Mashable: 7 Tips for Starting a Coworking Space
Jeff Park started out looking for space his company could share with a handful of other independent workers in order to reduce rent. Bill Jacobson and Dave Ulrich ended up with a lot of extra space after the main tenant that shared their sublease decided to move out. And Tony Bacigalupo decided to try working with a group of people that called their rotating work event a Jelly. All of them ended up founding coworking spaces — Ravenswood Coworking in Chicago, WorkBar in Boston, and New Work City in Manhattan, respectively.
No matter what brought you to the conclusion that you’d like to start a coworking space, a good place to start is asking veterans for their advice. We’ve taken the liberty of starting this process for you. Here are seven pointers founders gave us for how to get a coworking space started.
1. Scope Out Some Existing Spaces
Jay Catalan, the co-founder of a coworking space in Vancouver called The Network Hub, didn’t plan on founding a coworking space when he started looking for an office to share with a handful of other companies. When he came across Citizen Space in San Francisco, he decided he liked the idea and used what he found out about their and other coworking spaces’ models to shape how his own space would function.
“The original idea was dividing the space into different private offices — offices within an office,” Catalan says. “The idea of coworking and the model of Citizen Space is about being in a shared area where you get to talk to people more, you get to know people more. If you need something, you can just turn to the guy next to you and ask, ‘what do you think about this?’ That’s not really as possible if the space was divided into actual offices.”
Catalan suggests that potential coworking space owners find out about how other coworking spaces are functioning before starting to plan their own. Many are listed on the coworking wiki. It’s also good to see what coworking spaces are already available in your area to avoid overlap in niche or location.
2. Host a Jelly
Jellies are casual work events. People gather in a person’s home, a coffee shop or an office to work together for a day. Since these meetings started in 2006, they’ve gone from strictly New York events to popping up all over. If there’s a group already meeting somewhere near you, see if you can host for a day. If there isn’t a group near you, start one. It’s a good way to gauge interest in coworking near you and will give you a taste of what it might be like to host a space.
3. Build a Community Before Building a Space
When Bacigalupo decided to start what would become New Work City, he and a friend invited people to work together in a cafe regularly before actually leasing a space. When the group grew, he subletted an office from a startup. Eventually, the group grew out of that space, and he moved the operation to a new office on September 1. About 75 people are members, and about 30 of them turn up to work on a given day.
Bacigalupo doesn’t think he would have had the same success if he had jumped right into a lease.
“The main thing that you’re selling — our space has desks and Internet and conference rooms, and Wi-Fi and all of these things — but the real thing that you’re selling is the community,” Bacigalupo says. “You can get those other things in all sorts of other places. The reason that someone wants to come to a coworking space is to be around other amazing people. So if you open your doors and you have desks and conference rooms but no people, then people aren’t going to be excited to go there, because they’re going there to get something that you don’t have.”
Building the community before you sign a lease has another perk: there will already be regular patrons to the space by the time you open the door. You’ll know that there is a demand for coworking, and the community will have an opportunity to help shape the space to its needs.
4. Location Is Important
One of the factors responsible for the success of the Ravenswood Coworking Group, according to Park, is its location. The space is located near both Chicago’s elevated train and its Metra, but outside of the downtown territory of the daily grind. Many of its patrons live in the neighborhood and walk to the space to work.
While every city has its own version of an ideal location (Bacigalupo for instance, looked for a space central to the New York City subway system), it’s important to make your space convenient to potential coworkers.
5. Market Smart
Most coworking spaces don’t have the budget to rent billboards and run television ads. Thankfully, most coworking spaces don’t really need that kind of advertising to succeed. Craigslist, flyers at the local Starbucks, and word of mouth steadily build a community.
“It’s been a very gradual process,” Bacigalupo says. “We moved from cafes, to a larger space, to a larger space. Along the way we were getting the word out by hosting events, by going to events, and just tweeting about it, talking about it. Word got out sort of on its own.”
Hold workshops around a particular topic of interest. Don’t focus specifically on community building — instead, cater to certain interest groups. That way, you’re enabling like-minded professionals to meet and form natural relationships.
Park used to spend a lot of time tracking down people and asking them to pay for their coworking fees. Then he started billing everyone at the first of the month via their credit cards. Today, the monthly building gets handled in about the amount of time it takes him to check confirmation e-mails.
He took a similar approach for keeping track of keys when he implemented a key fob entry system.
“They can pick a four-digit code or I can give them a key fob, and once you enter it into the computer program, you don’t have to worry about giving them a key or if they lose it,” he says.
Whenever possible, set up your coworking space so it runs itself.
7. Have Realistic Financial Expectations
Most of the coworking space managers and owners that I spoke with throughout the Coworking Resources Series didn’t see their coworking spaces as a financial endeavor. The majority of them said that they were happy to be breaking even and continued to run the businesses that inspired them to create a coworking environment in the first place.
Some found ways to add businesses that complement the coworking space, however. Bacigalupo, who now focuses solely on New Work City, is developing a system for events and programming series that would bring in some revenue.
“New Work City, the coworking space, is designed to be self-sustaining,” Bacigalupo says. “It’ll make enough money to pay for the people to help run the place, and that’s about it. And what we’re working on doing is building things on top of that community that make money.”