FEATURE STORY: Sparking Inspiration
JACKSON, WYO – In Seattle, they call theirs Office Nomads. It’s Fort Work in Dallas. Just ask for NextSpace in L.A. or CoCo when in Minneapolis. The legendary Cambridge Innovation Center in Boston just goes by “the IC.”
Now Jackson has its shared workspace: Spark. Conceived and launched by Brad Krugh with co-collaborators Megan Beck, Jim Fini, and Jeremy Hopple, the local co-work space opened in January and is already more than half full. The idea follows a drift in the “business world” that downplays “business” and embraces “world.” The new office is nowhere and everywhere. Dilbert’s desk has been moved to the Cloud.
“My wife once saw a bumper sticker that read: ‘My life is better than your vacation,’” Krugh told an audience at the recent 22 in 21 conference hosted by The Charture Institute. “I’m an example of the Creative Class. It’s hard to identify who we are. Our server is on the Cloud. We use Google Docs.”
Krugh began splitting time between his home base of Seattle and his outdoor passion, Jackson, about eight years ago. His life has gotten easier since then. Thanks to ever-improving networking technology and a direct flight, Krugh’s nomadic work style is hardly the exception with a growing segment of freelancers and entrepreneurs opting to open their laptop wherever there’s WiFi.
Krugh said, “I used to be asked, ‘How do you do that?’ Now, it’s, ‘Are you hiring?’ With the expanded airport service, I can leave Jackson and be at work in my Seattle office by 10:30 – which, in the tech industry, is pretty early.”
The co-work space trend rides the coattails of the work-at-home movement. With more and more people launching startup businesses or simply ditching soul-crushing commutes for Skype and a laser printer, traditional offices have become as outdated as a three-martini lunch. But something unforeseen happened, and it is happening quickly and sweeping the globe.
Worker bees need a hive
“[The co-founders and I] felt like we missed the collaboration you get in the office environment but office space in Jackson can get pretty pricey, especially for a startup. Paying $500 to $600 a month doesn’t always make sense when you are just starting out,” Beck said. “People are really excited about the energy, and that’s exactly what we wanted to go for. We also have monthly meetings and special events. We basically wanted to create collaborative workspace where the pricing model is essentially you just become a member and you have access to the shared space.”
Shared workspaces are the new garage. The software industry boomed out of the garage of dozens of Silicon Valley nerds. But that was then. The 21st century platform is now and, as Grind Station in New York City calls it, it’s “the workspace for free-range humans.” Many shared spaces offer a dynamic, if not chaotic, work environment where collaboration and social networking spawn innovative startups daily.
Some use these communal spaces just so they have an excuse to get dressed every day. Krugh said, “We are all holed up in our own spaces. Humans crave collaboration.”
“Most people have home offices and still would rather come here. It gets pretty isolating working from home. I have a home office but I think I would go crazy if I was just home all day alone,” Beck admitted.
One of Spark’s first members was Michael Bruck. The software entrepreneur already was familiar with the mode having used Boston’s mega-warehouse Cambridge Innovation Center. More than 500 companies and better than 900 users call the IC their office.
“I don’t like working from home. I’m not as productive, and it’s not as enjoyable,” Bruck said. “These spaces are interesting and vibrant and motivating. I enjoy meeting other professionals.”
Bruck spends about eight months a year in Jackson Hole. He heard about Spark at a Silicon Couloir Chance Meeting. “I was ready to sign up right away,” he said. Bruck has formed a few working relationships in Boston but is still waiting to meld with someone here at one of Spark’s cyber cubicles.
‘Electronic cottage’ too confining
In Alvin Toffler’s 1980 bestseller The Third Wave, the futurist depicted an approaching day where the new office would be an “electronic cottage” where workers could telecommute from a “wired” home. By the late ’90s, it was the American dream to work from home. And not just America’s dream. A 2012 Ipsos/Reuter’s poll showed one in every five workers around the globe telecommutes frequently and 10 percent work from home every day.
But the isolation of working from home stifles productivity for many. A pushback movement began as early as 1995 when the seminal C-base sprouted as a hacker base in Berlin. By 1999, the word “coworking” was coined. That same year, a flex space called 42 West 24 popped up in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
It has never been easier to work from home, or the car, or the coffee shop. The decline of traditional office space use is notable. A RingCentral survey last December found nearly half (45 percent) of employees responding spend three quarters (at least 75 percent) of their time conducting business away from the office. Virtual offices, executive suites, and other flex spaces are quickly becoming the rule.
Even hotel chain Marriott launched their Marriott Workspace on Demand late last year. At more than 35 hotels – including those in Chicago, Dallas, NYC, and Southern California – business travelers or local entrepreneurs can rent small-scale meeting spaces or desks for $50 an hour. The initiative has been so well received, another 300 hotels have similar spaces planned by the end of the year.
Jackson Hole seems the perfect fit for these post-modern liquid lifestyle spaces. The valley has always attracted risk-takers and innovators. Intellectual capital is everywhere. Krugh notes that Jackson Hole’s “knowledge sector is thriving.”
“It’s crazy, the people that cruise in here,” Beck said. For one, the number of remote and independent workers has really grown over the past few years in Jackson. The Internet has made it really easy to work anywhere, and people want to come here and work here and live here because it really inspires them. I think that makes this space unique as opposed to if you go to one in New York, say, and it’s the usual, ‘I want to get ahead, work hard, start a company.’ Jackson has more of a mountain lifestyle focus. It’s more focused on quality of life.”
Beck, whose “day job” is vice president of development for Vittana, a Seattle-based nonprofit, is in charge of memberships. She said Spark is already filled to 60 percent capacity in just two months. The space offers open tables as well as a few dedicated desks (four, actually, and they are all sold out). Amenities include high-speed WiFi, a printer/scanner, private phone booths, conference rooms equipped with projectors or TVs, and a communal kitchenette with coffee, microwave and refrigerator.
Spark catches fire
Spark took hold last summer when Krugh and Hopple put their idea to the test. Krugh had been working out of The Hub in Seattle for years while commuting back and forth to Jackson. He is the VP of operations and partnerships with SeeYourImpact Technologies Inc. Hopple, a former programmer at Teton Data Systems, now designs software for Visible Measures in Boston. Fini is the founder of software giant Enservio.
With the help of Latham Jenkins, Krugh and Hopple set up a popup workspace at Circumerro, which hosted a free pilot space last August and September. Interest was immediate and Krugh began looking for potential sites over the fall. He found the perfect location at 140 E. Broadway across from Persephone.
Beck seems positive Spark will catch on in Jackson. “We think it can work; hopefully within a few months,” she said. “None of us are really doing this because it has a huge profit potential. I mean, we all have day jobs. Our goal is to make it financially sustainable and not have to run on donations or anything like that.”
Spark is offering day passes for $35. Fulltime access to shared space and all amenities is $190 per month. A dedicated desk space will rent for $275 a month. A limited number of private offices are also available.
“Our intent is to not raise the prices,” Beck said. “We are going month-to month with two-day notice on cancellations.”
Spark, 140 East Broadway, Second Floor, Suite 25, Jackson, WY. Email: [email protected]