Blog Post

The New Office Space

By Jackson West. Forget Palo Alto garages — San Francisco coffee shops are where to get your startup off the ground. Internet cafes are emerging as an important place to get work done, hold meetings and network. Since writers, designers, developers and anyone else who can work from their laptop are going to show up, you can even recruit talent, publicize your project and even demo your product for potential users and investors.

On Charter Street, Greg Olsen writes about “Going Bedouin.” The idea is that instead of worrying about leases, infrastructure and support staff, a startup can stay nimble and focused by using third party services and mobile technology:

By focusing almost exclusively on service-based infrastructure options, a business could operate as a sort of neo-Bedouin clan – with workers as a roaming nomadic tribe carrying laptops & cell phones and able to set up shop wherever there is an Internet connection, chairs, tables, and sources of caffeine.

My own experience helping to organize the WebZine conference pretty much echoed this. No office space was rented, communication was primarily through email lists and a private wiki, and meetings were held at cafes with free internet, with notes and ideas quickly disseminated to those who couldn’t attend. When a contact was needed to help out with services such as advertising, sponsorships or donations, cell phones came out and calls were made, and issues were often resolved before the meeting was even over. Even during the conference itself, local cafes served as press rooms, panel development forums and, of course, somewhere to get some lunch.

Of course, the business of coffee shops is to sell food and coffee, not to take the place of VC-run incubator offices. While some have dealt with the problem of freeloaders by charging for their Wifi, this often turns geeks away. Coffee to the People in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury is trying to come up with guidelines, and the issue of coffee shop etiquette is a popular topic of discussion among digerati. Some cafe owners only share the WEP or WPA key with paying customers, limit the number of wall jacks to recharge batteries, or shut down wifi on the weekends to encourage offline socializing.

Niall Kennedy has proposed a number of ideas for proprietors to keep up their cash flow and the loyalty of the laptop-toting set. Other services, such as community office space offered by Coworking, have also begun to answer the needs of freelancers and small startups who need a place to plug in. Backoffice wikis, group chat and social calendars also promise to make it easier for teams of nomads to work as a group even if scattered across the four corners of the globe.

Here’s a list of cafes in San Francisco chosen by popular acclaim and personal recommendation. Any one of them will keep you fueled with caffeine, connected online and give you a chance to network with fellow travellers.

Ritual Coffee Roasters This is the current ‘it’ cafe, and at any given time you can probably find a blogger who’s been BoingBoinged there, like Scott Beale. It’s Mission location makes the move from work to play just a short walk away.
1026 Valencia Street [map | site | yelp]

Caffe Trieste This North Beach establishment has been around since Jack Kerouac lived in the neighborhood. Word on the street is that Wired News’ Tony Long regularly holds court there.
601 Vallejo St [map | site | yelp]

Reverie Coffee Cafe Located in quiet Cole Valley, this is where angry newspaper publishers can find Craig Newmark on any given day. With a patio out back, it’s also great if you’re a smoker.
848 Cole St [map | yelp]

Coffee to the People This Haight-Ashbury is a favorite of cute couple Chris Messina and Tara Hunt. Second only to Ritual Roasters in terms of Dodgeball check-ins. They even have their own
Masonic Avenue [map | site | yelp]

Quetzal Internet Cafe Designer and cartoonist Kevin Cheng of OK/Cancel recommends this as an oasis is a relatively barren nexus of the Nob Hill, Hayes Valley and Civic Center neighborhoods.
1234 Polk Street [map | site | yelp]

Thinkers Cafe Potrero is the neighborhood of choice for those who need to be close to 101 and 280. Before heading to Dogster headquarters nearby, Ted Rheingold often gets some work done there over his morning coffee.
1631 20th Street [map | yelp]

Zig Zag Cafe With AnchorFree now providing free WiFi in a number of upscale neighborhoods including the Marina and the Castro, any cafe will do, but this is the one that Annalee Newitz recommended.
476 Castro Street [map | yelp]

Jackson West, writes for SFist. He writes about Web 2.0 and other topics for GigaOm. The story was first published on Gigaom In February 2006.

6 Responses to “The New Office Space”

  1. Great list – I would be interested if anyone has any info on similar cafes in Cape Town in South Africa as I am moving there next year (March). Its always good to have a few stop off points in case I need to connect for any reasons.