Episode 4

Cool Coworking Spaces with Cecilia Chiolerio

Published on: 24th February, 2021

Cecilia Chiolerio is the co-founder of Two Stay, a company that provides low cost, flexible coworking spaces in major European cities. By utilising cafés, bars and restaurants which are not usually open for business during the day, Two Stay offers professionals a quiet yet welcoming and collaborative place to do their work.

In this podcast, Cecilia explains 

  • where the idea of using existing empty spaces for coworking came from, and how she refined the concept over time
  • the importance of shipping your product before it’s 'ready' and of creating value for all stakeholders
  • how she aligns her business with her values and what keeps her motivated
  • how she deals with self-doubt and black days, and how having a mentor has been a game changer
  • what the coronavirus pandemic taught her about coworking needs.

Find out more about Two Stay at twostay.work

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Note: Cecilia’s interview starts at 14 minutes. Before that, Maribel and Helen have a conversation about internet carbon footprint, based around the subject of this blog post.

Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Maribel:

Ceci, thank you very much for agreeing to have this conversation with me and Helen today. When I was thinking of who we could invite to our podcast, you were one of the first persons that I thought of because when I heard about the business that you're doing, together with Thea, I just think it's such a great idea. And it's really aligned with my own values. And I know that it's been quite a ride. Would you like to tell us what it is that you do?

Cecilia:

Sure, so as Twostay we take in locations that are empty during the day, or not used in our cities, and we turn it into co-working spaces. So for whom it might be a bit less familiar with co-working spaces, it’s locations where people can go there and work with other people. So we foster working together and getting out of the lonely home office and so on. And this is specifically appealing for freelancers that might not have normal offices or normal colleagues. But also in these times, like for any other remote workers that is out there, as we know that's the way we are moving towards, like this new work where everyone can work wherever they want and wherever they are. And so we need the right places to do so. So the main difference is that we're trying to bring down every asset and every cost of a location that a co-working space might have, utilizing resources that are already there. So we don't create anything new for the scope of our business.

Helen:

And where did the idea for this come from?

Cecilia:

It's hard to say, because there was not a moment where I had the idea and then that was it and then put it on paper and we started from it. But it was rather a journey. So I stared started researching a lot on ideas in general, and then while researching on ideas, I had hints that something like this might be possible, might be a good idea. And then I started testing it, and by testing, it was in a completely different shape than what is today. So it was more of a platform where people could book their own working space. And then during the testing and having people using it and so on, we saw that so many things were just not working. So people were not really seeing the value that we saw in the idea at the beginning. And we started really digging deeper on, okay, what's the need of our user, what are they really looking for when they're looking for a workspace outside their home? And we figured out that for them it was mainly the community aspect that was missing and the functionality of the workspaces. And there were two things we weren't offering, because we weren't allowing people to have individual workspace booking. So we were not fulfilling the need of community. And on the other hand, we were not providing a workspace that was fully functional. So that's when we started twisting and piloting the model. As soon as we started seeing more interest from the user side and saw that they were happy, they were booking and they were coming back. So I think the idea was developing in the course of a year or so it was never THE idea moment, or where this idea was born or anything like this.

Helen:

So it sounds like you came up with the idea and you tested it and then found that that wasn't working in the original idea. And so you kept on refining it and refining it. Is that the best way of doing it, do you think, rather than waiting until you've done the market research and asked what people want? Because you could have done it the other way around, couldn't you? What made you do it that way around?

Cecilia:

I think I can just speak for me, but I also think that we use this method now for any other ideas or projects that come up during our business. And I think that for us is the only way that works. And just because you avoid so much time that you waste in thinking about stuff. But then at the end of the day, you are the only one that thinks this way, maybe. I don't know. Maybe you are special and maybe your need is not what the other people need and so on. So I would always think that the best is really to draft something super badly, super on the surface and put it out there and see what's the reaction. And now we do this for anything we implement. For example, when we open a new location, even before having the location we maybe put up a landing page where we test interest from our people. Is this a good location? Is this something that you guys want to have? Is the city the right one for freelancers, for example? But we don't have a location maybe. And then after this, we create the product. So it's like reversing how usually you would do things. First, you want to be sure. And then you go out there and then you’re sure about it.

Helen:

So what would you say to people who prefer to do it the other way, who prefer to wait until they've got their finished product before they launch it? What advice would you give to them?

Cecilia:

If we're talking about creating a business, then you have to make sure that you have a really big runway of money. Because definitely the other way around is more expensive. Because you're gonna have to create a product, you have to invest a lot and just at the end of this process, you're gonna see if the product is something that people use or not, and then you can start to monetize. And then you can start changing the product and adapting and so on. And that's the most expensive way to do it. So I think it's just possible when you have… I mean, I'm not saying adapting to every product, because for example, you might have more deep tech products, where you need more research, where the study can be longer. But if it’s anything closer to what we do, I think it's just less expensive to bring it in market really as soon as possible.

Maribel:

Ceci, I know that from previous conversations you went to business school and, now that I'm doing something similar, I see that what you learn in that type of programs is how to make profit, and to increase the business and create something really profitable. Actually we have limited resources and the business approach for many, many years is to create more and more and more. And this is what you learn. On the other hand, is Twostay disrupting this approach?

Cecilia:

To be honest, I went to a special business school, I don't know. But what I learned is to make something which is working. And working on the business side means the need to work from all the different parties involved and create value for all the different parties involved. And I think value usually is a synonym of monetizing, so more money, yes, and more profit, but not necessarily. And I also learned that all the parties involved is not just the business and the user, but there are way more stakeholders involved when you create a business. For example, you have the community, you have the city, you have the environment. And so I think in any case, this needs to be a sum where each of the factors need to add up. So when you are impacting or losing in some of the others, you still have to make sure everything is working. So I think in Twostay, that's really our priority that we create something which is sustainable, but sustainable in a way that works for everyone involved. So it creates a value, a long term value that people want to use, or the people see the value in it without impacting on any other stakeholders we might touch while creating our business.

Maribel:

So it sounds like what you're using is a business model with a holistic approach.

Cecilia:

I think yes, we could define it like this. I think we're just more aware that the greater business you are, you're not just thinking about you and your user, but it's more around it.

Helen:

That's fantastic. Yeah, I would agree with that. It sounds quite circular as well, like you have a circular approach here. Can I ask where the name Twostay comes from?

Cecilia:

It's a bit random, to be honest. This was kind of a process. But the idea behind it is that there are two reasons for staying. So there two different purposes that we give to the building. And that's where it comes: Twostay. I think it would be another suggestion, a tip, no one cares about the name as long as you can use it, write it and everyone understands it, then it's a good name.

Helen:

Okay, so because you're using restaurants which are not being used, or places which are not being used for their purpose at other times, then there are two reasons for staying in that building.

Cecilia:

Exactly. The cool part is that then they have another reason. Like, in the evening they become another business.

Helen:

Are you happy with the name?

Cecilia:

Sometimes not.

Helen:

If you could change it, what would it be now that you're transforming, and you’re trialing and error, how would you morph now?

Cecilia:

I don't know. We talked about it so many times. The point is that, the reason why I would change it is just because when I pitch, it doesn't come clearly out. Some people would write it in different ways and that's the most problematic aspect of the name. I mean, it's not such a huge problem. And that's also when we stack up one, okay, let's see, should we change the name? Then we say, Hey, we have more important things to do and the name it will come in case. And now we reached a moment where we are super attached to the name and also our communities. So I think it would be really hard to make a change here.

Maribel:

During this phase of the beginning of Twostay’s creation, did you come up with obstacles that were difficult or semi difficult?

Cecilia:

Yeah. And still now. It's not always smooth. I think when you are doing business it’s always you have obstacles, they are business-wise, or then you arrive in points. Okay, my business is not working in this way, in this way. And for me, they were nice obstacles, or they ARE nice obstacles, because I always see them as a challenge. So it's like, okay, that's something not working, let's put our mind and thoughts in it and let's change it. And that's another type of obstacle — the financing part. And unfortunately, this is something that we are super restricted from. Like when we run out of money, we can put all our ideas in place in our thoughts, but the business cannot go on. And unfortunately, when you raise money, you have to convince other people. And I think that's always the hardest part, because that's the moment where you confront your business or yourself with people that are judging what you're doing, and deciding whether they want to put their money on or not. So for sure, that's the moment that is the hardest one, because you receive, I don't know, per day, a lot of No’s, I don't believe in this, each of them would have a different approach on how to do things. So then you would put in discussion internally, how you do it, and so on. And then obviously, there's the personal part of having a business. And that's when you stop believing what you do, because there are days where I really think okay, is this the right thing? Is this the right thing for me? Is it the right thing as a business? And so on. Or should I go to another job where I maybe get more money, maybe I’m more successful? And so on. So I think that’s a lot of aspects of obstacles that you're confronted in everyday business.,

Helen:

And those obstacles that you talked about where you're doubting yourself? On the days that you get like that, how do you deal with that? What do you tell yourself?

Cecilia:

I did this alone for the first months and that was really horrible. Because usually I was going through a process that's like the process of, I guess, everyone, so being really sad and really down and then trying to find ways of confronting this. And now I'm working together with my partner, my co-founder, and that sometimes is really good, because we are never down at the same time. So then I would always try to go to her and express my doubts and my fears, and then she would be stronger in that moment. And that role would switch. So I think that's really helpful for me to have someone helping me in this process. And another thing that we also try to do is to try to find the right thing in our business. Still we have paying customers. We have customers that are really happy that they give us feedback, that we really see that their day maybe changes because they met the right person in our location and now they do a project together, and that’s something that really drives you. And then when you have these black days, I always try to pick this kind of stuff, try to find it. Maybe in normal days they happen and they just go through, because it's one of the many things and on a bad day, then I would really try to search for them, pick the right one and stick with them for a little bit longer than usual.

Helen:

That's a good piece of advice. You mentioned earlier that there are lots of different stakeholders involved. And then you just mentioned something which I hadn't thought about, about people who… You're bringing people together just randomly and they might be learning from each other. Was that something that you had envisaged at the beginning, that that could happen? Because I think that's an amazing result of what you're doing.

Cecilia:

Yeah, I think that was exactly my thinking behind it. Because when I started thinking about Twostay, I was working alone. And I was working alone all day and I just saw how my process of developing the business and developing my business day was super slow because I was never confronting to anyone else. I was just there with my thoughts and so on. And instead now, when you go into the space, you for sure meet other people that do things completely different from what you do. And then you sit together with them, maybe you don't even talk about business, but then you have similar problems. It's just like people are more open to exchange what they do than if you sit together in a cafe, for example. And that's something that really happens often, that people then start projects together. So for me, that was exactly the reason why we needed a space like this and it was not existing before.

Helen:

And how is it working at the moment in times of covid?

Cecilia:

We had to close our spaces and now we're a bit scared in case we have to close them again. But I think at the moment, we see definitely less customers than what used to be, but not so much. But what we see the most is that we access a different type of customer that before we didn't have, and that's our employees. So I think before we were super convinced that working remotely, working everywhere, that's the future of work. But then we didn't really have an answer, or we could not really see this in practice. It was just in our mind. And instead, I think Corona really taught us how everyone can work this way and how important it is that companies also give this kind of benefits to their employees, allowing them to work in a way they are more productive, or the way they work best. So now we see a lot of employees in our space and before was a market that we really didn't have.

Helen:

Before it was kind of entrepreneurs and freelancers and now it’s actual employees of companies, who can't go into their place of work?

Cecilia:

Exactly. That they discover, hey, that's a way of working, right? Before I just had to commute nine to five, going to my office every day. Now it's a choice, I can decide to work somewhere else. And then maybe when home office is not possible, because you have kids, or maybe because you just have a table where you also have dinner on then you're looking for another type of space.

Helen:

Interesting. So it's actually created a new opportunity, sounds like?

Cecilia:

Yes, as long as we can catch it, right? It depends, it needs to stay in this way obviously. Lockdown is not good for any of us.

Maribel:

But actually, Cecilia, when in Germany lockdown started, you pivoted very quickly and made some new things to get that community. That seems to be like a really important aspect of your business, to giving him them a continuum. Can you tell us a little bit?

Cecilia:

Yeah, so when lockdown came, we were, hey, let's try to find any way to still do our business and do it in another way. So then we started doing events and engaging the community virtually. So that's something that definitely we did. But for us was also a moment where we could step out of our business and look at it a bit from outside. And that's also the moment where we started doing heavy sales, for example. So before Corona we had five spaces. And then after Corona we are now having nine different cities. Because during Corona, we really took the time to collect contacts and to push in our sales. And that was only possible because we really, okay, what's happening? Where do we want to go? We had this time to reflect and think about it, that during the everyday time we don't so we're just dragging our processes on. So probably our expansion would have taken longer.

Maribel:

What you're creating with Twostay, how is this related, or to which extent, is it related to your own personal purpose or mission in life?

Cecilia:

So I really come from this point — I love to see people connected and I see a huge value in this. And I see their everyday life, either in business or personal, being better when they manage to get the right person beside them to create a project or just to exchange ideas. I just see that that's a value added for every one of us out there. And that's something that is also for me in personal life. I like the network part of things, I like to help my friends or help people that I know to reach this in their normal life. So I think for me it was definitely appealing to my own purpose. Also, I really have this issue when I see people lonely and I always would try to do something to help them out. And I think the loneliness on the workspace is something that is not so much spoken about. Mainly when we're talking about freelancers or employees or, like in my case a startup founder, you can be really alone. And you are alone in the worst moment ever because you're creating your business and that's super hard. So it's really important that you have people around you. So that’s definitely what makes me wake up in the morning — I see that I'm doing good for someone else. And that's something that fits also what I believe in, in my everyday life.

Helen:

That's beautiful. And without revealing too much of your business strategy, where can you see this plan going in the future? And where can you see yourself developing in the future as well?

Cecilia:

Obviously, we want to make Twostay really big. So we really think that we could have a space every 100,000 inhabitants in Europe and beyond. And my really personal super interesting part would be where really, we Twostay in local communities. So also not in really urban areas, but to really leverage on smaller villages and so on, where people connected around really local communities is a bit lost. So for me, that would be a really interesting part. And I think that's exactly the beauty of our project that could be brought really in these centers. As a personal and business person, I really am super curious to lead the company in the next stage. Because now a lot of things that we do, we are a small team. So the way we do things is really informal and basically every day, we do a little bit of everything. So I'm really curious of how would be the next phase where we're going to have a bigger team, how to make also the people that work for us happy and to join our same idea and mission and so on and make them fulfilled in the workday. I think that would be super interesting. And I think that's my next goal, to see how I'm gonna perform in this and how I try to be a good boss or company employer for them.

Helen:

I can sense the ambition coming through there. Fantastic.

Maribel:

Ceci, I have a question in regards to… Imagine that someone who hasn't heard of Twostay ever and then you're thinking of, either I'm a freelancer and I just don't want to spend my whole day alone in front of my computer, or have my lunch all alone, or I'm working from home and I'm an employee somewhere. And I have the option of going to one of your spaces but there are also, which, I don't know if they would be your competition because you offer something a bit different, but these regular co-working spaces that are only co-working spaces. Why would I go rather to Twostay instead of to one of these other co-working spaces?

Cecilia:

I think there are multiple factors. First of all, I really think that mainly during our work days, the most important thing is the power of choosing. So having someone forcing the same place every day, it's per se not a productive choice. But then everyone has a different productive way or a different way of working. So I think it's really a personal choice. With Twostay you have the option of choosing. Because when you go to another co-working space, then you mainly can join monthly. And monthly is a lot of money, first of all. For example, normal co-working space is 250 bucks per month, while we are offering our location around 92 euros per month. So that's a really different commitment that you're doing. But also we are way more flexible. Because with this price, where we also offer half a day or a day, you can really use Twostay as your extended home office. So whenever you want, you join but if you don't want to you can work from home, or you can go to the office, and so on. So I think for the user point of view, that's the main difference, that we are cheaper but cheaper in a way that allows the user to choose whether it's good or not. In terms of how the business is structured, the difference with co-working spaces is that they require a lot of demand and a lot of investment to be set up. And instead Twostay is a system that allows people to open their own co-working space, so we don't operate our spaces on our own, but we give the system to someone else that wants to open the space in their local communities. And we allow them to do so without any budget, without having the option to set up a new space and invest in the space itself. So, as I mentioned before, a normal co-working space is really unlikely to be in a smaller center because you need a big demand and you need a lot of means to set up one, while Twostay is the opposite, where really you just need an underused space, you need people that want to work together and you can set up one.

Helen:

So are you in effect pushing the other co-working spaces out of the market or are you catering for a different type of market?

Cecilia:

I think we're really appealing to different people. On the other way, we are at the beginning of the sales cycle for these kinds of co-working spaces. It happens so often that we have entrepreneurs that, maybe they're just launching their startup, they're two people, they're working in our space for six months, then they grow bigger, they get investment, they have a team that they move to a normal co-working space. So in this way, I think it's just really a different type of customer. Maybe not for all co-working spaces we would have similar customers, but in general we are more appealing for freelancer individuals, while a normal co-working space is more for teams or companies.

Maribel:

Is there any one in particular, because I can imagine from what you have said that you need a really clear vision and desire to where you want to go, so that you can convince other people to invest in your idea. And to also go through these difficult dark days, where you doubt yourself or doubt the idea. Is there any particular person that has supported you along this time? Or is there a role model? Who is there for you, who has been an example?

Cecilia:

For sure. My dad has a really big entrepreneurial kind of spirit, so for me was a big push who was always beside me and always appreciated what I did and really helping me pushing through. In terms of a role model, for me it's more of a mentor. I used to work in a startup before joining Twostay. And he was the founder of the startup and he was the guy that allowed me, or really pushed me, to do it and told me, okay, I think you're ready and you should not wait to be ready to do your own business. And then he was really helping me to analyze the ideas better, he was there to give me a method. And now he's just there when I really, really doubt myself, or maybe when I have to take a really tricky decision. Because that's the other point — it’s not so much about having role models, I think that's super important, but having mentors, that's a game changer, because, in my day to day business, I do so many things I don't have any clue about. And sometimes it's cool that I can figure it out on my own. And sometimes I make mistakes, but there are decisions that sometimes are way too big. And then when you mess this decision up, then it's too much of a problem. So he's there in exactly those moments. Then maybe I call him up every three months, he is always there and he's always having a method to… he’s never told me what to do but he always allows me to think in the right way, what's the best way to approach this decision. And I think that's super important, because you just save so much time and so much really big, big mistakes if you have someone that knows what to do, and you trust in the way he or she takes decisions in the same kind of sphere.

Maribel:

That's great. So it sounds like it's someone who is guiding you, but at the same time letting you choose for yourself in the your particular situation what's best for you?

Cecilia:

Definitely. He’ there just when I need him and he would also never tell me what to do, but just, okay, let's think about it. And think in the right way about this. Maybe a perspective I didn't have just because I don't know about it. So in this way, yes, it's really a mentor.

Helen:

Sounds like you're very fortunate to have this person.

Cecilia:

For sure. I don't think I would have managed. Or maybe I would have managed way later.

Maribel:

I really like that he told you, You're ready. You don't have to wait to be ready.

Cecilia:

But that's really so true. Because when you wait to be ready, then the market is not there yet. Or it's not there anymore, you lost your opportunity. Or maybe there's some other priority that comes into your way. And so I think when you have the feeling that you want to do it, that's the moment when you're ready.

Helen:

I'm wondering, so the question that's coming up for me now, and I think you may have already answered it, is what is probably one key thing that you've learned, either about yourself or about doing business or both, from this whole journey that you've been on, Cecilia?

Cecilia:

I think the most important thing that I learned is about not giving up. That can be a bit business book kind of sentence. But in the way I see it, it's really about this, that you need to make sure that you have enough energy, enough money, enough tools to go as long as possible. Because when you go as long as possible, because you have to try and do some things that doesn't work, but if you have time, and if you have money, and if you have the tools to do it, then you can solve the problem, adapt the idea and bring in something that has value. And the same as a person. If you allow yourself to really overcome the challenge and make some new works, at the end of the day, you will find the right product, the right solution, and so on. But you need to have enough resources to think about it and to put yourself out there. If we didn't manage to go for a year, then probably we would not have the idea we have now, we just have to throw away the idea we had before. So it's really about trying.

Helen:

Do you have one of those motivation posters on your wall saying: Don't Give Up?

Cecilia:

Really, to be frankly honest, I want to give up every day, but then I decide not to do it.

Maribel:

Well, you have a community, you've created something that to me sounds resilient, that you're not alone, and that you have people who support you like your father or your mentor.

Cecilia:

Sure. You have to find your right setting, but that's it for everything. For a tough job, for when you have to go through a sport challenge, whatever. You need the right people beside you, otherwise it's also not so much fun when you then achieve your goals and you're there alone.

Helen:

Yeah, and it sounds to me like your your goal is very much in alignment with your values and what you want in life. You're living the dream, because you're living the life you want to live.

Cecilia:

Yes. I think from external, that's awesome. That's really awesome. And I wish everyone could do it.

Helen:

How does that feel?

Cecilia:

I just don't mind working. For me, it's a cool thing to do. But this also means a lot of involvement, like you feel everything more emotionally. When things are not working, then you feel it on yourself. And that's a challenge, to still be separated from your work and from your company, even if this is the thing you also believe in as a person.

Helen:

So we've got one final question for you, Cecilia. And that's to do with the name of our podcast which, as you know, is AudaciousNess. And the audacious part of it relates to having the audacity to come up with this goal in the first place, this bold goal. And when we were researching the name for this podcast, we found that the word ‘ness’ also has another meaning, which we didn't realize before. And it means a piece of land which juts out into the sea, surrounded by water. So sometimes it can be a calm day, but sometimes it can be stormy weather battering this piece of land. So what we want to ask you is, if you are this ness, if you are this piece of land, how do you continue doing your audacious thing, your bold goal, even when life may be throwing things at you and it's very stormy and everything's going around, where do you get the solidity, the solid ground to continue going on, despite everything that life is throwing at you?

Cecilia:

I think it's really continuing what I said before, making sure that you have the right people on the land with you, because that otherwise would not be possible for me. So I would always look around and ask for support for the people that I care about, see their own opinion, and make sure that they still see that I'm doing the right thing and they are proud of what I do. And they can help me out in any way. So I think that for me, the only way of going through this kind of times. Also, I still think that this is a really cool journey. And it's maybe not for everyone. In the sense that for me, I discovered I like these ups and downs and something that really fits with my personality. And I also think you have to understand a certain point, if these are still good for you, maybe if they are fit for you at all, maybe you have a different character. Or myself in two years maybe are going to have different type of priorities where these ups and downs are not going to be good anymore. Yes, I like the ups and downs. That's the journey that I chose and I still enjoy and I also think it's important that you, as a person, you evaluate for your phase in life is still good or if you as a person are okay to have these ups and downs because I just think it's not for everyone. But then once you decide that's something you like and you enjoy it, then you really have to enjoy it. And it's really about enjoying this journey process and not just seeing what's the end. So even if it's a stormy day then you have to all done because the next day maybe will be good. For me, this is something that I live with, like having moments where I’m super down because then I appreciate the days that are really good or medium good 300 times more.

Helen:

Oh, wow, what a perfect answer, Cecilia. Lovely.

Maribel:

Yes. That's beautiful.

Cecilia:

Thanks.

Maribel:

Well, thank you very much for this conversation. Cecilia, I learned new things.

Cecilia:

Thank you, guys, that was really interesting. Also to tell you about the journey.

Helen:

It was lovely chatting with you. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us, Cecilia.

Cecilia:

Thank you.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.