Act IV

This fall, New Work City will celebrate its sixth anniversary since first opening for business in 2008. It’s hard to believe it’s been six whole years; building and sustaining a small brick-and-mortar business for that long is no small feat!

The current version of New Work City, the one located at 412 Broadway, is in what I would call Act III of the overarching narrative of our story.

As we look to the future, it’s time to think about what Act IV will look like for us. Before we get to that, let’s go over how we got here.

ACT I – Jelly & CooperBricolage

Back in 2007, coworking was this obscure thing that happened in a Williamsburg artist collective and five-bedroom loft apartment on 39th Street. When I attended my first Jelly, my life changed forever. It was the first time I’d been exposed to a world of my peers who were working for themselves, doing creative work that was in alignment with their souls.

Soon thereafter, I moved into that apartment and eventually picked up where the original organizers had left off, hosting Jellies and helping others do similar. At the same time, I started working with my new friend Sanford and a bunch of other new friends on building a dedicated coworking community, dubbed CooperBricolage in tribute to Peter Cooper and Nate Westheimer’s vision of a cafe-based coworking concept called CafeBricolage, using East Village cafes as our home bases.

Between these two communities, we were able to develop a sense of consistent culture and critical mass that would be necessary for us to take the next step. Act I: Culture: Set!

ACT II – New Work City

While working in cafes was great, one can only take so many conference calls on the sidewalk before feeling some wear and tear. We needed a place we could count on to be ours. By late 2008, there was still a tremendous need for someone to build a central coworking space in Manhattan, so when NWC opened its doors, it was a boon for the people who needed it and for many who would be inspired by the example it set.

We didn’t have any investors, but we did have a lot of friends. Sanford found a startup that had more space than they needed and helped convince them to give us a chance.

We conspired to develop an arrangement that would allow us to open for business with minimal risk. With a little bit of cash and a trip to Ikea, we were in business. Act II: Business: Launched!

ACT III – New Work City 1.5 and 2.0

The space we shared with our startup friends was a fantastic incubator for what we were building. What we really needed, however, was a home of our own. Sharing space with our sublessors felt, at times, like living with our parents. Fortunately, we were able to be just successful enough with what we had there to get ourselves to the next level: a place of our own.

When it came time for us to leave that space, we set our sights on just that. After a life-saving four-month stopover sharing space with our friends at Greenspaces, a Kickstarter campaign and an overwhelming amount of support from hundreds of loving people, we got our own space open at 412 Broadway in September of 2010. We’ve been there ever since. Act III: Mission: Accomplished!

ACT IV

Next June, our current lease will expire. It gives us an opportunity to revisit why we’re here and what we want to do next. The end of this lease will constitute the end of the third act. What does Act IV look like? That’s for us to ascertain together.

As we consider what Act IV might be, I gravitate towards two main areas of focus: purpose and sustainability.

Focus 1: Purpose

Our purpose for a long time was to build and sustain a great coworking space in a central part of Manhattan. That mission is largely accomplished. So, what’s next?

Every business should be aspiring to something more. It’s no fun to just try to tread water. How, then, might we go about articulating a higher ambition to strive for?

We’ve always had a general ambition of better supporting the needs of the growing ranks of the independents. Considering the litany of things we still each have to deal with on our own without any external support, there’s no shortage of opportunity there.

New Work City as it’s currently constituted isn’t organized around working towards that purpose. It was designed to get us to where we are today. In order to develop a mandate that aligns us with the larger mission in a more specific way, we must consider how to develop a proper vehicle for that.

Focus 2: Sustainability

I very deliberately shaped New Work City into something that wasn’t to be treated as a business venture. Back when it was getting started, I thought doing so would dirty it. I wanted to see New Work City become something that people could trust to have their interests in mind, not the interest of profit-minded investors or other entities with their own agendas.

Now, as we look ahead, I’m revisiting that philosophy. A sustainable entity has a robust structure around it to ensure its vitality beyond the constraints of any one individual. NWC, as it stands, depends way too much on Peter and myself to be sustainable as a long-term entity.

So if this thing is to continue to live on in some form for the foreseeable future, it seems worth considering how we might best develop such a structure to wrap around it.

What happens next

We know that whatever Act IV looks like, it’s something more purposeful and more sustainable. That could manifest in the form of a new business entity, or a partnership with a like-minded organization, or something else we can’t yet see. What we can do, now, is take action that creates space for those possibilities to become more real.

Here are some of the things I’m currently working on:

  1. Exploring new ideas with Project Bossless - I recently launched this site to create a clean slate from which new approaches could be explored. The core of the project focuses on the emergence of the larger ecosystem that I believe coworking is a part of—an interdependent support system for people who would otherwise be on their own.
  2. Organizing IndieCon, an unconference by and for independent workers - We did the first one last fall, and it was an amazing way to rally people around finding new ways to help one another. This year, we’re planning on doing it again, bigger and better, with intention to continue building on the ideas after the conference is over.
  3. Facilitating Meetups – We’ve ramped up self-organized coworking gatherings this year through our Meetup group, which has been hugely helpful in giving us a better understanding of the different ways we can play with the coworking model. We should continue to explore how we can use this group to try new things.
  4. Talking more – So much of what helped make New Work City survive and thrive in its transitions from one act to the next came from a commitment to share and engage openly in the process as we went. The more we invited people to buy into the conversation and participate in shaping its direction, the better it got for everyone involved.

Now that the next act is coming into focus, it makes sense for us to be talking more openly about what happens next.

We know that coworking represents an important part of the future of work. As more and more people join the ranks of the never-again-to-be-traditionally-employed, the importance of coworking spaces as support systems rises accordingly.

We can’t just all be trying to figure everything out on their own. We need each other to make this shift a healthy one. Coworking is a vessel for that.

Let’s look together in earnest at how we can take what we’ve got and build on it, for ourselves and those who follow us.

If you’re reading this, you’re a part of the effort already. Comment below with your thoughts, join IndieCon (stay tuned), attend or propose a coworking gathering through our Meetup group, or of course join as a member of New Work City and help shape our future with us together.

New Work City is hiring! Help us have a bigger impact on NYC and the world.

New Work City. We like awesomeness and empowering people.

New Work City. We like awesomeness and empowering people.

Inspiration for this post brought to you by coffee, good friends, and the Code Your Face Off soundtrack on Songza!

See the full job posting here and apply here!

I’ve enjoyed taking a casual approach to building New Work City. It’s just my disposition. After nearly five years of organizing, however, I’m finding myself increasingly ready to take everything we’ve done and set us up for the long term. Today, we’re taking two big steps toward growing up as an organization.

We’re hiring! Hooray for job creation!

When I first got into this back in 2007, I was transfixed by coworking and all of the opportunities it provided to meet some incredible people and learn about a world of folks who were working for themselves in ways I had never been exposed to before. Now, it’s time to find someone who is today perhaps a little like I was back then.

We’re hiring someone to help us run our space. Someone who is friendly, reliable, fastidious, and excited to meet a lot of amazing people.

They’ll help manage the space every day, opening up in the morning and sticking around until the end of the business day every day. They’ll welcome members, give tours, and generally keep things humming along. They’ll help keep the space fully functional and organized by ensuring the space is well supplied and in order.

They’ll also learn how to manage a community and a space, and all of the intangible things that go with that.

Leading by example

Hiring someone and maturing as an organization will help us increase our capacity for generating a larger impact on New York City and the rest of the world.

We’re not planning on opening more spaces, but we do want more communities like ours to exist. To that end, we’ll be documenting our experiences with our new hire and hopefully having them contribute regularly as they learn how to run a coworking community.

We hope to lead by example and inspire others to join us in building communities that help people work for themselves– not just in high growth startups, but in developing sustainable and robust small businesses and consulting practices.

Millions of people will be pursuing independent careers for the first time over the next several years, and communities like ours are a critical part of helping people start and succeed. I sincerely believe this is the only way we are going to solve some of our biggest problems.

Help us find someone awesome

As with pretty much everything else we’ve done, I’m looking to all of you to help me find the awesomest person possible for the job. Pass these links along to whoever you think might be interested, or might know someone who is:

Full outline of job listing here: http://nwc.co/workhere
Application here: http://nwc.co/applyhere

We’ve also prepared some handy links to easily share on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+!

If you have ideas as to where I should be posting to get the word out, I’m all ears!

 

Alone at NWC

Originally published here.

Back when NWC first started almost two years ago, there used to be a lot of nights where I was the last person in the space after everyone else had gone home.

Lately, with so many more members and so many more events and things going on, it’s rare for me to the the last person out the door.

Tonight, after wrapping up a successful Girl Develop IT class, I find myself alone in my new space for the first time in a long time.

The stage is set for tomorrow, the chairs and desks having been returned to their appropriate spots. In 12 hours, the space will be humming with people, building and talking excitedly.

But tonight, everything sits still in peace and silence.

Little imperfections could keep me here forever, as there’s always a chair to straighten or a tabletop to be wiped down.

Not too long from now, we’ll probably hire someone to manage the space. I’ll be freed up to focus on the bigger business stuff, and I’ll likely be spending less time rearranging furniture late at night.

As nice as that will be, I can’t help but feel like there’s a value in getting one’s hands dirty.

I wonder what it would be like to start a coworking space without having to do any of the grunt work. If you had the money right away to hire people to do all of the little things, I wonder whether you’d ever be able to fully appreciate the intricacies of every detail that make a place like this so special?

Either way, I try to take pride in having done a little bit of everything along the way.

There’s an irrational part of my mind that never wants to go home. If it had its way, I’d stop time right now and build everything I’ve ever wanted to build in the space, all at once, right now.

But that’s never going to happen, nor should it. Every day, I’ll do something to make this place a little better. It’ll evolve over time, and when I look back at it a year from now, I’ll see something which all of us carefully sculpted each day as we went.

My own personal giant bonsai tree.

I must be better with coworking spaces than with bonsai trees, because I could never keep the latter alive for two whole years. Perhaps it doesn’t hurt that, with coworking spaces, I’m only one of many people tending to it every day.

This place is nice. It’ll keep getting nicer. Then we’ll see about other places.

But for tonight, for now, my work here is done.

Time to take it all in for a moment while the coast is clear. Who knows how long it will be until I’m alone here again?


Giving and Giving Back

Originally posted here.

A lot of people have given me and NWC so much to get us to where we are today. Hundreds of people have poured their time, money, blog posts, tweets, car rides, manual labor, expertise, advice, spare belongings, weekends, emotion, energy, and so much more into something that they believe in.

For many, this is an investment into something that they intend to continue to participate in and benefit from. We’re now a much bigger group of people who all have a shared interest in making NWC succeed. For some, the help they’ve given NWC has been purely out of an interest in seeing it become a success– even if, because of geographic, professional, or other circumstances, they might never be able to participate in or benefit from it directly themselves.

People have done things that I’ve barely had a chance to thank them for. There are emails in my inbox waiting for responses that just have to wait.

I don’t really know how to properly repay or even acknowledge the people who deserve it. I’m certain, actually, that I can’t.

This frustrates me a lot.

One thing I know I can do is to continue to do everything in my power to make NWC what we all want and need it to be. It will never be perfect, but it will always be ours, and I’ll always be working on making it a better and better.

We open for business on Wednesday. A lot of the space won’t be pretty, and a lot of it won’t be finished. But it will improve every single day.

Starting Wednesday, I will be setting out to give back. Not just to the people who have helped to date, but to people just discovering us for the first time. The best thing I can do, I think, is to pay it forward and try my best to be what everyone expects me to be.

Thank you, all of you, for everything you’ve done for me and for NWC. I’m humbled by your overwhelming love and support. I can’t say I’m convinced that I deserve it all, but I’m going to do my best to earn it.