Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty is a chocoholic, as am I. We both work at NextSpace Santa Cruz, Ryan for PredPol, an interesting start-up that uses technology to help police forces do their work more effectively, and me under my EntrepreLaw shingle, helping start-ups get started.
To satisfy an almost insatiable craving for chocolate, I keep various kinds of Trader Joe’s chocolate in my desk drawer at the office. Ryan knows this. As a rule I’m happy to share, of course. Occasionally, friends with a chocolate craving will stop by and, if I’m in the office, bum a chocolate or two. Jeremy, NextSpace’s CEO, whose home base is in Santa Cruz when he isn’t gallivanting around other NextSpace facilities, occasionally can’t resist the temptation, and will delicately wangle an invitation to munch a chocolate or even, occasionally, two.
Then there’s Ryan’s approach. Two or three Trader Joe’s Smores whenever he’s in the office, expropriated in installments over the course of the day, with thanks if I’m there, or more likely “don’t mind me!” And of course, I don’t.
One day I found a little note on an empty box of Smores. It was Ryan almost apologizing for taking the last one. I left it there as a reminder to him, and he modified it weeks later to apologize for taking the first Smore from a new box. He is currently running for the County Board of Supervisors, which puts the pressure on and, I suspect, increases his Smores consumption. So be it.
The reason that the Ryan chocolate story is here, despite its evident lack of substance, is because it is full of human interaction, as is NextSpace generally. I love NextSpace! I know, that’s sort of an odd thing to say. How can anyone love something that looks at first glance like a collection of offices? But NextSpace isn’t just offices. That’s the point. It is a deliberate community of members, and one that works.
To give credit where credit is due, much of that community is the creation of Jeremy Neuner, NextSpace’s co-founder and CEO. He has a feel for what works, an instinct for what people want to live during their workday. His efforts are constantly directed to building the community of members which is NextSpace, and not in a trite and simplistic manner in order to satisfy some cynical marketing goal. No, he’s looking at innovative ways to channel our needs for professional interaction, commercial interaction, even human interaction, while we work. Remember Walt Disney’s Snow White singing “Whistle while you work” to the cute little creatures cleaning the seven dwarfs’ dusty cabin? That’s the starting point: work does not need to be drudgery.
The trigger for these efforts, the trigger for NextSpace, was Jeremy, when he was in charge of the Economic Development of the city of Santa Cruz. He found that the corporations which we grew up with, the traditional targets of economic development professionals like him, were no longer coming to town, in large part because they were no longer doing much in theUS at all. He and Ryan wrote a book together called the Rise of the Naked Economy: How to Benefit from the Changing Workplace. It’s all about what we are to do now that the business corporations which nurtured our families after World War II have downsized and outsourced themselves almost to oblivion. That was one hell of a business strategy they all had, like lemmings to the slaughter!
Jeremy’s and Ryan’s book has something to say about filling that corporate vacuum. More importantly, it has something to say about replacing with something better the outsourcing, offshore dinosaurs which used to employ so many of us. In their place, they say, buzz thousands of displaced individuals seeking and finding alternative places to work, alternative drudgery-reducing places to work, like NextSpace.
So many, like me, want to work in freer worlds. Rather than bemoaning the disappearance of old-fashioned employers, yesterday’s engines of economic growth, Jeremy and Ryan came up with another, and added personal satisfaction to the mix. They didn’t invent co-working, of course – I gather that Margaret Rosas initially relayed the idea to Jeremy – but they added a whole lot to the idea, and that is NextSpace: COWORKING PLUS!! Anyone can sit down in a room and work alongside others: that’s Starbucks. Getting a community thrown in: that’s NextSpace.
October 26th, 2013 marks my fifth birthday in NextSpace Santa Cruz, their first facility, which had opened its doors a few weeks before. For once in my life, I was an early adopter!
Having felt a misfit in most of the six or seven professional offices I have inhabited over the last 30 years, here I actually belong! Why is that? Well, on the one hand, despite being a lawyer I have a hard time working with lawyers in groups. Law firms are basically lawyers working in groups. It is hard to imagine a more rigid and stultifying work environment than a law firm, and it never ceases to amaze me how such smart people create such miserable working environments for themselves.
The simple alternative was working at home (and occasionally in cafes), but I’m a social being. I work for an hour, and then like to stroll around and chat with a friend for five minutes.
I had been back at home for a couple of years when Marie-Hélène found NextSpace: she almost insisted that I take an office here (I needed an office rather than a cafe membership because of the need to protect confidential client files).
There was no long-term commitment, and the only furniture that I needed to add was my locking wooden file cabinets. I also brought in a couch to complement the desk, chair and bookshelves which were already there. This was easy! I was hooked in a month, and have been here ever since.
There are synergies occurring in any good community, and Jeremy christened those in NextSpace the “NextSpace Effect.” I can vouch personally for this effect. Not only have I found clients here and helped others here when they could not afford it, I became NextSpace’s corporate counsel!
Equally significantly, Daryl Tempesta, another NextSpace member, pointed out how I could create a marketable product out of my services. Okay, okay, I haven’t completed that project yet! Always too much to do: but the seeds have been sown and real progress has been made.
We all have our NextSpace effect stories. Here’s a random example, this one taken from a recent edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, on September 16, 2013: SANTA CRUZ — If you’re bothered by the fact that 1,200 advertising companies are tracking your activity online and your email address can be bought and sold to determine what ads you see online, then you might want to know more about PrivacyChoice, a company started in Santa Cruz in 2009 to give consumers control over their own data.
Founder Jim Brock, 51, and co-founder Jason Beatty, 42, met at NextSpace in downtown Santa Cruz and grew the startup to the point where a big player took notice of their product, PrivacyFix, for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. AVG Technologies, an Internet security firm based in the Czech Republic, bought PrivacyChoice in May for an undisclosed sum. Since then, Brock and Beatty have been working on privacy products for AVG’s 155 million customers.”
People with different skills and ideas meet while they work in NextSpace, put their complementary talents together (the NextSpace Effect) and boom: something significant and worthwhile often happens. This not an occasional event. It happens to everyone here.
What surprises me the most is that such a productive environment has been able to continue so long in its original format. It has greatly expanded of course: there are now nine NextSpaces, including one “NextKids,” featuring professional infant care for parents working in the space, which just opened in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill. But the company has not yet been acquired.
The acquirers’ loss is my gain, but still. Haven’t commercial office lessors noticed that their properties are sitting empty, because the businesses that used to rent them have moved offshore? Are we NextSpace members the only ones who notice how clever the coworking concept is for the new world of independent contractors working for several clients (like me)? Or for the start-up founders dreaming big but funding small? Hasn’t anyone in real estate noticed how the commitments required of commercial lessees are rarer and rarer the sort of risk that small or medium-sized businesses can make in a fast-changing world? Apparently not.
Sol Lipman was presenting his latest start-up, Tomfoolery, at a Tech Meet-up recently, held in another Santa Cruz coworking space a couple of blocks away. Nick and I went, because we love Sol, who birthed two of his start-ups at NextSpace (12 Seconds and RallyUp), and because Tomfoolery, like NextSpace, wants to make work fun. Sol sat next to us before the presentation, worrying vociferously that he had no idea what he was going to say.
We told him not to worry: he’s got the gift of the gab, and all the heart that implies.
Once on stage, Sol talked about Santa Cruz and about all the tech talent he’s found here and worked with here, and he talked about his start-ups over the years and how each time he did so much wrong and learned so much from it, and how culture is so important to both start-ups and work.
As he reached the end of his presentation he spontaneously announced, straight from the heart, just the way he is, “and I love NextSpace!” Of course, he wasn’t in NextSpace and immediately realized the error and corrected himself, adding that he loved all the coworking spaces around town.
But I knew what he meant. This space is special, like Sol, like Jeremy, like a lot of past and present NextSpace members. We’re the lucky ones: in the right place at the right time. Let’s enjoy it while we can. Nothing lasts forever!