Brad Neuberg sat down with Deskmag during our recent trip to San Francisco as part of our Coworking Space Ship tour. He discussed how he came up with the concept, and his thoughts on its development since.
Coworking started as reaction to Regus' isolated offices
"I had been working at a start-up company, and I was unhappy," Neuberg told Deskmag. "I couldn't figure out how to have freedom and community at the same time… That original start-up I was unhappy with was at a rent-a-office… It was actually in a Regus space. I was in no way inspired by that, because it was utterly non-social. It had a very corporate drone feel to it. Those were ways to just save costs. There was no cross-fertilization or communication. Those just feel like shared utilities to me. Coworking had this extra spark of community."
Neuberg discussed his frustrations with a life coach, and through their sessions he arrived at the idea of coworking, which he put into action in 2005. He struck an agreement with a women's community center called Spiral Muse in San Francisco's Mission district to utilize their space during business hours several days a week. But the idea didn't take off quickly, and almost died after one year.
"I naively thought that I would put a couple of ads on Craigslist and the masses would show up and it would be easy. And it wasn't. For the first two months, no one showed up. I realized I needed to take a different approach. I started coming up with flyers, talking to people, word of mouth. People started trickling in and showing up, and we had our first coworkers... I would tell people, "steal this idea, remix it and make it your own.
"At a certain point, about a year into Spiral Muse, the space seemed like it had died, it felt like coworking had died. But all these people who had taken this idea and remixed it actually ended up making another space called Hat Factory."
Neuberg, who describes himself as a "version one and version two guy", stayed at Hat Factory for a year before deciding to move. A programmer by trade, he landed a job at Google, where he worked on Google Docs and the HTML5 effort. Today he is working for a start-up called Inkling, which creates interactive digital textbooks.
Franchised coworking could be positive
He still keeps a close eye on the coworking movement, and is impressed to see how the concept has grown. Neuberg believes it is positive that some coworking spaces are becoming more professionalized and even franchised, as long as independent spaces can continue as well.
"You look at coffee shops, and there's many different kinds. You have Starbucks, which is the kind of franchise model, and there's a whole eclectic underground of interesting coffee shops. I like economies that can hold both. I like going to Starbucks sometimes, I like going to some crazy hole in the wall sometimes. I think they're both great. As long as neither try to say that the other shouldn't exist.
"Ideas go from the edge into the mainstream. If a Starbucks-style coworking space is what's needed for coworking to show up in middle America, that's fine, as long as the funky artsy kinds of coworking spaces can still exist."