Nick Clark is the founder of The Common Desk, a coworking space in Dallas. Clark started the company in 2011 after leaving his job in commercial real estate. They have expanded twice since the founding and are looking to open a second space in 2015.
The Common Desk is working to be an innovator in the coworking world, including their recent initiative to provide free Wi-Fi to local coffee shops in the Dallas area in return for promotion of The Common Desk.
We talked to Clark about the appeals of coworking, why he feels his space is unique, and the requirements for a perfect workspace.
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SB: To start, tell me about coworking; where did the idea come from and how did the need arise for these type of spaces?
NC: Coworking is credited for starting in San Francisco around 2005. It came about because of the emergence of the mobile workforce. As more and more people become untethered from their corporate desk or embark on a freelance career, more and more people are working from home or their local coffee shops. That sounds great, but after 2-4 months of working from your home office you start to drive yourself nuts. You are by yourself, you are always in your pajamas, you are not seeing anybody else, you are not interacting with people, so people just become thirsty for community.
That’s what coworking is all about. It’s way more than just being an office space for freelancers or the mobile workforce. It’s about being in a community.
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SB: How do you try and inspire that sense of community at The Common Desk?
NC: Mary Claire is our community manager and her job is when a new person walks in the door she immediately starts to connect them with other people within the space. We do a lot of programming that helps connect people so that people do feel like they are getting the interactions they need even if they are working alone.
One thing we try to communicate well to people when they walk in the door is that it is not just a cool space; there really is a deep-rooted community here. If you have services that you can offer to the other community members, there’s a good chance that your membership cost is going to pale in comparison to the number of connections you can make in the space.
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SB: When did you first encounter it and why did you decide to open your own space?
NC: In 2011, coming off of a major recession a lot of creative companies laid off a lot of their creatives and those people became freelancers. These people began working out of their local coffee shops. Starbucks filled up with people trying to get work done. That was the first thing that got me thinking.
We have been in the same space the whole time and we had a little luck having a good amount of contiguous space to expand into. We started in October 2012 at about 4000 square feet, we finished our first expansion in November 2013 which got us up to 7500 square feet, and we finished our second expansion in November 2014 that got us up to a little over 13,000 square feet. We are about at 100% occupancy so we are trying to secure a second location.
We’ve got about 175 members right now. It’s a very tight-knit community; people have gone well beyond being associates or fellow members. We have a lot of people that have become good friends at the space. Typically entrepreneurs and freelancers work long hours. It’s fun to see something that has been created that people are really enjoying and get a lot out of.
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SB: How did this initiative to put high-speed Internet into coffee shops come about?
NC: We identified that local coffee shops are where our customers are. Coffee shops have the problem of people coming in and buying a cup of coffee and then staying there all day to get work done. And coffee shop owners see that as a real problem because they are not turning over their tables and they are not able to make money if somebody goes in and spends $2.50 and stays there all day. We approached the coffee shops and identified that we aren’t competitors of them. If anything there could be synergy if we worked together. A lot of our members come in to work with a cup of coffee already in hand.
Obviously coffee shop owners are great at making coffee, but a lot of them were becoming known for not having great Internet. Coffee shop owners were saying “Hey, we don’t really care that much because we don’t want people coming here just for the Internet.” But we didn’t want these places to be known for bad Internet, we want them to be known for great coffee.
Because of what we do at Common Desk, we have to be great at providing Internet. So we decided to give these coffee shops better connectivity and then through that communicate to their patrons that the internet is provided by Common Desk, so once they finish their cup of coffee they can head over to Common Desk to continue working.
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SB: What do you think makes a great working space, what are the requirements and what are some drawbacks that slow work down?
NC: It starts with the location. You need a location that is accessible and hopefully within a walkable neighborhood. It should be a place that people are going to want to go to.
Secondly, the design of the space matters. We compete with local coffee shops and the home office. In order for me to get you out of your home office or your super cool, local coffee shop, our place has to be cool. It needs to be a place that you are truly going to want to come to.
Three, it’s got to be staffed. Too many places think ‘if you build it they will come’ and that you just need a cool place and a cool location, you put an access code on the door and you can still run your creative agency next door and call it ‘coworking’. And that just doesn’t work. Going back to the community aspect. Community doesn’t happen naturally. It has to be curated a bit, somebody needs to be pushing for the community. People have to help the introverts get out of their shell and talk to other people. Staffing is very important to that.
Offering the right mix of amenities within the space and making sure that the layout of the space is conducive to productivity. What we have found is that the zones of the space are very important. We’ve got some quieter areas or we have some areas like our café that are a little bit louder and are great for impromptu meetings. We even have seven conference rooms.