Five kids, a wife and two dogs make for a very nice home, but they don’t make for a very nice home office.
Telecommunications attorney Erik Cecil learned that the hard way, as he tried to conduct business with clients and administrative law judges while chaos unfolded around him at his Rock Creek house in Superior. (Pics)
“When you try to use your residence as a primary place of business and you have a conference call, you can’t have dogs barking and you can’t have the kids screaming,” he said.
Cecil, who started up his own law practice after being laid off from Level 3’s in-house legal department in December 2008, looked for office space in Boulder but was turned off by the high rents.
What he eventually found — a sun-filled, if somewhat dated, office at the DaVinci Institute think tank in Louisville — wasn’t even on his radar. But for $450 a month, it was just what he needed.
“I took out my credit card and told them to show me the lease,” he said.
Rising trend: Coworking
Cecil, 45, is now one of about two dozen attorneys, entrepreneurs and software engineers who camp out at The Vault, so named because it occupies what was — up until last summer — a branch of Valley Bank.
The Vault, started up in June by the founders of the DaVinci Institute after the bank moved out of its building at 511 E. South Boulder Road, represents what may be a modern-day antidote to the isolation of telecommuting.
“More and more people are working from home,” said self-described futurist Thomas Frey, DaVinci’s executive director. “When they work from home, they feel isolated and they start craving conversation with like-minded people.”
Known in the industry as a coworking facility, The Vault rents workspace to mobile professionals looking for anything from a secure office to temporary desk space to nothing more than a vibrant place to hang out and exchange ideas. It incorporates elements of a traditional office and a casual college dormitory, infusing a communal sensibility into the work atmosphere that encourages people to mingle and talk.
The Vault isn’t the only coworking facility around — Boulder has one called the Candy Shop, which is located in a building near Boulder High that formerly housed a porn store — but Frey said The Vault is the only one in eastern Boulder County.
Ted Wahler, an Internet entrepreneur and media marketing specialist from Lafayette who spent years working out of his home and quickly grew tired of it, said he relishes the professional camaraderie a place like The Vault provides.
“I always learn something from these interactions, and I wouldn’t have had these interactions in my house,” he said. “One of the great things about coworking in Boulder County is that this is a hotbed of entrepreneurs.”
Just minutes before, Wahler could be found seated at a table, quietly chatting with another laptop-toting entrepreneur who had just dropped in.
Wahler is what The Vault calls a nomad. He can cruise into the building, which is open 24 hours a day and accessible by a coded keypad, and kick up his heels at any number of open desks — including the teller stations where Valley Bank customers used to make deposits.
Workspaces have power strips, jacks for high-speed Internet, and a WiFi signal saturates the entire building. Coffee and light snacks come free with a membership.
The Vault provides space for a wide variety of professionals — a certified public account, a patent attorney, a graphic artist, a pod-caster, a software developer — and charges between $250 and $450 a month, depending on the type of space the client wants. All leases run month-to-month.
If members need to meet with clients, they can retreat to one of several small conference rooms throughout the 5,500-square-foot building. That includes the bank’s vault, where extra privacy can be found behind its 2,000-pound steel-fortified door.
“I didn’t want to have business meetings in my house,” said Wahler, dressed in flip-flops, a Hawaiian shirt and jeans. “I’d have to find a coffee shop, but that wasn’t always good because you might want to talk about things you don’t want to make public.”
Wahler comes in to The Vault four to six days a week and spends four to five hours each visit.
“Unless you’ve worked from home, you don’t realize how limiting working from home is,” he said.
Rich Morrow, owner of cloud computing firm Quicloud, agreed that working out of his house got old fast. He rented an office at The Vault six weeks ago.
“It’s quiet when you want it to be, and there’s opportunity for social interaction when you get tired of being by yourself,” he said.
For the modern professional seeking a sleek, gleaming work environment with the latest style of desks and chairs, lighting and office-place trappings, The Vault will surely disappoint. It has a decidedly early-1980s decor, with plenty of oak furniture and squared-off paneling throughout.
And signs that this was once a banking institution are everywhere, from the gold-colored FDIC labels left in place at the teller stations to the rows of safe-deposit boxes in the vault to the drive-through window that no longer sees any traffic.
Deb Frey, Tom’s wife and the “mayor” of The Vault, said the look of the place was partly purposeful and partly practical. Foregoing a total revamp kept the overhead low and allowed her to offer memberships at a reasonable price, she said.
Plus, there’s something cool and real about having a black plastic “funds availability policy” placard glued to the side of your workspace.
“It’s retro-chic, but it’s also serviceable and comfortable,” said Frey, relaxing in a 30-year-old armchair inside the dimly lit bank vault.
Cecil, the telecom attorney, said he’s quite aware that his office doesn’t exude the plushness of a CEO’s digs. He often finds himself vacuuming his own carpet and trying to ignore the rattle of the aging air-conditioning unit behind his bookshelf.
But he said The Vault’s sparse aesthetics allow him to keep his costs down and make him more competitive — and appear more down-to-earth to potential clients.
“I have low overhead, and I can leverage the power of the Internet here,” he said, adding with a broad smile, “My clients don’t pay me for my tastes in furniture.”
Via Daily Camera