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Space Catalyst: Getting Started

Page history last edited by Cristina Santamarina 7 years, 5 months ago

So you want to start a Coworking space, where do you start?  Right here of course. 

This page will hopefully serve as an FAQ of sorts for Space Catalysts.  

1: I think I want to open a coworking space. Where do I start? 

As many have learned the hard way1, coworking isn't about the space, it's about the people.  Many people find out about coworking and think they want to open a Coworking space. These people typically have experience starting companies, and/or already have space that they are willing to convert to coworking space.  While both of these are great to have, there is a fundamental problem: they approach coworking from a business perspective. While it may work, it is not what coworking is about.  A coworking space, without the community of people to go along with it, is called "an office".  It's the community of people that separate office space with coworking spaces.  With that said, the first thing you need to do to start a coworking space is to build a community of people.[2]

 

2: Ok, how do I build the community?

The first thing a typical business person will think of when you need to reach people is marketing.  The problem is you can't approach the goal of building community from the business perspective. You must do what I'll call "reverse marketing".  Instead of trying to bring the people to you, you must take yourself to the people. [3]  Get involved in local user groups, events, anyplace where you can meet people.[4]  Don't just go there to meet potential coworkers that might use your space, go there to get involved.  This is what coworking is about.  

A stepping stone to coworking spaces are Jellys. Think of it as coworking without the dedicated space. Attending, or better yet, hosting a Jelly in your area is a great way to get involved with the coworking community.  When you're involved with the people, you can see what the people's needs are, which will give you the knowledge needed when it's time to plan your coworking space.[5] 

Some excellent blog posts:

A Roadmap for Community Organization and Mobilization - Harvey Milk

Design for Behavior

 

3: Non-Profit, For-Profit, Break-even, oh my!

The question often arises regarding what type of business model to use for a coworking space: non-profit, for-profit, or break-even. Can a coworking space operate on a for-profit basis? Sure, but the general consensus is that operating with the intent of making a profit is nearly impossible to combine with true organic growth of the community.[6]  Without the community, all you have is office space and desks for rent. That is not to say a space cannot be profitable. Many established spaces use a break-even model, but several existing spaces do turn a profit, but most, if not all, reinvest that profit back into the community such as amenity upgrades or expanding into larger spaces.

A common way to start a new space is to use existing space that is currently being paid for by a for-profit company. In this case, the space is funded through the for-profit company until the space can sustain itself. Be aware though, that point may not come as quickly as you'd like, or at all. This is where your motives will clearly be seen by the community. If you work too hard at making the space self sustainable and/or turn a profit, the community will recognize this and realize there is an ulterior motive. The breaks down the much needed sense of community that is required for a successful space.

 

4: Do I need a business plan? 

A business plan is always recommended. If you plan to find investors for a space a business plan is a no brainer as you won't get far without one.  For people bootstrapping a space, as with any business startup, it's still highly recommended.  A business plan is your road map to a successful coworking space. And I hope by now you understand that "successful" is not the same as "profitable". 

The business plan can be as formal or informal as you'd like (depending on who you'll be showing it to), but it definitely should include certain information.  Whole books have been written about writing business plans so that will not be discussed here.  Though, several spaces have released their business plan to the public and reading them is highly recommended.  Business Plan search in the Coworking Google Group 

One thing that is a little different than writing a business plan for a typical startup is that the community should be very much a part of shaping the content of the plan.  The whole reason to start a space is to bring the community together.  Without genuinely being part of that community, you cannot possibly know how best to run a space as you are not in touch with the needs of the community.  Many people looking to start a space hold community meetings regarding the possible future space to get feedback on their intentions.  With this feedback they can mold their business plan so the resulting space will meet the community's needs.

We also have a page about business plans in the coworking wiki. Check it for inspiration, and share your business plan once it is ready. 

 

5: When should I move forward with my plan.

The key (at least one of them) to a successful space is the community.  Without the community you don't have a coworking space. It is important that you have the community behind you before you dive into executing your business plan.  As a space owner, you should be very in touch with the community and these same people will be the best indicator for when it's time to go forward. 

 

 What should I look for in a space?

 How do I get the word out about my new space?

 What amenities should my space have?

 Do I need a reservation system?