I don’t love saying goodbye to members, but this kind of goodbye is a-okay by 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.
These are my most popular and most valuable pieces, to help you get started.
Just 3 days ago, I posted a message to our community that gave one of the first actionable steps we’re taking to prepare for upcoming changes: an option to pre-pay your membership.
This isn’t a long-term fix for our upcoming rent increase, but it does let us continue doing what we do best without having to make significant sacrifices. And it earns us some more time to put longer-term plans in place without rushing or losing sight of the big picture.
And the reason the title of this post is “Holy crap” is because this community has smashed any targets I initially had in mind for prepayments. In just 3 days, over
$18,000 $19,000 in prepayments have been pledged, and more than half of that actually collected.
That’s amazing. I’m so thankful. I’m so impressed. These prepayments have literally bought me – and us – a bit of sanity in a situation where it’s not readily available. About 3 months of sanity, in fact. Thank you, truly.
Many people said something to the effect of, “this is what I can do, I wish I could do more.”
So here’s the thing I want to say out loud in front of this community: every pledge is equally significant in my eyes. That might be my favorite part about Indy Hall – we remember that the small contributions matter as much as the big ones. That’s just as true in our every day interactions as it is in situations like the one we’re working through.
In addition to the prepayment drive being a huge success, I’ve also gotten a very positive interest from potential sponsors of the Membership Scholarship Fund (I think this needs a better name), so that’s coming up very soon. If you’re interested, or have questions, shoot me a message on Slack or email.
I’m going to end this update here while it’s still relatively short and wish everyone an awesome weekend ahead!
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.
Over the last few months, I’ve been using my blog to share updates and letters like this one about Indy Hall as we think about and plan for our future over next 12 months…and also our future for the next decade and beyond.
This is the latest email that I sent to all Indy Hall members via our community discussion list sharing the latest updates and asking for help in a couple of very specific ways. While it’s been a challenging few months, every time I post an update like this one I get responses like this from our members:
“I probably mentioned this before, but just want to say it’s been impressive to watch you think through this decision and engage the community with such intelligence and care. I feel lucky to have found my way to Indy Hall. I’ve been quiet so far as I get the lay of land but I’m looking forward to finding ways to contribute more as time goes on. Thanks for all your work.”
So I hope that by these posts, it helps other people navigate similar challenges by showing how I execute transparency and how I ask my community for help.
In case you missed the previous discussions about the Future of Indy Hall, scroll down to the bottom of this post to get caught up. Indy Hall has some changes coming up in the next year, and while change can be hard I’m confident in and optimistic about where we’re going.
Before we do, here are a few answers to common questions that still seem to be out there, and a couple of interesting updates
We’re not moving anywhere just yet – we still have 12 months left on our lease starting on September 1st. But that still means we have a lot to do in the next year!
One of the big outstanding questions is “if we move, where would we move to?” There isn’t a concrete answer to this yet, but what I really hope to do in the next few months is start narrowing the options. This is a VERY complex question, and I’m not taking it lightly and I absolutely will not be making that decision alone or in a vacuum. We got great insights from the previous Town Hall discussions and you can look forward to more of those.
In the last 2 weeks alone, I’ve had really great meetings with some of my friends at City Hall to see how they can help us. They’re very much on our side, and I’m getting together with a small cadre of people (a mix of public and private sector leaders who all work with the City) to brainstorm ways they can help, and opportunities they can unlock. More on that soon.
By the end of this month, I’ll be sending out a survey that helps us measure the economic impact of Indy Hall on Old City. Once this data is collected, we will have a tool to help the Old City District determine how much they can invest to keep us in Old City…but we’ll also have a better understanding of the value we collectively bring to the neighborhood.
And finally…we chose to keep the entire ground floor instead of shrinking it by 50% for the next 12 months. But…our rent goes up by 20% (about $3k/month).
We need to start making up that difference, and there are a few different ways to do it so that we’re creating more value as a community instead of simply raising our rates.
If you’re able to, we’re looking for members who can pre-pay their membership for 3, 6, or even the next 12 months.
This works on ALL levels of membership – from community and basic all the way to full time membership. Every little bit helps!
We’re ready to accept prepayments right now, and we are especially looking for members who can prepay before the end of this month. But whether you choose to prepay now or want to a few months from now, it’s all going to make a really big difference.
If you’re able to pre-pay for 3, 6, or 12 months of your membership – please send me an email ASAP at [email protected] or send me a message in Slack. Let me know how many months, at what level you’d like to pre-pay.
You already know how valuable it can be to be a part of this community. The energy and inspiration of people getting things done. The ability to ask a question about nearly anything and POOF get an answer from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. The doors that can be opened when you’re trying to start doing something new. The network of networks that everyone is connected to. Sharing in celebrations of new achievements.
The kind of kinship and camaraderie that I watch so many people in this community provide for each other is tremendous, is unique, and is sooo valuable.
Now imagine how valuable that would be to someone who is just getting started, or in a career transition.
Nearly everyone in this community has been there at some point, and we know how difficult and lonely that place can be. And think about how much easier it is to find success when you have the support of a community like ours?
For example, imagine someone who has taken an collection of Girl Develop It classes because they’re trying to switch careers, or a college student in their junior or senior year, preparing for graduation. Think about how much their progress could be impacted by spending even one or two days a week at Indy Hall and participating in this community.
Indy Hall’s cost creates a bit of a paradox for those people who are still building their practice, whatever it may be. They’re not yet at a point where they can afford a membership, but by joining Indy Hall they’d be more likely to be able to afford it soon.
I’ve spoken to quite a few members about this in the past, and everyone has agreed that this would be an amazing on-ramp to offer. And for some of them, it’s not just a philosophical act of philanthropy…it’s an investment in creating their future collaborators and even the pool of potential hires. It’s a long-game approach, but I think that fits the Indy Hall mindset as well.
And best of all this solves multiple problems at once: it helps fill in our new cost gap AND creates a whole new way for students to get involved in this community, which is something that will benefit everyone.
So I’d like to set a goal of being able to offer 6 month “membership scholarships” – and to start, focusing on groups that are already near and dear to us at Indy Hall, like Girl Develop It students, soon-to-graduate college students, and even recent graduates.
There are still some details about exactly how people would apply and be granted – but I don’t want to figure those details out alone. I want the people who contribute to this scholarship pool to help determine how we choose the recipients.
If you’re interested and able to contribute financially to building this scholarship pool, please send me an email ASAP at [email protected] or shoot me a message in Slack!
These two options help us with a relatively immediate need, but I also know that they’re not going to make sense for everyone. There’s going to be other ways to help at different points throughout the year, and the absolutely LAST thing I want to do is create a financial hardship for anybody. And while these short-term ways are focused on help in financial many…we’ll have plenty of ways to pitch in that don’t require you to take out your wallet.
Looking to the future,
For those of you who are new to Indy Hall in the last month or so, and for anybody who needs a recap, much of this summer has been spent navigating a rather complicated situation with our current landlord that directly impacts the future of Indy Hall and our clubhouse.
Especially if this is the first time you’re hearing about this, check out these threads and the links in them to get a sense of what’s going on:
By the way – I’m SO proud of and impressed by how this community has banded together to support me, and each other. There’s been so much that’s already come from working together to find answers to tough questions, from exploring and brainstorming, sharing contacts, and simply providing gratitude and understanding. I can’t imagine trying to do this alone, so thank you for being here with me. <3
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.
In the interest of continued transparency, I’m republishing an email that I just sent to the entire Indy Hall community here, in the open, for everyone to see.
By now many of you know that the last couple of months have been a whirlwind for me, personally and professionally, with a host of new and unexpected challenges to face related to the future of Indy Hall.
I’m keeping my promise to have the lines of communication remain wide open, so this post includes the most recent and important updates! And even if you’re totally up to date on my blog posts…there are two important favors that I’d really appreciate from you.
If you need to catch up on the events to date, these two posts contain a substantial summary of what’s been occupying my mind for the last 60 days:
If you haven’t read either, or both of them, I’d be immensely appreciative if you’d take the time to read the and know what’s going on. And if you have read them, thank you for taking the time!
More recently, we hosted two “Town Hall” meetings to open up these conversations to a group setting. These conversations were incredibly valuable, and you can read a summary of the thoughts, questions, and ideas shared here:
I’d take the time to read both of them, if you can. It’s worth noting that for their similarities, the attendance of both of these meetings was almost entirely different and the direction of each conversation was very unique. The specific questions and ideas that people had were different in some cases, but hosting two separate meetings actually proved very useful for me to get a pulse across two different groups of members…to see what each had in common but also what was different, or said differently.
These discussions have been tremendously valuable for me and helping me understand how to best move forward – so I want to thank everyone who was able to come out and participate. If you couldn’t make it, no need to feel bad, but please do take a look at these notes to see what we talked about so you’re not in the dark!
It’s SO important to me that nobody is left in the dark about what’s going on, and you can help just by talking to your friends and neighbors over a cup of coffee or tea. These discussions are really, really important.
As you read and discuss, try to keep an open mind. If you disagree with an idea, take the time to think…why? This is something I’m personally practicing, too. It’s hard. But it’s forcing me to think carefully. “Strong convictions loosely held” has become my daily mantra for the last several weeks.
Putting this kind of news about Indy Hall out in the open invites all sorts of inaccurate speculation from the press, takes a toll on my daily energy and attention, and has a pretty predictable effect on my inbox.
I’m not saying this to complain or to suggest that I wish I’d done it differently – quite the opposite, in fact. I can’t imagine navigating this alone, or behind closed doors. I’ve seen what that approach brings, and it’s not pretty.
I’m saying this to show that in spite of those known challenges, being open matters SO MUCH MORE to me, that it’s worth the effort. By putting this information out there – risks and warts and everything – does the most good when it prompts conversation among you, the people who make this community worth belonging to.
Indy Hall is a place where YOU can shape the experience, now and for the future. That’s the difference between being a member, vs being a tenant of a shared office.
The good news is that I’m feeling better than ever about how this is all going to play out. SO many of you have come to me with great ideas, thoughtful questions, and a collective confidence that this community’s future is brighter than ever. Thanks to the last month of conversations, I feel like I know enough for us to start taking action, together.
The next 12-14 months are going to be formative for us, and for the next chapter of Indy Hall. We’re ready to take action. I couldn’t be more excited.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I could be more excited.
Cuz right now, I’m pretty wiped out. And I know that means I’m not doing my best work, and at a time when my best work matters the most.
I’m saying this here, and candidly in front of everybody, to help you understand that the only thing limiting my confidence and excitement is the fact that I’ve spent a lot of the last 2 months in a pretty consistent state of overwhelm.
I’m happy, I’m still capable, and I still have my health, or else I wouldn’t be here writing this post to you. But I’m definitely not firing on all 8 cylinders. I need to do something about that now, before I have an actual problem.
So this Sunday, I’m heading out of town for a couple of weeks. The first Coworking Africa conference is in Cape Town (Adam and I are keynoting), and we’ve been invited to potentially collaborate on a project in Nairobi and stay with @Bula’s family & friends. Both are truly incredible opportunities to both see and influence the path of coworking in parts of Africa.
Truth be told, I booked this trip MONTHS ago. And it was one of the first things I thought about when I learned that the future of Indy Hall would need more of my immediate attention and effort. I initially considered canceling the trip to stay focused on the home front.
Even before I knew I’d be in need of a break, I thought about why we were being invited to Africa to share what we’ve learned over the last year of building Indy Hall. Our community’s history is an inspiration to many other communities around the world – and in a way, this is remarkably similar to the kind of impact we’ve had locally.
By a) doing what we do, b) doing it well, and c) sharing it with others…every day’s work at Indy Hall is being multiplied by people around the world who have learned from us. By their hands, our community has a global impact. In remote villages of Africa, there are people that have been inspired by our Indy Hall community to bring their communities closer together. That’s incredible to me, and I hope it is to you too.
If this one trip serves two purposes…
…and I believe it does, then I’d be a fool to cancel the trip.
In fact, canceling the trip would’ve been exactly the kind of short-term, reactive thinking that I’m working so hard to avoid for Indy Hall, and also for myself. If Indy Hall needs me at my best, then I need to make sure I’m at my best.
So for the next two and a half weeks, your fearless leaders are @Sam Abrams and @Sean Martorana. Just like any other day at Indy Hall, anything YOU can do to help keep things running smoothly doesn’t just help them, it benefits everyone around you.
This is already one of the most thoughtful, helpful, friendly communities in the city. It’s what we’re known for! This month, let’s turn it up to 11.
When @Adam Teterus and I return to Indy Hall on July 31st, we’ll be refreshed…which is good because we have our work cut out for us. In the mean time, there’s a way that every person in this community can pitch in and help build even more momentum for us to return to.
A “random act of community” doesn’t need to be big, or even cost anything beyond a few minutes of your time:
However you do it, try to do it with the goal of getting to know one new person.
This is not a contest or a competition. This is not a demand or a requirement.
I’m not even asking for this because anything is wrong – on the contrary. I think we’re doing some of our best work, and want to keep the bar high.
It’s a favor, and one that doesn’t directly benefit me in any way other than to know that while I take a little time to recharge my batteries for the months ahead that Indy Hall is doing what it does best:
Being a community of people who actually give a damn.
I truly mean that. Thank you.
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, ready for action. I hope you’ll join me then, too.
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.
Last week I published a set of notes transcribed from the first of two Town Hall meetings that we hosted with the Indy Hall community about planning for the future of our community beyond the one-on-one conversations I’d already been having.
Below, you’ll find the notes from the second meeting. I considered simply folding the notes from both Town Hall meetings into a single document, but I actually felt that the two conversations were unique enough to merit their own set of notes.
It’s worth noting that for their similarities, the attendance of both of these meetings was almost entirely different! The specific questions and ideas that people had were different in some cases, but hosting two separate meetings actually proved very useful for me to get a pulse across two different groups of members…to see what they had in common but also what was different, or said differently.
For me, this exercise has been tremendously valuable – and I want to thank everyone who was able to come out and participate.
My next steps are to extract the actionable next steps we can take from these discussions, and I’m feeling MUCH better about that now than I was just 10 days ago.
As you read through these two stacks of notes, please feel free to ask any questions or share your thoughts in the comments down at the bottom.
Lots more to come!
I want to open up the conversation beyond what’s already been said. I’m trying to share as much as I know, as well as the things that I don’t know.
There’s nothing like a common enemy to bring people together, and I’d hate to be the “common enemy” of this community 😉
One on one and small group conversations have been great – members, proud alum, neighbors, other orgs. The thing that’s been missing has been a chance for more people to talk with each other, and hear each other.
What kind of reaction do you have to our current situation? What’s your understanding of it? What’s missing, what’s still confusing? What do you want to know more about?
Tonight is the START of a conversation for many of us. When it comes from shifting from conversation to action, I know that every time I’ve tried to do that myself it’s been way harder and way less successful than when I do it in the open, with people who care.
“From being there when Indy Hall started, to seeing where we’ve become, it seems like we have a ton of options. It seems like people outside of Indy Hall are really embracing us.”
“I think we should buy, though the price they’re asking here is way, way premium and not worth it. Buying comes with its own set of unique challenges, but this is going to happen again. Rents are going to keep going up, Philadelphia is on the rise.”
“I have a very strong pre-Indy Hall attachment to this building because my fathers business was here in this building when I was in high school. But I also know we have to put things like that aside.”
“If you had $3MM+, is this what you really want to buy? OR would we put that towards something else, where it can go further?”
“What’s going to happen to the community? I’m pretty sure the answer is we’ll be fine, wherever we end up.”
“Thank you so much for being transparent with this. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to suddenly get a surprise from you with all of this information, being a part of the process makes a huge difference for me.”
“I’m delighted by how you’re handling this. I have every confidence in you as the leader of the business and this community. If we start handling very large sums of money and building ownership, how could that change the relationship between the community and the business?”
I firmly believe we’d be able to get a mortgage, on decent terms, to buy the building we’re in, at the current asking price. HOWEVER if we’d be able to come up with that much money it goes so much further almost anywhere except for our current address. I’m even confident there are even better options in the neighborhood, even if they’re not “equal square footage” options. I don’t want to get into another unsustainable situation for the sake of protecting an address.
Every real estate person approaches me with the same question: how many square feet are you looking for? I have to deflect – which is weird because I know why they’re asking it. They have a “formula” that they want to plug some quick numbers into and decide “is this something I can get involved in”?
I’ve had to figure out how to navigate the conversation with RE people to a point where we can start somewhere different – this isn’t about how many square feet I need (yet), it’s about whether or not we want to work with you or if you want to work with us. Based on that, I KNOW that any RE professional worth their salt can find square footage we need, and we can morph into almost anything we’re presented if we want.
The relationship with our landlord is my top priority – related and aligned goals.
I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to simply take the 10k square feet we currently use and replace it with a new 10k square feet. I’m thinking more about what makes this community unique and successful, and what success looks like moving forward. How could a new home at ANY size make our community even more valuable.
One of the first outside groups to reach out after the news was published, with a VERY strong desire to help.
OCD is already doing a 10 year master plan – research already being done on the Old City Neighborhood, from a professional urban planning group.
With the support of the Old City District, the same planning group is going to help us conduct an enconomic impact study to learn the size of Indy Hall’s impact economically on Old City. I’ve already sent off some preliminary data – basic membership numbers, alumni companies still in the neighborhood, etc.
We’ll have a survey to collect more information very soon – shooting for 50% response rate from our entire community. I don’t know of a coworking space in the world that has this kind of data or shares it with their own members.
Indy Hall’s “Full Time Equivalent” may account for ~2% of the entire neighborhood’s workforce. So OCD has a good reason to want to try to figure out how to help us stay – while they also acknowledge that we can use the same information and knowledge to shop around to other parts of the city as well.
Whatever that number comes out to – that’s what we do just by being us. With no outside funds or grants, etc. There’s lots of organizations that consume TONS of outside resources in order to promise even a fraction of the impact we create as a bi-product of just being ourselves.
This is a huge point of discussion for potential real estate partners – how can our baseline contributions help with the development of other parts of the city? How can a thoughtful developer help us do what we already do for our own businesses, better?
We didn’t start this to make Old City better, we started Indy Hall to make Philadelphia better. “Where else” suggests we leave Old City, but let’s not make those options mutually exclusive.
“Different areas could result in different crowds.”
“Spreading around the culture of Indy Hall to reach more parts of the city.”
“Transportation/commute could improve.”
More than a couple of blocks from a subway station is basically a deal killer.
“#1 factor of quality of life at work is closeness and proximity to food, drink, and activities. Affordable, too.”
“I’m conflicted about multiple locations – it makes me realize that half the people I see here, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t see. I love the diversity that comes from other parts of the city, I learn about more things happening outside of my own neighborhood.”
“I dislike the idea of having a divided group – I’d rather keep commuting from West Philly than lose the diversity.”
“I don’t want to see an Indy Hall east that is all software developers and Indy Hall west being all art people. I want to create a space that’s allows for emerging ways of using the space by different people without isolating people based on the stuff they need and use.”
“More apparatus – you told us you don’t want to be in the business of managing buildings, this would increase the need for managing.”
“Banks close branches more often than they open them.”
“It’s hard to be familiar with, close with, 300+ people. More closeness with your own location could help create a more intimate feel.”
If I’ve learned anything from people that try to run more than location, the most consistent mistake is trying to make them all be “one big thing.”
Opening Indy Hall was a lot less like opening an office, a lot more like a barn raising. We only opened because the community came together to help find the location, and get it set up. We created it together.
This is a big part of why we do Reboot every year – to create the barn-raising type opportunity for everybody. We literally take it apart so we can put it back together, together.
“We don’t want to run our resources too thin – more than one opening at the same time would more likely lead to both failing vs either of them succeeding. “
There are ways that Indy Hall has gotten better as it’s gotten bigger. But these days, there’s no “shallow end” for new members who walk into a community this large.
Scaling up, adding more square footage.
What people think of most often.
Scaling out, more applications of what we do to other things.
Can we create different places that look even less like offices, but have the same culture & DNA? Other industries that don’t need desk space for a laptop, but still want our kind of community as part of their work.
Scaling inward, the unlocked potential of what we already have
Finding ways to get people closer to each other, whether it’s someone new or somebody who’s been around for years, how can people connect and reconnect in ways that are more meaningful and valuable.
Very very few people approach scaling “inward”. I think this is our strongest suit, something we already do every day.
I don’t think that any one of these options is best alone, it’s a combination of all three that will define our future growth.
I’ve yet to see a coworking space, even the places that I think do a good job, who has multiple locations that I’m inspired by to the point of wanting to do it too. Absent that kind of inspiration, are we going to pioneer the best way to have multiple coworking locations? Do our community members WANT to be involved in that process?
Compromises will be inevitable, so what will those compromises be in service of? Why bother?
The theme across all of our most successful efforts – cultivating a mindset.
Tough, cuz it’s intangible. But it helps understand what makes our experience different.
We’re driven by an intention of:
If I look at this as a foundation, this is at the heart of everything we do.
The Philadelphia of today is different from the Philadelphia of 2006. Who shares those intentions today that we didn’t know about in 2006? What problems exist now that those intentions could help solve?
That’s what we should be thinking about as the backdrop for how we grow and evolve.
Who is our membership 10 years from now?
“I was an artist/illustrator, I didn’t think I had a place here. I do have a place here. It’s amazing. How can we introduce this to more people?”
“The next kind of business that grows up in Indy Hall might not even know coworking exists yet.”
When we started hanging out in Old City, National Mechanics was home. It wasn’t just because they had wifi and the owners were becoming our friends – it was because there weren’t a lot of other options for casual food and drinks.
The multitude of awesome options we’re used to is a relatively new thing, and is successful BECAUSE of the overall neighborhood’s success. Even Continental’s beer menu went from…dismal to pretty awesome with the help of Johnny Bilotta and Dave Martorana back when they were doing their beer review show Two Guys On Beer.
The notion that we’ll find another place like the Old City we know TODAY, anywhere else in the city, is the wrong goal. Instead, we should be thinking about places that are like Old City was in 2006-2007. What would a new neighborhood’s “National Mechanics” be? Not just a place where we can eat and drink, but a place where the relationship with the owner matters.
What happens in the long term of Indy Hall supporting it’s neighboring businesses?
“This really is a clubhouse – we’re able to make this space our own.”
“The ability to grow with the neighborhood has helped us grow. We could help put another neighborhood on the map.”
“This is an opportunity to show everybody that this isn’t about the place.”
“If the goal is to help the city, being more ubiquitous could help us be more inclusive too.”
Purchasing the location we’re currently in doesn’t make sense, but purchasing makes a LOT of sense looking forward.
We have to make sure that whatever we’re buying is worth what it’s being sold for.
There’s an amazing precedent to create an asset as a community – with the membership dues we’re already paying – so that in time we have paid down a principal that’s large enough to borrow against for more future community projects.
I want to create a way for members to get involved in creating that asset from the very start and even on an ongoing basis as new members continue to join our community, even if you don’t have $100k laying around.
Keeping the priority and focus on the community members, so that if you’re active in the community you have incentives related to ownership.
“When you stop renting and start buying, it’s part of a decision to be in a place.” Puts us in a position to think about a very long play on a place.
“It’s impossible to create a detailed 10 year plan, the best we can do is define broad strokes” I see this as more about setting an intention than a project plan. What do we care about? What’s our north star?
Does the landlord have a tenant lined up for the South side of the ground floor if we choose not to take it? I don’t know.
We have to give 30 days notice – so by August 1st – of our decision to downsize the ground floor or plan to pay the 20% increased rental cost. I need to make that call before the end of this month.
Disrupting the downstairs and still increasing the relative cost per square foot is the worst option, in my opinion.
I don’t want to simply pass along an increased cost without delivering more value. I wouldn’t want that done to me, so I won’t do it to someone else.
I understand that an increase of 20% could be problematic for some of our members who are bootstrapping their companies and pour every bit of cash into growing their business.
My business philosophy is that it’s usually easier to find a way to earn more money than it is to cut costs (it’s not like we’re loose with our spending and there’s a ton of easy costs to slash).
If we come up with a way (ways) to create more value, that can CONTINUE happening even once we’re past the one year timeline of this arbitrary increase.
We can create that value together, and for each other.
What kinds of things would help each other and our businesses be more successful?
Please, email me!
Something really cool happened – a guy named Edward who knew about us from Meetup, from Cocoaheads, and a member from the Philly Game Forge around the corner – raised his hand to ask a few questions.
I love this because his outsider perspective cut through the emotion and let me answer a few things I hadn’t been asked before. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we already know.
But also – how amazing is it that someone who’s never set foot in the room came to listen…but also share with the room? Truly, thanks for speaking up Ed.
“This seems to be the Philly ‘dev’ community.” – common misconception. Less than half of Indy Hall’s members are developers, or even in tech!
1 – “Are there people who would be willing to simply pay more to help offset the increased rent? Have you asked?”
The short answer is yes, there are. But I at least want to make it OPTIONAL in a way that also doesn’t make anybody feel guilty. This is why I like the idea of member-sponsored “scholarships” for students/community members who cannot afford membership, because it actually brings value to the community instead of just filling in a hole.
“From the small biz perspective, Indy Hall is the quintessential bootstrap capital…it’s where people are making things their way so they can do thing their way. I’m not spending other peoples’ money.”
2 – “Is there anything about the zoning of this building we should know? Does that have anything to do with why they think the space is worth so much?”
The building we’re currently in is all mixed use. 7 floors, 2 condos per floor. Approx half are businesses, the other half are residential (and we know all of the residential neighbors – they’re awesome).
All of the residential units are lived in by the owners – all of the commercial units are rented out, though I believe the entire top floor is currently vacant.
If anything, it’s been suggested that the way this building is mixed ownership & zoning makes the ground floor less valuable. I don’t know if that’s actually true or not.
3 – “How does the City of Philadelphia feel about Indy Hall? Can they help us?”
We have a LOT of support from the City, all the way to the top at the Mayors Office. When the city tours delegates from other cities around the world, they often get shown major institutions like the University City Science Center and Comcast…but Indy Hall is a common tour stop as well.
In fact we have a tour of ~30 delegates from Africa visiting us this Friday.
I’m getting together with Luke Butler tomorrow (Thursday) to get him caught up on everything and to see what directions he can point us, and together we can start brainstorming how we might be able to work with the city more than we currently do.
I know there are ways they can help, but I don’t know what they are yet.
I very much want City Hall to be a part of our long-term strategy now that we’ve spent so long building relationships and never needing to ask for anything. This is especially true considering our upcoming mayoral transition.
We were a 2nd floor only coworking space for a long time before we had a front door with street access.
The long arc that helped us make the choice to take on the risks of the downstairs was the intention of having a better connection to the street.
Having that connection to the street has given us massive value – and I’d love love love to continue building our connection to the street wherever we end up. But I could see the ways we use the street access most (like the art gallery) being executed in a different (and maybe even better) way, too.
As we wrapped up this Town Hall, I asked the group “How is everybody feeling.”
I got mostly nods and pleasant smiles of affirmation.
During this process, a lot of people have been asking me how I feel. And I’ve been responding honestly, depending on how I’m feeling that way. 9 times out of ten, I’ll say that I feel good, because I do.
I know that some days, I look tired. It’s because I am. But I’m not upset, nor am I worried, about the future of Indy Hall.
Right now, I’m especially thankful to be surrounded by people who care about that future as much as I do. I’m excited by the places these conversations are leading us. I’m impressed by the thoughtfulness and creativity of our community members. I’m humbled by the support of friends and partners across the city and around the world.
If you have thoughts, please don’t be afraid to share them with me.
Don’t assume that I’ve thought of everything – I definitely haven’t. Don’t assume that I’ve heard everything, either – it’s especially valuable to hear the same thing several times, because it helps me see that an opinion is shared across members…possibly an unpopular but valuable perspective for me to know about.
Even if I look like I’m tired, the thing that’s keeping me going is the thoughtful notes and emails that are pouring into my inbox every day from people just like you.
Even if it’s just to tell me a bit about how Indy Hall fits into your life, where you commute from, and what other places you like to hang out – I want to know that you’re thinking about the future of Indy Hall and how that relates to you.
Besides being extremely valuable in helping consider our options, think of it a chance for me to get to know you better.
Which, for me, is what this is all about in the first place.
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.
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.
“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?
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.
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.
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”
Extrapolation – we can create an estimated sum of economic impact over our entire history. We can also model potential growth over time.
What we do after Sept 1st, 2015?
What we do after Sept 1st, 2016?
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?”
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.
“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.
The only options we know about are the ones we know 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?
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.
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.
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!
“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:
Put this out for the neighborhood to know, and invite more conversations/sharing of what we collectively know to come up with great answers.
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.
A little over 3 weeks ago, I published a lengthy but important post about the future of Indy Hall.
If you haven’t read it yet…it’s a pretty important prequel to reading THIS post, so please take a few minutes to click the link above and read that post carefully before you continue here. It’s cool, I’ll wait.
From the moment I hit publish on that piece, I felt a huge sense of relief. For one, I HATED keeping this information private, and having it out in the open was where I’d wanted it to be all along.
But in the days and weeks following I was reminded of why I’m so thankful and proud to be a part of the this community, and that I’m not alone in creating the future of Indy Hall.
I personally feel good about what I’ve heard and digested as these conversations unfolded, and I want to share some of my own synthesis here.
In the coming weeks, my goal is to shift from conversations towards action. And at the end of this post, there are a few opportunities to continue the discussion together, offline.
Far and above, nearly everyone has expressed gratitude for my decision to be transparent in the face of something complicated and messy. Frankly, it wasn’t easy to lay out the full range of emotions I’d gone through prior to that post…from confusion to frustration to disbelief, before I found myself in a more peaceful place to process the facts.
I’m a firm believer that you get what you give, often in multiples. I feel this way especially about Philadelphia, a city that I joke “loves you back 10x if you show it you care, but if you show it the slightest glimmer of hate…prepare to get punched.”
This experience so far has shown me that by putting grounded positivity and optimism out into the world, that’s exactly what I’ve gotten back.
We will not “react” to an ultimatum. We’ve been handed a timeline to operate on, but that doesn’t mean we can stop thinking strategically about the long term.
As Indy Hall continues to evolve, our success depends looking forward and being intentional, while remembering everything we’ve learned about what has helped our community thrive.
What that in mind, here’s a few of the kinds of conversations I’ve had, along with some of my own initial thoughts.
Lots of people – and not just Indy Hall members – have come to me with a sketch for crowdfunding a down payment to purchase our building. And not just crowdfunding…I’ve heard some other very creative models for buying our current space, too! But crowdfunding has been far and above the most common variation, so I’m going to focus on that here.
I’d said in my previous post that I didn’t think that a purchase made sense, and then later edited to say it was still possible, but I didn’t really get a chance to expand more on those thoughts.
If we back up from the situation at hand, I think it’s useful to remember that we “crowdfunded” the opening Indy Hall’s first location on Strawberry Street in 2007. Through membership prepayments and our invention of our basic membership for coworking, we were able to raise nearly half of the budget we needed to open our doors. More importantly, it gave our community a tangible activity to rally around. The money was just a piece of the equation – it was peoples’ participation in the process that made our launch successful and established our community’s culture from the very start.
Instead of fitting out an office and then saying “come over, we’re ready for you now!” we approached the effort more like an old fashioned barn raising.
And then when we moved from our original office into the second floor of 20 N 3rd Street, we repeated the process. Without membership prepayments AND real people with skin in the game helping make it happen, we wouldn’t have expanded.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and it’s got a lot less to do with coming up with a $700k+ down payment for a commercial mortgage than most people think.
For the sake of argument, yes, it’s definitely possible for us to mortgage our current location’s $3.3MM asking price…for about the same monthly payment (and maybe even less than) we current pay in rent.
I’m extremly confident that we could creatively crowdfund a down payment, especially if we pursued some kind of equity component that’s compliant with the JOBS Act.
And while we’re talking about equity, I’ve thought a lot about how transformative it could be for Indy Hall AND our community members to collaboratively build equity in an asset like a building. For our entire history, we’ve invested heavily in the intangibles: social capital, human capital, knowledge capital, etc.
For the last few years that I’ve been having serious conversations with lenders about the possibility of buying our space, I’ve thought about what it could look like to create a community owned and operated fund, one that thoughtfully blends financial capital with our already thriving stockpile of other capital forms.
Imagine: With Indy Hall as a primary lease holder, our membership dues could potentially create INCREDIBLE amounts of long term value. I think about getting to a point where we’ve paid enough into our principal that we have an asset worth borrowing against, and the potential to use that to invest in yet another community-powered project.
It’s easy to get excited the further I let myself wander down that rabbit hole.
I know this is a great idea, and I believe in pursuing it.
I also know that if we continue to have the kind of economic impact we’ve been able to generate to date, the problem we’re in now has the potential to follow us.
And this may be the most difficult thing to say out loud:
Every time I ask myself, “Do you want to be in the business of owning and operating a building?”, my honest answer is…no.
I’ll be the first to admit that the effort I put forth into the social infrastructure at Indy Hall FAR outpaces our physical infrastructure. You won’t find “workspace operations and management” on my list of aspirations. The fact that Indy Hall has as much infrastructure as it does is a means to an end.
I know that this challenge is surmountable by finding a trusted partner who would be on-call for building related issues. Not a service provider, but a true collaborator who actually cares about the people inside the building, too. And while I’m dreaming big, someone who’d want to be an active part of the Indy Hall community.
I haven’t met that person yet. Do you know that person? Is that person you? Drop me a line, I’d love to talk.
To wrap up this kind of conversation, I’ve been sharing a mental model that I’ve been using to parse out the pros and cons of each conversation. In the simplest terms, I’ve been organizing pros and cons into the 4 following scenarios:
If there were a clear leader, I’d have chosen it already. 🙂 With that said – I want to make it clear that all options are still on the table, including ones we haven’t talked about yet.
Every scenario has both pros and cons, and I’d like to explore them further, in the open, taking into consideration everything I’ve outlined so far.
If you’re interested in this conversation you can either head to the comments below, email me, or come to one of the “Mini Town Hall” events linked at the bottom of this post.
First, I wanted to share a thought on money, since it’s inevitably a complicated topic that stirs lots of emotions.
Indy Hall’s core business is based on our monthly memberships, is sustainable, and has been for it’s entire lifespan. The business is healthy and predictable, and allows us to operate with very little debt and to have cash in the bank.
We’re proudly 100% bootstrapped, having never taken money from outside investors. This means that the only people we need to answer to are our members, and we’re able to make decisions in our community’s best interest instead of “maximizing shareholder value”.
The only debt we carry is in small (<$10k each) loans that have helped us have cash on hand during periods of growth. We’ve only ever borrowed money from community members who had personally benefitted from Indy Hall and were in a position to lend to us as a way of paying their success forward. #### To me, the purpose of profits is to be able to say yes. There are plenty of other reasons not to do something, but if something is going to be truly great for the community, Indy Hall’s profitability allows me to say “yes!” without having to ask anybody else’s “permission”. My job is to make decisions in service of our community, because without our community, we have no value to offer. Indy Hall’s profitability affords me the ability to offer our members the most valuable thing: the freedom to do the things they think are best for the community. When our profits are down, or worse, when we’re eating into our savings, we have a lot less room to experiment and try things even if they’re not going to create an immediate return. So when we’re talking about “more money”, my actual goal is to create more freedom, more sovereignty, more agency for our community. Money is just a tool to that end. Kapish? #### To review our near-term situation, on September 1st of 2015 (just over 2 months away), we face two options. Option 1) our rent is going to go up by nearly 20% OR Option 2) we’re going to have to cut our ground floor space in half, but paying a 47% increased cost per square foot. In Option 1, we get to keep running as we currently are, but we need to come up with another $3000/month. In Option 2, we’re forced to shrink our ground floor by 50%, but with the higher cost per square foot, our rent only goes down by 15%. We also have to be honest about the fact that a reduction in our space will have some impact on our revenue. And if that impact is greater than the 15% cost reduction…we’re heading in the wrong direction. In both cases, these options only carry us 12 months until September 1st 2016. At that point, our current lease agreements expire. If we haven’t made the decision to purchase our building, our landlord intends to raise rents as high as $50/square foot (nearly 2x what we currently pay). And in the short term, both options might mean we need to get REALLY creative with the way we use and lay out our space…but the last thing we want to do is pack people in so tightly that it feels uncomfortable. So frankly, both of these options suck. Ugh. #### But hey, I’m surrounded by problem solvers. In my last post, I wrote: > “We’ll have some new costs to bear starting in 3 months, and I’m sure many people’s first thought is ‘shit, membership prices are gonna go up’.
While that’s certainly one option, I want to brainstorm more ideas and options to help bridge that gap. What new things we can do to create more value with what we’ve already got? This includes new levels of membership that are focused on things other than renting desks: things like learning new skills, growing our businesses, etc.”
I’ve been pleased and impressed by everyone who rose to that particular challenge, and came up with some great ways to do more with what we already have.
…along with a few others that aren’t new but worth bringing up in this context.
– Scholarships for students and new independents.
In the last couple of years, students have shown a lot of interest in Indy Hall but we haven’t come up with a really great way to offer them access at a rate they can afford. Not just college students, but also Girl Develop It students who are taking their career transition seriously and investing in their skills…but don’t really have enough extra income to justify the expense of an Indy Hall membership.
I’m imagining an option where existing members have the ability to “sponsor” a vetted student member…either by signing up for a “sponsor” membership that’s paid monthly or we could provide some incentive to pre-pay for a sponsorship in 6 month increments.
There are still details to work out, but sponsors could have the option of choosing their preferred target sponsor recipient, and also choose if they want to have the student they sponsor know who they are so that they can connect one-on-one, with hopes of furthering their relationship beyond a transaction.
– “Bake sales” & pop-up shops.
Not necessarily baked goods (though heck, why not), but we do have a 300+ person community with a broad range of talents. We also have a combined reach that spans far and wide across the city. We could come up with a model where people could offer their skills and services, products and creations, and Indy Hall could earn a commission by hosting that channel.
This idea needs more work to keep it in line with our core values and to keep it from becoming a logistical nightmare, but I definitely see something cool hidden inside worth exploring.
– A better job board.
We get a fair bit of demand from the outside for people wanting to “hire talent”…but we’ve never put the time into creating a dedicated channel for it, especially from the outside.
Keeping things in line with our intention of prioritizing relationships ahead of transactions, we’ve always said, “If you want hire people in this community, come and spend time here.” This approach has done a good job of weeding out a lot of time-wasters, but it’s also possible that it’s also left a number of potentially great opportunities on the cutting room floor. I know we can do better.
I personally would like to see this be better than a job board, with some degree of vetting and quality control considering some of the awful the job postings I see. I’d even consider some kind of service where “premium” job listings are actually rewritten to better connect with potential candidates, instead of serving up buzzword bingo. I’ve been inspired by some pro services out there like Workshop* and the now defunked TinyProj*, and know there’s lessons to be learned from them.
* disclosure, Rob Williams of Workshop is a student of mine and TinyProj founder Kyle Bragger is a longtime friend.
– Optional membership increases.
It makes me proud to know that there are people in our community who get more value than they currently pay for, and so they would happily pay more. In my mind, that’s how all business SHOULD be.
With that said, this option gets a little complicated because the last thing I want is for people to feel obligated – or worse, guilty. I’m still very open to ideas for how we could execute this in a way that’s thoughtful and fair.
Okay, so we probably won’t focus on getting accredited right away. But we do know that our members have a LOT that they could teach – the answer to “How do I do __________” is almost never harder to answer than asking our email discussion list.
At the same time, we’ve never focused heavily on formal learning…so much learning happens at the one-on-one level and in small groups. But if we knew what people wanted to learn, it would be pretty easy to find people in our community to teach it. If structured as a revenue share, this could become secondary revenue for members who teach AND Indy Hall.
– Junto Membership.
This one merits a bit more explanation, mostly because it’s been rolling around in my head for so long.
In a similar vein to adding some structure to the ability to learn how to do nearly anything, Geoff and I have long been inspired by Ben Franklin’s Junto. The original Junto was a “club for mutual self-improvement”, a structured gathering of professionals and politicians to share what they knew in oh-so-Quaker pursuit of community betterment through personal betterment.
Before Indy Hall had our own clubhouse, one of the first events that brought our community together was a re-invented Junto gathering hosted at P’unk Ave in South Philly. And in the last 2 years, it’s evolved into a business retreat unlike anything else I’ve ever participated.
While our current Community Membership is just $20/month, it serves (mostly) as a social membership with the business benefits that are baked into our community. And with very limited promotion, that level has grown to nearly 10% of our total membership!
I’ve discussed the possibility of another membership, which like the Community membership would not be based on desk/workspace usage. But instead of the more casual business benefits, Junto membership would be more focused on helping members get better at their business in areas where they know they need to improve. With the natural diversity of industry and experience that we all have. While many independents & small business owners aren’t in a position to seek or afford business coaching, a Junto-style structure could help make that kind of experience accessible.
Personally, I have both paid for and have been paid for business coaching…and I’ve also done plenty of it for free. In nearly every case, it’s been worth it. Like anything else, there’s a lot of sheisters out there just trying to make a quick buck by “giving advice”. And there’s a lot of bad advice out there.
I think that the difference here is two-fold: First being the foundation of trust and relationships that we’ve ALWAYS made our top priority at Indy Hall, and second being the fact that our community already has so many shared values that you’ve got a MUCH better chance of getting advice/support that’s in line with the things you care about most.
This list is far from exhaustive and definitely not complete – so if you want to riff on any of them or a new idea, please share in the comments or email me directly!
You may also notice that I omitted “one time” ways of bringing in more money…like Kickstarter & pursuing grants. That doesn’t mean that we can’t consider them, but I’m cautious of getting caught in a trap of creating an unsustainable outcome, or one that isn’t easily repeatable.
In all cases, the BEST ideas are ones that create opportunities to bring our community closer together. I think it’s important to avoid things that are “extractive“, and instead look for models that are generative.
I don’t think any single option above is going to bridge the gap, but a few of them in combination could MORE than bridge the gap, and keep us in a situation where we can say “yes” without hesitation.
Which of the ideas I’ve listed are most interesting to you? If you’re interested in this conversation you can either head to the comments below, email me, or come to one of the “Mini Town Hall” events linked at the bottom of this post.
Indy Hall undeniably has Old City DNA. And while I’ll always be humble about our contributions, lots of people tell me that the Old City of 2015 has a lot of Indy Hall DNA in it, as well.
Long before we nicknamed N3rd Street, even before we opened our first location on Strawberry Street in 2007, we spent countless hours bonding at National Mechanics. We literally signed our first lease while sitting in one of the church pew tables.
And if you’ll let me get romantic about it, LONG before there was anything to be known as a “tech community”, Old City is where Philadelphia and our country were founded in the name of freedom and liberty.
Today, a number of our members literally walk down the street from their homes to spend the day at Indy Hall, MOST of our members don’t live in Old City. Many actually travel past other coworking spaces that are more “convenient”. Others cross state lines.
We even have members who travel upwards of an hour a few days a week to be at Indy Hall.
Not a lot of people know is how we chose to be in Old City in the first place. When we surveyed our original community for founding members, we learned that most of our members were in Northern Liberties, South Philly, and West Philly. I’m pretty sure an updated survey would show that’s still pretty accurate, expanding Northern Liberties into Fishtown & Kensington.
So naturally, we looked at potential spaces in all of those neighborhoods.
And some were pretty cool…but were a real pain to get to. That’s where we realized that if we picked any one of those neighborhoods to get started in, there’s a good chance that people from the other parts of the city would be less likely to make the trip.
So we started looking at Old City. Not because it was a hotspot for creative businesses, but specifically because it wasn’t one of the parts of Philadelphia where most of our members were. There were a couple of important creative business anchors – notably Weblinc and I-Site who predated us – but the odds of running into familiar faces the way you can in today’s Old City was completely foreign.
At the same time, we found that it felt easy to jump on a bus, subway, or bicycle from just about anywhere in the city and be there in 10-15 mins. Less convenient for our friends traveling in from the suburbs, but that’s never been our strength.
And I don’t mean that to be diminutively.
Because as Old City has changed, we’ve gotten to grow up along with it. We’ve gotten to become a part of a story that’s been in motion for decades or longer. We’ve been able to enjoy the explosion of amazing restaurant and bar scene. The “campus” feel of Old City has become a huge draw, making it easy to bump into friends almost anywhere in the neighborhood…and not just at National Mechanics.
For the last couple of years, Indy Hall Arts has gotten to play a role in the art community, attracting thousands of attendees and many first-time art buyers to our First Friday shows. Through the N3rd St Farmers Market, I’ve met more of our neighbors in the last 2.5 years than I did in the previous 6. And I don’t have to say how awesome it is to have places like Spruce Street Harbor Park and Independence Beer Garden within easy walking distance as a way to enjoy each others’ company outside.
When Indy Hall members’ grow their companies larger than 3-4 people, they almost universally begin looking for ways to stay in the neighborhood. Within a 2 block radius of Indy Hall, at least 100 people are employed by Indy Hall alum.
And we’ve gotten to play a role in dozens of businesses choosing to open their first and second offices in Old City, and many more expand into the neighborhood. We’ve even had a steady stream of companies occupy our former coworking space on Strawberry Street.
But maybe most importantly to myself and for many of our members, Old City has a sense of “home” for us.
A lot of people have reached out directly to express how devastated they would be if Indy Hall left Old City. That’s their word, not mine. “Devastated”.
I hear this – and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hit me right in the heart. And as you can tell, I feel very strongly about Old City myself.
But I also know that emotions aren’t a good place to make long term strategic decisions.
I think the most honest answer to “are we moving?” and “where would we move to?” isn’t an answer I can give today, but for a good reason.
When I do the dirty work of separating my emotions from the long term goals of our community and our business, I think about each location-based decision we’ve made to date.
Even the most recent one, the decision to take over the ground floor of our building in 2012. In order to make that expansion WORTH it, I couldn’t just look at it as adding more space. More space came with more risk. A second floor came with more complicated operations. Street access came with potential security risks.
We balanced all of these things with one important goal that fit our strategic goal: to connect more with the world outside our front door.
And if you look at our work over the last 3+ years, and the way our community has grown and evolved, I can say with confidence that even though all of our concerns were valid they were worth addressing head-first because the benefits have been transformational.
So today, in the consideration of ANY kind of move (to another spot in Old City, to another part of the city, some combination of the two, or even hidden option D), I’m asking the question “How does this move help us achieve our next long-term goal?”
The problems we set out to solve in 2006/2007 aren’t 100% solved, but we chose them in part because they’re not the kind of goals to solve to 100%. That way, there will always be room for more people to join us in solving them.
My goal wasn’t to bring shared workspace to Philadelphia. My goal was to make Philadelphia a better place to make a living doing what you love. My goal was to make it easier to build relationships with people, long before you needed them to complete a transaction.
Is Old City the only part of the city worthy of those goals? How can those goals be refined to better reflect Philadelphia of 2015? And can we look ahead to Philadelphia of 2025, and imagine what we want it to be like?
Because once we have that answer – the questions of “Are we going to move? Where would we move to?” become much easier to answer, as they’re in service to a much bigger goal than putting our stuff into boxes and changing our address.
If you’re interested in this conversation you can either head to the comments below, email me, or come to one of the “Mini Town Hall” events linked at the bottom of this post.
This 4th conversation is a little different – more of a conversation that I want to have. So let’s see how that goes.
Today, I created a new label in Gmail.
That label is called “Real Estate”, and I added over a dozen email threads to it.
And more are coming in just about every day.
The point of me sharing this here is two fold:
1 – It’s been very interesting to see the different approaches from the real estate world. It’s pretty easy to pick the best from the bunch based on the amount of thought they put into their first contact.
It’s amazing to me how many people don’t do even a LITTLE bit of research about Indy Hall before sending a cold contact. Many don’t even address me by name. Vultures.
2 – At the same time, everyone’s pitch is pretty much the same. With a few rare exceptions, of course (you know who you are).
Here’s just one example:
> “I don’t want to prematurely divulge too much information at this point. The gist is that it’s going to be a pretty big deal, it’s located within walking distance of Center City, and the Building stock is all former industrial / turn of the century. The area already has a cool vibe to it. it’s just been overlooked for decades, has lacked some TLC, and it needs a cohesive vision to create a ‘place.'”
Or, it’s less wordy cousin…
> “We’re looking for tenants 2000 sf & up for this cool office redevelopment. Please call/reply if you have interest.”
At this point, I’ve learned to keep my expectations low when working with the real estate world, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lowered the bar.
If you work in real estate in Philadelphia and you want to work together, I want to know who you are.
Not your property and it’s features – that’s the same commodity shit that everyone else has.
Who are you? What do you care about? Why do you love Philadelphia?
Think of it like asking someone on a first date. “Nice shoes, wanna fuck?” might work with some people, but that’s not what I’m looking for.
If you’re interested in this kind of conversation, you can either head to the comments below, email me, or come to one of the “Mini Town Hall” events linked at the bottom of this post.
Okay. Back to actual conversations I’ve had with actual Indy Hall members.
One of the things that I’m FOREVER thankful for is that our members are comfortable talking to me about Indy Hall’s imperfections.
I’m crazy proud of our team – Adam Teterus, Samantha Abrams, and Sean Martorana are without a doubt the BEST in the coworking business. Part of that is because most days of the week, my team and I are our own toughest critics.
What I think sets our team apart is that when they know they’re not doing their best work they’re not shy to admit it so they can recalibrate. They’ll even turn to their fellow community members – that’s right, our team members are members of the community first and foremost – and ask for help.
I’m saying all of this because I know that our willingness to acknowledge our imperfections instead of pretending “everything is awesome” has opened the door to members being willing to say “Hey, I noticed something is off. Can we work together to make it better?”
This came to the surface in a powerful way since that last blog post, when a few members have independently taken the opportunity to acknowledge Indy Hall’s fractures. And most interestingly…they each brought up the same core problem.
I want to save the details of that problem for a follow up blog post (how’s that for a cliffhanger?), but suffice it to say that it felt really great to be able to frame the problem against our potential future.
Even when we’re in the same location for 5+ years, Indy Hall is a work in progress. The difference is that our community has always played a role in that progress, and that’s certainly not going to change now.
If you’re interested in this conversation you can either head to the comments below, email me, or come to one of the “Mini Town Hall” events linked at the bottom of this post.
This might seem like a throwaway, but I’m including it for a very important reason.
Among all of the creative ideas & thoughtful questions, a number of members approached me simply to say:
> “I know you’ll do the right thing. I love how things are now, but I also know that I’ll love things however we end up.”
And here’s why I share this to close out this blog post: none of the people who came to me with this particular conversation did it in blind faith. In 100% of the cases where the conversation started here, there was still an opportunity for a conversation to unfold.
Let me be clear, I’m thankful that people trust my leadership. And I know it’s hard earned.
But more important to me is that even when people think they don’t have an opinion, they know they are heard, and considered, and valued. This includes today’s members, our faithful alumni, and our countless supporters.
As I said in the opening of this post, the next few weeks are about shifting from conversation to action. That’s why it was so important for me to get these 6 conversations out into the open, so that we could invite the next steps.
And for members of Indy Hall, I’ll also be sharing updates more frequently via GroupBuzz and our weekly email announcements, so keep your eyes on your inbox.
If you can make it to any or all of these discussions, I assure you that your presence means a lot to me and even if you don’t have a specific goal or thought to share, I’d encourage you to join us.
I have the privilege of sometimes being the face, but Indy Hall isn’t what it is because of me. It’s what it is because of all of you.
Together, Indy Hall is our love letter to Philly, and we’ve been writing it for nearly a decade.
It’s time to work on our next chapter. What goals could we be working towards, together, for the next 10 years?
This post has the potential to impact every member of Indy Hall – and possibly more people beyond our membership.
So if you’re reading this, it’s SO important to me that you read it carefully and completely. I don’t think I’ve ever meant that more than I do today.
For the last few years, we’ve been getting some (usually friendly) pressure from our landlord to consider purchasing the space that we’ve come to call home for Indy Hall. From the start, they’ve made it clear that their plan is to sell it either way – if not to us, to another property investor.
But in this email, the pressure took a different form.
In this email, I learned that our landlords had decided to respond to the “growing demand and rising market rates” in the neighborhood, and surprised us with a 60%+ increase to renew our lease for the ground floor. An increase that would’ve taken effect yesterday, June 1st.
For the last few weeks, I’ve had one mission: to make sure that on June 1st, we still had an active lease for the ground floor…and that it came with as FEW changes that would impact our community as possible.
I was able to negotiate a 3 month extension on our previous lease terms (with no other changes besides the end date) so that we could get our upstairs and downstairs leases synchronized, and figure out a plan moving forward.
…is that I was only able to buy SOME time.
On Sept 1st of this year (3 months from now), we’re expecting a rent increase of ~20% of our overall monthly rent (which is currently almost $17,000/month). I’ve negotiated this down a fair bit already…but it’s an increase we currently cannot afford.
Alternatively, we have the option to downsize the ground floor to just the north half, meaning we’d lose the classroom space, the Phone Hoods, and of course a good chunk of workspace. They’ll rent us the partial ground floor at a reduced rate per square foot, so they can rent out the other side with basement access.
Clearly, neither of these options are good for us.
And they really only buy us another 15 months because…
It’s not lost on me that the “growing demand and rising market rates” are partly due to our community and successes to date. We’ve gotten to grow and evolve with Old City and some of our closest small business friends, including Weblinc, I-Site, and of course our original watering hole National Mechanics.
Many people whose businesses outgrew Indy Hall intentionally have chosen to stay in the neighborhood: MyClin, Arcweb, Vandegrift, Wildbit, Freckle, and Flyclops, just to name a few.
And many, many more businesses have chosen to move to our neighborhood in no small part because of our anchor in the community, which as of last year even got it’s own name and citywide recognition by making “N3rd St” an official designation from City Hall.
Now that I’ve effectively buried the lede so far: if we don’t purchase our space, Indy Hall will need to look for a new home.
As a personal aside, if I’ve recently seemed distracted or distanced recently when you tried talking to me, or I’ve hesitated with an answer to a question…I’m sorry, and this post should help explain why.
It’s easy to take for granted how much Indy Hall has changed in the last 8 years. And how much has changed around us. Very few people who have been a part of Indy Hall are doing the exact same thing they did when they started. The Indy Hall community itself has changed in many ways – not just in size, but in how our community interacts and the kinds of ways we support each other. We’ve grown upward, we’ve grown outward, and we’ve grown inward too.
I often remark to people how I really don’t get to decide what Indy Hall is going to “grow up” to be, and it hasn’t been entirely my decision in a long while. The best job I can do is to listen, and to be a guide.
Throughout the year, we experience countless changes of varying scale – many are simple, subtle, and notable improvements. Many of these changes are made by hands of members just like you. They might have even been made by you.
This upcoming weekend’s REBOOT is a very tangible example of how valuable change can be – even when it comes with some short term pain. We’ve seen this time and again with the strong encouragement to find a new place to sit, and new people to sit with.
This is one of the very few times that we get close to enforcing a change, and we do it sparingly because we know how painful it can feel to have change imposed on you. And we only choose to do it when there’s clear and significant upsides to you, and to other people in the community.
If you think about how much Indy Hall has evolved over the last 8 years…it’s not hard to imagine how much we could evolve over the next 8 years to come.
It was actually strikingly poetic when I realized that August 2016 marks the 10 year anniversary of when I started the journey that would lead to Indy Hall’s inception. A milestone like that is worth celebrating – but it’s also one worth reflecting on.
The question I’ve been asking myself, and really the main thing that’s kept me sane for the last month, is “What could Indy Hall be in 2 years? 5 years? 8 years? What does this community look like in 2025?”
Even if I put the pressure from our landlord out of the picture momentarily, and I think purely about how far we’ve come, and the strengths we’ve demonstrated over and over as a community, it’s actually hard for me to imagine Indy Hall looking and running the exact same way 5 years from now.
So if we embrace the chaos and constraints we’re being dealt – what could we become? What do we WANT to become?
Can we turn this frustrating ultimatum into a better set of options for ourselves in the long term?
The more I sit with this question, the more confident I’ve become in our ability to turn this into a long term benefit. The only question is which direction we choose to head.
It’s been painful, and out of character for me, to have kept this information as long as I have. And I’ve only done so because I didn’t want to show up with bad news AND no starting point for answering questions, or to make the negotiation process with our landlord any harder than it needed to be.
At this point, we have a good sense of our landlord’s negotiation priorities. We know a timeline we’re working within. And we have some concrete dollar figures to know what we’re trying to accomplish. This means we can start having informed conversations about different ways to solve the problem of where we call home for the future.
Here are a few more things we know:
A purchase of this space is most likely out of our reach. And if we wanted to buy, this space may not be the right one (in spite of our emotional connection to it). Edit: but this discussion is absolutely still open, especially to creative ideas & options.
We’ll have some new costs to bear starting in 3 months, and I’m sure many people’s first thought is “shit, membership prices are gonna go up”. While that’s certainly one option, I want to brainstorm more ideas and options to help bridge that gap. What new things we can do to create more value with what we’ve already got? This includes new levels of membership that are focused on things other than renting desks: things like learning new skills, growing our businesses, etc.
Negotiation isn’t over until somebody says “yes”. So I’m still on the lookout for alternative options that we could execute by the end of the summer…and beyond. We could use some experienced allies to help us determine fact from fiction when it comes to frothy market negotiation.
Longer term decisions still don’t need to be “forever” decisions. We should still continue to “think big and act small,” seeking experiments rather than accepting so-called inevitabilities.
Inevitably, ALL of these factors will have an impact on choices we have to make, large and small, in the coming months.
And most of all – we can get back to being open and transparent about this process, and figure this out together. I’m keeping the most open mind I possibly can, and I feel strongly that if ANY group of people can figure this out…it’s the Indy Hall community.
Indy Hall has gotten physically bigger by adding more square footage over the years. But sometimes, it’s hard to remember that our community created this place, not the other way around. This place – the walls and the pillars, the desks, chairs, power, and internet – are relative commodities.
What’s irreplaceable is the relationships that form between people in this community. The support and inspiration we give each other. The generosity and excitement that comes from doing something we never knew was possible. The trust we all place in each other to help make each day just a little bit better than the last one.
So long as we keep our priorities and our values in view, I’m 100% confident that we only stand to become the best version of Indy Hall we’ve seen yet.
Even during this weekend’s Reboot – where we put more emphasis on making improvements to the space than any other time of year – we need to remind ourselves and each other that the REASON we do it is because if it weren’t for each other, this particular space wouldn’t be worth sharing.
The most important thing to me about sending this email is opening up the dialogue. I haven’t shared anything in this email that I consider private, and I much prefer it that way.
I’ve taken the time to collect my thoughts so I could write them here, and it wasn’t easy. I’ve gone through a lot of emotions – surprise, frustration, anger, dismay, and more before I felt the way I do now. Which, as I hope comes across in this post, is optimistic. I truly do feel optimistic.
So I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it might take some time for you to process this, but I’d also encourage you NOT to go through that alone.
Come talk to me. We can speak one on one or in groups, whichever you prefer.
Talk to the people in the community you trust, and care about the most. I encourage you to speak to each other, but also to share what you discuss with me.
This is also an opportunity to talk to the people in the community you don’t know very well yet – because now you have a common challenge. We all do.
My door is open (j/k I don’t have a door on my office cuz I work at Indy Hall) and I’m personally inviting each of you to walk through it.
But since I’m not always in the room at Indy Hall or I might appear busy, here’s all of the ways to reach me if and when you’re ready to talk:
Thank you for reading, and for being a part of this community with me.
Let’s see what we can create by embracing the chaos,
First, take a quick peek at this mini-story about a new member joining a coworking space:
“We just got a new member who is not in the type of business I expected would be interested in coworking…but definitely has the needs of a coworker:
He started a cleaning business 6 months ago and spends about half his time on admin and commercial work. He was so fed up of working on the kitchen table between his wife and kids or in noisy cafés that he looked for another solution.
He was so happy when he left today saying he’d been super productive! Made my day!”
Getting stories like this make me smile like a goofball, partly because coworking has another happy customer but also because it’s clear that she’d been so surprised by this unexpected new member’s instant desire to sign up for membership.
There are SO many preconceived notions about who would want to work in a coworking space. I’d be willing to bet that sometimes you still get stuck trying to convince someone to pay for a coworking space when they know they could just work at home, in their underwear, for free.
So today, I want to peel back the layers of just one of those preconceived notions…all the way back to the deeply rooted core from whence it came.
In the “old world” of corporate jobs, everyone went to the same place to do the same task handed to us by the same boss. Day after day. Our work days were relatively certain, for better AND for worse. One particular benefit of that certainty – real or an illusion – meant that we could focus only on the specific skills needed to get the job done.
Meanwhile in the modern world of work – the one that coworking spaces are most connected to – things couldn’t be more different in that regard. In order for you to be successful today, in addition to whatever skill or craft you practice, there’s countless “meta-skills” that you need to learn including time and task management, communication.
Does it really make sense that ALL of your work is done best in the same kind of environment?
Most people have NEVER learned the meta-skill of breaking their “work” into smaller components, so they can think about their work-day as interconnected but separate chunks of work.
And I can’t exactly blame them…where would you learn that skill other than to see someone else do it, and try it yourself?
Which is why my team and I so often ask people about their administrative tasks – like invoicing, paying bills, research, paperwork, etc. Let’s be honest: it’s not the work that we like to think about. In fact, it’s the work that many people would happily avoid…and many do, to their own detriment.
Even if someone’s not a freelancer or an entrepreneur, EVERYONE has chunks of time that they need to dedicate to slogging through that admin work.
But here’s the fun part: once you’ve got someone thinking about their admin work – something really magical happens when you bring up coworking. 9 times out of 10, it clicks for them.
“Oh, I could be sooooo much more productive if I carved out time to do that admin work, and did it around other people instead of letting myself procrastinate. Sign me up!”
Which is just like our friend with the cleaning service, who I’m sure you can easily imagine was thrilled to turn a dull, boring day of admin tasks into a productive, inspiring day of GETTING SHIT DONE.
The big lesson here is that a coworking space is more successful when it’s suited for a certain style of work, than certain kinds of people and professions. And there’s a good chance that it’s YOUR job to help people learn how to use this to be more productive, and happier at work.
I really wanted to go to this event in person. I was still considering it as recently as the beginning of January…but nursing with an injury in the beginning of January and a full dance card working on the new version of 30×500 made taking a couple of weeks to adventure to Bali start to seem like an unwise choice.
Thankfully, co-organizer Steve Munroe agreed with my suggestion to do a virtual session via Google Hangouts. Given the time zone shift, my Friday night outpost at Indy Hall transported me to a session titled “Breakfast with Alex” (a perfectly casual title) in one of the most BEAUTIFUL locations I’ve ever seen.
It took a couple of questions before the crowd warmed up – funny, considering the climate – but once they did I got some GREAT questions. I recorded the session and posted the audio below, along with some photos and tweets from the attendees of the session. Pay no attention to the giant head on the screen – look at all of those beautiful coworking people and the Green School venue. Just wow.
Thanks for inviting me to visit – next year I’ll be there in person!
Seriously the coolest venue I’ve ever presented in, virtual or otherwise! Thanks to everyone who helped share the experience.
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