Well, I’m glad I tried. The Kickstarter campaign launched to create a new kind of coworks for Langley didn’t meet its financial goal. The people who pledged get to keep their money. I get to keep my idea. And, I get to keep the lessons I learned. But, I share; so here I’ll share the idea, a bit of the conversations, a bit of what I learned, and what may happen next.
First, I have thanked and am glad to thank again, everyone who officially pledged: Alan, Nancy, Petra, Mary Jo, Deborah, Ann, Lori, Kim, Jo, Patricia, Jonathan, Andy, and Irishman. Special thanks go out to Steve, who would’ve been the first, but couldn’t get the site to take his pledge. I’d pass along the last names, but some folks have asked for anonymity. Take this as an opportunity for anyone named Alan, Nancy, Petra, Mary Jo, Deborah, Ann, Lori, Kim, Jo, Patricia, Jonathan, Andy, Irishman, or Steve to claim some credit for supporting the campaign.
Coworks are more than ideas.
Coworks are an active and successful part of the new economy, the 1099 Economy, where employees are asked to work outside the office and usually called contractors who get 1099s instead of W-2s. Coworks are supporting the new economy, and while Whidbey likes new ideas, new businesses can be tough to start. Hence, the Kickstarter campaign, because the service would have a better chance of succeeding if it was adequately capitalized.
Coworks have operated on the island, and the best example was the one run by Russell Sparkman. It provided two things that aren’t available at libraries and coffeeshops, 24/7 access and a place to hold uninterrupted phone calls. For strategic reasons, that incarnation was closed. Other variations exist, but none have that level of anytime and professional service.
The conversations, however, were highly encouraging.
A recent power outage proved that scores of people are working from laptops in libraries, coffeeshops, and homes; because WhidbeyTel, the local communications company, opened their conference room/lecture hall to anyone with a laptop and a need. They probably sold a lot of coffee that day, because there’s a coffeeshop in the same facility. That episode proved the size of the hidden economy, the reliance on uninterrupted power and communications, and the technical capacity of the communications network that is starting there and branching out now.
Building owners contacted me about possibilities. For some, it was a new idea and a new possibility for the unused use of their spaces. For others, coworks are familiar, but they appreciated realizing that different models may be more successful than what they’ve witnessed.
The people who might work in a coworks were obviously interesting to talk to, and supported the idea; but because the 1099 Economy is also frequently associated with subsistence lifestyles, they weren’t able to pledge, even if they might be able to subscribe to and benefit from the service.
What I learned was both the superficial and the deep.
Some simple reasons were presented that might explain why the campaign failed: fundraising in December means asking for pledges while people are spending money on things like gifts, the rewards and perks offered for pledging weren’t specific to the space or valuable enough to people living off the island, asking for money to start even a salary-free business was seen as charity and proof that the idea isn’t sustainable, and maybe the word didn’t get out fast enough or far enough and that a second attempt may be more successful.
The deeper reasons will require more thought, naturally. When seen from the perspective of a 1985 economy, coworks sounds like communism. Starting with co- strikes some people as un-American, even if the idea is already pervading the country by necessity as much as by choice. A community known as a tourist destination may prefer consumer retail rather than business services. A coworks is not exactly the sort of thing Conde Nast is going to profile in a travel piece. And, of course, the deepest thing for me to consider is that someone else may be better at running a campaign or a storefront. Introspection and humility are always required.
What will happen next, at least for me, is a shift to another project that was put on hold while I ran the campaign. I have a possible invention for generating tidal power that shouldn’t have much if any impact on wildlife or the environment. (If you want to understand the complexities and possibilities of inventing, visit Alan Beckley’s blog – Ideaworth.wordpress.com). I already have ideas for other coworks possibilities in other places in Langley and on Whidbey Island, and it may be best to see if they develop quietly in the meantime.
What may happen next may not involve me directly. With the idea introduced, and the conversations started, someone may take the idea, modify it again, and launch a coworks. Fine by me. I wanted to initiate the service, not necessarily to make money from it (though I wouldn’t have complained if it paid me, too) but because I think the community needs it. It would be nice to be included in the conversation, but the main benefit would be the service which I, others, and the local economy would benefit from.
While the campaign was active and as pledges came in, I tried to thank everyone who pledged via Facebook and Twitter. I hope I thanked everyone. For those who pledged at levels that would give them a book or a photo, I’d like to honor that as reasonably convenient. So, if you’re on the island and pledged, send me a note and we’ll see what we can do. And maybe, just maybe, we can kick around some ideas on how to start a coworks that works in the small towns on the island that is Whidbey.