CoWork Greenville / by Matthew Cook

Earlier this year I took to writing mini-manifestos as a method of formulating and solidifying my opinions. Like all good manifestos, many are crazed, flame-laced essays of doom, but invariably they end up uncovering a few gems that I feel I can latch onto, the rest is trash.

A few months ago I took on the yoke of general partner at CoWork Greenville with a few other talented folks. A lot has changed since then, and a lot hasn’t. I had some really strong opinions, and I made up others to test myself and my partners. Here’s where I started when I dove in:

CoWork has been through multiple reincarnations of itself, each of which has had it’s successes and failures. When we were small, it was tight knit but messy. When we were aspirational we made waves but never followed through. When we partnered up, we had momentum but felt like we sold our soul. Through each of these iterations our core never changed. We were purposeful, we were passionate, but we were also paradoxical. We think of ourselves as Henry V, but most often we are Hamlet.

I believe coworking was never meant to be like church, but that’s where it has often arrived for us—and a soulless instance of it at that. We pay our tithe, we rub shoulders with people who sit near us, identify ourselves by the passionate people we’re bent toward, sit under some preaching, and feel good about ourselves at the end of the day.

We shouldn’t be a crappy church, we should be Baby-Einstein-meets-The-Marines. Impressional. Missional. Sharp. Vindicated. Familial. And if we don’t know what we’re doing, we’ll figure it out with infinite pushups or puppet shows.

This passion and shared mindset doesn’t mean that there can’t be rank, reward, or responsibility. In fact it’s the opposite. To be all that we can be (see what I did there?!) those things are necessary. We need leaders, and leaders need followers. We should showcase success and help others as they struggle to emulate it. We should embrace the fact that we want to be profitable—darn it, we should we require that we’re profitable, and pay those people who pulled the weight to make it happen.

We’re not landlords, we’re the Mafia, and we’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse!

Figuring out where to go from where we’ve been isn’t simple, and there are very few organizations who do well what we’re setting out to accomplish. How do we blend community with smarts while being open about the fact that we’re in it to make money?

I think we have to center on what we do well. Like it or not, we’re borne of the internet, and we can’t lose our heritage in design and technical expertise. The silver lining is that the internet attracts. For better or worse design, development, and the overlapping skills that are essential to making awesome stuff online are sexy. We shouldn’t require CoWorkers to be internet savvy or industry participants. We should require that they’re impressional, missional, sharp…etc., while also seeing value and credibility in our design heart and soul. 

Again, we must be missional. CoWork has had a lot of rallying cries. Independence! Beer! Community! Entrepreneurship! Greenville! No Starbucks! None of these are valid. All of these are valid. We’ve missed the forest for the trees, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We’ve been carried by every wind and wave, but here’s the cool thing: that’s ok. Passion feeds expertise and freaking out breeds reinvention. The key is to communicate not what we fear or love, but why we fear or love it. We’ve written a Constitution without a Declaration of Independence. Why should anyone care what we’re doing if we don’t know why we’re doing it?

Profit should drive our choices and make everyone feel secure. There should always be a responsible party that anyone at CoWork, LLC or CoWorker, should be able to look at and say, “You had one job…”. Responsibility without reward is purgatory. Benevolence to our community without doctrine is heretical. B-corp, C-corp, S-corp, LLC, aside; however we choose to be formed or taxed, we should be held to the standard of profitability. This doesn’t mean we’re task masters or corporate leeches, but rather that we put our money where our mouth is. If we say we’re about community, where is our profit going? If we require responsibility, who’s getting paid for our success? If we’re out to build the next wave of web expertise, why are there kids in our city without summer jobs or internships (and for those who have them, why do they pay so little, if anything at all)?

Topics I never had time to flesh out:

  • We must be Community centered, but it can’t be forced. 
  • We have to give of our time without being assholes.
  • As owners, we need to be like-minded, but we don’t have to pretend we’re best friends.

Manifestos have been a really good exercise for me, and this was no different. I plan on doing an EOY post with new opinions and learnings on running a CoWorking space. I’ll link here when I do. Until then!