Why I’m loving Small Coworking Spaces at Scale


The coworking world has been expanding rapidly in the last few years and it’s identity has been tossed around throughout these growing pains. Is it an incubator? A startup hub? An education gathering spot? A new take on executive suites? Or is it a clubhouse for mobile workers to gather? Even though coworking’s identity has been questioned, the business model for most places has been the same, except spaces have grown from under 5,000 sq. ft. to spaces over 50,000 sq. ft. opening on a regular basis. At GCUC this year, I learned of a new approach from The Cove that I’m starting to really like; small spaces on scale.

The Cove is based in DC with over nine locations spanning from 1000 to 15000 sq. ft. each. While WeWork and many spaces in Denver are operating in the tens of thousand sq ft for a single location, The Cove is growing with interconnected neighborhood hubs. The neighborhood hubs become a gathering spot of regulars that live in the area, similar to many of the first independent coworking communities, but the number of hubs is growing rapidly into new parts of town.

At The Cove, members have the ability to go to other parts of town when needed for meetings or just to mix things up, creating a larger community that compliments the local coworking feel. The multiple locations are really important in certain cities where it’s more difficult to get around or spread out, such as Washington DC, New York, LA, Boston, and Houston. I can imagine the scenario when a member goes to their neighborhood hub in Dupont three days a week and regularly contributes to that community, and then heads over to Old Town and Capitol Hill on other days to meet clients without sacrificing time in traffic. The nomadic member isn’t a one-off person, but a regular coworker making friends and connections.

Why I like Small Spaces at Scale:

  • They create a local coworking space with limited members where relationships can be formed organically.
  • A larger connected community is formed without sacrificing local ties.
  • Members can travel to other spaces when needed around town for the same price, creating a competitive advantage to larger spaces.
  • Expansion is more flexible and less risky with smaller spaces for operators.

The business model overall isn’t changing much but the operations of it are. The Cove isn’t chasing the fast-growth sexy startups like the larger spaces are, but they focus on the mobile workforce that started the coworking movement. They want to provide that intimate community and are adding in extra perks. It’s a new approach and I’m excited to see how it will play out as they expand to Boston with their new round of 2 million dollars.

Stay tuned for future dives into the Small Space at Scale Community and Business Benefits.


It’ the simple things that make our community – Thoughts after GCUC


Last month, I went to my fifth coworking conference and I noticed the same questions about building a coworking community echoing again, as they continues to do on the Google Coworking Group. The same answers seem to repeat themselves (networking, beer:30, meetup groups) with slight nods from the crowds, however if everyone really knew the answer, then they would’ve stopped asking the questions awhile ago. Community building is complicated, but also very easy if you have time on your side and are willing to listen.

Throughout owning & operating coworking spaces for over five years in two countries, I’ve tested most of the go-to answers out with varying success. I’ve hosted networking groups, organized meetup groups, taught entrepreneurship classes, offered plenty free beer, and even hosted a geeky singles night. All of these events get attention and people through the door, but it seems to be the weakest glue in creating a community. The strongest glue is the stuff that is organic and meets the needs/desires of each spaces’ members.  I’ve found this stuff to be some of the simplest solutions.

Here is what is working for Creative Density right now:

  1. Take Yourself to Lunch Friday’s
    • Goal: Regular community gatherings
    • We vote on a nearby place to go to lunch on Friday together. Friday is now our busiest day and it doesn’t cost the space anything. This event is popular because it is something consistent for members to look forward to and food is an easy topic for people to talk about, even if they don’t know each other. Plus, we have a lot of Denver’s best lunch spots within a 10 minute walk.
  2. CoBakery
    • Goal: Community participation
    • People sign up to bring in baked goods once a week. Members get to show their favorite recipes and it provides a more intimate gathering than just sharing morning doughnuts or afternoon beers. We now have members bringing in baked goods twice a week or so.
  3. Yard Games and monthly tournaments
    • Goal: Integrate new members and start conversations
    • Yard games are a perfect fit for a coworking community because they often can be done in groups of two or four and take around ten minutes to play. Nearly everyone is comfortable participating so it’s an easy entry point for new members to start socializing naturally with new members.
    • Last summer we started to keep track of wins and losses for everyone in a month long tournament and it was almost too successful. The slight hint of competition made it a spectator sport so people would gather on our patio to work and just watch others. It was a great community builder and this season just kicked off with anticipation.
  4. Lunch with the Law / Numbers / Your Future Self
    • Goal: Education on things people avoid doing
    • We bring in an expert for a monthly roundtable discussion over a brown bag lunch. The guests are lawyers, accountants, and retirement planners. I often bring in people to think about things that they avoid because someone needs to get them to think about it.
  5. Kickball against other coworking spaces
    • Goal: Build bridges between coworking spaces
    • We play against other coworking spaces in Denver about three times a year. It’s often held on a Friday night and is something the community looks forward to the entire week. It also starts to build bridges with other coworking spaces
  6. Friends and family BBQ
    • Goal: Build deeper relationships and a stronger community.
    • Our community is stronger when we can put faces to names. I started family and friends BBQ during months when we don’t play kickball, as a way for everyone to get together. We want to know people more than just their skill sets and name. We want to know who is important to them and this is a simple and fun way to connect people.
  7. Assume ‘Yes’ space management
    • Goal: A sense of ownership and willingness to explore
    • I want this to be people’s work clubhouse. A place they go and take care of and use as a tool to better themselves. I don’t want to be a barrier as a community manager for people to do things themselves because then they rely on a mediator to take actions. I want to fade away and for people to be creative, take care of themselves, and trust everyone is a responsible adult. We have never had a problem.
  8. Be present
    • Goal: Saying ‘Hi’
    • It goes a real long way.


Ideas I liked from GCUC

  1. Cotivation
    • Members gather once a week for a 5 week sprint to get a project done. It’s an accountability group.
  2. CoLearning
    • Members use it as an adult study hall if they are taking a large online course.
    • Members teach each other a skill that they specialize in.

Has coworking lost it’s meaning in Denver?


Denver is in a ‘coworking’ boom. It seems obvious as a new space or expansion is announced what seems to be every week.  According to news reports, RiNo will have around 6 spaces, LoDo 4 or so, the 16th Street Mall will go from 0 to 4 or 5 in about twelve months, the Golden Triangle will rock 2, 1 in Capitol Hill, 1 in Uptown, and Stapleton might get 3. The new spaces are not small spaces either, but rather mammoths that range from 20,000 sq. ft to close to 100,000 sq. ft.

At this rate Denver will have more coworking spaces than pot dispensaries. I kidd, but really…

So does Denver really have 20+ coworking spaces? Not in my mind. We have around half a dozen coworking communities. It seems that there is the marketing term, noun and verb ‘coworking’. To me, coworking is something that you do with people by creating a community where people support each other and become friends with the intent of sharing ideas and laughs. It’s a community of people that happen to share a space (read coworking’s five values). Coworking is not just a space that individuals can share. It’s this difference that shrinks the number of spaces that market coworking from 20, to the 6 spaces that practice coworking.

Coworking Term Uses

Marketing: Coworking means we have a new workspace for individuals to teams. It probably has beer, some graffiti, and a TV.  We’re cool, right?

Noun: Coworking is a place for people to sit at any desk available.

Verb: Coworking means working together with people with the intent to share ideas and get to know each other.

I understand why building developers and old executive suite brands are calling their spaces coworking, and it’s because they think coworking is just space and a trendy term to sell memberships. To them coworking is a checklist of chairs, desks, wifi, and possibly some free beer and a graffiti wall. It sounds easy when people think of it like that, doesn’t it?

Back in the mid-2000s coworking wasn’t dreamed up as a checklist of physical materials that could be purchased. Coworking was created as a cluster of relationships that could be concentrated because technology (wifi, laptops, online tools) allowed us to leave homes or isolated private offices. Coworking is a reaction to human’s natural desire to connect and be helpful. It’s something you do with people, and having a permanent space to congregate makes it practical.

The Denver coworking boom is real. The office and other forms of shared office boom is also real. I just ask that the term coworking is used and recognized as more than a marketing term, utilized properly, and that everyone that uses the term truly works on creating a community. If all of the spaces that call themselves ‘coworking’ create a vibrant community, then our city, our neighbors, and our economy will be stronger and happier.

Grand Rapids, MI Coworking landscape

tumblr_inline_mw46sgSI1i1rexlv0The Factory


Category: Traditional coworking

The Factory was one of Grand Rapids first coworking space and an early one in the entire coworking movement with a founding in 2009. The Factory is the only ‘true traditional’ (my definition) coworking space in Grand Rapids from my experience and they are welcoming to all with a culture of openness. Their community manager is hired to ‘poke around’ so people talk to each and it sets a vibe of friendship that is difficult to duplicate and why the space goes beyond just being filled with pretty furniture.

They serve individuals to small teams and are  a great environment for remote workers, freelancers, and teams. They also have a variety of skill sets and industries there making it a spot for cross pollination of ideas.

Coworking -$75 to $150
Permanent Desk – $275


Grand Rapids ColabGrand Rapids Collaborative


Category: Incubator / New Executive Suites

They are a technology focused and share the same building with The Factory. They focus on private offices and lean on The Factory for coworking.





Category: New Executive Suites

Blue35 has a lot of features and a beautiful space with flexible terms. The wonderful furniture is to be expected because of their partnership with Haworth and Rockford Construction (who also has a collaboration with Steelcase at Grid 70). Blue35 is an evolving space with build out options for teams that want a private office and plenty of drop-in individual spaces, but culture always seemed less important.

Blue35 is an emphasis on space and providing the tools for small businesses and teams versus being a community. This is fine but coworking is used, in my opinion, incorrectly because of the lack of community and culture of openness. It’s a new flexible version of an executive suite. This is emphasised in their pricing plans as well.

Coworking – $700


Karpata Coworking

Grand Rapids, MI


Category: Traditional Coworking
Warning: I can’t find much information about their space or get in contact with the owners.

Karpta coworking has a unqie purpose and a start that reminds of the early days of coworking, Karpta is a supplier to the local powerhouse rival to Wal-Mart and Target, Meijer. They opened up their space to others with a focus on suppliers to Meijer.Karpta created this space so that suppliers with a similar cause could exchange ideas to make each other stronger.

Karpata is the only coworking space with a supplier focused that I am aware of in the world.

Coworking – Free


rgcuster-8435862cWorklab by Cluster

Grand Rapids


Category: New Executive Suite

Cluster is a repeat of the Blue35 model. It’s a beautiful space that is in partnership with one of West Michigan’s highly regarded furniture companies but not a traditional coworking space. Worklab is a flexible space with offices, drop-in, and meeting rooms and all of the amenities but they forget about connecting people. Coworking is another marketing term with lost value to them.

If you want a flexible workspace but you want it to be quiet and comfortable then go here.

Coworking – $39 to $299
Corporate Coworking – $499 to $599
Private offices – $699


MoBevy – closed


654-work-cottage654 Work Cottage – closed

East Grand Rapids

Category: Traditional Coworking

654 was my first introduction to coworking in 2010 and my inspiration for starting Creative Density a year later. I was a remote worker looking for a place with a community and a comfortable vibe and they answered. With plenty of sofas, TVs, telephone rooms, a front porch, and a friendly community manager they allowed people to mix it up to create connectiones. With affordable options their branding was focused on being an invitation to all types of mobile workers in a simlar way The Factory is in downtown Grand Rapids. It attracted a wide variety of professionals across all age groups.

654 was in East Grand Rapids in a well maintained old house also created in partnership with a furniture company, Turnstone and Steelcase. 654  was more of a case study than a business as a way for Turnstone to understand the mobile workforce. They did a good job of creating a community with a community manager that instigated conversations and constant lunch events. They also opened themselves up to the general community for artist and musicians to put on events.

It closed a few years ago and Turnstone has designed several pieces of furniture and supported coworking at conference and Denver Coworking Week since it’s closing.


StartGardenStart Garden


Category: Niche coworking

StartGarden moved in and opened a new space in early 2015 with a focus on coworking as an option. StartGarden is a VC company that spent nearly 3 years giving away $5,000 a week based on popular votes (generally) with a space for public drop-ins and an opportunity for their portfolio companies to work in. Their new space formalizes their new coworking ambitions with a variety of options for individuals to private pods for teams.

StartGarden is a new space but an established great group of people and a variety of teams. I would love to say that this is a great true coworking option but I don’t know because it new and VC backed. VC backed spaces often have a culture that emphasis entrepreneurship and unintentionally shuns remote workers or freelancers. We shall see and I have faith they will be a great addition to GR.

Coworking -$150

Desk – $300

Private Office – Half – $750

Private Office  – Full – $1200


Urban Linc

East town Grand Rapids

Non profit and community focused. That’s really I know.


Warehaus in HollandThe Warehaus

Holland, MI


Category: Traditional Coworking

The Warehaus is outside of Grand Rapids in Holland. The Warehaus has been around for a few years although I have never visited the website gives a vibe of true coworking. They have offices and hot desking options but everything is overlayed with a sense of friendship and openness for everyone. That is coworking.

The Warehaus is one of the few locations in small town Michigan and I’m glad they have been able to survive and thrive for so long.

Coworking – $60 to $140
Teams – $400

Rochester Shared SpaceShared Space

Rochester, MI


Category: Traditional Coworking

Shared Space just opened at the start of 2015 after Doug returned to his hometown of Rochester after successfully starting his freelance creative agency for several years. It is bringing the coworking concept to small town Michigan just north of Grand Rapids where the global shoemaker Wolverine is headquartered.  Shared Space has partnered several local Rochester companies to help make it a hub of activity.

Coworking – $99 to $175
Permanent Desk – $300

How we made Creative Density People First

From the outside many companies, journalist, and general people relate coworking to a space with desks and people with headphones on. That’s not coworking. That’s workspace. Coworking is a community that focuses on people first, space second.

Back in 2005 when coworking was coined and created in it’s current form by coder Brad Neuberg in San Francisco it wasn’t because there was a lack of desks in apartments or tables in coffee shops but because there was a lack of connection between people. Mobile workers had adjusted to being able to work anywhere but after a few years of it being the norm the lack of bantering about ‘The Sopranos’ in the break room or asking a friend for help in Photoshop was taking it’s toll on morale and productivity and mobile workers seeked a solution. Coworking was created and was the solution because it brought people together and created relationships; not because it was solving the problem of workspace.

Creative Density has always stood by the principles of people first since we opened in 2011. We did this by bringing together an amazing group of friendly developers like Shelby, project managers like Matt, and lawyers like Joel and letting the core group establish the culture of openness and community. We are a group of creatives, freelancers, and remote workers that would otherwise be in isolation but fully capable of working at home. The coworkers choose not to because we like each other and work better together. The space comes second.

Creative Density doesn’t get in an arms race of amenities with others by adding gyms, kegerators (we have cans), or the flashest of chairs. Why? Because we are a community first and space second. Don’t get us wrong, we have a great space, strong wifi, always ready coffee, and thought carefully about our the ergonomics of the chairs. We just don’t add features to look better than other coworking spaces on a checklist because most of them are unnecessary or because they add costs to operating the space without much benefit. If unnecessary items are added that add costs then our membership rates will have to increase and make Creative Density less accessible to more people. We want to be inclusive while satisfying everyone’s fundamental needs.

I’m writing this because I have been talking to a few journalist lately about the topic of coworking in the Denver area and the greater global trend and it surprises me when they offer out names of spaces that they view as coworking. It didn’t take much time to realize that they were just referring to workspaces that offered affordable hot desking but weren’t creating communities. Here is a list to how we make Creative Density a coworking space.

 How we made Creative Density People First:

    1. We started with a community first and then got a space. The members were involved on the early decisions of the space, the location, and what our vision was from the very start. The space was just a gather spot for the community that was already formed. Three years later this has had beneficial rippling effects that continues to form our culture.
    2. We give high-fives and are open about it. We tell people up front that we are a group of smart and friendly people that want to get to know you. We introduce people, say hey to them, and aren’t afraid to give a high-five.  It’s amazing how a simple introduction and a morning hello opens people up. I, as the community manager, also like to celebrate victories community members may have.
    3. The coworkers create casual social activities for a break in work. We play yards games.  They are a great casual social activity that lasts about 10 to 15 minutes and doesn’t require too much skill. We found this activity to be the best catalyst to creating a community. Friday’s take-yourself-to-lunch events are very popular too. None of these activities are required and people should feel pressure to participate, but it’s sets a signal of openness that is carried throughout the space.
    4. We listen to the community for events. We hosting monthly(ish) educational meetings decided by the community. The most recent guests are lawyers, financial planners, website builders, and health insurers for independents. We only do events when the community states a desire for one or interest in a topic that is brought forward. There have been too many times we hosted many events during the week and it was disturbing for the community.
    5. Coworking Voices Roundtable. This is a community meeting where we discuss policies of the space and brainstorm ways that we can be a better community to make us professionally and personally stronger. This is a more formal way for us to evaluate how we are doing things and to let the community vote on changes.
    6. Assume yes. Creative Density should feel like your work clubhouse. We get the barriers out of the way so once people come in they can get comfortable and hopefully leave their signature on the space. We want the community to form the space.  Can I hang up a poster here? Yes. Can I host my bookclub after hours? Yes. Can we I hang a sign about starting a mastermind group? Yes. Can I have a candle? No…sorry.