Project Asterisk: The Community

It's been a week since I posted about my intention to start a coworking space. In that time I've done a lot of thinking, a lot of lusting over empty lots, and a little bit of meeting with people who know things. Friday I took a meeting with Ken Evans and Christopher McElveen, two people who have been at the center of the entrepreneurial and coworking communities in Tampa for many years now. We went across the street from my apartment to Armature Works, I grabbed a coffee cola from Commune Coffee and we sat inside in plain view of the doorway to Bay 3, the newest coworking space to pop up in the area.

We talked about a lot of things including what kind of building is ideal, who around town could give me advice, what kind of pricing structure to consider, etc. But the most important thing we talked about was community. Community is the backbone of any coworking space no matter how it begins or how it evolves. Ken recommended that before I even consider investing in a building, I should start meeting with a few people, coworking in public areas, building bonds, and discussing the future with them. He directed me to Alex Hillman's website where he basically recommends the same thing and describes how he was able to follow that formula to create Indy Hall, his successful coworking space in Philadelphia.

It was a pretty ironic thing to be discussing right in front of Bay 3 where their first priority seemed to be building the space, only filling the offices after construction was done. I'll be interested to see how that strategy works out for them...

A quick story about my experience with Bay 3: I signed up to take a tour of their space a few weeks ago and, like a pompous know-it-all, I thought I knew which door to go through for the tour. Instead of following the instructions they emailed me to go through the exterior door, I went to the door that faced Armature Works' Heights Public Market -- the one I had seen before. Consequently, there was no one there waiting for me and I found myself confused. There was a sign on the wall that said not to walk on the unfinished floors beyond the lobby, so I was hesitant to go looking for the tour guide. I waited for a while and another guy came in the same door with sunglasses and a wind jacket on, eating from a bowl of ice cream he had probably gotten from Astro downstairs. He looked around the lobby, then looked right at the sign and kept on walking like he owned the place (owned it, but hadn't stepped foot into it until now). Sheepishly, I followed him and we eventually found the tour guide who informed us that the door we should have gone through was on the opposite side of the space. The ice cream guy continued on the tour in the same arrogant way, asking leading questions, barging through doors and probably dripping ice cream on the unfinished floors. I was concerned that the tour guide thought that we were looking at the space together. The tour ended and the ice cream guy left just as abruptly as he had come. I took the time to say my good-byes and take a brochure. But I left wondering if the ice cream guy was representative of the kind of people who are attracted to that space: cold, arrogant, and wearing wind jackets indoors in the Florida summer.

Weeks later, I met with Ken Evans and Christopher McElveen a floor below and across the courtyard from the Wrong Door and couldn't help but think about the ice cream guy. If I started a coworking space without building a community first, would I attract Ice Cream Guys? It seems to me that Bay 3 is what happens when you have the money to build first, and the desire to create a community second. Not necessarily a bad way to work. They're probably connected to Heights Public Market in such a way that it'll leave them profitable even if there's high turn-around. Ice Cream Guy could barge in, splash melted confectionary all over the walls and barge out and they'd be fine.

But that's not really what I want. I came to this idea with the community in mind first. So that's how I'm going to continue with that idea. I have a few places in mind to start meeting with fellow coworkers, but first I want to gauge interest. I want to see what kind of community I would already have before I even find a nice, quiet place to work with them in. If you're a Tampa Entrepreneur, send me a comment either on here or on Facebook or Twitter, wherever is more comfortable, and tell me you're ready for The Green Asterisk Coworking Space. Then we can all work together on first a temporary place, then a permanent place for us to get stuff done.

I'm just as excited about this idea as I have been since it first tickled my brain, and I hope you'll help me make it a reality!