Competing Spaces

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Cameron Goldsmith

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Mar 3, 2013, 1:20:38 PM3/3/13
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Curious how everyone feels about cities that have multiple coworking spots.... Do you think this is generally a good idea? I know competition is supposed to be good for the market, but what if the city is small??

Im asking because I'm looking to relocate soon. The city Im interested in, St. Louis, already has a coworking spot. Ive been looking and researching to open one for awhile now, but am now hesitant after finding out StL has a fairly large spot already.

Do you think this is something that is sustainable, or do you feel like I would be stepping on the toes of a community catalyst by opening a new business doing a very similar thing?


Tony Bacigalupo

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Mar 3, 2013, 2:17:25 PM3/3/13
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Look at the office buildings in the St Louis skyline, imagine the 9-to-5 cubicles they're filled with, and think about how many people are going to be working like that in the next 5, 10, or 20 years.

You and the other folks doing coworking in St. Louis are heralding a future that's fast apparoaching. Coworking's not done growing in a city until it's transformed work as we know it forever.

Your potential competitor is also your potential collaborator. If you both can see it that way, then you can confound people with your friendship and thrive together :-)

If you spend some time with the folks in this other space, you might likely discover the opportunities for a different community that wouldn't directly compete-- whether by way of geography, culture, or something else. Handled right, your efforts would compliment the existing ones beautifully.
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Tricia Chirumbole

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Mar 3, 2013, 2:20:58 PM3/3/13
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My first thoughts are that it would make sense for you to ask these questions to the community. 

A step before this that could help you frame the need/demand, would be to do some research on the size of the freelance, small biz, home worker population who may be interested in a coworking space. 

You can compliment this research by identifying complimentary groups and orgs and even talk to them to get a better feel for the size, nature, needs of your target group - this could be any networking or small biz support group, you could talk to SBA, peruse meetups, university sources, etc. 

In my experience, many people are willing to talk to you, even if you are a complete stranger, about what they know - and they often like it!

Talk to the leaders AND if possible the members of the existing co-working space and see what their thoughts are - being informed of the possibility is likely going to soften the response either way. 

Consider how your presence might strengthen their presence - you could have a flex pass/passport for some members that allows them to use both spaces. 

You could do joint events, or offer other joint services if that is in your mission or their mission. 

Find out more about their mission and composition and culture - do your interests lie in a different niche, or are you thinking about having a culture/offerings that somehow differ in a significant way? 

Maybe you even want to locate nearby and contribute to a "center" for coworking and DIY/creative/indie culture like many places have arts, techie, food, etc areas in a town - this would have value for any size town in my opinion and may even garner support from government or community leader or foundations looking to stimulate certain aspects of the city. 

Depending on the nature of the town, sometimes a different location appeals significantly to a certain subset of the prospective population - for many reasons outside of commute time. maybe parking, maybe culture, etc.....may not apply to your town.

I generally think this population is growing and the need is likely not served entirely by the new space. Depending on what you are offering and how you are offering, you might stimulate interest in a new group.

Lastly, or firstly, why do you want to start a space? Does it fill an important part of your overall life mission? Can these interests / needs be met or satisfied in a different way? Would you be happy joining the existing community? 

hope that helps :))))


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Tricia Chirumbole

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Mar 3, 2013, 3:59:58 PM3/3/13
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Hi Chat!

The first thing that comes to mind is looking at reports and surveys reviewing the overall (national/global) phenomena of indie workers/remote working/coworking. Then you can attempt to extrapolate for your area - not perfect science!

I haven't been keeping up lately, but know I have come across reports like this that had a lot of detail and good data...

The Centre for Social Innovation in Canada shares a TON of info about their experiences, but not sure if it has population data...Freelancers Union in NYC may have resources that are valuable.

best wishes!
On Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 2:35 PM, Chat Clussman <clus...@gmail.com> wrote:
Tricia,

Do you have any tips on where to go to research freelance, small biz, and home worker populations? In Austin, I've found several resources for info on startups and the Chamber of Commerce has broad demographic data that includes # of technology workers and the # of "art and design" workers, but I haven't found much on freelancers and home workers.

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Tricia Chirumbole

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Mar 3, 2013, 4:02:41 PM3/3/13
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oh, and the big, global company Regus may have some valuable information - they were a pioneer in the more corporatized shared office space world - different beast, but they would be looking at similar data. 

On Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 2:35 PM, Chat Clussman <clus...@gmail.com> wrote:
Tricia,

Do you have any tips on where to go to research freelance, small biz, and home worker populations? In Austin, I've found several resources for info on startups and the Chamber of Commerce has broad demographic data that includes # of technology workers and the # of "art and design" workers, but I haven't found much on freelancers and home workers.

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Jerome Chang

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Mar 3, 2013, 5:24:58 PM3/3/13
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You know, the general thing to know is that the current demand for coworking spaces vastly exceeds the available inventory.
The question is never really, "can another coworking space survive...", but "how can a coworking space execute". 

LA has nearly 20 coworking spaces...just 2 years ago, there were maybe 4.  There are nearly 10 just in a 3 mile radius in Santa Monica, not including a few accelerators and incubators.
In SF's SOMA district, or its adjacent neighborhoods, I can only guess that there must be 20+ in a 1/2 mile radius.


Jerome
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On Mar 3, 2013, at 11:30 AM, Chat Clussman <clus...@gmail.com> wrote:

Cameron,

I'm a believer that competition in general is a good thing but you should let demographics and your knowledge of the community dictate your decision. What's the pool of freelancers in St. Louis? If you're going to allow small orgs like, say, early stage startups, how many of those are there? How many employees that work from home (anyone know a good source for that info?)?

I'm looking at opening a space in Austin so I'm in the middle of doing all of this same research. Austin is saturated with about 15 coworking spaces and several startup incubators that also cater to coworkers, but they're still only catering to ~700-800 people total and about half of those are startup employees. With 1500 startups in the Austin area and a yet-to-be-determined number of freelancers and transient workers (people like independent real estate agents that only need part-time office space), there's still an unmet need. With all that, I can't imagine STL is being fully served by only one coworking space!

Another big question is where in STL? In Austin, most coworking places are located East with a couple Central, a couple South, and a few North or NW. That maps out pretty well with where the market is but it still leaves large parts of the city unserved.

Do you serve the same market? High-end, low-end, startups, students, creatives, developers, etc., etc.

Do you offer the same features and services?

Probably the most important questions: Do you know the coworking community in STL? How will you get to know them? Coworking spaces are about building communities and they're typically built out of—or as an extension of—existing communities.

nik...@modusindorum.com

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Mar 4, 2013, 5:50:25 AM3/4/13
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Hi Chat,

I do have few reports on freelanceing and coworking published by independent bodies and Regus.
I don't seem to have the download urls but do have pdf versions which I can email to you.

I would be glad to pass them to others who are interested as well.


Regards,
Nik

Chat Clussman

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Mar 4, 2013, 10:45:58 AM3/4/13
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Nik, that would be great! My email is clussman [at] gmail. Thanks!

Chat Clussman

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Mar 4, 2013, 10:47:37 AM3/4/13
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I'll have to check those sources out. Thanks!

nik...@modusindorum.com

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Mar 4, 2013, 12:40:53 PM3/4/13
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Chat, sent the reports. (2 emails)




On Monday, March 4, 2013 3:45:58 PM UTC, Chat Clussman wrote:
Nik, that would be great! My email is clussman [at] gmail. Thanks!

On Monday, March 4, 2013 4:50:25 AM UTC-6, nik...@modusindorum.com wrote, 

elliott williams

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Mar 6, 2013, 9:30:29 AM3/6/13
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If you look at the stats, most people in one coworking space never go
to another. this means there's not really a lot of "competition". If
you think of coworking as communities instead of spaces, then you can
imagine that people don't switch communities.

I would say there is an incredible amount of risk in starting an empty
coworking "space". I started my space when I already had enough people
to fill it. I invested 3k upfront and paid myself back in a year.
Another coworking space in PGH has been empty for over a year.

If you want to start a coworking space and you've got a bunch of
people and that place burns down, all those members will go to other
spaces. If you start a coworking community, and your place burns down,
you will have a new space in a week and retain most of your members.

Chad Ballantyne

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Mar 6, 2013, 9:35:44 AM3/6/13
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Great truth Elliott!
Community first and don't be alarmed when a new one pops up.  Each "village" will care for it's own. In Ontario, we actually help and care for each other. 

Chad

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Memberships start at $25/mth

Jonathan Markwell

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Oct 7, 2014, 6:25:39 PM10/7/14
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This has been a common question over the years in my relatively small city (Brighton, England population 273,400). I've just written about it and created a checklist for future community founders to consider here: 


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Susan Dorsch

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Oct 7, 2014, 6:36:54 PM10/7/14
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Great post, Jonathan! 

#4 is a particularly important point that I've seen a lot of people miss over the years. We've gotten so much support & great ideas out of the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance and I know others would say the same. Working with other coworking spaces in your area is one way to really walk the talk when it comes to coworking. We encourage our members to get to know one another and support one another, we can easily do the same with our fellow coworking spaces! 

S

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Aaron Cruikshank

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Oct 7, 2014, 6:50:17 PM10/7/14
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One perspective to consider is what is the total addressable market? Vancouver has many coworking spaces and I get asked often by the media if I think the coworking market in Vancouver is saturated.

By my math, if you consider every micro entrepreneur as a potential user, Vancouver is addressing around 1.5% of the total addressable market. Far from saturated, surely.

Yet some of these spaces are struggling to fill desks. The problem isn't the size of the market - it's lack of knowledge in the potential market about coworking.

More spaces = more potential awareness. There must be some critical mass in a city or region that pushes coworking from obscurity to mainstream recognition.

Thoughts?

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Ashley Proctor

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Oct 7, 2014, 7:27:48 PM10/7/14
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When we launched our first spaces, there were few others in the market.
We spent the majority of our time explaining the concept, a lot of effort on education and outreach.
As more and more spaces launched in our city, we definitely all began to benefit from the mainstream recognition, as well as the new opportunity to collaborate with each other.

You have a choice to 'compete' or to 'collaborate'.
I feel our unique coworking communities in Toronto have a lot in common, and a lot to offer each other in terms of support, advice and experience.
I believe our Coworking Toronto and Coworking Ontario collectives are similar to this google group - we genuinely like each other and want each other to succeed.

We are all fiercely independent, but I think we all gravitated towards participating in a regional collective because were all facing similar challenges, and were looking for other like-mided friends, mentors and colleagues to connect with in Toronto. The same way our members want to connect.
We can also benefit from collective advertising (the concept rather than the space) and our members benefit when we leverage collective bargaining power to create programs like COHIP.
We might have different missions and mandates and markets, but we can agree that we all want our members to be happy and healthy and productive.

Since coworking spaces in Toronto and Ontario began collaborating, we've seen a steady increase in coworking awareness, and community participation in our events.
Since launching a collective website, we've seen more traffic, more tours, more media attention and more members.
Our spaces are all better spaces and our communities are all stronger communities because we share best practices.

And yes, the market is growing along with the number of active spaces.
It's a beautiful cycle of supply and demand.
If coworking is truly the future of work as we claim, I can't see a saturation point here anytime soon...

Choose to be a champion and a collaborator rather than a competitor when you arrive, and introduce yourself as such.
Then start to imagine what's possible if you work together.

Ashley


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Jeannine

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Oct 8, 2014, 5:13:48 AM10/8/14
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Hey, Johnathan, I like that blog post a lot!, thank you for writing it.

When you're done with it, can we put it on the (new and revitalized!) Coworking Blog?

Let me know, here or via email, Jeannine @ OpenCoworking. org

Thanks again, either way,

Jeannine

Jonathan Markwell

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Oct 8, 2014, 6:24:56 AM10/8/14
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Thank you Susan!

I built up to that point rather than putting it first as I've experienced first-hand how difficult it is to take that kind of leap as an introverted outsider. :)

Sadly it's even harder for people who have already committed to a lease on a space of their own.

Jonathan Markwell

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Oct 8, 2014, 6:43:29 AM10/8/14
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Aaron - that's a good point. I think the numbers are very similar in most cities.

I'm not sure what critical mass is but after 6 years and around a dozen coworking spaces created in Brighton I'm still regularly meet people who have never heard of coworking.


Ashely - I've been wondering if it might be worth pooling resources here and trying local advertising to spread the word. Can you share more about what worked for you on that front and what didn't. How much time and money did you all spend on it?

Jonathan Markwell

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Oct 8, 2014, 6:43:47 AM10/8/14
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Thank you Jeannine! 

I'm very happy for it to be reposted to the Coworking Blog.

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Ashley Proctor

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Oct 8, 2014, 1:54:44 PM10/8/14
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We've tried a few different things over the years.
We've pooled resources to participate in a tradeshow at our local Small Business Forum, and to attend a Sharing Economy Event.
It's hard to measure the impact of our presence, but for a few hundred dollars we talked to a thousand potential new members in just one day.
Most had never heard of cow-working...
Plus it was nice to have a team of people to help staff the booth :)

I happen to think our website is actually the most effective tool.
We built it ourselves and volunteer to maintain it, so the cost is pretty minimal.
Now when you search for Coworking in Toronto, you find ALL of the coworking options via the collective website, rather than just a few of them that may not suit you.
We all notice a lot of traffic being referred to the individual spaces from that site.
We also use social media to advertise and promote coworking in general (twitter etc).
When an article gets published, there are 15 of us sharing it and talking about it, rather than just one space.

We have done a few print runs of our collective postcards and these are also extremely cost effective and helpful.
Every space in Toronto has them available on site.
When someone arrives for a tour of our space, I always give them a collective postcard so they know who we are and that there are many coworking options in Toronto.
That way if the member is not right for your space or the space is not right for this member, they won't leave feeling that coworking isn't right for them.
They will know there are many options to choose from, and that there is a community out there for them.
With the postcard, they get referred back to the collective website once again - our central point for collective communications.

Although we've considered larger campaigns, to date we do most things with volunteers or on a pretty minimal budget.
For example: collaboratively writing press releases, organizing a local Coworking Week.

It's not necessarily the amount of money that makes an impact, it's the collaborative effort.
Leverage your minds, your staff and your volunteers as well as your wallets :)

Ashley

rachel young

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Oct 8, 2014, 2:18:43 PM10/8/14
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It's great to see you're considering coworking with your local space owners and managers, Jonathan.

It starts with friendly outreach. Have an idea of what you want your local organisation/collective/association to be like, and share that vision with the others. Let them know that you want to discard competition in favour of collaboration, illustrate some examples of other groups (Seattle, Denver, Toronto, etc) and what they've done, and then set a date and time to get together for a beer to discuss it. You can make it as formal or casual as you want.

That's what we did for CoworkingToronto and CoworkingOntario. We've learned a lot over time, but it still comes down to a person talking to another person - which we're used to in our own coworking spaces!

You'll get resistance from some, but unbridled buy-in from others. And over time you can grow that group, strengthening your local coworking community.
r.


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Connor Provines

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Oct 8, 2014, 3:33:07 PM10/8/14
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I've worked for a while cataloging and researching coworking spaces....I've got some pretty interesting metrics regarding populations and occupancy, so I'll put in my 2 cents

I've found that Coworking is almost a cultural thing - if you cross reference the most populous cities / densest business wise with the number / population of coworking spaces...you don't find much of a correlation.

Some of the most populous places in the U.S have no coworking spaces, while areas like SF and NYC are littered with them; and for the most part sitting at 60% occupancy or so.

Furthermore, in these cities we actually see coworking spaces lasting much longer; while most coworking places are less than 3 years old, we also see a relatively low lifespan of many places where there are few coworking spaces; that is to say the existence of a coworking environment helps new locations last longer and find a niche to work with.

Essentially what I can conclude is, in places where coworking is known and popular, people have and are will continue to move to these centers as long as they're competitively priced with something unique to offer.

Also, I'd say comparatively St. Louis is actually one of the smallest coworking spaces per population, it's likely a great spot for expansion.

Let me know if you've got more questions,

Connor

Katherine Warman Kern

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Oct 8, 2014, 6:02:52 PM10/8/14
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It "takes two to tango" !  We'd love to collaborate with the other coworking spaces in the area, but one of them is hell bent on competing with a "we crush our competition" page on their website with erroneous info about our space and I'm sure others.
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rachel young

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Oct 8, 2014, 6:10:36 PM10/8/14
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So the rest of you can start something wonderful and prove them wrong. Don't  let one bad apple spoil it for the rest of you.
r.

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Jeannine

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Oct 9, 2014, 3:32:36 AM10/9/14
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Dallas GeniusDen

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Jul 8, 2015, 6:16:10 PM7/8/15
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Connor - great observations. I'm curious if you have any updated data or research on this city culture of coworking? 

Joe Payton
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