I stink of it.
But, I’m ready to talk now. It is time to show off my fresh thousand-yard stare.
I want to say something like, “I’m telling you this so you don’t make the same mistakes.” But I believe in you, and I think you’re smarter than I am, and you never would have gotten yourself into this shit in the first place.
With the help of some friends, I started a co-working space last year. It lasted 6 months, and I ended up losing money on something I thought would be an at least somewhat profitable endeavor.
One day I’ll look back on this and laugh. Hopefully that day is tomorrow.
The Allure of the Co-Working Space
A year or so after I started freelancing, I found the crushing loneliness of working from home unbearable. And that’s coming from me, a witch who lives in a cave in the woods. So I decided to “put myself out there” (ew) and join a co-working space.
Lucky for me, there was a co-working space in a warehouse just a couple of blocks from where I lived.
There was a casual atmosphere. It was an atmosphere where you found yourself looking around, wondering what the hell anyone there did to make money. Around 3 pm, most of the members would trickle into the warm embrace of a happy hour. People I can best describe as “Redditors” would slink in after the sunset, asking where they could buy bitcoins.
Soon, management said, they would move us to a nicer warehouse.
But the new warehouse wouldn’t be an ordinary co-working space. Oh, no.
They described it as a self-contained universe where people traded only in Bitcoin and kept everything as off the grid as possible. There would be showers! And a kitchen with a chef! And hammocks! And a woodworking shop! And a recording studio! Why, you’d hardly ever need to leave or speak to your family ever again!
It was a bit much.
So four members decided to strike out on their own. They found an office space that was close enough to downtown to climb onto the roof and pee on some tech startups.
I started sticking my nose into their plans. I wanted to be a part of their world. I wanted to have a tiny amount of power over a tiny amount of people.
“Do you want to be a big dog?” one of the co-founders asked me.
“I’m a big dog,” I told her.
And so I threw my $1,000 dog hat into the ring.
Many co-working spaces are incredibly pricey, and we charged only $100 per month. In this land of Vuka and WeWork, which will set you back at least $200+/mo, we were something of a sweet deal.
Or so I thought.
Lesson 1. Have Only Correct Thoughts
We picked our office space based on location. It was on Austin’s East Side, the part of town that has shops that only sell miniature succulents.
How much space do we need?
Not that much, right?
We found something small and affordable. It was a tiny, L-shaped office within a larger suite, right next to a popular cafe called Brew & Brew. (The East Side is very much the ampersand part of town).
It didn’t have windows. But it was so damn affordable!
Who needs windows? You’re there to work, not look out a window like a trust fund baby.
Lesson 2. Do Not Lie About Windows
There were stock photos on our website. We failed to update the photos before our first happy hour that we hosted to attract clients.
A pristine graphic designer that smelled of jasmine and Icelandic spring water said, “I thought those were the actual pictures. This space has no natural light.” And promptly saw herself out.
Lesson 3. Never Underestimate the Modern Passion for Windows
Overwhelmingly, the feedback we got from potential members was: No windows, no deal.
People fucking love windows.
“But the outside world will distract you!” I would reason.
“Natural light,” they would scream.
Ok, we don’t have natural light. But what about inner light?
We started hosting donation-based yoga. Sheer desperation.
Lesson 4. People Can Tell When You’re Using Art to Cover Up the Lack of Windows
We had a couple of artist friends come and hang some of their stuff. Riding high on their new installations, I started referring to our space as a having a “gallery vibe.” I know that’s annoying, but I’m too much inside my own brain to tell you exactly how. I’m sure you can all let me know.
I thought it looked great.
But check out the competition.
Here are some pictures of a co-working space I visited recently. (Cheapest general co-working membership: $275/month.)
I sat in a corner decorated to look like the cargo of an airplane that had recently crashed in a lush jungle. Which is the type of atmosphere that makes me feel both comfortable and productive!
When I first walked in, a muscular Steve Jobs-type wearing Fashion Glasses™ greeted me. “How do you share your awesome with the world?” he asked, as if that’s something that’s ok to say.
I looked around. Windows for dayyyyys.
Lesson 5. Decide How Hard to Party. Party that Hard, and No Harder
There was some confusion over whether we should drink the wine that I bought for a future event for lunch.
I imposed a new rule: No wine at lunch.
Many of the people who were joining wanted an atmosphere like our previous co-working space. “Let’s haaaaaang!” They said, right around 3 pm.
I spent a quiet afternoon gathering empties and putting them into the appropriate receptacle.
Y’know what? Just no more booze.
“But what if one of our members wants to drink in the middle of the day?”
“I’ll be the bad guy.” I told my co-founders. “Blame the no-booze thing on me.”
Lesson 6. Be Prepared for the Getting Side-Eye from a Member Who Would Like to Drink their Lunch
Nothing else to add here.
Lesson 7. Can’t Make a Honey Pot with No Honey.
The worst idea was definitely the tab. As an incentive, memberships came with an open tab at the coffee shop next door. All members had to do was mumble our name under their breath, and hey presto, drinks for free.
And where should we advertise this magical tab? We ended up posting it on our public page. Eventually we discovered that people who were not members were putting their drinks on our tab.
This was, of course, a nuclear holocaust. Do not create a honeypot out of honey that will become radioactive and transform into a honey monster that robs you at gunpoint.
Lesson 8. Spiral Into a Deep Depression And Take Pictures of Sad, Deflated Balloons in the Hallway.
Lesson 9. Embrace Death
Four months after we started our space, some other friends opened a co-working space. Their new spot had more of that casual fun that everyone craves. There were even a few windows. Pretty quickly our members started to jump ship and voyage to the new space for a better life.
It’s hard when you make something that people don’t like. But at the same time, the mistakes we made were glaring. Looking back, I’m like, duuuuuuuuuuuh
Lesson learned. Some lessons are more expensive than others.
Lesson 10. Can I tempt anyone with this decorative IKEA plant?
I’ll cut you a deal.