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Notes from the Future of Indy Hall Town Hall (Part 1)

15 minute read
by Alex Hillman

In the last week, we hosted two community “Town Hall” discussions, attended by a total of over 50 members.

Lots of people personally told me that they wanted to attend but wouldn’t be able to. I really appreciate that people want to be a part of this process and I think that it’s SO important that we’re documenting and sharing things as they unfold, so I spent a few hours this morning turning a pretty poor quality audio recording into the notes you’ll find below.

Naturally, some of the nuance and detail is missing from this outline-quality “transcription”, but I believe that the most important talking points and questions have been shared here. In addition to any potentially helpful answers, my hope is that anything below can serve as inspiration for more ideas from the community as everything unfolds.

In most cases, anything that’s in quotes below was something said by a community member during the Town Hall.

I have a similar recording from the second Town Hall – the conversation had a lot of similar themes but was a different enough conversation that it merits a similar post of it’s own. I’ll get that out as soon as I can!

Why these group settings? In my experience, the best way to stick the landing when it comes to making the shift from conversation into action.

I want to hear a variety of perspectives – what’s exciting, what’s confusing, what questions do you have?

Big question: what is our north star?

Taking a step forward is relative – think about what happens if we’re not all pointed in the same relative direction first.

Make sure we know what direction we’re pointed before we take a step.

The thing we’ve done for the last 8 years, the underpinning of all of the tactical things, is cultivate a mindset – the core strengths that define what Indy Hall is.

  • Optimism
  • Excitement for Philadelphia
  • Willingness to try and do and encourage

Lets un-constrain ourselves from the address, and think about what we want to known for and the best at moving forward.

I’m here to listen, and I encourage you to listen closely to each other too.

How did the news hit you?

“Sorry you had to deal with this crap.”

“I like this neighborhood, but I’m open to looking everywhere.”

“Our current building has major downsides, especially in the winter.” Downstairs becomes uninhabitable AND expensive.

“It’s not about the space – but we could find another place that better suits our needs.”

“Community-wise, I’m not worried. We’re still going to be us, wherever we are. We’ll learn to love anywhere we are just as much.”

Story: Young coworking space has opportunity to move into a space for one year, but the catch is that in a year that building gets knocked down. The deal is good, should we do it knowing the space will go away? Answer: YES, what can you do when you’re not so attached to the space?

“The place is not the part that matters – this is a chance to show how much we mean that.”

“The city is full of empty buildings. Any of them could become our home.”

Attachment to Old City – we have a lot of friends in the neighborhood.

Sean’s answer to “Are we going to lose the art gallery?” We can make our art experiences happen anywhere.

During the reboot – “What are you doing here? You’re not a full timer.” “I’m a part of the community.”

“It’s just a building. I can’t imagine we’d go somewhere that’s going to have bare white walls and drop ceilings and carpet.” We’ll bring our flavor anywhere.

“The community is worth traveling for.” (from Margate NJ)

Parking could be better.

“Moving sucks – when you move your home, you don’t know who your friends in your new place will be. Good parts of moving – new places to hang out and explore. Moving as a community = all of the benefits of something different/fresh, but also keep the people you feel comfortable around.”

What are people in the neighborhood thinking? What do they think if we go away?

What’s the neighborhood going to look like if we go away? Would our neighbors want to help in some way?

What is the progress report? What’s stable? What’s next?

Old City District reached out. “How can we help you buy the building?” My response: hold the phone. Lets talk longer term strategy instead of trying to “save” the building.

OCD Board very upset when they found out we might move. Why? Just an emotional response, or something bigger?

OCD in the process of doing their own 10 year masterplan with professional help

Indy Hall’s footprint may account for ~2% of Old City’s full time equivalents. That’s big for this neighborhood. That’s why us leaving would be a big deal.

What is Indy Hall’s economic impact on Old City? OCD has commissioned a small scale economic impact report (1-2 pages). To include our entire membership, alumni companies, money being earned and spent in the neighborhood (e.g. lunch, dinner, drinks, supplies, etc). Focus on neighborhood scale.

  • Old City District wants to use this data to figure out how much they can and are able to help us stay in the neighborhood, but they’re also very aware that we can use the same data to shop around
  • I’m providing some basic information to the folks helping us do the report, but we’ll also need to survey the community for more information too. Shooting for 50% response rate.
  • NOT tech specific – more focused on small business, industry non-specific.
  • Expecting draft survey in the next 2 weeks

What is the value of us being in a place, doing what we do? Without any outside resources, we create a lot more than others often promise.

“What can we do with the information from this report?”

Old City District can better examine ways to help us stay, because they can quantify the cost of losing us.

Outside of Old City, being able to show other real estate developers the quantitative value of working with us, and doing what we do “The Indy Hall Way”

  • In working with a Real Estate developer, we don’t just need a deal, we need SUPPORT in having an impact beyond the square footage.
  • Showing our impact helps us show why the things that are important to us really matter (in addition to the feel good intangibles)
  • Helps us get on the same page
  • Helps us look for a relationship that’s less like a tenant/landlord situation. “What if we never signed a lease again?”
  • Some kind of situation where we help them accomplish their goals economically and strategically, while we get to accomplish ours. Mutual benefit, not simply a transaction.
  • We are not a commodity tenant
  • Demonstrate the short and long term value of “tenants” creating value for each other.
  • When “tenants” are more than just aware of each other, but actually work together, the game changes.
  • There’s a difference between tenants and members – similar to resident vs citizen.

City Hall

  • Coming Soon: I want to have a conversation with Luke Butler – Chief of Staff to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development at City of Philadelphia (quite a title, eh?)
  • I don’t know how the city can help, but I’m fairly certain they want to and Luke can help us figure out where to start.

Extrapolation – we can create an estimated sum of economic impact over our entire history. We can also model potential growth over time.

  • A lot of small numbers add up fast. Easily tens of millions of dollars of impact annually or more.

Two specific timelines:

What we do after Sept 1st, 2015?

  • New cost with no benefit. How do we solve this in a way that benefits all of us, instead of just forking over more money to our landlords?
  • Looking to choose 2-3 of the “least difficult, highest value” options. Ideally want to choose sustainable, revenue streams that continue delivering value beyond the current outside pressure

What we do after Sept 1st, 2016?

  • I’m having conversations with lots of real estate people, all over the city.
  • My goal is to get to know who’s out there, what they’re doing and what they’re about…and help them know who we are and what we’re about. Looking for people who have similar or aligned goals.
  • Actively avoiding answering their question “how may square feet do you need”, instead trying to see who we’d want to work with and who wants to work with us regardless of commodity space.
  • I care a lot less about their space and more about their values
  • Lots of people put “coworking” as a line item on their bigger real estate projects, but they almost never have a strategy for how to make it happen.

It’d be amazing to collaborate with someone who has a focus and skillset on the facilities, so we could focus on what we’re great at: the social infrastructure of making a place awesome for getting things done, together.

“Could we get a short-term lease somewhere in old city/center city (close to train/subway stations) to hold us over if we don’t find a great long term solution in time?”

Location Priorities

  • Close to public transit (subway, train stations)
  • Bikeability
  • Places to eat/things to do.
  • Parking is a potential thing to improve
  • What else? We need to collect more info.

Question: What if we split up into more than one location?

I’ve gone through my own wrestling with this and can argue for and against it. How do members feel about this?

We have members coming from North, South, West, and the suburbs.

Important: I haven’t seen a coworking space that expanded to more than one space do it in a way that I’d want to model. There’s nobody who’s done it who makes me want to say “let’s do it like that” and then we can go learn from them.

  • Does that mean that it can’t be done? Or does it mean that we’re the ones to figure out the best way to do it?
  • A lot of places use it as a way to grow their space because the real estate options they have don’t allow them to add a floor like we did.

“Division across multiple locations means an inevitable split.” It’d be a mistake to try to force it to be one thing. We’d end up with more than one “subcommunity” and really step up our game on the bigger goal(s) that connect the people across multiple spaces.

“We do have an incredibly strong community (~60%) that uses the space very very rarely. For many people, the online community + knowing there’s a place where they can go to see those people offline is the value.

How does that change across multiple locations?”

I’m very cautious about that kind of fragmentation. Still need to talk through the pros/cons a lot more.

Also, our logistics and operations multiply

“Staying “walk-by-able” – the serendipity of interactions beyond the people in our space”

“Worry about collective/collaborative strength may diminish across more than one location.”

“Multiple locations increases the risk profile”

How does our economic impact change across multiple locations? Seems additive across multiple spaces, and multiplicative in a single location. Is this true? We can learn from our survey data.

Whatever we move into would likely be less sq ft than we currently have, with room to grow. Not all parts of the city have those kinds of options.

  • Remember to think beyond “how do we talk what we have and put it at a new address”
  • Remember to think beyond “do we stay or do we go”, and focus on “what’s our goal?”
  • Remember that we’re about making Philadelphia better.

The only options we know about are the ones we know about.

  • There are a lot of options that aren’t on lists, and wouldn’t be made available for “average” tenants.
  • We can bring extremely unique value and story to a place that someone REALLY cares about.

What are the other successful things that we do in addition to our work? Where do we spend our time, what do we spend our time doing?

  • Social/entertainment spaces like National Mechanics, Spruce St Harbor Park
  • Event spaces like our gallery

A different way to think about neighborhood amenities

Not many other neighborhoods have the proximity to the things that we use, love, and appreciate like places to eat and things to do.

It’s important to remember that even though Old City has that today, many of the things we’ve come to love weren’t here when we started.

While we’re not singlehandedly responsible for any one place’s success, we’ve gotten to support them as they’ve supported us.

We’ve done it before, we can do it again.

How can we build this into Indy Hall’s future?

If we can quantify our impact on supporting local businesses, we may be able to play a more active role in helping new businesses launch in an area surrounding us. Not just filling in the gaps, but helping create long-term viability for a neighborhood.

If we know the potential economic impact per member, we may be able to find a way to collaborate with the city, private real estate developers, and other small biz owners to help launch their businesses.

  • In this way, Indy Hall becomes a MUCH bigger engine than we usually think about, in addition to the things we already do.
  • Even if it’s not this particular execution, this is the kind of long term & lasting effect that I want to build our efforts around. It invites much broader participation from neighbors, other businesses, and organizations that may never need a desk to work from but can benefit from being a part of the Indy Hall community.

What other kinds of things do we want to help create in our surrounding area?

If you have an idea, even if it’s one you think will get shot down, let’s talk about it because every conversation helps me think through new things differently. Even if I’m not as excited about a specific neighborhood or building or opportunity, we can use them as ways to talk through ideas that may or may not work in general. This is extremely valuable!

What do our neighbors know/think?

“How would the businesses we frequent react to finding out that we might go away? Not to threaten them, but to invite their help in solving the problem.”

“The more people who care that are talking about the problem, the better our chance of coming up with a great solution.”

Actionable next step: in parallel to the Economic Impact report, we want to create a simple 1-pager that says clearly:

  • Who we are, what we’re about
  • This is how we feel about being a neighbor
  • This is how the neighboring businesses have played a role in our success, and hopefully we’ve played a bit of a role in theirs.
  • We think it’s important for you to know what’s going on, so here’s the facts. Not a threat, not an ultimatum, but also head off the rumors. We might have to leave.
  • Here’s how you can help
  • “Great real estate is always found on an inside tip”

Put this out for the neighborhood to know, and invite more conversations/sharing of what we collectively know to come up with great answers.

Thank You

The reason I can sleep at night, and the reason I’m optimistic that we’ll end up in a much better place on the other side of this, is because I’m not doing this alone. Your voices and ears matter more than anything else to me. Thanks for proving me right.

I need to know where my team and my community needs me the most. Don’t think I’ve got it all figured out – I’m always figuring it out.

My #1 most important job is to be communicating as clearly and effectively as possible. Every conversation is a mix of clarity and practice to help me understand what I need to be sharing more of, and how I can be communicating better.

Please keep talking with me and sharing, every conversation helps jostle my brain in a helpful way. Don’t be afraid of scaring, offending, or worrying me. I need your honesty more than anything else – and I promise to give the same in return.

This will help make sure you can find the most useful resources. I respect your privacy & email. Absolutely no spam, and I won't ever share your data. Pinky promise! 🤞

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.