Free-flowing beer, midday yoga and new classes to choose. My life in college? No, my month spent visiting New York’s coworking spaces.
Five years ago, New York startups had few options for setting up shop — many either worked from home or camped out at a Starbucks. But a local cottage industry has now sprung up for early-stage startups that need a place to plug in their laptops and get down to business.
As the city’s startup community has exploded, coworking spaces have moved in to fill a void in a real-estate market that caters to banks, law firms and other big corporations and others that can afford the steep rents. Mostly priced between $300 to $600 a month, the workspaces run the gamut from city-subsidized projects to businesses hatched by local entrepreneurs eager to encourage new ways of working and new industries.
Some provide free snacks and drinks or access to startup-centric classes, while a few even offer discounts on legal services and healthcare insurance. On the flipside, some of the spaces are so open that it’s tough to get enough privacy to make a phone call or have slightly random closing times, which can create challenges for entrepreneurs working round the clock.
But for many startups, the most important feature of a coworking space is its access to networks of other entrepreneurs and technophiles. In the right place, desk neighbors can swap tips on web designs and marketing strategies or make an email introduction to the biz dev guy they met last week. A few people I met along my tour said they found new clients, investors and even jobs, all by stopping by a happy hour or chatting with someone in the hall.
Within a couple months of joining The Alley, a coworking space near Penn Station, Veeral Shah had found a team to build a site for his collaborative equity research startup Equitally. And he says he still regularly gets help from UX designers, big data scientists and others there that he would never have met otherwise.
Dispatch, a cloud file sharing startup, might never have been were it not for introductions made at New Work City, a coworking space in downtown Manhattan. Founders Alex Godin, Jesse Lamb and Nick Stamas met at the workspace in 2010. After a successful go at a local hackathon, they went on to graduate from TechStars and raise a seed round from an impressive group of investors, but they credit the coworking space for bringing them together.
To get a feel for the coworking world in New York, I spent the better part of two days at each of 12 venues in New York, taking up desk space, drinking the coffee, haggling for outlets and chatting with members. I’m sure I just scratched the surface, but it was enough to realize that even in an industry that’s largely about what happens online, it often starts with what happens in these offline hubs.
The backstory: The Alley is one of the newer entrants to the city’s coworking scene, but it’s already made a name for itself with regular hackathons, demo nights, educational events and club-style parties. Its cofounders, Jason Salzman and Jonathan Ende, also launched paperwork-automation startup Bizodo.
What we liked: This was my first stop on the circuit, and it set a high bar (although, admittedly, its newness helped, as appliances and furniture haven’t had a chance to suffer much wear and tear). The lounge near the entrance has a lively student center feel, and the desk area is open and bright. Members get access to discounted healthcare, as well as free legal and accounting advice. Another big bonus: in-house yoga classes once a week.
What we didn’t like: The cofounders will say that The Alley’s location near Penn Station gives members easy access to downtown startups, potential midtown clients and anyone who takes the train in or out of the city. That may be true, but it’s still smack dab in the middle of chaotic midtown and not as close to the city’s tech centers as other locations.
The people: The founders like to say it’s for “hustlers, hackers and hipsters.” A few companies I met include education app developer Brainscape, Democracy.com and theater-meets-new-media group Lively Productions. I’m told Founder Collective investor and entrepreneur Micah Rosenbloom works there, too.
DUMBO Startup Lab
The backstory: Inspired by a visit with startups in Chile, Freddie Pikovsky, co-founder and CEO of travel magazine Off Track Planet, opened up the DUMBO Startup Lab in Brooklyn earlier this year.
What we liked: For people in tech who live in Brooklyn – and there are a lot of them – the DUMBO Startup Lab could mean one less reason to hop a train to Manhattan. The space itself is sunny and comfortable, with views of the river and Manhattan Bridge. Instead of hosting office hours with people in the greater tech community, the Lab invites investors and seasoned entrepreneurs to regular demo days.
What we didn’t like: The 3,200-square-foot space doesn’t include any walls, so I felt more pressure to speak in hushed tones during phone calls. It has a telephone booth for some privacy, but it can feel cramped if you use your laptop. Also, the bathroom reflects the building’s industrial roots– it feels more appropriate for a warehouse than an office.
The people: As you’d expect, most of the entrepreneurs working out of the lab are Brooklynites, but it’s attracted folks from Manhattan, too. I met music app developer TwentyTwo.fm and gluten-free food subscription service GFreely.
The backstory: Mobile app developer Fueled has only about 30 employees, but more than one hundred people fill out the top floor of its expansive Soho office. That’s because earlier this year it opened up its Fueled Collective coworking space to startups — in part, says Fueled founder Rameet Chawla, to provide his own employees with a more creative environment. Next year, he’s looking to move to a location that could double the size of the community.
What we liked: With artisanal chandeliers in the conference rooms, leather couches and dogs roaming around, Fueled feels more like a home living room than an office. It also has a kitchen with a big sitting area and a ping-pong table. Fueled is in a prime location (in the middle of Soho on Broadway) and offers a snack bar piled high with snacks and a refrigerator stocked with coconut water and other fizzy drinks.
What we didn’t like: Those amenities apparently add up: Fueled Collective is the priciest space on our list, with a monthly rate of $650. Also, it has regular happy hours and parties for its own members but is less focused on networking and educational events for the greater tech community.
The people: It hosts startups that have two- to 16-person teams, including gaming and well-being startup Happify and movie-making app Cameo (from the makers of group messaging app Fast Society). Alums include restaurant review app Fondu, which was acquired by Airbnb, and New York’s Klout staff. Also: building mates include Foursquare (Fueled’s sublessor) and ZocDoc.
The backstory: If you want to work here, you’d better not call General Assembly a “coworking space.” The founders — Brad Hargreaves, Jake Schwartz, Matthew Brimer, and Adam Pritzker — prefer the loftier “global network of campuses for technology, business and design.” General Assembly opened in New York last year, and fueled by $14.3 million in venture capital, has expanded around the world, to London, Berlin and other major cities.
What we liked: If you want to be at the center of the startup community in New York, this is a place to be. General Assembly offers dozens of weekly courses taught by members and others in the tech community (which members can attend at a discount). The amenities – including a full kitchen, bike room, conference rooms, media labs, and lockers – are all top of the line. Also, it hosts regular happy hours and attracts a constant stream of heavy-hitters from the tech world and beyond — earlier this fall, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Kanye West made separate visits to check it out.
What we didn’t like: Despite the cachet afforded GA startups, some in the greater tech community think the scene is over-hyped. I was told by a few members that dogs aren’t allowed, but I got a friendly visit from a King Charles Spaniel while I was there.
The people: Given its profile, it attracts a high caliber set of startups, like Dwolla, Y Combinator-backed Daily Muse and Food52. Alums include daily deals site Yipit and “Kayak for event tickets” startup SeatGeek.
The backstory: Co-founders Marissa Feinberg and Jennie Nevin opened Green Spaces to give entrepreneurs interested in social impact a home base. It opened in downtown Manhattan in 2009, after two years in Brooklyn. Green Spaces, which has a sister location in Denver, offers access to a nationwide network of social innovators and hosts regular networking and educational events for members.
What we liked: Between the recycling bins in the kitchen and the wooden pallet desk dividers, green-leaning entrepreneurs will feel right at home. And, even if you’re not especially eco-minded, it’s hard not be to charmed by the exposed brick walls and the reclaimed furniture. Members get access to special rates with a legal team and other local discounts. Green Space’s weekly “idea bounce” lunches provide an opportunity to get feedback from peers (and try some free dumplings from nearby Chinatown).
What we didn’t like: If you make a lot of phone calls or plan to spend much of your day talking, this may not be the place for you — it’s so quiet that it can sometimes feel like the whole room is listening in. It does have two conference rooms, but they were frequently occupied.
The people: Members are either in sustainability, work at nonprofits or are entrepreneurs who just want to be in a values-driven space — from health startup My Coupon Doc to live-streaming performing arts startup VirtualArts.tv. Alums include GOOD (formerly the magazine, now the online community for social action) and staff of design firm IDEO.
The backstory: Grind says it caters to the city’s “free radicals” — its term for independent professionals. Cofounder Benjamin Dyett, who launched it with Stuart and Karina Warshaw and the CoCollective, said they select members to ensure a balance of people with different specialties – from tech startups and venture capitalists to designers and marketers to accountants and lawyers.
What we liked: The floor-to-ceiling windows, modern (and sustainable) Vitra furniture, generous selection of Intelligentsia coffee and gallery of framed LCD screens that members can use to show off their work via an RFID-enabled membership card. It also created a sophisticated digital system for helping members identify collaborators for projects, and several I spoke to said they’d found clients and partners through Grind.
What we didn’t like: The monthly rate is already on the higher end of the spectrum, but if you want to use the LED-screen-equipped conference rooms, it’ll cost you extra (many other spaces include conference rooms in their regular membership packages). Also, because, it says, “Grindists” tend to be a bit more established in their careers, the space provides fewer networking and programming events.
The people: I saw fewer hoodies and more button-down shirts during my couple of days there. A few members include TechStars NYC alum WantWorthy, creative agency Bynd and TEDxHarlem. Klout’s New York team also worked from Grind before moving into a space of its own.
Hive at 55
The backstory: Part of a Mayor Bloomberg-backed initiative, the Hive at 55 opened in 2009 to bring an affordable workspace to small businesses and startups. It was also launched with the hope of bringing new industries to the finance-heavy downtown neighborhood.
What we liked: This is one of the cheaper options available, and it offers a wide range of pricing packages – from day rates to part- and full-time options to private office rentals. The 4,000 square foot space is one of the smaller coworking spaces out there, but it didn’t feel cramped.
What we didn’t like: Its lower Manhattan location means that it’s isolated from the city’s more robust tech hubs and not so likely to get a casual visit from a local VC or established entrepreneur. Also, while some say they’ve been able to learn from other workers in the space, other folks I met indicated less interest in the kind of active networking that happens in other coworking spaces.
The people: You won’t find the city’s most attention-seeking startups here, but it does host a combination of startups, like travel video startup TripFilm and digital creative agency Inart Design Works, as well as remote employees of companies based outside the city.
New Work City
The backstory: Founder Tony Bacigalupo calls it the “elder statesman” of New York coworking because even though New Work City moved into its existing location two years ago, he started offering versions of the space with others in 2007. A Kickstarter campaign raised $17,000, which helped it establish its current space.
What we liked: New Work City is one of the more open spaces in the city — members don’t need to apply, and it places a premium on cultivating a welcoming community. Among its regular events is a simulcast of the NY Tech Meetup and, if you can’t get a ticket to the live event (or even if you can), New Work City provides a more relaxed alternative with tubs of beer.
What we didn’t like: Compared to a few other spaces, New Work City’s digs are more humble. Some of the furniture has seen better days and, while I was there, the kitchen was under renovation. (I’m told its now complete.) Also, closing time seems to vary from day to day, depending on when the last person with a key chooses to leave.
The people: Tech startups represent a good chunk of New Work City’s community, but it also includes journalists, accountants and other independent workers. Members include Y Combinator-backed SmartAsset, emerging art startup UGallery, and guitar teaching app Instinct. Alums include TechStars graduates Dispatch, TimeHop and Red Rover.
The backstory: Projective Space started in a 5,500 square foot space in SoHo and quickly expanded to a second campus in Chinatown. It focuses on startups and offers classes, curated with SkillShare, PandoDaily and others, as well as networking events. The space, created by brothers James, Johnny and Timothy Wahba, says 70 percent of its companies have participated in an accelerator or incubator.
What we liked: I spent more time at the Chinatown campus, which accommodates larger startups, and the space itself was one of my favorites. The nearly floor-to-ceiling windows in the desk area kept it bright (even on a rainier day), and the communal space had a good mix of long tables and private areas for phone calls and meetings. The SoHo location had less natural light and wasn’t as spacious.
What we didn’t like: Even though some of Chinatown’s best dumpling and dim sum houses aren’t so far away from their LES location, if you’re looking for a quick bite from staples like Chipotle or a basic deli, it’s slim pickings. Also, at the SoHo location, it was more difficult to find a private place for phone calls.
The people: It currently has a strong representation from graduates of the Entrepreneur’s Roundtable Accelerator. A few members include education crowdsourcing site CommonBond, crowdsourced photo-sharing site Olapic, and men’s subscription service Bespoke Post. Alums include the New York teams for IndieGogo and Uber, as well as SeatGeek.
The backstory: Less a business than a side hobby for Barbarian Group co-founder and angel investor Rick Webb, the Secret Clubhouse is in Williamsburg. Webb says he decided to launch it after looking for a place to work himself and at the prodding of a few local tech businesses that wanted a home in North Brooklyn after the Makery coworking space shut down.
What we liked: From the collection of vintage Apple computers and old-school instruments to the pool table and stocked refrigerator in the basement, it really does feel like a techie’s secret clubhouse or (female-friendly) man cave.
What we didn’t like: The space isn’t very big, so it’s easy to feel like you’re in the middle of someone else’s conversation or like the room is overhearing yours.
The people: For starters, you’ll get to meet Webb himself. He’s now a revenue and marketing consultant to Tumblr but works from the Secret Clubhouse at least one day a week. Small Girls PR and music blog aggregator Hype Machine signed up before Webb even opened up the space, and Colored Box, a stealth startup from Buzz Anderson, former director of mobile for Tumblr, is a more recent arrival. Aviary co-founder Michael Galpert’s new startup Superhuman was an early member .
The backstory: WeWork, the office space company that mostly provides partitioned coworking offices, opened WeWork Labs last year as an incubator-style space for early-stage startups. It offers accepted members deskspace, access to healthcare packages, legal advice and office hours with investors and reporters. There’s also plenty of opportunity to goof off: WeWork has a Kegerator, foosball table and pinball machine.
What we liked: From the fruit-infused water in the kitchen to the clean and nicely appointed bathrooms (the best on my circuit) to the private phone booths with velvet seats and dedicated land lines, it’s clear that WeWork knows that the devil is in the details. They also get a big thumbs up for a noticeably more balanced male-to-female ratio. And it wasn’t dead quiet, which I liked — the hum made for a good background for phone calls and conversations.
What we didn’t like: I’m clearly not its only fan, so startups interested in joining may have to put their names on a waiting list of hundreds. (Note: referrals count, so if you know someone who works there, use the connection when you apply.)
The backstory: Wix Lounge, operated by web publishing company Wix, is the only free space I visited on my coworking tour. It was launched as a marketing initiative, in 2010, and provides a way for the company to introduce its software to small businesses and entrepreneurs who could become potential clients.
What we liked: Well, it’s free – so the price can’t be beat. And the location, right in the heart of the Flatiron District, is optimal for tech startups. It’s a good option for newbie startups just getting off the ground or for entrepreneurs who need a place to drop in for a few hours when they’re in the neighborhood.
What we didn’t like: It provides a place to sit, internet access and even coffee, but, again, it’s free, so the amenities are basic. If you want a spot at a desk, you’ll need to get there early. And even if you come in later and can find a seat on one of the couches, good luck finding an outlet. It doesn’t include any private space and it can feel crowded, so it’s not the best place for quiet phone calls or meetings. Also, it nudges everyone out at 5 p.m. everyday – an early closing time for any startup trying to make it in NYC.
The people: The coworkers here are a bit of a mixed bag – some people are launching startups (not necessarily in tech), others are independent contractors or employees working remotely. Alums include fashion startup Stylyt, which went on to graduate from the Entrepreneur’s Roundtable Accelerator, and Swaag.it, a streetstyle photo-sharing app.