About Me

Hi, I’m Alex.

I build communities, started one of the longest running coworking communities in the world, write a crapload of words every day, tweet a little too much, coach people to be the best version of themselves possible, can't stop learning new things, and do my very best not to take myself too seriously.

I have one goal: to fill the world with truly excellent collaborators so we can all work together, better.

Because let's be honest...most of us aren't very good at it.

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Alex Hillman

The Coworking Weekly Show is BACK, with a 2 part show on leading during a crisis

I hope you’re ready because in this epic two part show Adam and I grab a park bench near Indy Hall and talk about what REALLY happens when things suddenly aren’t going according to plan.

Part 1 – Birthdays and Bad News

How do you react in crisis? How do you let your members know something is wrong without inciting a riot or undermining trust?

Better yet…how can you share bad news in a way that BUILDS trust instead of tearing it apart?

Don’t let our playful banter about birthday at the beginning fool you, this stuff might actually help you save your community…and your business.

Make sure you keep listening to see how everything connects as we explore the specifics of how I’ve been navigating the perils of a crisis situation in a way that’s brought our community closer together, and helped me keep my sanity along the way.

The best time to learn how to deal with a crisis is before you need it, so this episode is NOT to be missed.

Links mentioned in this episode

Part 2 – My secret sauce for leading during a coworking crisis: “Systematizing Authenticity”

We ended Part 1 with a cliffhanger ending – you learned how I avoided a knee-jerk reaction that could send our community into a tailspin.

No, not that tailspin. More like this.

Part 2 picks up where we left off as we dive into the nitty gritty details of how we systematically collected our community’s thoughts through a series of Town Hall meetings, and then pivoted into action mode in a way that’s actually brought our community closer together…in spite of the painful change we were facing.

Important themes in part 2 of this convo include staying honest and authentic while communicating with your team and the rest of the community about the issue at hand.

Quick Links & Highlighted Quotes

[7:10] How we used Town Hall conversations to collect our community’s ideas and concerns.
[13:00] How to gain trustworthiness, and why it’s so important
[15:20] A slight diversion from the main topic: how do you communicate with your community when it feels like they’re just not listening to anything you say
[26:44] “Don’t throw your limited darts without planning and knowing where the dartboard even is.”

Links mentioned in this episode

3 more public examples of how we execute transparency with our community

I really want to hear from you

If you listen all the way to the end of this episode you’ll hear a very specific request for YOUR stories. If you have something you’d like to share, or something you’d like to hear more of on the Coworking Weekly Show in the future, I want you to say so!

You can mail me at alex@indyhall.org or tweet at me: @alexhillman

I’m not kidding – for some reason people think that if they email me it’ll automatically go into some folder and never be read. Quite the opposite. I read EVERY email. I promise. :)

Support the show and get the next episode

I’m growing the team that makes this show happen! This episode is the first one that I didn’t produce myself, so say hello to my new producer Mike Mehalick. Say hi, Mike!

So here’s the scoop: Mike and I are working hard on a brand new production workflow this year so you’re going to be seeing new episodes of the show dropping MUCH more often (not like it’d be hard to drop new episodes more often than every 5 months). We’re gonna shoot for weekly and see how it lands. Lots of awesome stuff to come, I promise, and you don’t want to miss this.

Subscribe however you like to subscribe, here’s some handy links for you:

Just a little bit of gratitude

This past Friday evening I had to run upstairs to grab something from the kitchen at Indy Hall and when I walked back downstairs, I glanced towards the bustle of our annual pot-luck holiday party.

It made me feel that incredible feeling that maybe you’ve had yourself while walking the aisles of Indy Hall, or lurking a discussion on Slack or GroupBuzz.

That feeling of… “I’m in the right place.”

For me, that feeling has a lot of parts, including overwhelming pride, thanks, safety, and comfort.

I say this often to guests and visitors, as well as onlookers from around the world, but probably not often enough to all of the members of Indy Hall:

I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to wake up in the morning and know that I’m going to spend my day with Indy Hall members. Each and every one of you could be almost anywhere, but you choose to be together. That choice matters.

And that I get to be a part of this community, not just lead it. Thank for letting me be a peer among this group of the finest humans I’ve ever met.

I’m also thankful for everyone who has pitched in over the last year.

Of course, the things people have done to help Indy Hall run smoothly or be enjoyable, but also the little things you may have done to help another member hit a new ‘high score’ in their work or life, and the effort you may have put in to making Philadelphia better through generously sharing your time, expertise, and positive outlook.

I know this year hasn’t been perfect for everyone – it certainly has thrown me a few curveballs.

But when I think of the people who get the same kinds of curveballs and don’t have this kind of community to surround them, I realize how fortunate I really am to know that whatever I’m working on, I never have to do it alone.

<3

Happy Holidays, and if I don’t see you this week, I’ll look forward to seeing you in 2016.

-Alex

Tuesday Dec 15: Indy Hall’s first Virtual “Town Hall”

Our first Town Hall you can join from Anywhere!

Mark your calendar now:

  • When:
    • Tuesday, December 15th
    • 6:30–7:30pm (Please try to arrive, or join at the link below, at 6pm so we can start on time)
  • Where:
  • What:
    • An all-hands conversation about the past, present, and future of Indy Hall
    • Read on below for more details and context

RSVP to join remotely or in person: https://attending.io/events/virtual-town-hall-with-indy-hall

What makes Indy Hall special?

First and foremost, each and every one of our members make Indy Hall special. Indy Hall wouldn’t be much of anything without them. They’re smart, generous, and kind.

As coworking spaces around the world come online (I literally got an email from a woman in Moldova, this morning), more and more look to Indy Hall as a source of inspiration. Know it or not, that means our members are inspiring people around the world to be better versions of themselves, simply by doing what they do.

This is just as true if you’ve been a member for a week, or a member since the beginning. I’m not saying this to flatter – but to remind that PEOPLE are what makes this community worth being a part of, and worthy of aspiration.

The other thing that I think makes Indy Hall a special kind of organization is that even (and especially) as we grow, we’re always looking for new ways to experiment and reinvent old processes and habits to keep our core values of community, openness, accessibility, sustainability, and collaboration in play. We don’t need to wait for something to be broken in order to look for ways to make it better. “Betterness” is a continuum, a constant, in this community.

We called our first “Town Hall” gathering to share the potential of outgrowing our original coworking space and moving down the street into what is now the 2nd floor. We invited all members to be a part of that conversation, no matter how often they were physically working at a desk. We invited friends and supporters of the community as well, wanting to make the conversation as public as possible.

And it worked so well that we made it a tradition. For every year since 2009, 3–4 times a year we’ve brought the community together to share updates and progress reports on the community, invite members to take the floor and share their own updates, and to reflect on our trajectory as we think about what’s coming up next. Earlier this year, we did a pair of mini-town-hall events specifically focused on the future of our building (part 1, part 2).

Town Hall is a crucial event, valuable in many ways, not the least of which is giving the entire community a platform to be a part of the conversations that move us forward together.

In the past, I’ve been hesitant to live-stream Town Halls because of technical overhead and potential for things to break. But I’m realizing that in reality, that decision simply punished the majority no matter what date or time or location we chose.

Which is just silly when I think about it that way.

So I want to try something new – and it’s an experiment.

But this experiment need you.

It’s SO much better when we’re actively taking a little bit of time to stop and think about what we’ve accomplished recently and where we’re headed.

I want to get back to having Town Hall more often.

I want to make Town Hall easier to participate in, wherever you are.

So with those two goals in mind, we’re going to host our first “Virtual Town Hall” using a tool called Crowdcast. It’ll allow us to stream the Town Hall live and for anyone who is remote to participate via the chat room, which we’ll project for the people who are attending live.

For this Town Hall, Adam and Sam have created the itinerary, which includes:

  • Things we loved about the last year, and want to do more of (as well a round of special thanks to the people who made great things happen)
  • Preparing for the new year – it’s gonna be a big one!
  • A digest of next steps on the new home for Indy Hall

Then we need from you now is to “show up” in one of two ways:

  1. Go to this link at 6pm on Tuesday December 15th: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/townhall-december2015

    Use the time between 6 and 6:30pm to connect and make sure the stream works for you. We’ll start the discussion promptly at 6:30.

  2. Come to the classroom at Indy Hall to participate in person

    No Google login required

RSVP here and we’ll send you a reminder the day of the event: https://attending.io/events/virtual-town-hall-with-indy-hall

Can we set a goal of breaking 100 members in attendance?

Typically, we get ~50-75 members to a Town Hall – which isn’t bad, but I also know we can do better and think this new format can help.

We’ve grown to over 300 active members. So we should be able to get 100 people to the Virtual Town Hall, right? That includes the online stream + in person attendance.

If you’ve never been to a Town Hall, or even if if it’s been a while, please consider blocking off an hour next Tuesday evening to attend.

As a bonus challenge, please talk to other members to make sure they know about it and see if they are joining in as well. The #1 reason people don’t attend is because they don’t know about it, and the best way to solve this problem is by everyone pitching in just a little bit and making sure others know about it.

RSVP here and we’ll send you a reminder the day of the event: https://attending.io/events/virtual-town-hall-with-indy-hall

“I loved Town Hall because it gave me an excuse to see other members face to face. Is that part really going away?”

About 2 years ago, though, we realized we had a problem. A good problem, but a problem nonetheless. We’d grown to a size where we couldn’t practically host a Town Hall conversation at Indy Hall – there just wasn’t room for everyone.

We started planning them at other venues, including Spruce Street Harbor Park and the Painted Bride, both of whom generous and graciously agreed to host us. However, that made it more difficult to coordinate, and Town Hall slipped from being a 3–4x a year event to a 1–2x a year event. As more time passed between Town Halls, the Town Hall gatherings themselves would balloon to 2-3 hours.

And worst of all, the ever-growing portion of our community who participate mostly through our online community ended up being excluded. People who had after-hours commitments ended up being excluded.

For lots of reasons, more and more people who WANTED to participate in Town Hall couldn’t join in. Obviously, a collection of small problems has snowballed into something a bit bigger, which has prompted the need to try something new before it gets truly problematic.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about how this particular experiment could help, and I have a couple of hopeful outcomes from trying this a new format:

Outcome #1 – Town Hall happens more often, improving the overall communication across the community.

Outcome #2 – This creates room for new face-to-face events that are less about relaying news and information, and more about spending quality time together. These could be additional volunteering efforts across the city, going to sports events, theater/arts events, you name it.

In this case, our Holiday Party and Secret Santa exchange are coming up on Thursday the 17th. Perfect! RSVP here and plan to bring some of your favorite food or drink to share: http://attending.io/events/indy-halliday-party

Outcome #3 – We encounter technical difficulties, or this doesn’t work for some other reason we haven’t predicted, so we try something else.

That’s another thing that makes this community special: we never need to fear change because we’re always keeping our sights on the bigger goal: working together to make Philadelphia a better place to make a living doing what we love.

Why do people join coworking spaces?

Hint: they probably already have a desk somewhere.

The vast majority of people aren’t walking around thinking about where they work.

You might be obsessed with the idea of coworking, but most people are too busy going about their days to care.

Most people don’t know that coworking is even an option. Most people who do know about coworking don’t think it’s an option for them – because it’s just for young people, or because they “hate open floorplans” they’ve experienced at previous jobs, or because they think it’s just for tech people and startups.

But most commonly…people aren’t thinking about coworking because they already have a place to get their work done. The #1 competition for a coworking space isn’t another office – it’s the dining room table, the spare room, or even the couch.

So why do so many people present coworking as an alternative to the office?

My hunch is that it’s because people don’t get enough exposure to the other reasons that people join coworking spaces. We see what journalists who have never spent a day working from a coworking space write. We listen to other people who run coworking spaces talk about how valuable they are.

But we almost never hear directly from the members about why they join coworking spaces, and what they hope to get out of them.

So today I want to share a personal email that I got from one of our new members, Eric.

When new members join Indy Hall, I like to ask them a few questions to get a sense of why they chose Indy Hall and what they hope to get out of the experience. The stuff people write is just amazing – and is one of our best indicators that we’re doing a good job communicating our value to them too.

Here’s what Eric wrote when I asked him what brought him to Indy Hall:

“So why did I join Indy Hall?

Well, I’ve told the story a couple of times now; at least logistically. I live in the neighborhood. I walked past Indy Hall daily for a couple of years on my way to a job that I didn’t like. I told myself that I would eventually go independent and, when I did, I’d become a member of this place that I had read so much about.

I lived vicariously through the social feeds of Indy Hall and some of its members for a long while and always thought that it seemed very cool and very special. I really wanted to be a part of it.

Now that I’ve been independent for a little under a year and things seem to be going pretty ok, reason one for joining was simply fulfilling a promise to myself – to stop looking through the window every so often and actually meet the people inside. I was going to make that happen soon anyway but when Alex presented at Creative Mornings last week it was a little bit of a kick in the ass to actually execute on making this happen – I hadn’t learned the concept of JFDI yet! :)

But the other big reason I wanted to join: my a hope/desire/need/whatever to find a tribe.

Philly was supposed to be a temporary stop for my wife and I – we came here so she could go to nursing school and the plan was to leave after that was finished. But, a job opportunity was presented that, if offered, you do not refuse. So she accepted and is now also in a masters program. Future employment after she finishes is pretty much assumed, so Philly has become less and less temporary with every passing year.

I was ok going solo for the first stretch of this endeavor. No reason to lay down roots if you’re just going to head out shortly after anyway, right?

But it’s time for me to find some people and become a part of this city that people seem to have so much love for and faith in. That’s another part I suppose…surrounding myself with people who love this city, because finding that love for this place has been difficult for me (just being honest). I’m working on it but it’s a slow road.

All of that boils down to one thing: it’s kinda hard to make new friends when you get a little older. Some people make friends at work. But at my last job, I was the only technical person on staff. Then, after going independent, my opportunity for “work friends” pretty much dropped to zero.

So, yeah, I hope to find some friends at Indy Hall. If professional relationships develop – business partnerships, referrals, etc…then that’s great. But I see Indy Hall first as a collection of people who are more like me than any other group of people that I’ve met so far in the 4 or 5 years I’ve been in this city. And, that’s a pretty good shot at making a friend or two.

Beyond that, it would be nice to learn how to run my business better, to become a better writer, to find more local clients, and all that other stuff that goes into actually making a name for yourself in your industry. I’ve done everything that I’ve done business-wise to this point on my own. So, I’m totally down with and ready to see some other perspectives on making this whole thing happen. I don’t want my business to survive – I want it to thrive and to be at least as valuable to my household as my previous job was. My wife took a big gamble on this whole thing and I want to be sure that I’ve given it my all.

I’m sure the responses to these emails are fun to get. But if you’re going to ask a writer for one of these, I suppose it’s expected that the fingers are just going to start moving on their own. :)

Was fun to write though – hope it’s a good read.”

It’s worth noting that I met Eric about a week before he joined at an event that was outside of Indy Hall. He wasn’t walking around thinking about where he was going to work, and I wasn’t at that event pitching Indy Hall memberships either.

And yet – just 24 hours after – Eric had signed up for a tour, did a day on a guest pass, and signed up for a membership.

Not because he needed a place to work, but because he needed other people.

Who is your coworking space for?

I don’t know how he does it. Seth Godin’s daily (!?) blog is sort of like a fortune cookie in that his posts are generally short, but also perfectly timed to something happening in your world.

But unlike a fortune cookie, Seth’s posts are USEFUL. Like this post from today.

Today, in just 7 sentences including the title of the post, he posed a series of questions that got me thinking:

“Who is this for?”

Is it for people who are interested, or those just driving by?

For the informed, intelligent, educated part of your audience? For those with an urgent need?

Is it designed to please the lowest common denominator?

If you’re trying to delight the people who are standing on one foot, reading their email and about to buy from a competitor because he’s cheaper than you, what compromises will you need to make? Are they worth it?

As you might guess, this line of questioning is going to be universally valuable for any business (that’s part of Seth’s magic fortune-cookie prowess – his ability to create lessons that can graft to almost any business).

But the reason this got me thinking is because this line of questioning is especially important for coworking spaces. Unlike most businesses where the customers are generally unaware of each others’ activities (business or otherwise), a thriving coworking space thrives because of it’s members contributions to the overall experience.

So when the answer to “Who is this for?” informs who’s in the room, it impacts everyone’s experience.

Try asking yourself “Who is this for?” you might think:

  • Freelancers
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Startups
  • People working in coffee shops

…because obviously these are people who need a place to work, right?

But is your coworking space for people who view your space as a resource to consume? And if so, what happens when they no longer need the resource?

Coworking spaces famously offer month-to-month memberships, which seems ripe for the “drive-bys” that Seth mentioned in his post.

But you can also replace the long term commitment with something as good or better…reason for people to WANT to be a part of your community, even before and after they need a desk.

When I ask myself “Who is this for?” in regards to Indy Hall, here are some of things I think of:

  • People who are lonely (regardless of where and how they work)
  • People who are optimistic about the future of Philadelphia
  • People who are generous
  • People who are thoughtful, conscientious, and respectful
  • People who are professional, but don’t take themselves too seriously
  • People who want to get better at whatever they do (learn more skills, make more money, be more informed)

What do you notice about my list? How do you think it informs our coworking community, and our business?

And how could answers like these inform yours?

UPDATE! Actual Member Story

Literally 10 minutes after I pressed publish on this post, a new Indy Hall member named Jess came over and introduced himself to me. We talked for a good 30 minutes about a range of things, including how he ended up at Indy Hall. I had a lot of questions for Jess.

Because, you see, Jess started by describing himself as a master plumber. 

After hearing about Indy Hall from several of our members and other friends in the community, he started doing some homework of his own. He watched videos and listened to podcasts featuring our members. He already had a sense of what our community was about, but since this post was fresh in my head I actually decided to share a bit of it with him.

When I read off my list of “Who is this for?” he looked at me and said,

“Yeah, that’s me. You just described me. That’s why I know this is exactly the kind of people I’ve been looking for.”

When you talk to Jess, you can tell he’s an entrepreneur in the way he thinks about other people and solves problems. But he wasn’t drawn to Indy Hall because it was full of other entrepreneurs – it was because Indy Hall was full of other people who care about the same kinds of things he cares about. 

Un-Real Estate

“What’s the latest update with the “Future of Indy Hall” discussions? Are we staying in our building? Are we still thinking about buying the building? Are we moving? Are we leaving Old City?”

While this post is going to be a rather real-estate focused update, I’m thinking a lot about how the vast majority of our community doesn’t use Indy Hall’s coworking space every day. For those of you who are connected to Indy Hall more through the online community or events or the arts, this is still an important update in terms of transparency but I also have many thoughts fresh in my mind about how planning for this move compliments an even bigger opportunity for our community to come closer together and better define what we do beyond the workplace that we share.

And for those of you who’ve joined Indy Hall in the last 3 months, this post and the posts it links to are a valuable primer for the discussion up until this point. Check them out and let me know if you have questions!

As I promised back at the end of August, the next step was to start putting the things we had discussed in those Town Halls and conversations into action.

So today I want to share an update on what I’ve been working on over the last 2 months, what our next couple of goals are between now and the end of the year (which is just around the corner!!), and how you’ll be able to get involved.

Here’s the briefest summary I could muster:

  • I’ve been actively looking for a new home for two reasons: buying our current building makes even less sense than I thought, and I wanted to at least take this as an opportunity to see what else is out there.
  • The real estate industry sure hasn’t made it easy. I’ve thankfully found some allies, but I’ve had a LOT of my time wasted by opportunists, total jokers, and complete slimeballs.
  • The good news is that I’ve found at least one very good option – and it’s in Old City! I’m also getting closer to at least one or two more so we can compare and contrast instead of falling in love at first sight. Expect more details about each of the options soon, and I’m working out how to host at least one group tour through each one (in addition to photos/video tours).
  • Goal: if we haven’t already chosen a location for our new home by the end of 2015, we’re at the point of deciding between 2-3 good options. That timeline gives us plenty of time (8-ish months) to handle all of the moving parts. No move will be effortless, but we can front-load the work to make it the least disruptive to everyone’s work.
  • Several people have expressed interest in the financial aspect of buying a building if we go that route. There’s a lot more to discuss there but I want to start that conversation so drop me a line (details at the bottom of this post)!

If you’d like a little more detail, here’s what’s been going on in my head lately:

Looking for a new home, and why

I’ve been concentrating a large portion of my effort into exploring other options – both rental and for purchase – for our community to call home.

My objective was simply to see who and what was out there in terms of options. Could we find a space that’s better than the one we’ve made our home? Or a comparable space, but at a better price? Or hell…a better option at a better price?

Purchasing a building is still a smart idea, but purchasing our current building just doesn’t make sense unless the seller (our landlord) magically came to their senses. And having several trusted advisors confirm my judgement, I’m not willing to bank on “magic” for the future of our community.

I haven’t entirely ruled out the possibility of staying at 22 N 3rd Street somehow, but in taking this as an opportunity to see what else is on the market and how it stacks up, I feel even more confident than before that we can do a LOT better than where we are now at the same price or less, and have the opportunity to fix some of the biggest weaknesses of our current situation.

Why is the Real Estate industry completely insane?

Those of you who know me well know that I’m patient. I’m tolerant. I listen. I genuinely care.

Let’s just say that my patience and tolerance has been battle-tested by real estate agents and developers alike as I’ve been making my way through an ever-growing rolodex of real estate contacts from all over the city of Philadelphia. :)

The first kind of challenging experience is the one where a RE developer approaches me to try to convince me that they’re working on “neighborhood XYZ, which is going to be the next hot thing in Philadelphia.”

In some cases, I’d meet a very smart, creative developer working with very deliberate goals…but they were working in parts of the city that I know either are or feel difficult to access for a lot of people. Far more often, though, I’d meet a developer who is nearly impossible to have a conversation with. “Hidden” agendas abound. Mind-games. Attempts at manipulation. It reminded me a lot of the worst dating experiences I’ve had.

If we’re going to collaborate with a RE developer, it’s crucial to me that it be someone with whom we at least share some goals and values and with a longer term goal that we can share. That’s a rule.

The other challenging experience was with real estate agents. Literally twice a week since June I’ve gotten an email or cold call from an agent who wants a shot at representing our search for a new home.

Nearly every agent started by sending me a list of 5-10 listings, which sounds like a good start.

Except nearly everyone sent me the exact same 10 listings, all of which I’d already found on my own, including options that I knew for a fact were no longer on the market because I’d already spoken to the rep or the owner themselves. It’s been amazing to me is how few real estate agents put in a lick of work to earn their commission.

Or worse, how quickly they’d lie to me about one listing just to have the opportunity to talk about another one that didn’t fit my criteria.

Only a couple of RE teams – including Indy Hall’s own @Dave Speers and @Ben Everett, thanks guys! – have approached me wanting to focus on the relationship first (that’s the Indy Hall way, after all) and introduced me to a thoughtful set of options and ways to approach things. There’s a stark difference between the people who genuinely want to help us and the ones who can’t see past the potential transaction.

I’ll be writing more about the myriad of things I’ve learned through this process for anyone else who finds themselves on the hunt for commercial real estate, or is generally curious.

I’m so very thankful to have found a handful of allies, but truly amazed at how bizarre the rest of the real estate industry thinks, speaks, and acts when they smell blood in the water.

Thanks for indulging my rant, now onto what we’ve found and how :)

Narrowing the options

In order to start the search, we had to start somewhere. I learned quickly that constraints would help our search, and since pursuing options across the city would mean at least one more level of difficulty, I made the decision to focus in our own backyard and see what we could find in Old City. We can always extend the search later based on what we’ve learned, right?

A lot of options were easy to rule out: from mid-sized corporate high rises that we’d never feel comfortable in, to some very quirky and cool spaces that had bizarre layouts that weren’t conducive to our use.

It turns out there are a decent number of 10k square foot properties in Old City…that are 4 stories tall. But think about how separated the 1st and 2nd floor of Indy Hall are now…even though we have a big open staircase. There are days where I never get to see people in parts of the workspace unless I’m actively seeking them out, and even then it can be hard to find them. Now imagine if we were in a 4 story building, almost always with boxed in staircases. Not good for us.

So I set the constraint of a maximum 2 floors. That knocked a good number of spots out of the running.

But we’ve found one very good option, and are still looking for one or two more.

Not only is it a good option, it’s in our backyard (yay!) has loads of potential, and the price is right.

And as soon as we can, I want to share it with all of you! Here’s why I haven’t yet:

  1. Given how weird and sneaky RE people have proven to be, I want to be able to show the seller that we’re serious and to give us a window of time to lock in a rate.

  2. In order to show that we’re serious, I need to prove that we have buying intent and access to funds. So I’m working on that right now, to get a bank who’s interested in lending to us to write a letter saying that they WOULD lend to us, even if we’re not all the way through the lending approval process.

  3. I don’t want us to fall in love at first sight. I’m still following leads on other spots, and my goal is to come up with 2-3 really good options to consider as a community and weigh the options.

By my read of what to expect from real estate folks, these next couple of steps could happen fairly quickly or they could drag out a bit. But we won’t know if we don’t walk down the path.

So I’m walking that walk, and talking that talk. It’s not my comfort zone, but I feel confident that I’m surrounded by people who can help me figure it out, and that this community has my back.

What comes next and how you can participate: financing, touring potential new spots together, and the end of 2015

Right around now is where this starts to get real, and get exciting, as a number of things will happen in parallel and I’m going to work my hardest to keep updates more frequent (and as a result, hopefully, shorter).

So we can stay on the same page, here’s what I’m working towards and what you can do to get involved:

Look out for an opportunity to visit/tour 2-3 potential new homes. If you can’t make it, don’t worry, we’ll snap lots of photos and do a walkthrough video or two.

I’m meeting with our best potential partner bank later this week, and I’ll have more to report back on that soon. You can look out for a larger open discussion about the financial bits of buying a building as a community – it’s something that I think can be a powerful tool for us to build together but it also gets complicated fast. I’ve done a fair bit of research on this already and want to share what I’ve learned so far in person before I take the task of writing it all done.

So especially if you’d consider being a part of buying a building for Indy Hall to call home – even at a relatively small scale investment – shoot me an email now and I can add you to the short list for early discussions.

Whew. That’s it for now.

As always, please treat this post as the beginning of a conversation, not the end. I won’t make any major or irreversible decisions without an opportunity for dialogue first. If you have questions, ideas, or concerns about anything I’ve written here (or didn’t write, for that matter), please say so!

I’m listening, and I’m feeling good.

Thanks for being a part of this community – y’all are what make all of this work worth doing in the first place.

This post is part of the thread: Future of Indy Hall – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

The ultimate guide to structuring your coworking space memberships

How long have you been staring at that spreadsheet trying to figure out the numbers?

Nearly every week I get an email from someone with questions about the financial side of running a Coworking space. And “memberships” seems to be among the most confounding of the questions; how should those memberships be structured? What’s the best balance of affordable, but also generates enough revenue for the coworking space to turn a profit (or at least become self-sustaining)?

A common mistake that I see people make is in thinking that offering lots of “upgrade” options turns into more money, closing the gap or generating more profit.

Today, I’m going to show you why that’s a MISTAKE, and how you can create a SIMPLE structure for your coworking space memberships that also helps you get more members and increase your revenue.

Have you ever heard of “The Paradox of Choice“?

Options and upgrades sounds like a great idea because it offers more customizability and people love to buy things that are customized to them, right?

Bzzzt.

Research shows that too many choices creates a paralyzing collection of options…not to mention plays into peoples’ fear of being nickled and dimed.

In reality, people often hesitate to join a coworking because they’re confused by how they’re going to budget for all of the things they MIGHT need – e.g. how many conference room hours will I use in a month? – even if they don’t actually need them yet.

Coworking by the Hour

Another common mistake that I see, not just in conference rooms, is limiting member access as granularly as by the hour.

If your memberships offer a certain number of hours per month, that means record keeping for you (even if it’s automated or semi-automated), and record keeping for your members

When your members are thinking about coming in, do you want them worrying about “staying longer and going over”? What happens if they plan to come in for 5 hours but get into the groove and end up staying for 8?

And this only gets worse when your hourly limits don’t coincide with hours in an ‘average’ work day. Even numbers of hours make your packages look nice, but when people have to do the math to figure out how many workdays that translates into, they start to feel like you’re a phone company keeping track of their minutes instead of a cozy place to go and get productive when they need it.

So with that in mind, in my experience, a coworking space is able to generate more revenue with LESS options…but better ones. 

When we launched in 2006, there wasn’t much in the way of examples for how much to charge, or how much the market would bear, or how to structure it in a way that’s easy to undestand.

So we turned to our secret weapon: our community.

How we figured out the levels

We’d spent nearly a year bringing a community together, so we had ACTUAL people to start asking questions. But asking questions like “how much would you pay for this” doesn’t work. People don’t know how much they’d pay for something until they have to pay for something.

So instead, we tried to get a feel for roughly how often people thought they’d want a place to work IF it cost any reasonable amount.

We didn’t do any sort of formal survey – this came out in conversations. It wasn’t something we’d hold people to anyway, it was just to get a pulse.

In our first surprise, only a couple of people wanted a a dedicated, full time spot. Some of the others saw themselves coming in a couple of times a week.

But a LOT of people were excited at the prospect of having a place they could go if they wanted to. A lot of people saw the benefit of there being a gathering place for our community, and even if they didn’t have a need for it themselves (because they had their own office or something like that) they knew that having a place to gather would be valuable.

We knew what our baseline costs were. We knew roughly how often some people in our community might want to come in. With that information, we did some arithmetic to figure out what price points would get us to covering those costs, but still feel reasonable to our community.

We came up with three all-inclusive membership levels:

  • Basic membership. $25/month (now $30/month). Includes one drop-in day per month. Additional days $15/day a la carte.
  • Lite membership. $175/month (now $200/month). Includes 3 days a week, or 12 days a month.
  • Full time membership, $275/month (now $300/month). Your own desk where you can leave your stuff. No extra charges.

Full time membership was obvious. Lite membership took care of the “couple of days a week” people, and even gave them a little bit of breathing room to come in more often.

Basic membership was our greatest “innovation” in that it gave a relatively large number of people the ability to pay a relatively small amount of money to help the community have a clubhouse that they COULD go to when they wanted to. And almost as a bonus, that basic membership included one day a month if they did end up wanting to come in. From the email that originally announced the Basic Membership:

“The idea is that this membership base is widespread at a low cost to help the entire community share the cost of the physical facility, enabling everyone to participate for an affordable rate at the tier appropriate to their needs. If there is any intention of using the space more than once a month, having a basic membership makes sense because the first day is free and additional days are discounted.”

And it worked. The night before we signed our lease, we held a membership signing event at one of our local watering holes. People came, and signed up in person (yes, before we even had our own space!).

We launched with the following breakdown of memberships:

  • 2 Full time members
  • 4 Lite members
  • and a whopping 23 basic members!

Some quick math will tell you that’s $1825/month, enough to cover our biggest cost (our rent) before we even signed a lease.

Less than 4 months later, we were profitable.

Always Be Streamlining

About 2 years into business, our bookkeeper came to me one day to point out that we had a growing number of of basic members coming in roughly 6 times a month. She suggested we create a 6 day/month membership and save everyone a bunch of book keeping on the extra $15/day drop in rates.

So we did that and added to the roster:

  • Six-pack membership: $100/month (now $120/month). Includes six drop-in days a month. Additional $15/day. (note that there’s no actual savings…just less paperwork).

And notice that it also fills in the big gap between $25/month and $175/month.

Six-pack membership quickly became our second most popular membership. Go figure. :)

Bigger isn’t better

The lower levels are often overlooked because the assumption is “more money from bigger memberships, right?”

Except…full time memberships aren’t reflective of how a lot of people ACTUALLY work. Many (if not most) people who would get a lot of value from a coworking experience just need to get out of the house or office once a week or once a month. A break from their routine, an injection of inspiration and productivity.

Far more people need inspiration and productivity in their work lives than need a dedicated space.

Get your incentives straight

For people who don’t NEED to commute, there’s not a lot of incentive to work from the same place every day. Finally, not every kind of work makes sense in a coworking space. Having strong and easy to choose flex options makes coworking attractive to more people, including the ones who only come in once or twice a month.

All levels of membership are valuable, but basic membership and six pack membership make coworking feel less like “an office I use” and more like “a place where I can go when I need a change of scenery” which we’ve found resonates with a LOT more people.

Stop building things around your most finite resources

The other benefit of having basic and six pack memberships is that over 1/3rd of our revenue comes from people who almost never use a desk.

I’ve done the math and if we charged for some of the things we include in all memberships (member conf room usage, printing, etc) it’d come out to a small fraction of that same amount of revenue.

And best of all, we get to tell all of our members, “don’t worry, that’s included in your membership.”

That way, we’ve built a business around what makes people feel awesome, instead of building a business around how people react to scarcity.

The Grandest Experiment

In 2014 we conducted an experiment. The source of the experiment was that we noticed two trends:

1 – more people were saying “I’ll join Indy Hall when I quit my job/need a place to work” 2 – more people who joined Indy Hall later cancelling, saying “I’m not using it enough”

Both of these were relatively new patterns for us.

Up until that year, people had been happily joined with Basic membership, often seeing it as we had originally planned, which again was:

“The idea is that this membership base is widespread at a low cost to help the entire community share the cost of the physical facility, enabling everyone to participate for an affordable rate at the tier appropriate to their needs. If there is any intention of using the space more than once a month, having a basic membership makes sense because the first day is free and additional days are discounted.”

But as coworking mainstreamed, more people started to see coworking as “something I’ll buy when I need an office, but better”. This also explained our new cancellation reason. “I’m not using it enough” signaled that they viewed it as a thing to consume vs a thing to belong to.

That’s a problem we can fix.

So we added a new membership, the Community Membership. $20/month or $200/year prepaid. NO coworking days included. 

Community membership includes our vibrant online community (we use a power-combo of GroupBuzz and Slack, as I’ve mentioned in other posts), plus they can come to events as a member…which helps ease that feeling of being a freeloader, knowing that your little bit helps the events you enjoy be successful and stay free to attend.

And then we made Community Membership our FLAGSHIP membership. All of our coworking memberships come with community membership included. There isn’t a way to join Indy Hall without having a community membership.

We did this to send a message, on purpose, that community is the reason to join Indy Hall. Using the space is just one of the added bonuses.

Were we crazy? Maybe, but the language and positioning has worked amazingly well.

We started to see a reversal in BOTH trends I mentioned above:

For the people who say things like “I’ll join Indy Hall when…” we now have a way of responding with something like “there’s a way to start getting to know community members now…a lot of them were in the same position as you, before they left their jobs or found one that let them choose where they work. They can probably help you!”

And here’s my favorite part of this change:

Now we have people who email us to reluctantly cancel their membership because they’re moving away, or took a new job, but they know that they’ll miss the community. So we can offer them the Community membership for $20/month (or $200/year prepaid).

And they’re THRILLED. We just turned someone who was about to leave into a member for life, no matter where they go they can stay connected. Bam.

The beautiful thing about this new Community membership is that it allows us to create value for one kind of member, and it improves our long term member retention and overall member lifetime value, which I see so often overlooked in favor of “getting more members”) and excused by “graduation is a good thing”.

Of course it’s good to get more members, but it’s even better to keep delivering value to a larger % of the members you already have :) 

Think about the value you deliver

For the first several years of Indy Hall’s existence, I chuckled to myself every time I saw another coworking space wholeseale copy our membership structure and pricing. Mostly because there literally was no option for us to copy when we were opening up.

But it also makes me think about how those people probably aren’t thinking about the VALUE they deliver for the amount of money they charge. It’s telling when people come up with their prices because that’s what another space charges, even if that space is in another city.

  • They don’t think about how many people we have at each member (nobody guesses that 60+ percent of our membership is either basic or community membership).
  • They don’t think about our costs or how we’ve structured them
  • They don’t think about the other ways we generate value, or things we DON’T spend money on that they assume they have to.

You can raise your membership rates, just don’t be a jerk about it.

Your members are professionals. I’d be willing to bet that many of them earn more per day than you charge per month. Think about that!

Here’s something that we’ve done ourselves and we’ve heard others do successfully: ask your CURRENT paying members if they feel like they get more or less value than they pay out of their membership. If you’re doing even a halfway decent job, most paying members will say that they’re getting a steal of a deal. Which means…you’re not charging enough. 

When we raised our rates, we did it with 6 months notice and offered a grandfather option for prepaying, which people found MORE than generous. I included a note saying that if someone felt that the price increase would impact their ability to be a member, to come talk to me and we’d figure out a solution.

When we announced the price increase, the #1 thing we heard was “It’s about time!” And only 1 person (out of nearly 200) came to me to say anything about the price increase being a potential burden – but that she was still happy to pay it because we’d been so considerate of the potential situation.

Membership isn’t just renting without the long term commitment.

Members and tenants aren’t just interchangeable jargon.

Tenants pay to consume a resource. Members pay to belong, and along with that sense of belonging both contribute and gain access to resources.

Your membership structure can help you by showing people the value in your community BEFORE, During, and AFTER they need the space…and streamline everything from sales to billing along the way.

If you’re working on your membership structure for your new coworking space, or looking for ways to improve your existing membership structure, I hope you find this guide useful.

And most of all, let me know how it helps!

Holy Crap

Just 3 days ago, I posted a message to our community that gave one of the first actionable steps we’re taking to prepare for upcoming changes: an option to pre-pay your membership.

This isn’t a long-term fix for our upcoming rent increase, but it does let us continue doing what we do best without having to make significant sacrifices. And it earns us some more time to put longer-term plans in place without rushing or losing sight of the big picture.

And the reason the title of this post is “Holy crap” is because this community has smashed any targets I initially had in mind for prepayments. In just 3 days, over $18,000 $19,000 in prepayments have been pledged, and more than half of that actually collected.

That’s amazing. I’m so thankful. I’m so impressed. These prepayments have literally bought me – and us – a bit of sanity in a situation where it’s not readily available. About 3 months of sanity, in fact. Thank you, truly.

Many people said something to the effect of, “this is what I can do, I wish I could do more.”

So here’s the thing I want to say out loud in front of this community: every pledge is equally significant in my eyes. That might be my favorite part about Indy Hall – we remember that the small contributions matter as much as the big ones. That’s just as true in our every day interactions as it is in situations like the one we’re working through.

In addition to the prepayment drive being a huge success, I’ve also gotten a very positive interest from potential sponsors of the Membership Scholarship Fund (I think this needs a better name), so that’s coming up very soon. If you’re interested, or have questions, shoot me a message on Slack or email.

I’m going to end this update here while it’s still relatively short and wish everyone an awesome weekend ahead!

This post is part of the thread: Future of Indy Hall – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

2 immediate ways for members to help with the future of Indy Hall

Over the last few months, I’ve been using my blog to share updates and letters like this one about Indy Hall as we think about and plan for our future over next 12 months…and also our future for the next decade and beyond.

This is the latest email that I sent to all Indy Hall members via our community discussion list sharing the latest updates and asking for help in a couple of very specific ways. While it’s been a challenging few months, every time I post an update like this one I get responses like this from our members:

“I probably mentioned this before, but just want to say it’s been impressive to watch you think through this decision and engage the community with such intelligence and care. I feel lucky to have found my way to Indy Hall. I’ve been quiet so far as I get the lay of land but I’m looking forward to finding ways to contribute more as time goes on. Thanks for all your work.”

So I hope that by these posts, it helps other people navigate similar challenges by showing how I execute transparency and how I ask my community for help.


In case you missed the previous discussions about the Future of Indy Hall, scroll down to the bottom of this post to get caught up. Indy Hall has some changes coming up in the next year, and while change can be hard I’m confident in and optimistic about where we’re going.

With September right around the corner, it’s time to start putting things into motion.

Before we do, here are a few answers to common questions that still seem to be out there, and a couple of interesting updates

  • We’re not moving anywhere just yet – we still have 12 months left on our lease starting on September 1st. But that still means we have a lot to do in the next year!

  • One of the big outstanding questions is “if we move, where would we move to?” There isn’t a concrete answer to this yet, but what I really hope to do in the next few months is start narrowing the options. This is a VERY complex question, and I’m not taking it lightly and I absolutely will not be making that decision alone or in a vacuum. We got great insights from the previous Town Hall discussions and you can look forward to more of those.

  • In the last 2 weeks alone, I’ve had really great meetings with some of my friends at City Hall to see how they can help us. They’re very much on our side, and I’m getting together with a small cadre of people (a mix of public and private sector leaders who all work with the City) to brainstorm ways they can help, and opportunities they can unlock. More on that soon.

  • By the end of this month, I’ll be sending out a survey that helps us measure the economic impact of Indy Hall on Old City. Once this data is collected, we will have a tool to help the Old City District determine how much they can invest to keep us in Old City…but we’ll also have a better understanding of the value we collectively bring to the neighborhood.

And finally…we chose to keep the entire ground floor instead of shrinking it by 50% for the next 12 months. But…our rent goes up by 20% (about $3k/month).

We need to start making up that difference, and there are a few different ways to do it so that we’re creating more value as a community instead of simply raising our rates.


Option 1 – Can you pre-pay for your membership?

If you’re able to, we’re looking for members who can pre-pay their membership for 3, 6, or even the next 12 months.

  • This will help us build up our cash reserves and buys us time to work on other things that will help with the rent increase. That cushion will help us stay focused on the future, and saying “yes” to all of the great things that we want to do as a community.
  • For your business, you can write off the full prepayment on your 2015 taxes, including any months you prepay into 2016.
  • Pre-payment will count as a credit, so your membership will stay flexible. You can still upgrade or downgrade anytime.

This works on ALL levels of membership – from community and basic all the way to full time membership. Every little bit helps!

We’re ready to accept prepayments right now, and we are especially looking for members who can prepay before the end of this month. But whether you choose to prepay now or want to a few months from now, it’s all going to make a really big difference.

If you’re able to pre-pay for 3, 6, or 12 months of your membership – please send me an email ASAP at alex@indyhall.org or send me a message in Slack. Let me know how many months, at what level you’d like to pre-pay.


Option 2 – Help us start a Membership Scholarship Pool

You already know how valuable it can be to be a part of this community. The energy and inspiration of people getting things done. The ability to ask a question about nearly anything and POOF get an answer from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. The doors that can be opened when you’re trying to start doing something new. The network of networks that everyone is connected to. Sharing in celebrations of new achievements.

The kind of kinship and camaraderie that I watch so many people in this community provide for each other is tremendous, is unique, and is sooo valuable.

Now imagine how valuable that would be to someone who is just getting started, or in a career transition.

Nearly everyone in this community has been there at some point, and we know how difficult and lonely that place can be. And think about how much easier it is to find success when you have the support of a community like ours?

For example, imagine someone who has taken an collection of Girl Develop It classes because they’re trying to switch careers, or a college student in their junior or senior year, preparing for graduation. Think about how much their progress could be impacted by spending even one or two days a week at Indy Hall and participating in this community.

Indy Hall’s cost creates a bit of a paradox for those people who are still building their practice, whatever it may be. They’re not yet at a point where they can afford a membership, but by joining Indy Hall they’d be more likely to be able to afford it soon.

I’ve spoken to quite a few members about this in the past, and everyone has agreed that this would be an amazing on-ramp to offer. And for some of them, it’s not just a philosophical act of philanthropy…it’s an investment in creating their future collaborators and even the pool of potential hires. It’s a long-game approach, but I think that fits the Indy Hall mindset as well.

And best of all this solves multiple problems at once: it helps fill in our new cost gap AND creates a whole new way for students to get involved in this community, which is something that will benefit everyone.

So I’d like to set a goal of being able to offer 6 month “membership scholarships” – and to start, focusing on groups that are already near and dear to us at Indy Hall, like Girl Develop It students, soon-to-graduate college students, and even recent graduates.

There are still some details about exactly how people would apply and be granted – but I don’t want to figure those details out alone. I want the people who contribute to this scholarship pool to help determine how we choose the recipients.

If you’re interested and able to contribute financially to building this scholarship pool, please send me an email ASAP at alex@indyhall.org or shoot me a message in Slack!


Neither of these options makes sense for you? Please, don’t feel guilty.

These two options help us with a relatively immediate need, but I also know that they’re not going to make sense for everyone. There’s going to be other ways to help at different points throughout the year, and the absolutely LAST thing I want to do is create a financial hardship for anybody. And while these short-term ways are focused on help in financial many…we’ll have plenty of ways to pitch in that don’t require you to take out your wallet.

No matter what your contribution ends up being, I’m endlessly thankful for your desire to help this community thrive. If you have ideas that you think can help, come talk to me!

Looking to the future,

-Alex

No idea why we’re doing all of this now? Let me catch you up!

For those of you who are new to Indy Hall in the last month or so, and for anybody who needs a recap, much of this summer has been spent navigating a rather complicated situation with our current landlord that directly impacts the future of Indy Hall and our clubhouse.

Especially if this is the first time you’re hearing about this, check out these threads and the links in them to get a sense of what’s going on:

By the way – I’m SO proud of and impressed by how this community has banded together to support me, and each other. There’s been so much that’s already come from working together to find answers to tough questions, from exploring and brainstorming, sharing contacts, and simply providing gratitude and understanding. I can’t imagine trying to do this alone, so thank you for being here with me. <3

This post is part of the thread: Future of Indy Hall – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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