Wanting a permanent coworking space

So I got a report from Niall last night that Ritro, my favorite cafe in town, has cut off power on the weekends… like, to the degree that they’re covering the outlets with labels reading “No Power”. Yikes!

This comes a few weeks after they blocked a bunch of ports useful for things like IRC, IM, Bonjour networking and SSH (etc).

Obviously they need to protect their business and it’s true that more often than not, more and more even casual vagabond hackers are spending time in cafes without buying a damn thing, not surprisingly pissing off the proprietors.

So while I’m totally sympathic with Eileen et al at Ritro (she needs to make money to keep her business around, after all, right?), this issue, in my view, further underscores the need for a more permanent coworking venue in San Francisco… one that feels like a cafe (and probably has coffee and tea and whatnot on hand) but encourages the productivity of a collaborative workspace.

It dawned on me that our ailing library system could actually be used for this purpose, except they seem to have this hang up with silence. If they got over that, I could see that being a resource, at least temporarily, for this idea.

Additionally, I’ve been talking with a bunch of folks about establishing a loft-like venue for this kind of environment… just imagine: free, stable wifi, juicy power, tasty coffee, desks, projectors… and lots of smart people doing hella cool stuff, having Mash Pits every other day. How would we afford this? Well, we could do what Brad’s already doing: charge a weekly/monthly/daily subscription fee for the use of a desk. No company would ever be able to have more than a certain percentage of desks bought out at any given time in the interest of diversity and inclusivity… and of course we’d keep it open to independent consultants and other interested folks just wanting to chill out for the day.

And what the heck, we’d have a backchannel going, some Bonjour networking… and of course an open SVN repository to dump all the good stuff that happens to emerge that wants to be open source.

So I don’t know when or even if this will happen, but it’s on my agenda for this year: an accessible, permanent space in San Francisco for geek innovation, neue thinking, GSD and making the kind of connections that can only happen in the real. Any takers?

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

26 thoughts on “Wanting a permanent coworking space”

  1. I telecommuted for the last five years, and ECitySuites had a concept like this. They had really tech-friendly offices, very fun and slick, with all of the high-tech amenities like IP phones with voicemail, projectors, game rooms, really nice kitchen with great espresso machines, etc. They had a hotdesk plan for around $300 that got you a random desk for a certain number of days a month, or you could pay more (a lot more) for your own permanent office. They made it really easy to scale up and down.

  2. Just last night I was at Barefoot Roasters and in mid-mocha the table next to me was suddenly occupied by a guy with a powerbook, newspaper, earbuds and a styrofoam pod full of Chinese food. No coffee to be seen whatsoever, he just showed up fully supplied. The barristas glowered but they’re too nice for confrontation.

    The trick may be that Ritual (and tragically, Reverie – I still like it tho) has a business model built on a particular set of use-cases, and the balance of those cases is shifting too rapidly for comfort.

    You’re right to identify the need — perhaps the solution is simply a Back Room? An adjunct to an existing business, rather than a completely new business. Face it: In a new business, the coffee would suck. Put power outlets in the back. Force self-isolating laptop users in there, *maybe* get them to pay a fee for it.

    Disruption in business environment should always be seen as an opportunity to MAKE money instead of defend against loss, don’t you think?

  3. I tried listing out the the things I like about Ritro and there are so many intangibles. I like that it’s free apart from the charge for coffee, and also that it has cozy seats and art on the walls. I like the smiling staff and the convenient location, the latte art in my cup, the presence of friends, etc. Apart from all that, it would be expensive to implement your solution and hard to get people to commit ahead of time to a slot. You’re sure to run into cashflow/scheduling problems when you either don’t have enough people to pay the rent/electrical/wifi bills or have everyone show up at once and can’t accomodate them.

    Maybe the answer is to work on increasing Ritro’s takeout business. That would generate more revenue for them, so they could afford to let us hang around a while longer. There’s a fair amount of marketing expertise in their customer base, after all…

  4. If the format was defined, and it was franchised out, this could replace lounges at airports!

    A few more ideas:
    – Those microroom japanese hotels, for when you can’t be bothered leaving!
    – Showers! (perhaps compulsory in some cases!)
    – A >70″ LCD screen for ‘presence’ information (e.g. how many degrees separate you from everyone else)

  5. Ann Arbor has a few cafes that are really good working spaces – Sweetwaters in Kerrytown is regularly full of people with laptops, and the various Espresso Royale Caffes likewise. Free wifi, good coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and enough power outlets to keep the laptop users happy. Of the chain restaurants nearby Panera has the best track record (an $8 lunch gets you unlimited wifi and coffee refills.)

    The Ann Arbor District Library has been pretty good about having work-friendly places as well, not perfect but getting better. The branches all have wifi, and there are lounges in the front of the newer branches with vending machines and tables and a much greater tolerance for casual noise. And of course the AADL has ultra-cool hackers working there (e.g. http://www.blyberg.net).

    I have an alumni computing account at the U of Michigan and often find myself in U spaces (the Union, libraries, various departments) where’s it’s handy to tap into the mostly ubiquitious wifi. That’s the best $10 I spend all month, and the shared iTunes collections are really good.

    None of this is a perfect replacement for office space per se, and I’m sure that if I were regularly working on projects with 15 people all of whom were in town and all who needed a quiet place to talk about things that needed privacy it would quickly push to office space.

  6. It’s an interesting idea. i don’t love the idea of making people go off in a back room for outlets, because I think part of the appeal is being able to be in a social setting while nerding out.

    I think what Ritual has that makes it work is the good coffee and ambiance to start. I like the idea of figuring out how to work within a cafe that already exists because creating that sort of appeal is not easy.

    Side note: I have a really hard time believing that Ritual is not making a lot of money. They have a line at all times of the day.

  7. I like this idea. The Cyber Café brought to the next level. Cyber cafe is probably a bad term in this case since you are talking about professionals. I would listen to your gut instinct because there are always going to be people saying no you can’t do it or it won’t work. There is an obvious niche in the market making itself available. I appreciate the idea of a something likened to the library/cafe/art nouveau/technology savy space because it combines the best of all possible worlds. I think comfort, simple design, good coffee, sponsored artists…the idea of a community is central and it makes sense to start at 2500/3000 feet. Some consulting companies in Canada and on the east coast call it hoteling but it’s in a much more corporate/sterile environment. This is like the native american indian’s cozy warm kiva meets wired environment for the indepndent professional. It’s the start of a new creative environment and a new way to work. I say do it and my only question as usual is how could you live without it?

  8. If you _are_ looking for a quiet coworking environment then I’d recommend the Mechanics Institute (http://milibrary.org/). For a little over 100$ a year you get very good wi-fi and access to a great library collection. I’ve tried the public libraries but the connectivitiy has never been good enough for my needs.


  9. Chris,

    I have been following the idea for some time now and i have to tell you that is is great. I am from a city north of toronto and we definatly have a need for a space like this. I have started the wheels rolling on it here and we will see if the powers that be in this city get it.

    I think the hardest thing that i have to get them to grasp is the concept …..they are still trying to get incubators ….. which in my opinion dont work.



  10. A little late on the comment here…. I’ve been talking with folks about this too, especially since I have been spending a lot of time in seattle working from internet cafes.

    One thing that I do is spend money there. Whenever the cafe looks liek it is filling up, and I feel like I make be taking up the space of a paying customer, i buy another something.

    I think the price point for the drop in unreserved workspace is somewhere around $20 a day. At that rate you could also offer free drip coffee I imagine.

    You probably need some VC or other financing to get you through the first year, figure you’ve got $30k of build out costs on the cheap, you’re rent is probably 5 to 7k a month at the low end in any metropolitan area for an off the street (read second floor or higher space). Insurance, utils, staffing (go volunteer co-op style)…

    Anyway, I think there is a HUGE market from what i see working the Seattle Capital Hill circuit, and I think there is ripe opportunity for “franchising” of a sort.

    Another option might be to start a co-working organization that negotiates with cafes for a co-worker’s bill of rights:
    1) electricity
    2) wireless and wifi jacks
    2.b. we’ll help them set it up and keep it stable
    3) we’re willing to pay
    4) quiet: there is no need to crank the music

    then we put a sign on the cafe’s that ratify our bill of rights “Co-Working Approved!”

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