Why a (gray) guy like me is in a (co-working) place like this
As you can tell by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin, I’m not a San Francisco twenty-something. My goatee is gray. Yet I share my workplace with people my daughter’s age. I may actually be the oldest living occupant here.
So what’s a guy like me doing in a place like this?
The place is Citizen Space, a San Francisco co-working location and one of the first of some more than 3,000 similar shared office operations that have sprouted up around the world just since 2005. And for sure, I’m part of a rapidly expanding cohort — by 2013, there were more than 160,000 space sharers like me — up from zero just 9 years ago.
What’s behind the growth? Coworking is a cost-effective alternative, for sure. But consider three other more inconspicuous, but inexorable, trends.
- Burgeoning number of independent workers. The number of consultants, contractors, and so-called “solopreneurs” will have soared 50 percent from 2011 by the time they reach an estimated 24 million in 2018, according to an annual workforce report by MBO Partners.
- Rise of micro-enterprise. We’re more productive because we’re so much more connected and technologically enabled. Duh. But not so duh is this: The average size of a small business is shrinking from about 7.6 employees in 1991 to about 4.7 in 2011, or so says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You don’t have to be a MBA to see why co-working makes so much sense to startups and other micro-enterprises like my own MediaArchitechs.
- Emergence of the ‘sharing economy.’ After this last great recession, we’re all being forced to do more with less. And a number of new, disruptive ventures have arisen out of finding ways to match demand with hyper-economical or underutilized supply — witness Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, TaskRabbit, ODesk, and, yes, coworking spaces, too. My company has sprouted out the same landscape. Only instead of vacation housing, rides, or personal, contract services, or shared office space, we’re building targeted exchanges for expert advice. The first of these: Our CloudBase3.com, a contextually relevant, magnet media property devoted to helping the nation’s 28M SMBs connect with the 1 million consultants, independent IT service providers, and tech contractors who can provide one-to-one advice for buying services in the $174B cloud-computing market. (Did I just give an elevator pitch?)
But that doesn’t explain why I’m such an unlikely member. Which brings me to the real reason. It’s this: “If you really want to enjoy life,” my favorite novelist Mark Helprin wrote, “you must work quietly and humbly to realize your delusions of grandeur.”
I might share space now, but once I didn’t. I held lofty titles at big companies that bestowed me with my own comfy digs on the upper floors of soaring corporate office towers. It all changed when I did something extraordinarily bold — or certifiably stupid. I started my own company — and at a time when many of my peers are starting to smell the roses of retirement.
So now I spend my days sans the Aeron chair, the ergonomically correct desk, and the door to my own domain. But here’s the thing: I’m fine without these appurtenances, because I’m finding something better in their place — networking with a raft of new contacts far beyond the insular world I occupied at companies such as Yahoo and CNET. And while your expertise and character are keys to success, don’t downplay another key factor, kids — your ability to build relationships.
So now I’m hanging with people like Citizen Space owner Toby Morning, a fellow entrepreneur who has his fingers in as many businesses, I swear, as Warren Buffet. Or take Manish Panjiar, who’s building a disruptive new telemarketing platform. Or how about Sebastian Zontek. He’s an entrepreneur from Poland who’s building a predictive advertising platform. In his case, I’m connecting him, because I spent more years in the media business than I want you to know.
What’s a guy like me is doing in like this? Here’s what: He’s turning away from the cosseted corporate confines that once possessed him and turning to a place where he consorts with others as young at heart, as full ambition, and teeming with hope as he is.
(Patrick Houston the Founder and CEO of MediaArchitechs, a San Francisco Bay Area startup devoted to unleashing the power of free enterprise by making one-to-one advice affordable and accessible to the smallest enterprises in every corner of the world.)