SUJU at the Vault 7-26-2010 11s

A recent coworking event at The Vault

Deb Frey, Contributing Editor, Impact Lab: – Over the past decade I’ve served as the vice-president of the DaVinci Institute, a futurist think tank based in Louisville, Colorado. During this time I‘ve developed a great admiration for the geeky talents of our members, and have received a first-class education in the nerd sciences just from being around them.

In ten 10 years, I have gone from barely being on email, to an iPhone and iPad aficionado and the leader of a social networking experts group. Oddly enough, I’ve become the go-to girl for most tech-related issues.

So earlier this year when Thomas and I started talking about the concept of coworking, the idea instantly clicked. I knew from my own experience how powerful it was to hang out with brilliant people, and it just made sense that others would benefit if they had a similar opportunity.

Even though coworking has been around in various permutations for many years, the recent tech revolution has made it the workplace of choice for isolated telecommuters and solopreneurs wishing to work around kindred spirits. (Pics)

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The character of the space helps determine the caliber of people it attracts.
We have attracted some real characters 🙂

Our offices for the past 7 years were located in the Valley Bank Building in Louisville, CO. They were small, but fine for most of what we needed. But in 2009, bank regulators closed the bank and our office suddenly became an uninviting space next to a gloomy dark empty bank.

We hadn’t realized it, but we had become part of the isolationist crowd. We simply needed to be around other people.

We were introduced to the concept of coworking at an Ignite Ft Collins event in March, and soon found that a handful of coworking facilities were already in place in Colorado, so we made a point of visiting them. The Hive and Green Spaces in Denver, Cohere in Ft Collins, and a few out-of-state efforts became working templates for our new business model.

In just a few short weeks, coworking became an obsession with us. We looked at dozens of possible venues and considered locations in Broomfield, Superior, Westminster, and Louisville.

In the end, we kept coming back to Valley Bank and the good people who served as our landlords for the past 7 years. We decided to shoot them an offer, and they accepted.

Once we had the keys to the new space, we decided to make things happen quickly, and in less than a week we had the doors open.

Because there was a large vault being showcased in the central atrium, we quickly decided to name our coworking space – The Vault. And I, as the fearless leader of this new community, took on the title of “Mayor of The Vault”.

We were fortunate because the bank allowed us to use existing furniture, and only minimal changes were needed to make the space ready for occupancy.

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Adding inspiration

Tom’s idea of adding a series of square images of famous visionaries around the main room added a defining touch to the space, and I must say, more than a little inspiration.

We later added lettering above the images, “Stepping into the Future… On the Shoulders of Giants.”

For the past eight years the DaVinci Institute had been producing a series of networking and educational events, growing our name lists to over 10,000 people and a web footprint where we received over 600,000 page views a month on our sites.

We felt like we had developed a good community and the new facility would just be an extension of what we had already built. Sometimes the best laid plans start with a rude awakening.

June 1st was our opening day. We had worked all weekend and decided to have an open house to let people know what we were up to. We had close to 100 people show up throughout the day, but much to our amazement, no one signed up to become a member of the coworking space.

Our dreams of having a runaway success quickly vanished as the realities of launching something new during tough economic times became more apparent. We had a beautiful facility, but no one to fill it.

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Group discussions at The Vault

It took almost a week before we started signing up members, and we were surprised to see that most of the demand centered on our private offices.

Our space was framed around 5 private offices, 6 built-in teller stations that serve as workstation cubicles with locking cabinets, and a series of open desks and tables for people who don’t like to be confined to a single workspace. We also had a flex-space classroom that seated 24 people but could be converted to conference space when needed.

We started with temporary signage as we waited for the better part of a month for the City of Louisville to give us the green light for permanent signs.

For the past 13 years the DaVinci Institute had operated as a virtual company with little need for people to know where our offices were. Now, however, we wanted the world to not only know where we were, but to stop in for a visit. All of our work in crafting virtual relationships needed to be refocused.

Our numbers grew slowly, signing up about one new member every week.

Brian Schwartz 7-2010 3s

Our first sell-out class in the classroom

In July, we decided to start holding all of our events in The Vault. We moved our educational events from the Wolfe law Building at CU in Boulder into our own classroom, and we moved our monthly networking events from the MadCap Theater in Westminster into the central atrium of The Vault.

The added traffic from the events was a big help in creating awareness.

Marketing in the world today is very tricky, and many of our early experiments with some of the old media met with little response. Our biggest success has come from social networking and physical networking. They have also been our least expensive marketing dollars.

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Me working at a teller windows, one of my favorite coworking spaces

It is now the end of August and we have finally passed the breakeven point.

I would love to say that we will have an easy time ahead, but we all know better than that.

Unlike a traditional real estate transaction, our big advantages has been month-to-month memberships with no deposit. During a bad economy, people are very hesitant to make a long-term commitment, so we decided to make it easy.

In September, Comcast will be installing a 50 meg line to radically boost the connection speed of our in-house Wi-Fi.

Perhaps our biggest success has come with the caliber of people we’ve been attracting. These people are absolutely brilliant, and I sincerely feel honored to be working next to them.

Much like the steep learning curve I was on when I started working at the DaVinci Institute, my comrades in coworking are taking me through to a whole new learning curve.

The people who you surround yourself with make a huge difference in where you will end up in life. As for me, I now know I‘m in good company.

By Deb Frey