoga partner and focus on their wellbeing, but in a community of good people.
I think our biggest thing is, how do we empower and enable you as an individual to explore your curiosity? We have an initiative where people lead — we call them sub hubs — clubs of interest. We’ve got individuals who lead a ski club. We help them be able to do that–logistics, planning.
It’s really a member-driven club.
Q: Who is Groundfloor for?
A: I definitely believe Groundfloor is for individuals sort of coming up to their late 20s — and beyond — who are sometimes in the office but aren’t necessarily getting that social interaction that they’re longing for.
Q: Does opening during the pandemic bring any challenges?
A: I think, yes, because we still don’t know how behaviors are going to evolve. For us, we felt that no matter what happens — pandemic or not — this issue of individuals in this age range struggling to make friends has always been here. Times have changed drastically. We don’t have to stay at home. It really takes a mental toll on individuals. So, what can we do about it? That’s really how we came across Groundfloor.
Q: What have your members been telling you about Groundfloor? What have you been learning from them?
A: The biggest thing is just how much it improved their mental wellbeing. We’ve managed to help them cultivate community around things that they love or have been interested in but not have known how to get involved. We spend a lot of time on community curation, and our thing has always been about, ‘How do we create the most eclectic room with people from all across the spectrum.
Obviously, Groundfloor is a paid membership, but we offer up scholarships to people from underserved communities to be able to have a room that is socially progressive.
Q: When you look at the coworking space — businesses like WeWork — is this a challenging space to open a company?
A: I think all businesses are challenging. Groundfloor — this physical space that you see — is just a vessel for what we’re actually trying to do, which is facilitate connection and building community. This is just the medium. Whereas I think for WeWork — others — the space is like the core competency of everything.
For us, there’s things that happen outside of Groundfloor. We partner with sort of experts in other fields who have the urge to do stuff outside. We do day trips.
This isn’t a coworking space by definition. You can come here to work from here. Similar to, I don’t think anyone calls their home a coworking space, right? There’s many different functionalities of a home. That’s how Groundfloor is set up.
Q: How did you arrive at the price point of $200 per month for a membership?
A: To be honest, the rent. Whenever we open a space we’re always trying to keep the best price possible in terms of the space just to break even and exist. It was never a case of us thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, this should be like a moneymaker-type situation.’ If that was the case, we wouldn’t give out scholarships. We think the opportunities for people that you’ll meet here will be so beneficial in their lives that it’s kind of priceless. And our members totally understand this. They’re so for that.
We have such a high-touch approach in the service of things. Our community leads are great. They really do know every single member. They talk to each other — every single member — to understand what their wants and needs are. ‘OK, how can we help them? If not, who else in the community can help?’
Jermaine Ijieh profile
Residence: San Francisco
Education: Bachelor’s in law from University of Sussex; master’s in business management from University College London
5 interesting things about Jermaine Ijieh
- Selected to represent Nigeria’s international men’s rugby team for the World Cup qualifiers in 2014
- Can watch 30 to 40 hours of TV per week (The Apple TV+ sci-fi drama “Severance” wins his recommendation)
- Launched a live-streaming app in 2015 with fellow Groundfloor co-founder Leutrim Rexhepi for soccer fans to socialize during games
- Moved from London to the Bay Area in 2021, exploring opportunities with another Groundfloor co-founder, Jamie Snedden
- Developed a love for traveling in Europe, sharing experiences with people and widening his perspective
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