The idea isn't new, but what you get for the money just keeps getting better.
CoCo, a collaborative working space in the building that formerly housed the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.
In the very early days of your company, it might make sense to call your garage (or basement or kitchen table) headquarters. But at a certain point, it doesn't suffice. There are only so many times you can bring clients to the same Starbucks for a meeting. And even the most passionate entrepreneur is bound to see productivity wane when spouses, kids, dogs, or all of the above inevitably hover near your workspace.
This is precisely why coworking spaces were invented—and why they're increasingly popping up in more cities.
While coworking spaces aren’t new, what they offer to bootstrapped tech start-ups for the price keeps getting better. CoCo, for example, is a 16,000-square-foot, sunlit space that makes use of the architecturally-interesting and historic trading floor once used by the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. Membership starts around $50 a month.
Now instead of traders yelling bids and waving arms around, the place is serene—khaki or jeans-clad entrepreneurs working quietly at their laptops while Pandora plays softly in the background. There’s a concierge who makes sure coffee and pastries are well-stocked and will order you lunch and introduce new members to others.
And the people working there look weirdly content. Some are wearing headphones, which, I learned, is code for “I’m head-down at the moment.” Others are chatting quietly with a neighbor. No one has that glazed-over I’m-bored-to-death look you sometimes see in regular workplaces. If you're starting to think you might need a change of scenery, consider the advantages of coworking:
You can work alone or bring a team. At CoCo, for example, there are many people who pay to use a café style chair and table from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But there are also start-ups with up to eight workers who have full-time 24/7 access to a “campsite” set up for a group. From an aerial view these campsites look like bee-hives with walls made up of white boards and transparent screening so as to not block anyone from what’s going on in the rest of the space. CoCo cofounder Kyle Coolbroth says walls and the territory they define keep chance encounters between members from happening. “Serendipity starts to dissolve when we can go back to our caves,” he says.
You'll build relationships. Frank Grazzini and Neal Tovsen, cofounders of AgSphere, an online platform that gives farmers real-time information about their farm equipment and inventories, say had it not been for CoCoco they wouldn’t have met several clients and potential investors. Not only that, but they’ve repeatedly tapped other start-ups there to bounce off ideas and get help solving problems. And unlike other office spaces, CoCo offers Happy Hour every Tuesday night to further encourage relationship building.
Coworking makes clients happy. Meeting with clients in a conference room is infinitely more professional than a coffee shop. Teicko Huber, founder and president of revenue performance management company Focus2Grow, says his team of seven uses CoCo space in either Minneapolis or St. Paul, depending on where the clients they’re working with on a particular day are located.
You could find your next start-up idea there. Web developer Toby Cryns runs two businesses out of CoCo—The Mighty Mo Design Company and Minnesota Wordpress Hosting. He founded the Web hosting company with someone he met there. Since moving into CoCo, his revenue has increased dramatically because other members have hired him to create websites. The beauty of it is they can actually see him working and walk over to review his progress at any point. He says the environment allows him to craft better sites.
Coworking spaces are reinventing communities. Tech startup communities outside Silicon Valley are thriving in some cases because of coworking spaces such as CoCo. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt even turned up recently in Minneapolis to check it out and talk with start-ups there. He was invited to CoCo by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who lured CoCo founders to the unique space because he had a vision of an entrepreneurial neighborhood in the city. Now he’s got one.
Coworkers have good attitudes. Michael Noble, who is launching the B2B social platform called Nitch, says one reason he uses CoCo is because of the positive energy the entrepreneurs there effuse. “Everyone is optimistic about what they’re trying to do. Sometimes you just need to be around other people who are wanting their own business to succeed and that’s kind of contagious,” he says.
Chances are there’s a vibrant coworking space like CoCo near you. Coolbroth suggests checking out Liquid Space to find one. Or visit this coworking directory, which lists hundreds of them all over the world.
CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech startup community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com. @salubriousdish