Coworking Stories: Carrboro Creative Coworking’s Brian Russell

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Continuing our ongoing series of posts looking at coworking, I recently had the chance to chat with Brian Russell, the founder of a coworking space in Carrboro, a small college town in North Carolina. Here’s a lightly edited version  of our conversation.

Imran Ali: Tell us a little about the background of Carrboro Creative Coworking. What were the motivations for bringing coworking to North Carolina?

Brian Russell: I discovered coworking in early 2007. My primary influence was Citizen Space and the coworking wiki; all the amazing support online made it a lot easier to develop a plan to open a space. In October of 2008, Carrboro Creative Coworking opened its doors.

My first step was a comment I left about coworking on a local blog called OrangePolitics. A Town of Carrboro Alderman named Dan Coleman praised the idea and connected me with our Economic Development Director, James Harris. I met Mr. Harris and he helped me develop a business plan. Later I was enrolled in the Town of Carrboro’s revolving loan fund, which included more assistance, especially with my financial plan. Their help has been essential to Carrboro Coworking’s success. The Town later loaned me the money I needed to launch the business.

I’m most inspired by the people of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Most people come here because of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Together we number about 69,000 people. Our towns have three things that Richard Florida says attracts people to communities: technology, talent and tolerance. Because of these awesome people we can do things that are usually only possible in much larger communities, all while enjoying the benefits of living in a small town. College towns are great places for coworking.

Imran: Do you see much collaboration between residents, what kinds of work are they engaged in?

Russell: Collaboration among coworkers at Carrboro Creative Coworking is rampant. Both casually and professionally. It’s routine for individuals and companies to do business with each other. Plus folks are always hatching new ventures or community projects in the kitchen over coffee.

Most of the people working here are in the web technology business. Though we do have a few writers and folks involved in science. There are freelancers and small companies. Many of the coworkers are coders, and have web development shops and Internet companies. We’re very diverse technology-wise, folks here develop with Ruby on Rails, Django, PHP/MySQL, iOs/iPhone/iPad, JavaScript, Java, Perl, Filemaker, etc. All operating systems are represented, but despite the diversity there are few religious tech wars. It’s pretty amazing how well everyone gets along.

Imran: What were your greatest challenges and surprises in bootstrapping Carrboro Coworking, and the largest operational challenges?

Russell: The greatest challenge so far has been finding product to sell. I see the core coworking business activity as reselling space. Our current office is approximately 3,500 square feet. Before we opened all nine of our offices were leased. Every week I put people on our waiting list. If I had 10,000 square feet I could sell it all right now. There just isn’t space that big in the small Town of Carrboro.

Imran: What are your plans for the future?

Russell: My plan is to grow the business. But I want to do it while retaining the awesome collaborative environment we have here. I believe that it’s possible to do that; it’s all about attention to detail, such as the quality of coffee and speedy Internet. But most important of all is that people treat each other well. I’m working really hard to facilitate that.

Imran: What are the key pieces of advice you’d give to people thinking about coworking and people thinking about establishing a coworking space?

Russell: The first thing you have to do when starting a coworking space is write a financial plan. If you’ve never done one get help. It doesn’t matter if you don’t see coworking as a business. The success of your space depends on it.

Be patient. It takes years to establish yourself and build a positive reputation. Remind yourself it will take two to four years to get stable. Then many many more years of steady operation. Your exit strategy should be nothing short of a radical transformation of your town, one person at a time.

Find out more about Carrboro Creative Coworking here.  And if you’re interested in finding out more about the coworking movement and how it’s helping to shape the future of work, check out our Net:Work conference in San Francisco in December.

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Brian Russell and Carrboro Creative Coworking are very involved in the micro entrepreneur environment in RTP. Carrboro Creative Coworking is often host to area interest group meetings like TriDroid the RTP Android developers group.

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