Resource Spotlight: Workbar

Sep 18, 2016

Resource Spotlight: Workbar

Sep 18, 2016

This week we talk with Devin Cole, director of business development (aka Growth Guru) at coworking space network Workbar. Devin shares his experience in growing the Workbar hub, how he’s always learning from their members and what the best resources in the Boston ecosystem are.

GH: What is Workbar?

Devin: Workbar is a Network of 14 high quality coworking spaces in locations that are convenient to innovators and professionals across the Greater Boston region. Our members pay a monthly fee for access to professional workspace, community and over 1500 people who share their skills, expertise and interests with each other every day.

Through our unique Hub and Spoke network model, members are able to keep their commutes short while being able to travel to any location their work might take them so they can stay productive even while on the road. Each Workbar and Network Partner location hosts events, workshops and meetups so that its members can stay informed, connected and inspired.

GH: What are the issues that keep you up at night?

Devin: What keeps me up at night is ensuring that our current members continue to find the personal touch as we continue to grow. We have added 5 spaces since October of 2015, including 3 spaces in collaboration with Staples. We work hard to make sure that our community feel is genuine and driven by members through our excellent Space & Community Managers. Likewise, as we continue to add Workbar Network partners, who are independent coworking operators who use our coworking management system and provide reciprocal access to their spaces, I spend a lot of time ensuring that Workbar’s standards of space and community are upheld and searching for new partners whose spaces will add real value to our members’ experience of Workbar.

GH: How can startups and founders best leverage the resources you offer?

Devin: Startups and founders need all sorts of external resources to succeed. Our primary offering is flexible office space, which is a value in itself because our monthly memberships allow startups to avoid long term lease commitments, but the community at our spaces is the secret weapon for startups. Our community has experts in everything that a startup founder needs to understand, so engaging with the other people in our spaces and on our digital platform, using as a source for advice, support, knowledge and often hiring can allow a startup to make the jump.

GH: What have you learnt from your members?

Devin: Our members are not shy about telling us what they care about. They share our commitment to diversity in both hiring and how we think about the community, and they share our commitment to maintaining personal relationships within and across our spaces, which is extremely important as we continue to grow.

On a deeper level, we learn daily from our members about how to scale appropriately, how to talk about Workbar and its value, how to place ourselves in the coworking industry and in the ecosystem at large. We have even hired designers, marketers and others from the community. Most importantly, we learn what works and what doesn’t from our members on things both large and small. For example, we changed up the Arlington layout of the Study, which is the quietest of the four “neighborhoods” at Workbar, because members didn’t feel like it was conducive to quiet, focused work. Without learning from members this way, we wouldn’t be able to operate.

GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you? 

Devin: here are some of my favorites:

Advice & inspiration: Nextview’s Traction Podcast
Opportunities to meet amazing people: Venture Cafe, Mass Innovation Nights, FutureBoston/Epicenter
Amazing event spaces: District Hall, Workbar Cambridge Cafe (shameless plug!)
Mentorship by the best of the best: MassChallenge, Boston World Partnerships (RIP!)
Support from the City and Commonwealth: Boston’s Startup Czar, Commonwealth’s Secretary of Tech, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

And of course TCN and Greenhorn!

GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?

Devin: I’d love to see more engagement from large companies through funding, mentorship or actually hosting startups within their office spaces. This has been a priority during Jim Rooney’s newish tenure at the Chamber of Commerce and is something Workbar is addressing through our Center of Excellence program. We have such a rich resource of business talent and know how in our large companies, and we have an equally rich pool of talent in startups. Bridging the gap can only make us stronger.

GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?

Devin: The best pieces of advice that I’ve gotten along the way and/or seen given are:

  1. FOCUS: solve one problem, don’t try to do every potentially revenue generating thing that you could conceivably do. Find the one that you’re best at and really go after it. It’s hard enough to start a company with one focus. Trying to do too much will sink you. This was the classic theme of the old days of Boston Young Entrepreneurs and it holds true nearly a decade later.
  2. FOCUS 2: if you’re really serious about your company and can manage to do it full time, quit your other job and do it full time even if it means eating PB&J a lot. Again, it’s really hard to build a company when you have to focus on other stuff too.
  3. SHARE: unless your company is focused on a technology that no one else has ever thought of, you are better off telling everyone you know what you’re up to rather than keeping it close to the vest. Most of the time, startups are in a race to execution and you will execute faster if your network knows what you’re up to and can align behind your goals.

GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?

Devin: We established a strong collaborative relationship with Staples, which has allowed us to open 3 new locations within Staples stores. This allows us to break into suburban areas like Norwood, Danvers and (slightly more urban) Brighton to test out coworking in a new environment, which is hugely valuable.

GH: What does the future hold for Workbar?

Devin: We hope to continue establishing our Hub and Spoke network model in the Greater Boston area and lay the foundation for future expansion. Hopefully we’ll have good news to share in 2017!

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