Saturday, January 30, 2010

Coworking in Austin: Texas Coworking

Recently, I saw a tweet from someone I've been following on Twitter for a while: "Texas Coworking now open at 200 East Sixth, see http://texascoworking.comfor details on this new Austin coworking space"

The tweeter was Paul Terry Walhus, who runs and has been a fixture in the Austin tech (and coworking) scene for a while. Along with Derek Williams, a "serial startup engineer" and data consultant, Walhus has rented a space on the third floor of the historic Hannig Row building - across from Buffalo Billiards and the Driskill Hotel on East 6th Street.

As Walhus told me, they had not really planned to open a space - although they had wanted one. They had gone to Conjunctured for meetings, and they liked the idea. But this space opportunity fell in their laps: they found out about the space, moved quickly ("rent is cheap" in the downturn), and signed the lease on the December 31. Consequently, they have not been able to build a community before opening their coworking space, as is typical coworking practice. But that doesn't seem to have hurt them: They already have five clients, mostly women, mostly creatives ranging from web development to handcrafts. And they've maintained good relations with other coworking spaces: proprietors from Conjunctured, Cospace, and LINK Coworking had already contacted them and either toured or planned to tour. They had also discussed a local version of a coworking visa, in which people who purchase one membership can work in other spaces.

Part of what makes this cooperation work - and, I suspect, what will make the coworking visa relatively unused - is the diversity of these spaces. As I've suggested in earlier blog posts, every coworking space seems to be different, not just in configuration, but also in philosophy and clientele.

At Texas Coworking, the configuration is interesting and so is the location. (They have their own picture gallery, but I took my own, shown below.) A spacious board room can accommodate - and has already accommodated - meetings of local organizations. Indeed, it's central to the space, since the proprietors envision a Day mode (coworking) and a Night mode (local tech events).
A terrace overlooks Austin's famous Sixth Street and the Austin Convention Center, home of South by Southwest, a few blocks away. Perfect for hosting SXSW Interactive parties and gatherings, they tell me.
Inside, Texas Coworking offers an open-plan area, cubicles, and dedicated offices with a view on Sixth Street. The plan is to offer differential pricing.

From Coworking: Texas Coworking

From Coworking: Texas Coworking

Texas Coworking also offers a kitchen and a dedicated server room (not shown). The server room - and professional data management and security - provide a service that is so far unique among coworking spaces in Austin. The server room will house Linux and Windows 2008 servers, it will have a dedicated "IT guy," and it will allow Texas Coworking to offer a dozen dedicated IP addresses. Naturally, Ethernet ports lead to all rooms.
From Coworking: Texas Coworking
The former space owner, a design firm, decided to "go virtual." Walhus tells me that they have contacted the owner and invited her to cowork there.

At the front, the Texas Coworking sign is not up yet, and they don't yet have a concierge - a concierge who will connect people, getting to know clients and finding opportunities for them to collaborate. The physical mail slots, however, are already there and waiting to be filled.
Other amenities will include a jobs board.

So the physical amenities are good already and will improve as the proprietors remodel and implement their other plans. The location is fantastic - if you like working in downtown Austin or if you are involved in an event at the Austin Community Center. The terrace and boardroom are major draws for social and business meetings.

Philosophically, the space is a bit different from others I've discussed here. It seems to fall somewhere between the co-op style of Conjunctured, which caters to independent professionals, and the concierge-style approach of LINK, which caters to telecommuters. But the clientele currently leans toward independent professionals. And the differential spaces, with differential pricing, suggests a hybrid between coworking and executive suites.

Another differentiator is the concierge. Whereas other Austin coworking spaces rely primarily on space planning and coworkers themselves to make connections, Texas Coworking's proprietors see the concierge fulfilling part of that function.

In sum, Texas Coworking is an exciting entry into the coworking space here in Austin. While holding true to the general idea of coworking, they have differentiated themselves from the other spaces and expanded the possibilities of coworking for independent professionals. I'm looking forward to visiting the space more often.


Pete England said...

Interesting story, Clay. Do you have any data (or guesses) at how often coworking leads to formation of a new company, thus eliminating the original coworking configuration and devolving into an old-fashioned office setup?

Clay Spinuzzi said...

I don't have that sort of data, Pete. Partially it's because coworking is still fairly new. But my guess is that it's very rare -- if by that you mean that the coworkers as a whole integrate into a company that takes over the entire coworking space.

Typically you get just a few types of coworkers:

1) Freelancers and very small (1-3 person) businesses. They are in related but separate fields (e.g., graphic designers, web developers, T-shirt companies - see e.g., Conjunctured). Individuals and small biz may see the coworking space as a good place to network (especially freelancers) or to stay until they're large enough to move into an office of their own. But they're not cohesive enough as a group to form a single integrated organization. And that brings us to ...

2) Incubators. In fact, there's a blurry line between traditional incubators, in which small startups work in different parts of the same building, and some coworking spaces, where the shared office can house many small businesses/startups. But again, incubated startups tend to plan to grow and leave the space separately.

3) Telecommuters who work for larger companies. A coworking site-> company transformation seems even less likely here, since the workers already work for much larger organizations.

(I hasten to add that these are spur-of-the-moment categories rather than solidly grounded in analysis, but they should give us a starting place.)

My sense is that for group 1 in particular, devolving into an old-fashioned office setup would be a very negative thing. Coworkers in this group tend to be serial (and sometimes parallel) entrepeneurs who highly value their autonomy, flexibility, and control over their time and working conditions. These sorts of folks would likely flee a nascent office environment and either join or start another coworking space.

LifeSize said...

But networking is definitely a big benefit of coworking, I'm assuming?

Clay Spinuzzi said...

Good question. Networking tends to be very big, but it takes different shapes in different environments. For instance, Conjunctured is full of entrepeneurs and they tend to subcontract each other and form companies; they're networking constantly. Cospace is newer, and it's also more oriented to established players working remotely, so networking is less oriented to team-building and more to developing contacts. I'm not sure about Texas Coworking yet, but my impression is that it's more like Cospace.