Sunday, May 17, 2009

interview with Drew Tyler, part 2 of creating a coworking community

While we have been corresponding Drew has moved on to leasing a space for his new community in Salt Lake City, Utah, to be called BetaLoft. The story is happening as we are interviewing him! Our interview continues:

Greg: One piece of advice I've run into in researching CoWorking is that it should start with the community, and then grow into a space. Hence you see instances of CoWorking sites that have emerged from coffee shop working, or Jellys. On the surface it would seem you were going about it in reverse, yet you have such a strong concept of the community you want to build and a social mission along with it. Does this trump the conventional wisdom, or did your early efforts to locate interested people start the wheels in motion of assembling the community?

Drew: A great question. I feel that I've connected with an existing community in an evangelistic sort of way. The work I do for a living is not your typical coffee shop work (although I've edited a few times in coffee shops.) So it didn't seem like I could find a group of people and say "hey! Let's get together and Jelly!" It was difficult for me to hold Jellys or other types of micro-community building events because I was very focused on my research (70 miles to the south of SLC.) But I knew there were people that were already connected to each other who might be willing to support this space. The responses I received as I attended Tweetups, and Social Media type gatherings were all very positive. I agree whole-heartedly coworking spaces are about community. What I hope to further prove with my space, BetaLoft, is that a space that puts community before everything else can succeed. Is it a community I created and helped find a home for? No, but it's a community of freelancers that I've worked on joining and being part of. To that end I think I've succeeded.

G: What came next? A mission statement? A business plan? A web site? Meet ups with interested people? Give us a brief of your agenda between deciding to go ahead, and beginning a site search. What foundations did you have to lay before you really took your first steps?

D: What came next was a little more 'market research.' I needed to know there were people willing to pay for a space. I created a temporary website where I could inform interested people about the progress I was making. I continued to tweet about my idea and share my idea with everyone I met at events. I even put out an ad on Craigslist looking for partners. All of those things found me a list of interested folks that I kept in touch with through the web site. We had a lunch meetup with 4 attending besides myself and two of my advising friends. I met a second time with another small group and decided on a model of operation– not-only-for-profit. There were those 'interested partners' who initially wanted to see the cost projections. How much could they make if they invested in my space? That wasn't the partnering I was looking for. I did find some that were interested in seeing a place succeed for the benefit of the freelance community at large. I worked with them for advice, I as looked for a space and made decisions. It was at this point that I really flushed out my business plan. I made the plan initially to enter it in the University's prestigious Business Plan Competition. Having the plan meant I could share it with others and break it down and build it up again. I got a lot of great creative help from @lutez, a young guy with a dream and plenty of drive. He approached me as one of those partners that knew that SLC could support a space and he knew he wanted to be a part of the creation of it. He's been a fantastic asset.

So in short I did enough market research through actually talking face-to-face with people to prove to myself that the concept was viable. I joined the Social Media Club of SLC and quickly offered to be their resident video streaming guy. I make it to every monthly event and talk with people there and tell them what I'm up to. The landing page on U-Stream for viewers of the video stream says "brought to you by BetaLoft — coworking is coming to SLC!"

I think the interesting part of this particular part of the process is that I was still applying for teaching jobs out of state, and other video jobs. I was telling people that I wanted to start this space but I was personally very afraid of the risk it entailed. It was almost like the more adventurous part of me was subconsciously moving the idea forward, while the more grounded part of me was trying to find another path to take. Even up until this weekend, I was contemplating alternate directions for me and my family. It's almost like I did a site search, gathered support, created a web site, designed a logo, and wrote a business plan before I "decided to go ahead."

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