Starting a Shared Office Space Business
Interview with Bill Jacobson and David Ulrich, Co-Founders of WorkBar
Suddenly, Bill Jacobson and David Ulrich lost their lease and had no place to run their businesses. This gave them the idea for WorkBar, a shared office space concept in Boston, Massachusetts.
Bill Jacobson and David Ulrich founded WorkBar in 2009.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
WorkBar is a shared office space designed around the needs of today's "work from home" professionals or those finding themselves searching for workspace in coffee shops. WorkBar caters to the office needs of freelancers, entrepreneurs, startups and small groups by offering flexible month-to-month memberships, a convenient downtown location and the opportunity to work among a community of other Boston professionals and entrepreneurs from industries across the board. WorkBar provides a full service office with 24-hour access to spacious works areas, conference rooms, as well as printing, faxing, and scanning.
How did you come up with your business idea?
My partner, David Ulrich and I had been researching co-working spaces both nationally and internationally for some time. We also saw that while modern telecommunications have made it possible for many people to work from anywhere, people are stuck with either working out of a traditional lease office, their home or cafés for limited time periods. We felt there must be a better way and as people get more and more mobile this trend will continue.
My partner and I were subleasing space at the time, when the main tenant folded overnight leaving us without office space and an immediate need. We quickly developed our shared office space plans and pitched the current landlord on our concepts. From there we started the business venture with the current landlord as a partner.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I work with area startups under the umbrella company called TechPoint Ventures. In addition to WorkBar, two other companies I'm actively involved with are: PickupZone (www.pickupzone.com) - a service to help people receive package deliveries if they are not home, and MuseTrek (www.musetrek.com) - a participatory mobile visitor guide for museums and other worldwide cultural hotspots.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
We wrote what I would call a business presentation. It included the key elements of market size and trends, products/services, our differentiation, marketing plan, and financial projections. Knowing what 'bets' you are taking and how to measure them was an important step in getting key partners involved.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
As a business we have been very involved and active on the social media scene. You can find us on twitter @workbarboston and facebook, which have been great ways to interact with people, talk about our space and what we offer, get people interested in WorkBar, and most importantly, answer any questions potential members have about our business. Social media is also a great place to showcase what the startup businesses and entrepreneurs that are working in our space are doing and what valuable resources they are bringing to the WorkBar community.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
WorkBar has become very involved in the startup/entrepreneur community in Boston since the very beginning. We wanted to be a part of this community to align ourselves with organizations that have the same interests as our current and future members in order to build a strong community of professionals. We host a variety of events with organizations such as the Boston Young Entrepreneurs, DartBoston, Ultra Light Startups and the Nonprofit Connect group of Greater Boston. These events bring the community of professionals we are looking for into our space and get them talking about us and with us.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
When I started running the business I wasn't sure if we would only attract people from a very local area, but by contrast we have attracted people from all over greater Boston. Unlike other mobile and internet start-ups I've been involved with, WorkBar is more like running a gym or a restaurant. Providing - on a daily basis - a consistent reliable shared office atmosphere has been a fun challenge, one that we owe much of our success to the great people we've managed to hire. The best part of WorkBar has been the huge fun I've had in getting to know the member businesses, the interesting things they are doing and the great ideas they have on how we can keep growing and improving WorkBar.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Since starting WorkBar we have received a number of inquiries from people who have expressed an interest in shared offices spaces. People all around are seeing the need for these types of places so naturally a few entrepreneurial minded people have thought about starting their own. Like any start-up, I tell people it is important to understand the customer, the market and what makes you unique. At WorkBar we have set up an environment that attracts a wide range of businesses and professionals - independent workers, start-ups, satellite offices, etc. A focus of our space set-up and service has been to create an atmosphere where people feel they can come to get their work done, but also enjoy a social environment where people can cross-pollinate ideas and opportunities.
Sounds like a fun place to set up shop. I'll be sure to stop by next time I am in Boston. Thanks for your time, Bill.
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