Guest Blog by Alkaloid Member, Sunil Vatave
Canopy Workforce Solutions
In 1938, David Packard and William Hewlett started Hewlett Packard in a garage in Palo Alto, California. They did this at the recommendation of Stanford’s Dean of Engineering, Fred Terman, who encouraged alumni to set up shop in what is now Silicon Valley. Professor Terman’s goal was to “create a community of technical scholars”. Terman realized the power of community when it came to helping businesses grow. Fast forward more than 80 years. Who has a garage? The answer is we all do, except now it’s called a coworking space.
THIS IS MY GARAGE
I moved into Alkaloid Networks with Rob, Erica, Kassie, Jennifer and a tub of supplies. Not much, but it was all we needed to get set up and running in hours not days. While Mr. Packard and Mr. Hewlett had Professor Terman to help them, my community leader was Katharine (whom we call “Kat”). She helped us get set up and with all manner of smaller things that ordinarily would get overlooked until they became a bigger problem. I get asked a lot why I didn’t just work out of my actual garage. Other than the fact that it was full of bikes, kids sports stuff, tools and general junk, there are four main reasons.
The first is focus. Starting a business from nothing takes intense focus. It’s one of the reasons Packard and Hewlett were in the garage rather than a dining room. Distractions are a huge problem. At home it’s easy to lose focus. Sure it’s convenient, but it’s sometimes too convenient. It’s pretty easy to spend half your time in the refrigerator or cupboard looking for snacks.
To me, my coworking space was like going to the gym. I could just as easily exercise at home, but the gym brought a sense of focus and purpose to what I was doing that made me work harder. Working harder is good when you’re running a business.
2. COST AND FLEXIBILITY
The second reason is cost and efficiency. In the old days, aka 1995, starting up a business, even from home brought a lot of costs and frustrations. You had to buy a desk, printer, get a business phone line, an internet connection. I remember spending an hour on the phone with my cable provider trying to get the right plan. If you owned your home, you had to figure out all the complicated tax rules around home office deductions. With coworking you have none of that. You walk in, plug in and you’re ready to go.
The other benefit related to cost is flexibility. Choosing the right size traditional office is scary. We all think we are going to grow, but if plans don’t work out we can find ourselves stuck with a big liability. Coworking lets you downsize and upsize with ease. When we started at Alkaloid, we had one office we affectionately called the “dungeon”. Within a short time, we had grown to four offices and Katharine made it easy for us. What was nice about that is we could expand in real time without having to guess about our future needs or wait to find an office once we were ready.
The third reason, perhaps the most important, echoes the sentiments of Professor Terman when he told David and William to work out of Palo Alto – that is community. Starting and running a small business is hard. It’s pretty easy to get down after a bad day or when that big sale you wanted didn’t come through. A community helps you get through those disappointments. Sharing experiences during the after hours happy hour, for example, let’s you decompress and see that other people have similar challenges.
A community also helps you expand your network and opens up opportunities you might never have seen if you were holed up in your house. Part of being an entrepreneur is growing your network. That means getting out into the world. It’s a heck of a lot easier to do that when everyday you mix with different people and different businesses all trying to building something great. Coworking makes that easier. Aside from physical proximity, you have an online community, networking events and informational events all of which expand your network with a group of like minded people.
4. EXTENDS YOUR RUNWAY
In 1986, Tom Zutaut, an A&R man for Geffen Records, decided to invest $15,000 into a little known rock band. For the next two years the band struggled with different personnel, songs, and producers, but it kept on touring to get exposure. Finally in June of 1988, with the release of their third single “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, Guns & Roses hit the big time. While most of us aren’t writing an album, all of us need time to work on our business until the opportunity comes along which will make us a success.
The final reason I love coworking is because it gives you time to work on the business. Time is measured by how far you can stretch initial investments or how long you can go without a paycheck. Coworking reduces start up costs and opens up opportunities for more business. As in the case of GNR, success can be a function of staying power.
By providing a place to focus, a community to support you, and reducing your operational costs, coworking improves on David and William’s garage so that you might one day also hit the big time.
SO NOW WHAT?
If you’re thinking about coworking, find some place not too far from your house and go talk to the community manager. I chose Alkaloid Networks. It was a great fit for us because we wanted to be on the Atlanta Beltline, and it was a lot easier commute than farther north. Parking was also free. Don’t forget about parking! The other big bonus was Katharine, our community manager. We’d been in other places where the community manager was more like a landlord. Steer clear of those types of places. You want a community manager who wants to build a community. In Katharine’s case, she goes out of her way to bring the coworkers together with networking and events. She even helped me find a notary (yeah, people still use notaries these days).
So there you have it, one entrepreneur’s opinion why coworking is better than a garage. Get in touch with Alkaloid. In the end, whatever you choose to do, dream big, work hard and most important, have fun.