Starting a Coworking Space Doesn't Have to Be Hard

Getting the people

I got a grant from a local non-profit that allowed me to open a co-working space for one month. This grant included enough for rent, and that was about it. After one month, I had 12 people signed up and ready to go. After that landlord raised the rent by 50 percent, and after waiting to find a new space, I had 6 members left (it took 4 months to find a new home). This step isn’t that necessary, if you have people, get a space, if you don’t have people, don’t get a space. I started with only 6 people. If you built it, more will come.

Setting up the Space

Initial Costs

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We were the first tenants in a space, 5139 Penn Ave., in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We’re on the same block as an art community space, a co-operative music venue, and an awesome pizza shop. The space isn’t the prettiest, but we’ve got 2000 square feet for about 1000 a month in rent, and the building is so well made that we’re paying less for heat than my one bedroom apartment.

  • 1800 dollars for first and last months rent
  • 500 for 10 Ikea Vika Amon Tables and legs
  • 500 for 10 Ikea Jules Swivle Chairs
  • 100 for several tables and chairs I scraped from craigslist
  • 0 for donated coffee grinder and chemex, utensils, dorm sized frig
  • 24 for 3 makeshift whiteboards (go to home depot and by 8'x4' shower stall walls)
  • 15 for whiteboard markers
  • 60 for cloth hand towels (we have the cleaning girl wash and fold each week)
  • 600 for gas and electric deposits. This was an unexpected cost, apparently even if residents don’t have to leave deposits, businesses do. These were paid gradually over the first year.

After 1 Year

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Within the first year we paid ourselves back the complete initial investment.

Current “Programming”

Pittsburgh Tool Lending Library---Show 'n' Tell at CatapultPGH

Show-n-Tell
Each month we have 4 speakers who are doing cool projects around town, from electronic instrument making, to tool lending libraries.

Micro Loans
We have partneredairs and tables as we kept filling seats

Re-occuring Costs

  • 900 for rent
  • 100 for internet
  • 100 for cleaning lady
  • 200 for electric
  • 100 for gas
  • 65 for coffee subscription
  • 35 for water subscription

1500 Total

Membership doesn’t have to be hard either.

Right now we use freshbooks to send out monthly re-occuring invoices. All expenses are handled with freshbooks as well. Since we don’t set hard limits on days in the office, we don’t need any way to track or reserve. If we start getting too many part-timers, we’ll just buy more tables.

The Upcoming Year

I personally would consider the first year of Catapult a success. My goal was to break even and pay myself back, and I did that. In addition, there are a million intangible benefits such as waking up each morning and getting to work in an awesome community of motivated people, being able to trade/barter services, learning Clojure, getting instant design critiques and instant design/code help, and offering just as much as I’m getting.

Moving forward, I don’t really know where this is going to go. Honestly, I feel like I’m not in control of it either. I always dream of getting a new building and shooting out an email to Catapult saying something like “hey guys, got this sweet new building for us, we’re moving two blocks down in the next 3 months” and then getting a unanimous response “that’s cool, we’ll stay here”. That would never happen, but the nagging image just reminds me that I’m not completely in control of where this group goes. We’re a community, and although I can foster and cultivate, I cannot really direct. I’m just one lever on the machine. I am thinking of moving in with an artist friend and her cooperative of artists, thinking of rolling my own design work into the Catapult umbrella and turning this thing into a super ad-hock full stack design shop, but those are just dreams. We’ll see what the next year brings.