As you get older, instead of doing nothing, keep going. Your life begins when you get involved in an ongoing charitable organization. The concept of not being productive is anathema.Today, Toby Mathis of Anderson Business Advisors talks to Frank Cottle, who believes the concept of not being productive is anathema. Following in his father’s footsteps, Frank found a way to give back to the community by starting All Good Work and All Good Coffee. Frank is also the owner of Alliance, one of the largest office suite providers in the world.
- Service Office/Coworking Industries: Market value depends on company size based on revenues and square footage for customer service capacity
- Land Banking: Build buildings using smallest amount of bricks and mortar to generate the greatest amount of revenue to hold onto land with excess entitlement
- Business Model Changes: Alliance started as property company doing land banking to leasing spaces to selling spaces to network and software model
- Giving Back via Vacancy Factor: Put unused space to good use by creating All Good Workspace Foundation; space is second highest cost, after efforts to raise capital
- Old-fashioned Church Charity Mentality: Feed, house, and cure through education
- Recruitment and Referrals: Non-profit world is very helpful to one another
- Workspace is workstation with desk, chair, bandwidth, and coffee; everything needed to get the job done
- All Good Coffee: Company created to sell coffee to host facilities giving space
Full Episode Transcript
Toby: Hey guys. This is Toby Mathis with the Anderson Business Advisors Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about non-profits with Frank Cottle. Let me welcome Frank. Frank, welcome.... Read Full Transcript
Frank: Thank you, Toby.
Toby: I’ll let Frank get into a little bit of his background rather than hearing me talk about it. But I will tell you, I have known Frank for sometime. He’s a very successful businessman. He owns one of the largest office suite providers in the world. I think that we were talking about it before where we said there’s WeWork, and then Regus, and then Alliance?
Frank: That would be right. WeWork is the largest now—at least in value—and then Regus after that. Alliance comes in a slow third.
Toby: WeWork is interesting. They managed to lose a lot of money, don’t they?
Frank: Oh gosh, it’s terrifying. They lost almost $2 billion operationally in the last 12 months. And the year before that, they lost $1.2 billion.
Toby: […] make a resounding comeback, right?
Frank: Well, it helps to have the Saudi’s sovereign fund behind you.
Toby: I won’t touch that one, Frank. All right, WeWork. Do they actually have all the space? When I say largest, you’re looking at market value. But how about as far as just having locations?
Frank: It’s a funny thing. There’s dots on the map and then there’s square footage. In the service office or the coworking industries, really you would have to gauge the size of the company based on its revenues, that’s number one. Number two, the square footage because that’s what creates customer service capacity.
You might think of a hotel. I own two hotels. How many rooms do they have? A thousand rooms each. You own 10 hotels. How many rooms do they have? Well, they’re bed and breakfasts. Who has the bigger company? So, it’s customer service capacity is that what drives revenue.
Toby: I hope I’m not going to get completely off, but how would you rate it if you use that scale?
Frank: We would be number three. Really, we’d still be number three. Actually, our business model change quite a bit. I started this company in 1979, so I’ve got 40 years of history with this company. We actually started as a property company doing land banking. Something that I think you guys are probably pretty familiar with from all of your investment activities around real estate. We would buy a piece of property on the edge of a large master plan commercial development. We put the smallest amount of bricks and mortar on the biggest piece of dirt we could and we sit on it for 10 years. Over the 10 year period, we ended building 42 projects across California, Arizona, Texas, and we’re the largest property company in our industry at that time.
The reason we did it is we buy something and put maybe a 50,000 foot building up, but we have 350,000–500,000 feet of entitlement. We could basically instead of having a jewel box building on the edge of a large master plan project with people like Prudential (the airline company), Mobil land, Chevron land, […], Boston Properties, guys who are doing the really big projects, instead of having something on the edge […] the center had crept out to us after 10 years, and it’s time to put up a mid-rise or a high-rise.
We sold the property. As a development company, we weren’t prepared to do that. But that’s how we learned to run executive suites as they were known back then. It was by building the buildings and putting the smallest amount of bricks and mortar that could generate the greatest amount of revenue in order to hold a piece of land that had excess entitlement. Land banking.
Toby: It’s interesting. Where are you now?
Frank: We went from that. We sold that portfolio, and then started just leasing space, very much like Regus does and we work it today. We started leasing space and we went from 42 projects up to 195 projects in the following 10 years. We had good growth, almost four times the amount of projects done, and we were the largest private operator of executive suites business centers in the world at that time.
Being of the merchant mentality, we sold that portfolio right at the height to the dotcom craziness. It was a good time to sell things.
Toby: 2001, 2003, or somewhere?
Frank: No. Between April and August of 2000. That was the height of the frenzy.
Toby: So you got out way ahead of it. I remember it.
Frank: Well, it did and then it actually took our two largest competitors of the time, HQ and Regus. They both had to file bankruptcy a year in the US. They didn’t get out. We did.
Toby: This is interesting. It’s not something that we were initially looking at. What I love about this is the Regus model was to lease long and rent short. Is that a fair statement?
Frank: That’s pretty much the industry’s model. Very few people own their own buildings in this industry. That’s changing because a lot of the large REITs and a lot of the large property companies are entering the industry. They obviously are property companies. Blackstone is a good example. It’s in the […] industry via a company that they acquired in the UK. So, massive private equity and property companies are coming into our industry now. It’s good for us, of course, because there’s lots of capital available.
Toby: Do you own your actual spaces, though? Or are you actually a […].
Frank: No. We changed everything. When we sold our spaces, we did so for a couple of reasons. Number one, we thought the timing was right. But also, I didn’t like the business model anymore. That sounds funny because I’m still in the same business, but I didn’t like the financial model of leasing long and selling the short-term underlying leases. The balance sheet of the company became very bad.
A lease is a debt instrument. For all practical purposes and for accounting purposes, it absolutely is today. I’ll use Regus as an example. They’re a good company, great company to see. You and I are very close friends. It’s a company that’s worth about $3½–$4 billion. It cost about $3½–$4 billion to build it, but they had over $100 billion in leasehold debt.
Toby: […] asset, right?
Frank: They do because it’s their footprint, but the market looks at that and says, “We’re going to trade that at the lower end of the business process outsourcing category. The value the company has the least of prefs. In the late 90s I got intrigued. I’ve always been intrigued with technology. In our first building, we actually had a joint venture with Bell Labs. We were the first commercial provider that transmitted voice and data simultaneously over four pairs of twisted cable, as an example. You think of today as your Cat5, 6, 7, 8, we were doing that in 79–80, putting instruments on every desk and a whole bunch of tech stuff. I’ve been interested in this.
In the late 90s I got involved in investing in a couple of technology software companies. It was a dotcom thing that was going on. We got involved in a company called thesupplychain.com. Pretty obvious what they did, supply chain management. That company was successfully sold several years later to Microsoft and it’s the underpinnings for the Great Plains accounting software.
Another company called Highmark was the largest data aggregation and recording company in the travel industry. So, I was intrigued with tech. I looked at our business and said, “I don’t want to own the centers anymore. I want only customers.” So, when we sold out, I shifted to a network and software model.
Today, we have operations in 54 countries, but we don’t own the centers anymore. Our company runs much more like best western hotels. Toby’s Business Center, a member of the Alliance Group. Underneath that, we build a wholesaling system that looks sort of like Expedia for real estate, where we own the customer and the customer relationship on a global basis. We use our member facilities and others outside of our network, too, to service ourselves and our customers. We’re really a large Software as a Service organization, with multiple layers of relationship within its inventory.
Toby: And that puts you trading at the higher end of the spectrum?
Frank: Well, instead of trading at a public ibidem multiple of about 12 or 13 like Regus does, we trade at a 12–15 times 12 months forecasted revenues.
Toby: Which is huge.
Frank: It’s a big difference. Regus, again, is a very, very good company, but they probably have between 12,000 and 15,000 employees worldwide, and we’ve got less than 200.
Toby: How many locations are you using the Alliance?
Frank: About a thousand locations worldwide, about 25 million square feet of space and about 500,000 customers.
Toby: So many […]. And then you’re like the wrapper that goes over the building and make sure that the space is being used.
Toby: All right. That’s super interesting to me, but I want to go in and jump into the non-profit realm. So many successful business owners, a lot of times you realize that, “Hey, the money is great, but there’s something else that you want to do and you want to accomplish.” Frank, what is that for you? Tell me about your background in doing non-profits, serving on board, things like that, and where you’re at now today.
Frank: I’m kind of a newbie at this, honestly. Having just been at it for a couple of years, three years now, I guess, but when we looked around our industry, I look at our family […]. There are families in the food production and distribution business for generations. One of the things my dad always did was give away waste. Basically, food products. At Thanksgiving time, magically, a palate would fall somehow and there would be 500 turkeys to magically get out to the local charities for thanksgiving dinner. He had a way of giving and he was very much beloved by the community. Just a fabulous man. As a family, I grew up around that mentality.
In our own industry, there’s this thing called the vacancy factor. It’s commercial real estate when it comes right down to. There’s a vacancy factor and we know that there’s always between 7% and 12% vacancy. Our industry slides in the 88%–93% occupancy side, so there’s 7%–12% vacancy. As I look around I thought, “Well, if you didn’t sell it on Monday, you didn’t get any money for it on Monday. It’s just sitting there.” You hope to sell it, but you know you’re going to sit between 7% and 12%. That’s where you’re going to sit.
I thought we should do something with this waste. So, instead let’s put our vacancy factor, our unused space to good use. We created a public charity called The All Good Workspace Foundation, that takes the vacancy factor from within the service office and the coworking industries now and appeal to those operators, our own and others, to give us a donation of space, which we in turn can put out to a local community charity.
Space is the second highest cost of most charitable organizations after their efforts to raise capital. Their biggest cost is putting on the run, putting on the bake sale, putting on whatever they’re doing to raise money for charity. After that, space. If we could get rid of that cost, especially if we could do so on the community level where they actually have much more of a challenge raising capital, then we would be doing some good work.
Our mission is quite simple. I’m going to convert over the next decade or two, 100% of all of the vacancy factor for all commercial real estate worldwide to charitable use. That’s my goal. That’s the vision. Right now, we have about 200 facilities that are committed to this program and it grows very nicely on a regular basis. But we need to raise capital ourselves to continue to expand that program. And we’re incredibly efficient.
Most charities, if they raise a dollar, they get 30¢–50¢ of it out on the street doing their good work. In our environment, because we’re able to raise capital through space, it’s faster and easier for us. We can be about 90% efficient with the cash or money that we receive, in terms of what we can on the street and benefit.
Toby: Let’s unpack that just for a second. Just to make sure that we’re all using the same language, you go to a building owner and say, “Hey, you’re going to have 10% of your space is going to be vacant. Why don’t you commit that to non-profit activities?” They commit it to you, to All Good Work, and website real quick, just so people could check it out.
Frank: allgoodwork.org or allgoodwork.space. The same place.
Toby: All right. Let’s just say the allgoodwork.org. You basically go and say, “All right. We’ll take that space. Thank you very much.” They commit it to you and then you find charities that meet a certain criteria to occupy that space and you don’t charge them rent.
Frank: That is correct. We, as United Nations sustainable charities criteria, the 16-point criteria to help vet the charities that we’re working with, we also want to know what they’re focused on. We’re kind of old-fashioned church charity mentality. We want to feed people, house people, cure people, and deal with the education issues around all of those things. We don’t go in for non-profits that are doing any sort of political activity. The scale and scope of non-profits, again, pretty much old-fashioned items. There’s no shortage of those, believe me.
Toby: Cure, feed, house.
Frank: Yup and educate around those issues.
Toby: Give me an example of some of the non-profits that would come to you and provide housing for.
Frank: I’ll give you one. I really like this one. It’s the Hope Train. There are three trains. They run back at their headquarters in New York and we host their headquarters for them in New York. They have three trains that run across the sub-Saharan Africa, a dangerous and difficult part of the world these days. Each car in the train is a different clinic. One will be an ophthalmology clinic, one would be a heart clinic, one will be a dental clinic, et cetera. The trains are six to eight cars each.
These trains move from village to village or town to town and provide medical attention. The medical attention comes generally from volunteer physicians as well. Because we are able to host their headquarters for them last year, they told us they’re able to do 1100 additional cataract surgeries. Over a thousand more people were able to see last year because of our donation to them. We like that kind of basic stuff.
Toby: That’s pretty darn extraordinary, Frank. This is not a headquarters like in some dim corner of some warehouse, right?
Frank: No. This is a headquarters that’s been provided in one of the business centers. It’s not just the space. When you move into a business or a coworking center, all of your telephony, all of your bandwidth, the coffee, everything you need to sustain the business operation is available there. So, it really helps the charitable organizations to stay on their feet and to do the good work that they’re trying to do.
Toby: Somebody says, “Hey, I commit this much space.” Say you have 5000 square feet in a really nice office in Newport Beach—I know that’s where you’re located—how do you find the charities to occupy the space? How are you going out and finding organizations to say, “Hey, I’m paying $2000 a month right now in space. I would love it if I could use some of that space that you guys make available. I’d like to apply for it.” How do they do that?
Frank: We actually have an application process right on our website. We refer to the charitable organizations we’re helping as residents and to the facilities as host. Not only do we recruit through our website, but also if you can imagine, a lot of word-of-mouth. The non-profit world is a very vibrant community and very helpful to one another. Most of our residents in that coming is a result of word-of-mouth.
We also really align the resident with the facility. It’s very much a match-making process for us to make sure that the right resident is aligned with the right facility, because in the coworking world, in particular, the concept of your facility being a community is very, very important. We want the non-profit to be embedded within that community because we want that community then to start doing things for the non-profit also.
Not only can we give space, but we can embed them within a community and give that community purpose, which brings them pro bono attention from attorneys that are there, accountants that are there, maybe web and marketing companies that are there to help them, as well as cash donations from within that community.
Our goal is if we give somebody, say, five workstations of space which is worth, in New York, $8000–$10,000 of value a month, we actually want to see that community also raising alike a similar amount for the charity as well.
Toby: Has that happened at all?
Frank: It’s starting to. It takes awhile and candidly some charities are better at self-promotion than others inside of these communities. But that is starting to happen overall.
Toby: This is our resident non-profit, guys. This is what they’re doing. They’re running a […] or something along those lines.
Toby: Now you can look and see it, yell at them if you think they’re not using the money right.
Frank: The other thing, too, is that all businesses today carry a certain burden of social responsibility and they embrace that burden joyfully in most cases. When you host someone inside of your business and your business is also serving others in a similar fashion, you’re really making quite a statement about who you are as an organization and you give your entire company a higher purpose. We’re starting to see that manifest itself very nicely.
Toby: How long do the residents get to stay in a space?
Frank: We require a one year commitment from the space and we’ve yet to have somebody say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m going to kick them out.” That just hasn’t happened. I think, again, it becomes a part of who the company is and that’s, again, a very wonderful thing to see.
Toby: This is interesting. The reason this is interesting to me is because it illustrates a point. A lot of charities are so focused on money, that they don’t think about the in kind contributions that can be made. In your case, you’re raising space. You’re not actually saying, “Hey, give me a bunch of cash.” You might be saying, “Hey, give me some cash, too,” but you’re saying, “Give me 10,000 square feet,” or, “Give me 2000 square feet,” or whatever it is, and that’s what they’re contributing. They’re actually giving something that has a value, but you’re not just going out and trying to raise cash.
Frank: It does and we actually break it down into workstations. People don’t work in space. They work in a workstation, so the desk, the furniture, the whole routine. We actually ask a single facility very humbly to give us between four and up to 20 workstations. On average, people give us four, five, six workstations and that’s nice. For a small local community charity, that’s plenty.
Toby: How big is a workstation?
Frank: A workstation is a desk, a chair, bandwidth, everything needed to get the job done. It’s fully furnished, fully populated, fully equipped space that we’re providing.
Toby: Very cool. How many years have you been doing this now?
Frank: I guess officially we got our determination letter in August of 2016.
Toby: Who got you that, by the way?
Frank: The best law firm I know of.
Toby: So, 2016 and then here we are, 2019. How much space are you up to as far as value-wise? How much would you say that you’ve been generating?
Frank: Right now about $5 million, I would say, a year.
Frank: And it can only grow from there. Our problem is we have more space than we can give away. More people are willing to give us space than we can find residents for as quickly.
Toby: I can help you with that. There are a lot of non-profits out there that would love to use some space in a facility where they can become the community golden child for charity, where these organizations all say, “This is our in-house charity that we support.”
Frank: Our problem, though, goes a little beyond that. It takes infrastructure and management of the All Good Workspace Foundation itself to build itself up and manage it. If we give away a million dollars worth of space, it costs us about $100,000 to manage that process. It takes a team, as you know, so we’re always looking for cash donations as well as space donations.
Toby: How about time? Could somebody contribute time to you guys as well?
Frank: Yes, with the specialization. We actually have started working on a skill sharing set up, some software to manage that, and actually creating a virtual currency and all that sort of thing just for that. It’s called the Good Nick Foundation that we’re playing with concept-wise and we’re also raising cash through our industry.
Our industry, the coworking and business center industry runs on caffeine. So, we started a coffee company inside of the foundation. As you know, a charitable foundation or a public charity can own a for-profit company so long as 100% of those profits go to the charity. We started a coffee company—this year it become coffee and tea, but last year people started it as coffee—to sell coffee to the host facilities that are also giving a space. They’re buying it from somebody. They might as well buy it from us so that we can further support through the All Good Coffee Foundation.
Toby: And just know that for those of you guys that are like, “Oh, that’s a tax deduction,” no, you still pay a little bit of tax on that, it’s called UBIT, but you could absolutely do that. When I was growing up, we always look at the thrift shops. We always had the Goodwill and all these others. They’re selling stuff. They’re allowed to do that.
When you start going off, that may not even be UBIT. That’s called unrelated business income tax. It’s a […] for being in a for-profit area. Those things might even be exceptions, like having a thrift shop attached to a church or a charitable organization. When you go, you can actually go out and raise money in these ways. And even if you pay tax, UBITs the corporate rate at 21%, who cares? The reason somebody’s doing it is because they want to support your charity through something they’re already doing and I think that’s really an idea of […] with. I’d say, they’ll buy the coffee, anyway.
Frank: Well, I didn’t come up with that, actually. Paul Newman did. I was walking down the grocery aisle and I was comparing two cans of pasta, the two jars of pasta sauce. I looked at one, I looked at the other, and I said, “Oh, they’re basically the same,” and I said, “Wait a second. This one says all profits go to charity and this one says profits go to somebody else.” I said, “They’re fundamentally the same. I’m buying the one that goes to charity.” Then I walked through down the grocery aisle and I thought I needed some coffee, so I looked for a charitable coffee company, and one didn’t exist. So, I started one.
Toby: I actually had clients that did this for their high schools. You come up and you get a roaster to put a name on a bag and you’d say, “Hey, in Seattle,” I’m from Seattle, “they always […] all these roasters.” Sure enough, you can go and you can say, “Hey, […] my high school.” So, Kennedy High School roast or whatever it was. All the parents, the idea was that they should go there and buy their coffee instead of […] or whatever it was. Yeah, there might be a little bit of money made but it’s going to the school instead of to some […] organization.
Frank: Somebody else. No, somebody else. We’re all business people, so we don’t want to mock the profit motive in general, but to me it was a way to argument our other cash requirements.
Toby: How do they find out and see about this coffee business? I know you’re selling it to the folks. Can anybody go out and order coffee?
Frank: Oh yeah. Just go to allgoodcoffee.org. It’s an ecommerce site set-up and it’s connected to All Good Workspace Foundation. You can see that connection. You can also […] the All Good Work. There’s full donations, e-commerce, and customize donations pages set-up.
Toby: Did you use your experience in the food, sir? Your family literally was in the food business for probably what?
Frank: Hundred plus years ago. About 150 years.
Toby: Did you use your connections to come up with the coffee?
Frank: No. That was totally separate. My father sold his company back in the late 90s and Fuji Trading bought it out of Japan. He sold that company. I never really wanted to be in the food distribution processing business.
Toby: But now you’re in the coffee business, Frank.
Frank: Yeah. I know. I slipped. I back slipped. I back slipped a little bit.
Toby: It’s still pretty cool. Is there anything else that you would share with anybody that stinking up going into philanthropy. Has it been fulfilling? Is it fun? Anything that you could think of that you would chair?
Frank: Well, it is. You’ve known me for a while, Toby. You know I’m not a young guy.
Toby: You act pretty young.
Frank: I act young, I get that, but I’ll be 69 next month. A lot of my friends have reached retirement age and they don’t do anything. They don’t do anything. The concept of not being productive is anathema to me.
When I look at my career and say, “Well, I’ve done a little of this, a little of that, I’ve been lucky a couple of times,” I said, “You know what? I have enough. I have enough. I live in a lovely home, in a lovely city, and travel a lot, as you know, and I enjoy my businesses, but I have enough. What else can you do and give to but give to others?” The fulfillment of that versus trying to improve your golf game when you’re 70 years old, let me tell you, you started a whole new life. Your life begins anew when you get involved in an ongoing charitable organization and it is very fulfilling.
Toby: You sound like, I don’t know if you already read this, but the Gospel of Love.
Toby: Invariably, it’s Carnegie. It was a […] 1899. What it always said is there’s people that are really good at making money, and there’s people that aren’t so good. So, if you’re good at it, you should do a whole bunch, but then you should give it and help the people that aren’t so good at it. He literally said, “Millionaires are trustees of the poor.” So, I always like to look at it like, “Don’t stop making money. You’re really good at it.”
Frank: Yeah, I agree with that and you can make it a lot of different ways. If you were to look at and we do look at the foundations as if they were startup companies. We treat them like they’re a startup company. We bootstrap everything like we’re a startup company and we bake, borrow, and steal what’s necessary to capitalize like they’re a startup company. Then pretty soon, they have a life of their own that becomes sustainable. And that’s our goal.
Toby: We had a gal, Meg Busing, she’s one of my clients. She was making less than $10,000 a year, Frank, and she started up the Camp YouCan Midwest YouCan organization doing epilepsy camps. She was a nurse and she suffered a traumatic head injury. This is something she’s very passionate about. That’s how she makes her living.
Literally, it’s like a surprise to people. Hey, guess what? This is still a business. It’s a non-profit meaning you’re not taking the profits. For a lot of people, that’s not their intent anyway. Their intent is to give back or to do something so it’s really cool to see you doing that, too. I love that.
She actually did a TED Talk. It was this amazing […] client, […] like, “Hey.” We’ve had someone did the, what they called, to cover off the ball. I think […] there with them if you generate about five million.
Frank: Yeah. So far. Our goal is to double down every year for the next four or five years. I think we will. We need to open more chapters. We started our New York chapter because we have a lot of density there. Late last year, we opened another chapter in San Jose in the Silicon Valley area with very generous support from some large cash-rich foundations. […] started there. Now, we’re looking at opening a chapter in Los Angeles, Orange County area, Denver, and also in Austin, Texas.
Toby: Fantastic. Big tech centers, obviously, very successful cities where I bet you it’s really expensive to run a non-profit in those places.
Frank: It is. There’s a huge gap that’s growing is the cost of real estate. Commercial real estate, in particular, has pretty much skyrocketed the last 10 years. Non-profits are getting squeezed out. They’re just getting squeezed out and especially when you combine that with service facilities.
If they get space, then they have to put in a phone system, then they have to bring in the wifi and the bandwidth, then they have to bring in the coffee machine, all the things that are necessary to keep a little office running. That’s very burdensome and it takes your eye off the ball.
All of the sudden, they’re worried about, who’s going to buy a desk instead of who’s going to help in their charitable structure. By solving that total dilemma for them, we think that we’re heads up.
Toby: I think that’s awesome. Fantastic. So, if you want to learn more about Frank’s organization, All Good Work, go to allgoodwork.org, allgoodcoffee.org. I’ll put some links up, some things like that. So if you’re land owner, we have a lot of folks they’re in commercial real estate. A lot of them own buildings and things like that. Can they just reach out through those websites, Frank?
Frank: Yes, they can. As a matter fact, we’re in discussions right now with a very cash-rich […] that is wanting to donate some commercial buildings to us on the East Coast.
Toby: We have one of those. You can talk to him, too.
Frank: I’m serious. As a public charity, able to take royalties, securities, properties, anything of value and that we can convert into All Good Work.
Toby: Fantastic, Frank. I really thank you for being with us. Again, allgoodwork.org, allgoodcoffee.org, find out more. Really appreciate you being here, Frank.
Frank: Oh, my pleasure, Toby. Anytime. Take care.
Toby: Thank you.