In the last few weeks, there’s been announcements of coworking spaces closing. First C4 in San Antonio, then ConvergeNJ. Todd from C4 was an active member of the coworking google group over the years, and I advised Steve from Converge early in his process of getting his effort moving.
When Steve let me know that Converge was closing, I was certainly bummed. He came to me early on in the process and I shared a bunch of notes – this was close to 2.5 years ago now.
I read through his closing notes, and it sounded like he did take my advice to work on “community first”, but misstepped and gathered “interested” people rather than “bought in” people. The community wasn’t mature enough yet. In subsequent exchanges on Twitter, Steve agreed that while “community” had been built first, they too quickly shifted gears into doing things for that community instead of doing things with that community. The alternative looks more like this.
I think that Todd understood this subtlety (sadly, too late) and shared it in his announcement to the Google Group about the closing.
I thought I had enough business and social media juice to get a community to coalesce so I built a space. I was wrong. Take time to get coworking off the ground and build a following for it then launch a space. When I’m preaching ‘community first’ (can I get an amen?), I don’t mean “build yourself access to critical mass of people whom you can invite to your new shiny coworking space that you built for them”.
I mean help catalyze a rich, dynamic, organic community, first.
Work towards a small group of 10 people who have strong, trusted bonds and the desire to contribute to building the clubhouse together is 10000000000x more valuable than 50 or 100 people who have no (or even a little) interest in contributing.
“Community first” isn’t necessarily an order of operations, but it IS a necessary state of mind and order of priorities.
I saw this most recently, of all places, in Las Vegas where I went to meet with the #VegasTech community who are on the verge of opening their own coworking space near the Freemont St strip. I talked with a group of 65+ people who were EXCITED and bought into hanging out and coworking – they wanted a coworking space so they could be around each other, rather than so they could have a place to go. It was so exciting that even I, a visitor, could feel the energy. That’s what you need to recruit members more than anything else.
A community and a “logically grouped collection of people” aren’t the same. Focusing on those strong connections, deep relationships, and the formation of trust makes the difference. The fact is, doing this before or after the office opens isn’t relevant – you’re going to need to do it no matter what. Doing it after just puts a large amount of unnecessary pressures on you, which I think are avoidable in the long run.
On the upside – since I always consider myself an optimist – these patterns in coworking space closings are just as important, if not more important, than coworking space openings. I’m one of many people committed to understanding how this movement fits into society and the workplace moving forward. I don’t like anybody to feel the pain of a failed venture, but I hope that these founders realize that by sharing their experiences and lessons, they’re doing the larger community a major mitzvah in helping more successful spaces launch and sustain.