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4 Years of JFDI

6 minute read
by Alex Hillman

Bart had just handed me the telephone.

— “Hello?”

“Hi, is this Alex Hillman?”

— “Uh, yes. Hi. I’m Alex.”

“Hi Alex! My name is Jane Von Bergen and I write about workplace for the Philadelphia Inquirer. We heard you’re doing something down in old city and it sounds very interesting. I’d like to come by with a photographer and talk to you about it. Can we stop by tomorrow?”

— “Uh, no. I mean…sure, uhm…not tomorrow. Tomorrow? No, not tomorrow. How about Wednesday?”

“Sounds great. I’ll see you then.”

— “Yep, great!”</blockquote>

Shit. We had better go buy some furniture.

Actual Day 1 at Indy Hall. Turns out that you don't need desks to cowork.

This was Monday, August 13th of 2007.

I’d just gotten back from my 4 year anniversary vacation with my girlfriend and some friends from college. But it was also the first weekday after we’d signed the lease on the office that was about to become the clubhouse for Independents Hall.

We had 18 days to transform an empty space into our home.

And the Inquirer wanted to talk to us before we even had any fucking desks.

So we went to Ikea. We bought desks. We put them together.

This was Sunday, August 19th of 2007.

Jane’s article came out just 1 week after that initial phone call, on Sunday. Well technically, it hit newsstands on Saturday night. Some of my friends called me to the bar after midnight to see it together.

So yeah. We were on the front page of the business section of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

My face looked a bit more like this.


Jane wrote “By Wednesday, they were showing up for work”. The fact was, we’d been there working feverishly for 48 hours to get the space in shape for our first emergency visit from a journo and a photog.

The group effort paid off. By Wednesday, we could work. Really though, we’d been working together for months. We just had a new place to call home. We had almost 2 dozen members signed up already, but we didn’t start counting memberships until September 1st while we weren’t 100% sure who our internet service provider was going to be. “Come by and work for free until our grand opening on September 1st!”, we said.

This was Wednesday, August 22nd of 2007.

If you did plan to work this week, you’d better plan to be near to a power outlet. A few days later, boxes showed up. My friend Jory worked at Belkin, and had coordinated a drop shipment of the most essential coworking space utility besides coffee cups: power strips.


This was Friday, August 31st of 2007.

3 weeks had passed.

I’d been up for 20 hours a day. I was basically a scarecrow except instead of being stuffed with bugs and straw, I was being propped up by gallons of coffee, a carton of cigarettes, and beer.

Indy Hall had people in it every day. Some mornings it was just me and Bart until noon. Other days we had a person parked at every desk before lunchtime. It was completely surreal. The only thing keeping me going was knowing that the people I’d been wanting to be around were at Indy Hall, ready to cowork with me.

Today, though, was the last day of “free coworking” for Indy Hall. On September 1st, the giant Dr. Frankenstein switch on our memberships flipped to “on”.

This was Saturday, September 1st of 2007.

Independents Hall was open for business. Of course, in true “independent” fashion, it was a Saturday.

Good thing, too. Because we had a party to throw. We got to transform this:


Into this:


That went pretty well.

Today is Thursday, September 1st of 2011.

Turns out those first 3 weeks were just practice.

Together, we’ve spent 4 years transforming our surroundings, 4 years of finding the best things in our worlds and coaxing them even closer to greatness.

4 Years of JFDI.

It started with those first 48 hours before Jane Von Bergen arrived at Indy Hall.

It happened during those first 3 weeks of making a loft in Old City Philadelphia the home for a community of nomadic workers.

It happened that September Saturday, when people traveled from all over Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York, New Jersey, and San Francisco to celebrate with us. 

And we never stopped. I don’t think we will anytime soon.

A toast

To one of my best friends, my mentor, and my business partner Geoff DiMasi for being my own personal Yoda, and once in a while giving me the chance to Yoda right back.

To every person who is or has ever been a member or friend of Indy Hall.

To anyone who’s been inspired by Indy Hall.

To anyone who has given me the chance to be inspired by you.

To Philadelphia, for being so fucking rad that we couldn’t help but make sure everyone else got the chance to realize it too.

To Ben Franklin, the original coworker.

To everyone who’s helped tell our story, online and off, in video, audio, and in print.

To the global coworking community, for keeping me on my toes.

To my parents, for loving me and being proud of me even if they’re not 100% sure what I do.

To everyone who’s believed in me, and believed in us.

To everyone else who lives to JFDI.

To the last 4 years, to the next 4 years. To many more years. 


Now lets party.

My 4 favorite letters of the alphabet

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Hey, thanks for reading!

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.