You'd think a co-working space opened a month before a global pandemic would be a sure failure. But for co-founders Frederick Pikovsky and Tim Tedesco, the pandemic didn't halt their business. It instead helped solidify their vision for the future of work: remote co-working outside city centers that redefines work-life balance.
"You can get out of the city, get out into nature, do outdoorsy stuff, and enjoy small-town living without missing a beat when it comes to work," says Pikovsky.
The two partners met on the Facebook housing-search group Gypsy Housing in 2017 and bonded over a shared passion for the outdoors and escaping the city. They set out to build a co-working space that would support a lifestyle that embraced nature and community.
They called it Barnfox and opened their first location in February 2020 in Hudson, New York, a popular weekend destination with a Manhattan-bound train line, a variety of cafés and restaurants, and a growing residential population. Soon after, they added a second location in Kingston, New York.
"It's 'cabin in the woods' meets 'lounge space of a Manhattan hotel lobby,' with some mid-century modern flair in there," says Tedesco, who had run a small furniture-design company. He designs the Barnfox spaces and builds much of their interiors himself.
The partners see Barnfox as the new model for co-working: a flexible space with popular amenities outside of a city center. They're betting that in the new remote-work era, professionals will try to strike a balance of work and pleasure--and, if not move out of the city, certainly escape it more often.
The idea is for members to feel like they're in nature, while still having all the comforts of a co-working space that you'd find in a city, like fiber-optic internet, snacks, cold-brew coffee, and kombucha on tap. Full membership is $325 per month or $2,500 for the year. It includes a lounge and bar, conference rooms, phone booths, printing services, and lower local hotel rates. While a person has to apply to become a member, most everyone is accepted, and the applications are more to "get a feel for who's joining," says Pikovsky, who had launched the Brooklyn co-working space Dumbo Startup Lab, which he left in 2013. (It closed two years later.)
Members are invited to workshops and events, such as weekly bike rides, barbecues, and other casual get-togethers. Most have taken place outside because of Covid precautions. In more outdoor-friendly months, it's like "an adult summer club," says Pikovsky. Barnfox plans to apply for liquor licenses after the pandemic subsides, maybe in the next year, he says.
Barnfox has attracted more than 100 members, most locals or New York City residents living in their second homes during Covid, according to the partners. The original concept was to cater to New Yorkers with summer homes or vacationers looking for a workspace away from the city. What the co-founders didn't expect was an influx of city dwellers relocating for good because of the pandemic.
The build-out cost a combined total of $400,000 for both the 1,500-square-foot Hudson location and the 3,200-square-foot Kingston location.The first location became profitable within four months. While they have bootstrapped, Pikovsky says, they're looking for funding. Their first investment may come from a group of three Barnfox members.
Kianga Daverington, managing partner and chief investment officer at Acre of America; clean energy investor Nathaniel Doyno; and impact investor Christopher Lindstrom came together to form a $50 million opportunity fund to help create new high-paying jobs in the Hudson Valley and support the area's residents and businesses.
"Without Barnfox, and especially during a pandemic, we may never have so quickly been able to put together a team and a plan that's going to have the right kind of impact in this region," says Daverington, whose investment firm focuses on distributed-ledger technology for rural communities. The fund is still being set up, and discussions with Barnfox are under way.
To be sure, other co-working companies have struggled through the pandemic. Most notably, the U.S. business of co-working startup Knotel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January as new leasing and renewals dwindled. The once-high-flying WeWork is reported to be losing money, saddled with heavy lease commitments, although it is expected to go public through a special-purpose acquisition company.
Even so, as more employers embrace remote options for their post-pandemic workforces, the Barnfox team is looking to expand. A third, 2,500-square-foot location is scheduled to open in June in Livingston Manor, a small town in the Catskill Mountains. It's also eyeing a fourth location, its biggest, at up to 6,500 square feet, in Beacon, New York. Eventually, the co-founders say, they plan to open more locations in rural and weekend destinations across the U.S. They're targeting places within two hours from such city hubs as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, and Denver, and particularly in opportunity zones, which are economically distressed areas designated to spur investment and jobs through tax advantages.
"Eventually, I'd like people to use our spaces anywhere around the world. We want to exist in destinations that people visit, and sometimes stay, whether that's a weekend sort of destination or quick getaway," says Pikovsky. The time just may be ripe for nimble and strategic startups offering flexible remote workplaces to thrive.