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the importance of a clubhouse

5 minute read
by Alex Hillman

This past weekend we celebrated the one year anniversary of IndyHall’s grand opening. I’ve been making it a point to clearly define what we were celebrating, for a reason. At our party, I added some clarity to the point.

IndyHall existed before the office at 32 Strawberry St was opened, and I firmly believe that if the office were to close down tomorrow, IndyHall would continue to exist.

IndyHall is not (just) a coworking space. IndyHall is a coworking community that shares a vision of making Philadelphia a better place to do whatever it is that they love to do.

The space at 32 Strawberry Street is the most tangible facet of IndyHall, the easiest to identify with. That’s a good thing, for our own community here in Philadelphia as well as the global coworking community and, quite frankly, the entire world. It’s good that IndyHall has a clubhouse at 32 Strawberry (so good that it was worth throwing an epic party to celebrate).

It’s important to have these clubhouses. Without some tangible touchpoint, it’s difficult to share goals, share visions, and collaborate on executions.

I’ve talked a lot about coworking over the last 2 years. I think I’ve talked about coworking more than any other single thing in my entire life, really. Over this time, I’ve realized the most common questions we get, and some of them tend to overlap and create some interesting trends.

Usually, people don’t get it. It’s getting better over time, and mainstream press is helping. But on the whole, outside of the microcosm community that we live and work in, people don’t get it. They don’t understand the purpose, other than the “having a desk in a real office” part.

I used to get frustrated when the thing that got people to understand was when I said, “Well, our business model is renting desks. But that’s really just the way we cover our overhead.” The fact that the least important part of the company (in my mind) was the most obvious, bothered me. Leaving a conversation where someone understood IndyHall on that level meant that they simply didn’t understand IndyHall.

Geoff was quoted on PSFK over a year ago saying:

“It’s not about making money, It’s like when you were a kid, and you had a clubhouse… it’s a way to feel like part of a community.” The people who truly understand IndyHall are the one’s who’ve come to hang out at the clubhouse. And by the clubhouse, I’m still not just referring to the building in which we rent desks, host workshops, and build some of the coolest software you’ve seen this year. I’m talking about a bigger clubhouse.

People who heard me talk about IndyHall a year ago probably heard this analogy from me:

Imagine a bunch of little soap bubbles. Each one is self contained, and adjacent to a number of other soap bubbles. If you were to pop each bubble, the contents would just spill out into the open with nowhere to go. What I want to do is blow one giant soap bubble over top of the little bubbles, reach in through the wall of the big bubble, and start popping the little bubbles in creative and interesting ways, getting their contents to mix and mingle under one common “structure”. That’s what we’ve effectively done with IndyHall. There was an extremely vibrant community here in Philadelphia, but it went undiscovered due to its fragmented and disparate nature. Think back, Philadelphians, to BlogPhiladelphia. Annie Heckenberger and I put together an event (this was the most “Hurricane” I’ve ever seen Annie, by the way. I wonder when we’re going to get that back) that was a whole lot of fun. But beyond the fun, but the number one response I got after the event was:

“I had no idea what my neighbor/coworker/blah blah blah was up to. They write for this blog/have their own startup/want to take of the world, too!” It’s absurd that we think we need to have a conference, a meetup, or a party to find out what our neighbors/friends/peers are up to. Totally and completely absurd.

We should be able to simply hang out and go about our every day lives and have a point of contact that has the same degree of effect as a conference/meetup/party, but all the time. Tara and Chris have called coworking “Barcamp Every Day”, and I think that is a more important effect of coworking than the “save money on gas and office space” angle.

Frankly, the “efficiency” angle is an easy sell, and a real boon for the movement and it’s growth. But it says nothing about the value add and the changes that I firmly believe are much deeper rooted in not where we work, but how we work. We’re riding the crest of these changes, but I really believe this is bigger than all of us realize yet. THAT’S why I was upset about FastCompany’s shitty coverage of coworking. They have a massive, and extremely impressionable audience, and were sending the less valuable message. But I digress.

So going back to my soap bubble analogy, IndyHall is so much more than the 32 Strawberry St clubhouse. We’ve got clubhouses all over the city. Bars, restaurants, parks, apartments, offices. We’ve crashed conferences in other cities, together. As new soap bubbles find themselves within the ever-improving community clubhouse framework, they have similar experiences.

Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important for setting goals and executing on them as a community.

Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important for moral support when things aren’t going quite like you planned.

Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important when you need that last little push to get your shit done.

Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important for putting things into perspective.

Knowing you’ve got a clubhouse is important when you need to just close your eyes and dream for a minute.

Where’s your clubhouse?

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.