I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing designer Matthew Smith, Principal at SquaredEye, on his role in spearheading CoWork Greenville (SC). Below are the images of CoWork Greenville (taken by Mykal McEldowney) and Matthew’s answers to my questions — all so we could get a peek into their modern cowork environment *and* understand the context, dynamic, and goals behind its existence.
Why did you think Greenville needed a dedicated CoWorking space?
That’s not the first thing I thought of. My first thought was that I didn’t want to work alone at home anymore where I had a hard time staying focused. I found other people who were in the same boat, and we launched this thing a few years ago — as six people in a closet of a space.
We only came to the conclusion that we are a “CoWorking” space after I heard a talk on CoWorking at SXSW in 2009.
From that point on, a group of us that assembled as the CoWork Greenville LLC has forged ground as a for-profit CoWork group looking to provide the absolute best environment in all of Greenville for great work to happen. I’m pretty sure we have accomplished that, but I’m biased.
What were a few of the concerns and/or challenges you experienced in getting it started?
What will people pay? Why would competitive freelancers want to work in the same building together? What do we do if a potential client comes in the door and wants to hire someone for a project? What if someone is an ass and we have to kick him or her out? The list goes on.
The biggest challenge now is how to keep growing in a way that honors the quality we get from an office with fewer than 30 people in it. We’re working on that now.
What fuels its sustainability? For example, the group dynamic, influx of creative types to Greenville, or regular outreach conducted?
Once a month, on what we call “ZeroDay,” we practice thinking. We take half a day off and just try to process ideas, challenges, and things we’re stumped about in general. It’s a great way to get our group to gel.
Architecturally there’s a lot of hangout space, too. We value relationship and work equally. We want people to enjoy where they work, and the space provides for that.
What benefits do you think coworking inherently provides coworkers that formal office cultures typically don’t?
More versatile thinking. CoWorking challenges the status quo. We’re always spurring each other on to do better work. It’s a more diverse crowd, and we are all responsible for the success or failure of our own businesses. And something is working, because we’re all incredibly busy and growing our businesses.
What benefits does CoWork Greenville provide to members of the greater community outside its walls?
We’re working on this now. We currently welcome people from the community to participate in our ZeroDays by inviting them to bring their own challenges and ideas to the table. In addition, we’re very interested in supporting the low-income community around our space by providing labor and ideas. It’s high on our priority list.
We also have eight, day-rate spaces. These cost $20 per day or $10 per half-day. Both include complimentary espresso drinks from our prized Gaggia. This encourages the community to come in and experience the CoWorking environment where we can we practice 100 percent independent collaboration. And on the first Monday of each month, we also offer the day-rate spaces for free on a first-come, first-served basis.
Any advice for corporate developers who want to sublet/dedicate space for CoWorking in their properties?
You’re wasting your money by leaving your spaces empty. There are a huge number of independent workers who would gladly take up your space temporarily or long term. Stop living in the past and wake up. There’s money to be made — a LOT of money to be made — serving a more flexible class of workers.
Any advice for folks interested in starting their own CoWork spaces within their communities?
Don’t try to be a cowboy. It was tough to trail-blaze this whole thing. I’m thankful for the bits of advice we got, but I wish I had sought more as we went along. Get advice from those that have gone before you.
Don’t go it alone. Find like-minded people to help you build something amazing.
Start small, see if your city will sustain a small group first. Regardless, get something off the ground before you try to get people invested in the idea. People need to see this working before they’ll commit.
And on this topic, we offer consulting for CoWorking startups and can even share our contracts and papers as a part of the deal. It’s proved helpful for a number of groups.
You can follow @cowork on Twitter to stay in touch with its evolution.
A big thanks to Matthew for his time and contributions to this article in Workspace Design Magazine.