The face of small business has changed a lot over the past decade. Thanks to rising rents and businesses that have become more virtual, coworking spaces have exploded. No longer do entrepreneurs and freelancers have to choose between working out of their home or entering into a two-year lease for a space they may outgrow in a year.
So when Coworkrs opened their space in Gowanus, it didn’t take long for them to start filling up their offices. Creative and entrepreneurial types from the surrounding neighborhoods — Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope — snapped up space to pursue their passion projects. It’s a good arrangement for freelancers, startups, and regional branches: Coworkrs takes care of managing the offices, there’s a kitchen and lounge areas and conference rooms, and all you have to worry about is getting your own work done.
We figured that the best way to know what it’s like to work at Coworkrs in Gowanus is to talk to the people who work there. The four companies we talked with were very different, but they all had similar things to say about Coworkrs — the convenience of the location, the coolness of the space, and an admiration for the other companies down the hall.
Above: Farmigo’s new national headquarters at Coworkrs. Photos by Farmigo and Jeff Scherer.
Farmers markets and CSAs have become common in Brooklyn, as residents look for new ways to eat more healthfully while supporting local farms. But even the most high-minded person finds themselves ordering from FreshDirect or running to Whole Foods between CSA deliveries. Farmigo was created to bridge that gap, allowing people to order pick the food they want to be delivered from local farms.
“A regular CSA, depending on what the farm has that week, depending on the season, you could end up with pounds and pounds of kale or, you know, ten rutabagas and not actually know what to do with a rutabaga,” says Summer Coper, office manager of Farmigo. “Our online market is similar to online grocery shopping in that you can choose how much of what you want to buy every single week. What’s available on our market varies from week to week, dependent on what’s available on the farm.”
The Farmigo kitchen
Farmigo has locations in Seattle, Berkeley, and Brooklyn. A few weeks ago, Farmigo’s national headquarters and its regional New York team moved into a custom-built space at Coworkrs in Gowanus.
“We were contemplating whether or not to build our own space,” says Coper, “but you don’t know how long you’re going to need the space, or the direction the company may go in terms of increasing hiring in different cities. So to have the convenience of building out your own team in a space that’s already there, that has been built in a way that meets your creative goals and standards but also provides access to call rooms and meeting spaces and kitchens and event space and a rooftop — you have the flexibility to have access to all of that and still not worry that you’re getting stuck with a ten-year lease at some warehouse in Brooklyn.”
In addition to the surface conveniences of a coworking space — coffee, a mailroom, printing, conference rooms — the staff at Farmigo was attracted to the idea of sharing a space with other innovative companies trying to make a difference.
“There are those serendipitous moments that you have over coffee or in an elevator that are how most businesses create their best and most creative ideas, and I think that also applies to shared spaces,” Coper says.
The hip, industrial Brooklyn aesthetic of the space was another plus, as was the location.
“I also live in Gowanus, so I’m a bit partial,” says Coper. “The team found out that I live five minutes away from Coworkrs, and were like, ‘Hey! We see what’s going on here!'”
John Balestrieri of Tinrocket
John Balestrieri was a full-time employee at a design firm, but his nights and weekends were spent working on a pet project. Combining his passions for design and coding, he was developing an iPhone app that turned users’ photos into circle-based mosaics.
“I’m not a great photographer,” he explains. “So I designed apps that would make my images look better after I took them.”
Tinrocket’s impeccably designed office
Percolator, chosen by the App Store as one of the best apps of 2014, was enough of a success that he could quit his job just a few months later. His company, Tinrocket, has since released Popsicolor and Waterlogue, both of which convert conventional photos into watercolor textures. He says that Popsicolor was a one-week project.
“I had the idea for the name,” he says, “and I thought, what would an app called Popsicolor look like? It had to have a ice-cream theme for the icon, and it had to have a popsicle stick for the UI.”
Balestrieri’s cozy office, unsurprisingly, is one of the most carefully designed offices at Coworkrs. His walls display the work of his art and design heroes, there’s a personal coffee maker on the window sill, and a rack holds his collection of vintage sci-fi paperbacks. He is a one-man show, but he keeps an extra chair in the office for his bookkeeper and his strategy consultant.
After working in friends offices or his apartment for years, Balestrieri was ready for a place of his own.
“When I saw that Coworkrs was opening this summer, this seemed like the ideal place to have my company and enjoy the neighborhood,” he says. “I live three blocks away, so essentially I’m commuting a shorter distance than I was before. It’s been a really great place. When you’re working in an another person’s office or you’re working from home, you don’t really have that sense of being part of a larger community. It really helps having people around you doing other stuff.”
Zack Akers of Two-Up Productions
Two-Up founders Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie met at NYU in the film and TV program, and had wanted to work together ever since. Skip went to San Francisco to work at Facebook and Pinterest, while Zack stayed in New York to work on sports documentaries for companies like HBO. June of last year, Skip called Zack and said that a year from that day he was going to leave Pinterest and start a production company. Did Zack want to join him?
A little over a year later, in September 2015, the two were the creators of the number one podcast in America, Limetown. Limetown is the fictional story of a radio journalist investigating a town in Tennessee, where ten years ago more than 300 men, women, and children disappeared into thin air.
“I listened to Welcome to Nightvale,” says Akers. “I had listened to a lot of podcasts, but this was the first one where I was like, ‘Oh, this is different. There’s something you can do here that’s fun.’ So I said to Skip, why don’t we try and do something like this. We could use what we do well in this medium. And it’s something we could do, I assumed, relatively cheaply, and in our spare time.”
They started recording the series in May of 2014, mimicking the style of their favorite radio documentary series, like This American Life and Radiolab. After about eight months in post — “because that’s always the hardest part when you’re doing other things,” says Aker — they had a lock on the first episode. With their production company in full swing, they needed a headquarters.
“We were looking for office space in August,” says Aker, “and we were looking at maybe apartments around here because Skip was looking for a sublet. But then we came and we checked out Coworkrs. It’s within walking distance of where I live in Park Slope and Skip has a sublet towards Carroll Gardens. A lot of factors went into it: it’s relatively cheap, it gives us a good space to work in, and there’s a lot of things that you take for granted, like free coffee, or printing services, or any of that stuff. We’re all in the mode of not being distracted, and working here negates a lot of distractions. We don’t have to worry about a lot of the basic office stuff, it just exists around us and we’re free to come and go as we please.”
Notes for a future Two-Up production
As Akers and Bronkie continue to work on Limetown episodes and plan future productions, their new Coworkrs office inspires them. Sometimes at night, the only sound is the F train coming and going in the distance.
“Episodes two and three were edited here,” says Aker. “Throughout the night, playing creepy sounds throughout the halls here, with the windows open. It’s fun… it’s a good space for that. You can get up and walk around and not feel so confined, as you would in an apartment.”
Jason Cahill, Founder & CEO of Traansmission
When Jason Cahill and Emil Lamm Nielsen graduated from their startup accelerator, they realized they were ready to strike out on their own. Their big idea was Traansmission, a suite of tools that makes it easier to find shipping options and track your freight in real time.
“One of five trucks on the road drives empty,” says Cahill. “I’m talking about 18-wheel trucks, freight trucks. We connect empty trucks with brokers. So we have a web portal and a mobile app on one side, and the broker creates the freight and it connects on the other side.”
Many freight tracking services use expensive, high-end software/hardware pieces that are about $2,000 for the device plus $100 a month. Traansmission allows drivers to download an app onto their smart phones. They log into an account tied to their business, and once they start driving it pings out, letting Traansmission know their whereabouts. The locations are plotted on a map so the shipper will be able to see where their freight is at that moment, down to the meter.
Connor Dowling and Emil Lamm Nielsen in the Traansmission office
When it came to looking for space, they spent a day looking at private offices before realizing they needed more flexibility.
“It’s not even the price point, it was also the lease terms,” says Cahill. “There was a real estate company that would target accelerator companies. They would try and find smaller offices in the 1,000- to 2,000-square-foot range, but then they would say it had a 24-month minimum lease term. Here’s my thinking: it’s got enough room for four people. If I only have four people 24 months from now, I’ve failed. Because growth is the name of the business. If I’m handcuffed for 24 months, either I’ve failed long before 24 months, or if I have done well, I now have to figure out a sublessee to take over my lease.”
By choosing Coworkrs, however, Traansmission would have the option of upgrading their office according to their growth. On the floor below, Coworkrs is building out a 70-person space for another company to their specifications. Cahill thinks that’s a goal to shoot for.
“It’s good to know that if we have atomic growth and hit 70, they can still make it work,” he says. “In a static environment, you grow out of the space and it’s almost a bad thing. And it should be a good thing. Here, if I said ‘Hey, James, I need to upgrade my office from four to six,’ they’d be like, ‘Hell yeah, high five! you’re doing great!’ In the traditional space you’re doubling up on a desk and it’s awkward and uncomfortable.”
As with many of the people we talked to, Cahill lives within walking distance. His son’s daycare is two blocks down the street, so he can be there in no time at all.
When asked about the benefits of Coworkrs Gowanus, the Traansmission employees mention the social atmosphere.
“There are probably eight to ten dogs in the space,” he says. “And it’s kind of cool because during the witching hour you might see dogs sneaking down the hallway. There’s a whiskey marketing company here that put on a Wednesday night happy hour where they taught us how to make an old-fashioned.”
They recently had a pumpkin carving contest, which didn’t go as he had hoped.
“One of the guys in the space carved the Tree of Life from Disneyworld,” he says. “So when I heard he did that, I was like well, crap. My pumpkin’s clearly not winning.”
Interested in working with cool people like this? Visit Coworkrs to book a tour.