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

“I’ve been going to this coworking space but…” 😫

My buddy Sean Fioritto has been craving a community of likeminded people in Chicago for a while, and he’s been struggling to find it.

Around 2 months ago, he met Monica Guzman. Sean tells me that Monica specifically reached out to him because she was ALSO feeling isolated and wanted to meet more people like her.

Like Sean, Monica was looking for more ways to connect with likeminded people who she wouldn’t have to explain herself to, who might actually understand the challenges and aspirations of running a solo business.

They started talking. And talking more. And talking more.

Sean had recently hit a kind of breaking point, and drafted a blog post, a rallying cry of sorts.

Before hitting publish, I gave Sean just a little bit of coaching and sent him a preview release of my new audiobook “The First Ten“. He pressed the button.

In just a matter of days after making his post public, Sean and Monica went from isolated entrepreneurs to taking their first steps to building the community they’d been craving in Chicago.

But wait. I can practically hear you thinking to yourself…

“Chicago has coworking spaces, right? Why create all of this noise? Just go there! Problem solved.”

Well hold your horses.

Sean goes to one of those coworking spaces.

In fact, he’s tried several. Monica was on the hunt for a coworking space, too. But there was a problem.

As Sean has described it to me, the problem is that for most of the people inside the coworking spaces he’s tried and settled for, the offer is little more than a low-cost, low commitment office that lets him get out of the house. He didn’t want more services or facilities to be more productive. He didn’t need nicer furniture to be more comfortable or even free coffee to be productive.

Without any context or sense of community among the members, it’s just a bunch of people being lonely together. The loneliness problem doesn’t actually go away.

“I rent a coworking space, but we barely know each other. There’s no way that spontaneous collaboration will ever happen there. Nothing surprising could ever come out of that place, and it only makes me feel a little less lonely.”

As a quick sidenote, ugh, I hear stuff like this way, way, way too often. It makes me mad. Maybe worst of all, I hear it from frustrated members, but I hear it even more often from coworking space staff who can’t figure out why their members come in every day and sit in complete isolation from each other. They’re not sure what to do. They worry if they’re doing something wrong. If that sounds like you – check out my challenge below and email me. I want to help.

Back to our dynamic duo, Monica & Sean.

They both wanted people to have a friendly conversation with, to push each other to be better in the way that great coworkers and teammates do.

I know first hand how this feels, because I needed the exact same thing 10 years ago before I started the Indy Hall community.

And Sean learned, like I did 10 years ago, that he wasn’t alone.

Sean learned something that too many coworking space founders (and their teams) learn far too late, if they ever learn at all:

For a lot of professionally creative and independent people, “space” isn’t the most valuable problem you can help them solve.

As Monica told Sean: “Community is more important than the space, community is the point.”

Working alone sucks, but loneliness isn’t cured by a room. Too often, in fact, space becomes a distraction that allows the loneliness to perpetuate.

Loneliness is best cured by inviting people to do something together. It’s really that simple.

You might notice that Sean and Monica’s first events don’t look like the typical events that have become the default at so many coworking spaces. Nobody’s on stage. There aren’t any sponsors, or even a promise of free food and beer.

And that’s not an accident.

Sean has been listening to our playbook, and has been supporting Monica to put together a first event that I see as exceptional on three particular fronts:

  1. Keeping the event low impact and casual – it’s absurdly easy to plan and execute, which means Sean & Monica can focus their efforts on inviting people to join in instead of being distracted by speakers, sponsors, and lots of other unnecessary “event defaults”.

    Think about community building as more like “hanging out with a purpose.”

  2. This invitation is clearly written by a person. Take a look at the last event promotion you sent or received. I always tell my team to imagine if you used that same tone or voice to invite your best friend to your birthday party. Would they actually want to come, or would they tell you to loosen up?  

    Instead of a buzzword-laden agenda, Monica and Sean host this event with a tone that talks more about the people who would be there and what they care about instead of what they do. While crafting the invite, Monica chose to talk a _little_ bit about what kinds of jobs people might have, but she brilliantly chose to focuses MUCH more on common interests, values, and identities to invite diversity. At the same time, the invite makes it clear who this is for, and what you can expect (and subtly, what not to expect too).

    I might go so far to consider this style of invite an “advanced community building move” but she’s executed if beautifully.

  3. This last one is a little bit counterintuitive, so stay with me!

    Think about the difference between dinner party where you can get a chance to meet everyone, vs a giant house party where you probably wouldn’t break away from your existing friends. It’s absolutely brilliant to be keeping these initial gatherings small and intimate. Far too often, an event success is gauged by headcount.

    Instead, Monica guided them to make choices that will encourage and invite people to get to know each other.

    This choice makes a far more effective community building event (where the result is people actually forming relationships) and builds a stronger foundation for future growth of the community.

    Note that they could have increased the headcount when the first event filled up. In fact, Sean admits he would have gone that way if Monica hadn’t talked him in this direction. He told me:

    “When Monica scheduled a second meeting, at first I was like, ‘huh? why?’ and then it dawned on me that we could actually focus on making friends that way, which is the entire point. The reason my little slack community exists is because we started with a core group of friends. Monica is a smarty.”

    It’s worth noting that they also could have set that second session up a few days later or even the following week. And they can always adjust going forward. Minor tactical choices like this matter a lot less when you’re making smart strategic choices like the rest of them.

    But the point is that this intentional choice to keep it small will let them focus on priority #1, which is building the community core that’s missing elsewhere. Smarty indeed.

You can be a smarty, too.

You can put this into action too, whether you run a coworking space already, are working towards opening one, or are an enthusiast who wants to build a stronger community.

Here’s the first couple of steps to get you started:

  • Think about who you’d want to invite.

    Ask yourself: What kinds of things does this community already like to do? Might they like to do it together?

    Keep it simple and casual, but give people something to look forward to. Remember, more like a dinner party, less like a giant house party.

    e.g. sharing food and drinks are an easy choice (pot luck dinners rule), playing games like Sean, Monica and their crew, checking out something new in your neighborhood, going to a museum…almost any kind of group activity is fair game so long as it’s relatively easy for new people to join in.

    And avoid putting people on stage unless it’s for karaoke night.

  • Pick a date, pick a time, and pick a place to invite them to do that thing. Remember, the goal is a small event where people can actually get to know each other. It can be really helpful to choose a place where the size of the venue helps keep your headcount down.

    Quiet bars and cafes are great. Don’t pick somewhere that people will need to shout across the table the whole time.

    If you DO operate a coworking space, don’t use your own space as the venue. Remember this is for doing something together, not showing off your space. Besides, you’ll have an easier time getting to know people when you aren’t thinking about the operational details of your space.

  • Put it out there. Keep your invitation personal. Personal invites go a long way, and there’s a very good chance that you already know people who want the same thing as you (or at least know someone else who might).

    And if you’re nervous, remember that this is low stakes, especially compared to signing a lease. If only a few people show up, this event can still be a success because you’ve completely re-calibrated the goal towards maximizing conversations instead of maximizing headcount.

Got it? Good!

Alex’s Challenge: Do it in the next two weeks.

My challenge to you is to give this a shot in the next two weeks. Yes, two weeks.

If you take more time than that, you’re guaranteed to overthink it.

There are tons of things you THINK you need to do, but don’t. Focus on the fundamentals, like Sean did. And like I did.

If you decide to take me up on this challenge, and organize something like this in the next two weeks, reply to tell me what you’re going to do.

Yes, I’m serious!

I want to hear about it. Shoot me an email and tell me where you are (city/country), a little about your community, and what your community building event is going to be.

And afterwards, send me pictures! I love seeing pictures of communities coming together. They totally make my day 🙂

Want more step-by-step guidance? I’ve got your back!

IHW audiobook image

For the next 2 weeks, my new audiobook “The First Ten” is on sale for $10 off to celebrate it’s launch!

Check out the free sample chapters to get a taste, and pick up a copy now so you can listen to over the next two weeks while you’re getting ready to do your community building event. 

Chapter 3 and 6 in particular are PACKED with more stories and lessons about what makes a great community building event, with even more examples for you to draw from.

What it’s like to have an internet provider that actually cares

Philadelphia is home to one of the largest internet providers in the country. So it’s not without irony – or controversy – that we don’t get any hometown love from our hometown provider.

Speeds are inconsistent or slow, prices are high, and the only thing worse than the customer support is that there isn’t really a good alternative. Some parts of the city can get Verizon FiOS but that’s not without it’s own controversy and even where it is an option, I’d just be trading a hometown megacorp that doesn’t care for an out of town megacorp that doesn’t care.

“Lesser of two evils” choices sure don’t feel like real choices, but not having internet also wasn’t an option. So I did what everyone else does: I paid the bills, avoided calling customer support, and bitched about it over beers any chance I found.

Then, about a year ago, I was introduced to a Mark Steckel

At the time, Mark had a little idea. He wanted to launch a new internet provider in Philadelphia.

6 months later, he did his first installs in East Kensington. Then earlier this year, when I moved into my new house near Cecil B Moore and Front Street, I became a customer of Philly Wisper myself.

$200 install, which includes first month. The networking hardware is the best I’ve used, it’s the same stuff we use at Indy Hall for hundreds of devices. More than powerful enough for the heaviest home use.

$50/month flat pricing (no contract required) for speeds of 25mb up and down guaranteed, though every time I’ve ever run a speed test I’ve gotten much, much higher than that. And for the uber-nerds in the room, ping times to google of under 10ms…roughly half of what I’ve ever had before.

While I can rave about the quality of the connection, I’m most impressed with the quality of customer service

Mark is undoubtedly qualified to run the technical side of an ISP, but assuming that fast, reliable internet should really be the default (even if we’ve become numb to the dull pain of being Comcast customers) professionalism and communication is really where PhillyWisper shines.

Before I started Indy Hall, and before I did web development, I did network architecture and support. I’m acutely aware of how legitimately difficult it is to design and operate any kind of network, let alone one that’s rapidly growing. There will be unexpected bumps.

The difference is in how you handle them those bumps.

For example – every one of us has experienced an internet outage that customer support attributed to some kind of “equipment maintenance,” right?

Have you ever had your home internet provider proactively contact you to let you know about 5-10 minutes of expected downtime, 24 hours ahead of time?

I have.

Have you ever had your home internet provider provide a detailed incident report 24 hours after 40 minutes of unexpected downtime?

I have.

It might seem weird to highlight downtime in a wildly positive review about a service that I’ve quickly come to love, but my point isn’t the downtime. Shit happens.

It’s about how the problem was proactively addressed: quickly, professionally, and with a friendly (and authentic) apology.

Mark treats his customers like good neighbors treat each other, while providing a high quality service. That’s more than enough to win my dollars.

Note: I haven’t been paid to write any of this. I (happily) pay full rate for my PhillyWisper service. Ask any of my neighbors, I’ve been raving about Mark and PhillyWisper since it was installed.

Philly Wisper is so choice.

The only downside to PhillyWisper is that it’s not available everywhere in Philly just yet, but that’s only a matter of time.

If you’re in one of the available zip codes, I highly recommend making the switch. And if not…drop your name and zip-code on the site so Mark can let you know when he’s coming to your area.

Bonus awesome: Philly Wisper is providing free wifi for the Trenton Ave Arts Festival

If you’re in Philly this weekend you should be headed to the festival anyway. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the home of the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby which is one of the most wonderfully Philadelphia-weird events of the year that you have to see with your own eyes to believe.

And if you find Mark Steckel, tell him I sent you.

Tough Love & Oxygen Mask Coworking

Let me save you from a hard-earned lesson in being helpful

Earlier this week, I got an email from a reader asking advice in a tough situation:

We partnered with our City to create a vibrant community for entrepreneurs in exchange for a rent- free space.  It hasn’t been easy, or perfect, but it is working and is valued by many.   

We are at a crossroads right now.  We just got notice that the City is taking over the facility at the end of our lease… which is in June.  That does not leave us much time to find a new home for our community! 

Our current building is definitely not ideal office space, but it is rent free.  Even so, we’re just barely breaking even.  My team and I are currently exploring all kinds of options for where should move, and what implications that will have on our finances. 

I am concerned that we will take on too much expense and not be able to bring in enough members to cover it.  I am also concerned that there will be so much pressure to bring in revenue that our culture will be damaged, and we will turn into a soul-less office park, not the vibrant, fun, bootstrapping group that we are.  

Have you encountered a problem like this before?  We really aren’t sure what our next move should be, and we have only a few weeks to lock down a new location that will serve our community, and allow us to grow our impact and revenue!

Ouch, right?

Situations like this hurt. You work your ass off, scraping by, because you believe you’re doing something important and helpful.

And in the moment, it’s easy to find yourself wondering…what the hell do I do now? Here’s how I answered.

First – is the space actually most valuable tool in your toolkit? 

If the answer is yes, then you need to do some serious re-evaluation of your model. In your current configuration, you’ve built your model that makes space a liability, not an asset. That needs fixing.

Have you thought about what your community would look like if it were “homeless” for a little while instead of scrambling for a space?

Who would stick around? What could you do together if sharing office space wasn’t the most visible aspect of your offering?

Even if you’re not in this situation YET, use it as a thought experiment. What would you do if the coworking space you run burned to the ground, or got knocked down? How would you deliver value then?

If the answer is “I’m not sure” – that’s a problem. And it’s going to be a lot easier to solve that problem NOW then when you have your back against the wall.

Second – have you talked to your community about the fact that you’re barely breaking even even though the space you use is provided for free?

If they don’t see that as a problem, again, you have a much deeper rooted issue.

If you’re actually an asset to the community, it’d be worse if you weren’t able to keep doing what you do.

But you know how the airplane security videos tell you to put on your oxygen mask before helping others put on theirs? That’s because if you put someone else’s oxygen mask on first, there’s a chance you’ll die in the process and that means you won’t be able to help anyone…and you’ll be dead.

Fact: Your model isn’t sustainable even with free space. That’s a problem you owe to your community to fix. 

Fact: Even if you found another free space, what’s going to prevent you from being in this situation again in the future? This is a problem you owe to your community to fix. 

Because if you ignore these problems in this transition, you’re only delaying the inevitable.

You need to put on your oxygen mask. 

My biz partner Amy Hoy coined the term “Oxygen Mask Entrepreneurship” – it’s often emotionally counterintuitive, but absolutely crucial for long-term success.

Fear and Scarcity make us do and say stupid things.

Did you notice this quote from the original email above?

“I am concerned that we will take on too much expense and not be able to bring in enough members to cover it.  I am also concerned that there will be so much pressure to bring in revenue that our culture will be damaged, and we will turn into a soul-less office park, not the vibrant, fun, bootstrapping group that we are.”

If this feels familiar, I’d bet you $100 right now that giving away free/cheap space isn’t what makes your community awesome.

And won’t it be worse for your culture to be damaged by you not being able to exist any longer if you don’t address your sustainability issues? You have to take a longer view than just replacing your space.

And I’m not just saying YOU should do this…I speak from experience

When I started Indy Hall, all of the models for coworking were dependent on free or subsidized space. On one hand, I didn’t have access to that. But I also saw it as a liability. Space that’s free is space that’s likely to go away.

Why would I want to put in all of this work to help my community…just to put them in a vulnerable position?

Our membership model is even designed specifically to make it less likely that a single entity or group could put our community at risk.

More recently, I’ve been following this advice myself for the last 12 months.

From the moment I shared the news with our community that our landlord had lost their mind and we would need to find a new home, I made it clear that of all of the things that were possibly going to change WHO WE WERE wasn’t going to change and that’s all that mattered.

I talked about this at length in this two part podcast. I highly recommend listening to that one closely.

And then taking a serious look at your model and take care of that oxygen mask, stat.

It’s hard work, but the people in our community are worth it. I bet the people in your community are, too.

21 Things I’ve done so far in 2016

  • I took an 8 week wine course with Patterson. Learned to do a blind tasting. 
  • Hired a personal trainer. 
  • Patterson and I moved into a new house. We live together now, along with longtime friend/housemate Kara and new housemate Will. It’s awesome. 
  • I went to Bali for The Coworking Unconference Asia2016. Met tons of awesome people. Taught a workshop. Gave a keynote about what coworking can learn from the wine industry. 
  • Signed a lease for Indy Hall. We move this summer. Very happy that we are staying in Old City. 
  • Announced a conference of our own, the People at Work Summit. Worked with Adam and Sam to create an online conference that, to our knowledge, breaks the mold for both online AND offline events. 
  • Relaunched the Coworking Weekly Show, added a producer to the team. 
  • Relaunched the Stacking the Bricks show with Amy. 
  • Brought a bunch of new students into 30×500 Academy
  • Helped a bunch of 30×500 Academy students kick ass. 
  • Renovated Patterson’s house to get it ready for renters. (Anyone looking for a huge, beautiful 3 bedroom in Roxborough? Hit me up.)
  • Helped start a secret experimental new kind of event once a month at the new house – back to our roots. 
  • Recorded a 13 chapter “reverse-audiobook” with my right hand man, Adam Teterus. 
  • Launched and sold out BaconBizConf with Amy and Thomas. 
  • Amy and I hired help for the 30×500/UnicornFree/Stackingthebricks/JFS/Stacking the Bricks universe. 
  • Mapped out our 2016 gameplan for brining everything under the Stacking the Bricks banner. This summer, we execute. 
  • Went on a road trip with Patterson and another friend: Bourbon Trail in Lousiville, wedding in Little Rock Arkansas, sweet tunes and hot chicken in Nashville. 
  • Wrote a bunch. Not as much as I want to though. 
  • Coached our People at Work Summit speakers to help them be even more awesome. 
  • Lost 30 lbs. 
  • And today, over 100 people from around the world are joining the People at Work Summit. 


The best interview I think I’ve ever done

Something happened back in January when I sat down in a chilly conference room at Indy Hall to record an episode of “The Beautiful Struggle” with it’s creator, Octavius A Newman.

I don’t know exactly what it was about this conversation, or where my head was, but Octavius got me into a zone that I don’t think I’d ever been in with a microphone in front of me.

I let my guard down. I got honest – really honest. I told some stories I haven’t ever told before.

Out of everything I’ve ever put out there, this interview has gotten a response unlike anything else I’ve ever shared (though this one I did with Jonathan Fields and Amy Hoy comes close).

Give it a listen. I’d love to know what you think.

Collaboration Scars

About 2 years ago I was invited to speak at a luncheon in front of a group of near-retirement executives. Before the talk I was standing in the lobby, speaking with one of these experienced execs.

He was curious of me – dressed down by comparison, him an a sharp plaid suit and me in a navy seersucker blazer over jeans. But he was genuine in his questions about Indy Hall.

As I described the kinds of people who are a part of our community, the way people chose to work alongside each other instead of alone, and the amazing things they produce together, his eyes softened and his smile widened. I could tell he was charmed, maybe even nostalgic for a work experience from earlier in his career.

As we neared the end of our conversation he asked me, “You’ve created something very special, and I can tell that you know and appreciate that. What’s the most surprising lesson you’ve learned from all of this experience?”

I’ll share the answer I gave the grey-haired exec in a moment…but first, I want to make sure we’re on the same page about something important.

Have you ever noticed how the mere mention of group work gives some people flashbacks to high school or college group projects?

She isn’t pulling her weight. He is being a diva for not getting his way. More time is being spent debating, than doing. Deadlines creep up. Everyone is scrambling. Work is sloppy. But it’s your ass is on the line, so you end up pulling a red-bull fueled all night nighter just to make sure that this sinking ship doesn’t get you an F.

The professional version of these scenarios are even worse, often with money or power on the line. The stakes are higher, and in a lot of cases the fallout is worse (like when “getting an F” means “getting Fired”).

But the elements of a failed collaboration at work isn’t that much different.

Everyone has scars from these tragic attempts at “collaboration”. I know I do. You probably do, too.

And like most things that leave scars…we spend most of our lives avoiding working with other people unless it’s either absolutely necessary or in rare situations “comes naturally.”

(More on why “comes naturally” is in scare quotes in just a second.)

So it’s not really surprising that as adults and professionals, collaborative work isn’t everyone’s strongest suit.

How are you supposed to get good at it if you’ve spent your whole life avoiding real collaboration, or simply having your traumatic experiences working in groups reinforced?

We need to understand what makes those natural collaborations work.

  • Do the stars just magically align? No, and as Anthony Bourdain says, “…luck is not a business model.
  • Do the collaborators just need to like each other? No, because plenty of seemingly great friendships have been destroyed by collaborations.
  • Can you “manage” a collaboration to success? Kind of…but be very very careful about being a dependency (or creating one in someone else). This is a band-aid and it’s not sustainable.

There’s something else at play.

And best of all, it’s something that comes more naturally than we think…we just forget to do it, especially at work.

I told the man in the suit:

“The people who need to talk to each other the most, talk to each other the least. Or worse, they only talk to each other when it’s absolutely necessary.”

He nodded. “Damn, you got that right” he said.

The biggest value in coworking isn’t even workspace

Honestly, I’ve never been really that excited coworking from a perspective of shared workspace. Worse, I think that the “workspace” part of coworking is a massive distraction from the real opportunity to impact the workplace.

It’s kinda like a carpenter getting more excited about a hammer than they are about building someone’s home. A coworking space is a hammer. The community is the home.

And here’s why community is such a crucial part of the coworking equation.

Think about this:

What do most group projects in school and most professional collaborations have in common?

The answer is that the work was the reason for the collaboration.

  • That group project in school was probably an assigned group. The only reason you were working together was to get the grade.
  • That professional collaboration was among coworkers with the necessary skills to complete the project to earn the company money to pay your salary

In short, if it weren’t for the work, the collaboration wouldn’t happen.

But in a coworking space, something very unique is allowed to happen, something that’s very difficult to replicate in other workplaces.

Relationships get to form before work changes hands.

People begin to get to know one another before they need to rely on one another.

Trust forms. Knowledge changes hands. Laughter and meals are shared. All without one lick of “work” between the members themselves.

In coworking spaces, collaboration can happen not because the work dictates it, but because people want to work together.

Collaborations that start in a coworking space can happen on a foundation of trust, rather than trying to build trust while racing against deadlines and conquering each others egos.

It still isn’t automatic. Old habits die hard.

But our role is simple. It’s not to connect, or network, or make introductions. It’s to create places where people can do that on their own.

“I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve seen so much money time energy and aspiration wasted by people trying to create a shared vision. And I say “let the people talk to each other.”

You’re here busy trying to build a shared vision, but you’re turning your back on the very thing that will lead to shared visions, which is to create an environment where people can be continually reflection on what matters matters to them and be in conversations where they can connect with each other. And you will start to discover elements of the shared vision.

There’s more to do, but it’s sort of like trying to build a house without building a foundation. This is the foundation.” – Peter Senge on creating shared visions

We need to understand the unique tool that coworking provides. It’s not a floorplan or a pricing model, it’s an opportunity for people to build trust before they need to work together.

Once we understand that we can see people truly collaborate – where the sum is greater than the individual parts added up – and those group-work scars can start to fade.

Ya dig?

Who’s speaking at the People at Work Summit?

Howdy, friends!

In case you missed it on my podcast and newsletter and tweets and Instagram…next week (April 21-22) my team and I (wave hi to Adam and Sam!) are hosting an online conference that we’ve dubbed the People at Work Summit.

With just over a week until showtime, I wanted to share a much-requested summary of our speakers and their topics! Read on to see who they are and what we have in store…

Who’s speaking?
What am I going to learn?

I find it fascinating how we almost instinctively turn to other owners & operators instead of our own members when we have questions. And don’t get me wrong – I loooooove learning from this community and I love sharing what I’ve learned.

But every time I’m stuck, I turn to our members. They have the best insights. Knowing what’s really going on in their heads informs our best decisions.

<soapbox>We’re only going to continue to succeed as long as we are the companies and communities who really understand how and why people work together, what challenges the modern workers face (and how they’re overcome), and what they are learning about how to succeed as members of our coworking spaces. </soapbox>

So in a coworking conference first, we’ve stacked our speaker list HIGH with coworking space members who have incredibly valuable lessons, including:

  • Vanessa Gennarelli – “How I got comfortable talking about money”
  • Kati Sipp – The impact the on-demand economy has on the way that workers fight for benefits.
  • Lydia Martin – Virtual Coworking is great (except when it’s not)
  • Max Minkoff – “About the dishes in the sink..”
  • Parker Whitney – “How my company culture was informed by working in a coworking space”
  • Bernie Mitchell – “I’m NOT an entrepreneur and that’s okay”
  • Pilar Orti – Change is hard (and how to help others embrace it)
  • Madeline Boyer – Coworkers in the Mist: How to be an ethnographer in your coworking space

Beyond members, the second most valuable resource I’ve found to learn from are people in similar, adjacent industries. Coworking might seem “new” and “different” but so many of our challenges are easiest understood and overcome by seeing how people outside of coworking deal.

So….you can look forward to speakers and topics including:

  • Rich Negrin, Former Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia – What can local government learn from a coworking space?
  • Greg Maughan, Philly Improv Theater – “How to stop worrying about your competition”
  • Mike Quackenbush, Chikara Pro Wrestling – The impact of rituals on being a professional
  • Chris Thompson, Former VP of Electronic Arts, Development Director Green School bali – The Power of Imperfection
  • Dr Timaree Schmit, Sex Researcher and Educator – How is polyamory like coworking? How to build open trust and communication into a relationship.

Plus, a few special guests from this group. Specifically, some of our research-oriented friends, including Steve King sharing some research related to Happiness and Coworking, and Julian Waters Lynch sharing some of his findings about the “lifecycles” that coworkers are likely to go through and how we can build our communities and businesses to better support more of the lifecycle (a.k.a. less members leaving!).

Our goal was to organize a collection of talks that are going to open your mind, stimulate your thinking and creativity, and spark LOTS of conversation.

We’ve been working closely with all of our speakers to keep their talks tight and actionable, too. Every talk we’ve previewed has been incredibly good – so we’re REALLY excited to share these lessons with all of you. 🙂

Wait…why an online conference?

First and foremost, accessibility. If people want to benefit from an event like this, we wanted to lower the boundaries for getting involved.

Jon Markwell (a semi-regular on this group, from The Skiff in UK) nailed this with his recent post about traveling for work:

“Alex realised that there are lots of people who can’t travel to the many coworking conferences around the world. And those same people are the ones who would benefit the most if they could attend.”

I also wanted to see what would happen if we started connecting more across borders, like happens in the Coworking Google Group.

So for 24 hours (and days before/after the Summit itself), we’re going to experiment with turning a little corner of the internet into a shared space for our communities.

With accessibility in mind, we are also making scholarships available for people in parts of the world where $99 is a financial challenge – every 10 people who register unlocks another scholarship and we’ve given out several already!

Sounds awesome, but how the heck does an online conference actually work? What about time zones, Alex?

Fair question. To my knowledge, an event like this (for any topic or industry) hasn’t ever been attempted. So we’re charting some new territory.

Here’s a step-by-step of what to expect, but here are the most important bits: 

  • You need a laptop computer (sorry, the streaming doesn’t work on phones!) with a strong internet connection for the streaming video talks.

  • You CAN just sit back and take notes on all of the talks. But like a real conference, there’s even more value in connecting with the other people in attendance. The Summit chat room is already a great place to meet people, riff on the talk topics, ask more questions, swap stories, etc. and it’s only getting better with every new person who joins

The most challenging part, of course, is answering “when does this start in my time zone?” 

Check out the page above and notice Step 2. The easiest way to think of this might be to imagine six overlapping “mini conferences” – with a new one kicking off every 4 hours across the 24 hour period.

Every Summit Block will have it’s own kick off, speakers, hallways time, and happy hour. And then we’ll roll right into the next block.

For a single $99 ticket, you can join for as many blocks as you want (and can stay awake for).

People at Work Summit – The people side of Coworking, Collaboration, and the Future of Work 2016-04-13 12-28-30

Group ticket discounts are available by request (just email us, groups@peopleatworksummit.com)!

And if you get your ticket before 12pm Eastern THIS Friday (April 15th) you can participate in our weekly pre-conference chat at 3pm on Friday. This week’s chat topic is how coworking spaces communicate the value of what we do and provide, so it’s gonna be a doozie!

Whew! That was a lot to cover but I hope it paints a clear picture of what we’re working to create. I really really want this to be a valuable addition to the community. I hope you’ll join us!

Have any questions? Hit me up!

And I hope to “see” you at the Summit next week 🙂

The first advice I give to almost everyone starting a new coworking space

Dozens of emails pour into my inbox every week from around the world, people eager to start a coworking space in their city. Some are simply introducing themselves, others have questions or seek advice for a specific problem.

Reading and replying to these emails is one of my favorite things to do, and gives me tons of fuel for writing and sharing.

Interestingly (but not really surprisingly), most questions are about getting started. The exact scenarios vary widely, but the problem space doesn’t change: you want to start a coworking space and the first steps aren’t as obvious as you thought they might be.

Earlier this week, I got an email from a guy named Eric who had just been awarded a scholarship for our upcoming event, the People at Work Summit.

I had almost forgotten that I had given Eric some tough love in the past. I challenged a bunch of his assumptions. I wasn’t really sure if my advice had stuck, but was very happy to read his excited reply:

Thanks Alex! You were right, you were right, you were right. I emailed you in reply to your first follow-up email after joining your list back in November. I was all ready to pull the trigger with starting a coworking space here just north of Boston – I secured the loan, picked out the furniture, made my logo, and just before pulling the trigger I found you online… So, it was really hard, and a brutal exercise of being honest with myself but I listened, and put the brakes on the project a bit. Guess what? It’s proving tough to find remote workers like myself and convincing them to get off the couch and come hang-out, never mind getting them to join a coworking space. I’m enjoying the process of building my little community, learning a lot about myself, and I’m meeting a bunch of cool people along the way. I already feel in debited to you for this advice, so your kind words and scholarship just made my week!!

My #1 advice for people starting a coworking space

Space seems like an asset, but it’s a liability if you don’t have a community involved from the start. My #1 advice is to start getting out into the community, and getting to know people you can bring together as LONG before you have a space as possible.

This is the most counter-intutive part of starting a coworking space. It seems like you’d want to go out and find people who would want a coworking space, or any space to work for that matter.

But even when those people exist, you’re likely to run up against the human version of Newton’s first law: as an object at rest will stay at rest, peoples work routines are difficult to change. Even if the cafe they work in is uncomfortable and the wifi is crappy, even if they can afford an upgraded workspace.

Just because people in your “target market” exist doesn’t mean a damn thing about your ability to get them to come together and share space successfully.

The best advice I have is to make it your job to go out and find people who want to be around each other. That’s what I really mean when I say build the community first.

Here’s how to find your community

1 – Start by finding a few places where people are already gathering.

Get out of the house, as they say.

Go to other peoples’ events. Get to know people – not to sell them coworking, but to learn who they are, what they’re about, and what they might have in common with other people you meet.

Small events. Big events. Just get out there.

This will help go from “I know people are out there” to “I know Don and Jane and Steve and Lauren and….”

2 – Look for patterns in what people have in common.

Shared interests, goals, values.

This is the key to building a community! It’s not enough to put butts in seats, or people in a room.

You need people who are likely want to be around each other, which also happens to be a much more powerful force for overcoming Newton’s first law than wanting a desk.

What do Don and Jane and Lauren and Steve have in common? The answer might surprise you.

3 – Look for ways to bring those people together.

Now that you know a bunch of people whom YOU know have things in common, it’s time to help them see that for themselves.

You can do this literally anywhere – but my #1 recommendation is that you DO NOT do this in your own coworking space (if you have one).

Cafe work-days together. Happy hours. Skill sharing. What kinds of things are they already doing, personally and professionally? What about things they WANT to be doing more of? Are those things that can be done together?

Whatever they’re interested in, your job is to be the facilitator. Do it WITH them, instead of FOR them.

Not sure what they’re interested in doing together? Go back to step 1 and try learning about the people you meet instead of collecting business cards like they’re Pokemon.

4 – Lead by example.

The best way to create a collaborative space is, well, collaboratively. Invite them to be a part of opening your space. Not just pre-sales, actually get them involved in planning, design, promotion, etc. Invite them to make it THEIR space, their work home, something they can care about.

Not just pre-sales of desks, but actual community support and buy in.

Start with people who would be upset if the space couldn’t open, instead of people who would quickly switch to another coworking space down the street if it were cheaper.

Start with people who are invested in the success of their peers has a far more enduring impact than people who need a desk with power and wifi.

This playbook is literally a game changer in every way.

On one hand only can you can save yourself from LOTS of wasted time and money if it turns out you can’t get people together.

At the same time, when you DO end up opening a space you’ll always have an edge over the people who don’t follow this process…even if they hurry to open their doors and you take 6-12 months to follow this process.

You might open later, but you’ll stay in business longer if your members actually want to be around each other.

The biggest mistake you could make right now is opening an empty space without a community.

It’s official. Indy Hall is staying in Old City

More details soon. 



A photo posted by ADAM TETERUS (@adamteterus) on

We're so ready to rip up this carpet #indyhall

A photo posted by Sam (@samantelope) on

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.

online, offline, or both?

Email and texts and chat. Skype and Google Hangouts. Apple’s FaceTime works even if I’m not connected to wifi. Technology does seem to be everywhere, and helping us “be” in more places.

But when we announced the People at Work Summit as the first online conference about coworking and the future of work, I got this email among the first registrations:

Liz's Trice's Email

Liz’s email reminded me that the best use of online tools is to get people together offline.

We chose to host the Summit online so that more people could experience their first coworking conference without the cost and time of traveling…but also so we could spark people to bring those conversations to their local communities.

Liz’s suggestion to bake it directly into the event – to make it easy for people like Liz to bring their community together – is perfectly in the spirit of what this conference is all about.

And how cool would it be to have a map that shows all of the local communities that are coming together to participate in the Summit?

Let me show you how cool…

Are you on the map?

Yeah. That cool.

So here’s where you come in. The big event is less than a month away on (April 21st!), and now is a great time for you to get your community on the map and help turn this into a seriously globally connected event, online and offline. And being a Cohost is a great way to bring your local community together for for an series of inspiring and thought-provoking conversations.

Naturally, we’re cohosting a group of members and friends at Indy Hall. And over a dozen other communities have already signed on… and more are joining every day.

Maybe best of all, it’s an opportunity for us to get to know you, too, as we get closer to the day of the event!

Wanna get on the map? All you need to do is sign up to be a People at Work Summit Cohost. It’s free to be a Cohost, and if you get at least 5 people to register you’ll get your ticket to the Summit for free as well!

As a Cohost, you’ll get a special link that you can share with your local community to save on their ticket to the event, and for every 5 people who sign up using your link, you’ll get a free ticket for yourself, for your team, or even to give away as a thank you to your community.

And of course, you are on the map!

All of the details about what’s expected and how it works are on this page, so take a peek and sign yourself up.

Have questions about what it takes to be a Cohost, or the People at Work Summit itself? Drop a note in the comments or shoot me an email: alex@indyhall.org

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