Lost and Founded Series – Jonathan O’Byrne

Would you rather be the market leader or be the biggest firm? Jonathan O'Byrne, CEO of Collective Works, shares.


Jonathan O'Byrne scouting for his next building

Jonathan O'Byrne, CEO of Collective Works, opened Singapore's fastest growing co-working space. He advises young founders (and actually everyone else) to develop a personal productivity system in order to keep their minds clear for thoughts and ideas instead of wasting energy trying to recall everything else. We are guessing that Jonathan is a fan of the quote "it's the thought that counts" because he is amazed by how people create and innovate in order to help others. We laughed when he told us that he found everyone else a little strange, but thinking about it, we might agree with him.

People say you are “Jonathan O'Byrne, CEO of Collective Works”. Who do you say you are?

I say I’m Jonathan O’Byrne, founder for Singapore’s most exclusive Membership Club for Entrepreneurs. Just over two years ago, I opened what has become Singapore’s fastest growing coworking space. We cater exclusively to High Performers and we have the toughest entry criteria of any coworking space in Singapore.

Best moment in your startup life. It was so good you wanted to fly BusinessClass somewhere with someone, and pop open the most expensive bottle of champagne there.

The great part about owning a business that you love is that the next best moment is just around the corner.

Last year we were awarded the Small Business Rising Star Award at the 15th Annual Business Awards which was certainly a highlight.

When Collective Works turned two-years-old a few months ago, we had a party with plenty of champagne!

Both were great moments and opportunities to stand back and take stock of how far we have come and how many lives we’ve been able to touch with our work. I can’t wait for our next big milestone.

What secret did you hide from your co-founder or partner or parent for the longest time? Why?

In general, I don’t keep secrets from those closest to me and if anything, I over-share. I think you should use your loved ones as a sounding board.

What’s the most eccentric thing about you?

I think I’m completely normal, but now that you mention it I do find everyone else a bit strange.

Have you ever cried? Or what was the lowest, crappiest moment in your start-up life?

Who hasn’t? Rarely do I cry over business, but I have been unhappy at certain points in my career before Collective Works. I think what you really want to ask here is “what do you do about it?” My answer is you should always turn discomfort or pain in to a catalyst: Pain is a powerful emotion, harness that energy and use it propel you forward.

What are you up to today? What gets you up in the morning?

I get up every morning because I want to improve the quality of peoples’ lives. I believe no one deserves support more than people working to achieve great things. Today, I am viewing office spaces around the Central Business District, as we are gearing up for another expansion.

When I started Collective Works, I created a vision in my mind of the ideal working environment for high performing entrepreneurs and I work everyday to get us closer to that goal. We are at the leading edge of coworking in Singapore and I am determined to keep us there.

How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit for start-up life?

My work is something I am passionate about and it gives me energy. If I’m feeling low, going to work actually lifts my mood. The key word in your question is ‘Life’ – even in a frantically busy business you need to make sure you lead a life outside of work so you can escape and return with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. There is no better feeling than wanting to go back to work.

Offer a life hack (or two) to a young founder

Write things down and develop a productivity system that works for you. When you are moving quickly you need to stay organised and keep your mind clear for thoughts and ideas. If you spend all your energy remembering then you have no room in your mind to innovate and if you aren’t organised you will spend more time chasing your tail than you will achieving anything.

Movie or song that best describes you

Joss Stone’s “Big ‘ol Game”

Favourite quote

“The Best Way to Complain is to Make things” - James Murphy

Who and what inspires you?

I love thoughtfulness – it never ceases to amaze me what people are able to create and innovate in order to help others. I admire people who work to improve the world around them and those who create businesses to continue that work inspire me.

Tell me about Jonathan O'Byrne in 2030.

What excites me about 2030 is that I will be a 40-something, so while there is so much that can be achieved by 2030 I will still have time as a professional to keep concocting new businesses at that point. I would love to think Collective Works had become a market leader not only in Singapore but also in key cities across Asia. I’m concerned with effectiveness more than size, so I would rather we are the ‘market leading’ than the ‘biggest’; as long as we are empowering high performers, I will be in a good place.

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