A Coworking Update

Ok, so, it’s been months, probably since July that I haven’t given a proper Coworking update. A small disclaimer before I do, the following events and explanations could seem like excuses, they are not. I’m aware that lack of time and my general prudence in setting projects up are to blame for the slow advance, not what I’m about to list but still, it’s worth showing some of the process so people interested in the space know what’s going on.

Last “official” updates were about the small business plan/ mission statement I was writing to present to investors. I did write it, sent it to a few investors (where “investors” are not banks or huge outfits but rather people who want the project to exist and happen to have a bit of money) and awaited feedback. Let me note here that yes, we could simply have decided to just go with a bootstrap project, like most coworking projects but we had/have a vision of what it should look and feel like an for that we need a bit more money.

Everyone was in agreement but the various possible government financings were brought back to the table and although we largely want to stay away from temporary grants and such to instead have a sustainable setup from the start, we did look around a bit and started talking with the CDEC. They already have the Lab Créatif up and running and it’s a similar project set in fashion instead of “knowledge work” so it was an easy decision to see them and they were very excited about our plans, having already had some demand for such a place.

Followed a couple of meetings, visiting of spaces they knew about but most importantly of a space part of a large floor they use in a former textile industry building. Pricing for the space, possible aid in a couple of areas and suggestions on services were discussed.

Let me stop here to go back to a parallel thread; previously and as we were initially talking to them, we were still juggling with a few possible setups, some including a cafe, some including a large kitchen to be used as a cafe for events, some with an open space for events, some without. In this juggling we visited, talked and thought about various spaces.

All of that meeting with CDEC and parallel brainstorming and visiting took some weeks and we’re already in August by that time.

The main thing we were aiming for with CDEC was a cheaper lease which would let us have the event space and a sustainable business model. To get that, we needed a real business plan and financial plan so I set to writing this, amongst work and busier than usual off work hours, this again took a few weeks. Add to that vacations and other projects for CDEC resources and a full slate for myself and we’re now in early September.

By then the plan is set, both in the scope and the actual numbers. The space would have 20 seats, 10 for permanent “anchor” members, 10 for “flex” plans, a kitchen setup to serve also as bar and cafe, a lounge (read a space with sofas and bean bags) and an open space to hold small events. We just needed final answers to a few things and we were ready to assemble the “money people”, setup the company and start things up.

We detailed these questions and put them to the right people, I put my coworking partner Dan in contact with everyone so nothing would slow down because of my absence and I left for Europe. 10 days after my return, we still didn’t have answers to those questions. We’re now 3 weeks into September.

Let me stop again for another parallel thread; from about mid summer no less than 3 people contacted me because they also had ideas about coworking spaces and wanted to discuss what we were trying to do, who could do what, if we should band together, if we would end up competing, etc. I wont go into details here, I’ll just say that the thread I’m “leading” is still the most advanced (such as it is) and that this too took some time and stretched some delays again.

Back to late September and I finally get some news from CDEC. They are taking care of multiple projects, some of them based in the same building we were looking at and before going forward—which they still very much want to do—they need to re-asses what they will use, how to setup AC, heat, electricity, who goes where, where walls are built, lease durations, etc. The big thing in this, other than the delay, is that we’re expecting the price to go up. Since that’s the biggest reason for all this time planning with them and how we manage the larger version of the project, we’re worried our plan won’t work anymore with a higher price.

On that side that’s where we’re at, waiting for those new plans to be ready and to know how that affects what we want to do. In this waiting we also have to keep in mind that this brings us to, at the very least, a mid December launch and, more likely, January or February. We—nor anyone I’ve spoken to—don’t think it’s a good idea to start this up in the dead of winter so that would potentially mean a wait until early spring.

Again, in parallel, a number of our potential anchors have kept working and are now setting up startups, getting money and their own offices. I don’t believe it will be a problem replacing them but it does change the mix that everyone had in mind all along. It also highlights the time already spent researching and exploring opportunities (perceived or otherwise) for the coworking, how much time would be required to run the dream version and where else it could have—could be—spent on. Articles like this one and discussions with other coworking “principals” also have me thinking.

“Ok ok, finish this up already!” Alllll of this to say that we are waiting on the new numbers to see if the version planned with the CDEC is still possible while also checking out a few smaller spaces to possibly fall back to a smaller version. Something like 10-12 seats, 6 anchors and no event space. The direction to take involves other people too and I go back and forth a bit on what I think is best but right this moment the possible outcomes in terms of likeliness would be:

  1. Smaller coworking, along the lines of Citizen Space and Indy Hall.
  2. The larger model with the open/event space.
  1. Nothing from me/us, let someone else give it a go.

    (Those are on an almost exponential like curve so number one is wayyy more likely than number 3 ;) )

    Last thing for the very few who might still be reading; a number of people have told me to “just do it”. I don’t want to do it half-assed and to do it properly (even the small one) there’s money, time and lease commitments that are required, making it a lot harder to give it a try and “just move” later on so we’ve refrained from the simple “jumping in and see where it goes” and spent time on the thing. Probably too much time but there you go, that’s what went on.


Stéphane Z. October 16, 2007

I think many people is aware it’s not a simple question of “just do it” (mostly if one considers that you still have to work ;)

As you said you probably have the lead on this in Montreal and anyone who finds it’s not fast enough should just… move his own ass ! Thanks for the time you spend on this and I’m confident you will end up with something great

heri October 16, 2007

i might be naive but i think it would be possible to arrange something with a café, set it up as the main coworking space, with a space for 5/10, and weekly events etc. the café gets customers all day long, and there is no setup involved.

if there is demand, if the setup seems popular, then grow from there and a “real” coworking space.

also, as you said, you have your freelance work and travels, another idea is to think the project as an open one, à la barcamp, where every future member is asked to participate.

my 2 cents.

Patrick October 16, 2007

Steph: thx

Heri: I do think you’re a bit naive here or at least haven’t thought out how it would work.

The first one might be a good idea and Alex did that in Philly but around here cafes are already packed with wifi using workers and students, they don’t need more. Second, that’s not what we need , we already have 80% of what you’re talking about with Laïka or even, to a lesser degree, Art Java. And third, we already have the critical mass of people to use a coworking space, we don’t need to build a group like Alex did and then see, we already know.

“where every future member is asked to participate.” Participate how? In the running of the space? Try to figure out a business structure where this would work, where people would alternate taking care of it. It’s either complex with loads of people involved or only a few owners and then why would non-owners take care of it for free? Pay them? Whole other ballgame. (I’m talking about actual management here, not opening the thing for a couple of days, I expect members will agree to do that once in a while)

I think that’s like people saying to “just do it” without thinking about the “real world” context. This isn’t a one day conference or a website, it’s something with commitments for a lease, equipment, etc. The truly open models don’t necessarily apply. Chris and Tara in SF are going open and community but they’re still the ones who put up the money and cover the rent.

Mat October 16, 2007

Thanks for the (lengthy!) update Patrick. I’m sure your dedication and patience to see your vision through will be rewarded in the end.

If there are naysayers (I suspect there are, given the tone of the post) let them whine. Keep driving this…

Patrick October 16, 2007

There aren’t all that many naysayers, more fatigue on my part I guess.

Sylvain Carle October 17, 2007

Merci pour l’update détaillé et aussi merci pour l’énergie que tu mets à ce projet que je considère crucial pour faire de Montréal un vrai Hub d’innovation et de créativité internet (et tout ce qui vient avec).

Dans quelques années (et déjà un peu si on lit entre les lignes) quand les gens vont se demander “quel sont les moteurs” derrière cette communauté vibrante à Montréal, il y aura le nom de Patrick Tanguay quelque part sur cette liste non-écrite et sous-estimée mais oh combien essentielle “in the real world context” comme tu dis si bien!

Et ce n’est pas parce que certains startups s’organisent de leur côté (dont le mien, en effet) que les individus ne s’y intéressent pas. Je veux participer à faire arriver ce projet, dans la mesure ou je le peux personellement, et si tu mets en place un “conseil d’administration” ou un “comité aviseur”, count me in, même si c’est très possible qu’avec la poussée de croissance de Praized on soit déjà trop gros pour participer au projet sans l’overloader…

Jacob October 17, 2007

Jacob here from Office Nomads in Seattle. I just cleared the 7 month hurry-up-and-wait game of getting the business plan ready, find a business partner, find a space, working the numbers, losing the space, finding another space…. patience comes in handy. We found a place and are able to open 3 weeks later (2 weeks from now). Susan, my business partner and I both work other jobs too but I find that helps more then it detracts. Because of that, I am forced to put Office Nomads down regularly and that, sometimes is invaluable.

My advise: Take your time and do it right. If it takes you a year or more, but it’s solid and true to your dream, it will be so much better then if you rush it and dilute your vision because of it.

Evan Prodromou October 17, 2007

Patrick: thanks for the great update. I’m excited about the prospect for a strong coworking presence in Montréal, and I agree that that will take time and attention. I’m looking forward to it.

Patrick October 17, 2007

Thx guys.

Michael October 18, 2007

Wow – what an update, Patrick. Running a project like this one takes time, and the only way to get around that constraint is to have lots of money up front. Absent that… I think you’re totally going about it in the right way, deliberately, making sure the whole thing both meets the ideals in mind AND is practical and sustainable.

By the time you’re ready to roll I may even be an anchor!

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