Fast Company

Co:Collective Founders Launch Coworking Space "Grind" In Heart Of NYC Startup Scene

Beyond Wi-Fi and a seat: Grind founders look to build a community of "free radicals" in a Manhattan nabe where they might bump into their future funders.

If you look carefully around the Union Square, Manhattan, location of newly launched coworking space Grind, there are references to the banalities of life as an office worker, unlamented artifacts of the corporation left behind. The glass walls of two conference rooms are covered in corporate speak--words and phrases like "incentivized," "loop me in," "above my pay grade," and "pain points," rendered in transparent type.

The cheeky contempt for corporate culture isn’t just an ironic design touch, it’s part of the mandate of the new venture. “We want to encourage people to leave their jobs,” says Grind cofounder Ty Montague, “and we’ll give them what they need here.”

Montague, who is also cofounder of agency/creative consultancy Co:Collective, says that, beyond a place to plug in your laptop, Grind is a manifestation of his and his partners' views on the future of work. Grind launches Sept. 6 in New York’s Union Square tech hub (home base of Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare investors Union Square Ventures). The partners aim to open more locations in New York and expand to other locations, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam.

Montague founded the venture with Co:Collective partners Rosemarie Ryan, Neil Parker, and Richard Schatzberger, former real estate attorney Benjamin Dyett (Ryan’s husband), and the husband and wife team of Karina Warshaw, a sustainability expert, and Stuart Warshaw, a turnaround consultant. The space was built and operates in conjunction with three of Co:Collective's collaborators: creative network Behance, digital shop Breakfast, and creative culture site Cool Hunting. Chicago-based design strategists Magic + Might and VB architects also contributed to the space.

The partners' impetus for the venture was recognition of the shift in employment trends and work culture in the U.S. and the growing likelihood that, by choice or not, a growing number of people will find themselves working outside of the traditional, full-time template, where going to work involved commuting to and sitting in a centralized corporate office and suffering through endless cupcake parties for unknown or unloved coworkers.

A recent article from Sara Horowitz, the head of the Freelancers Union, noted that in 2005, one third of the workforce participated in the freelance economy, and that number is growing. A presentation from online work marketplace oDesk, says that over 100 million Americans worked as part of a virtual team for at least one day a month, and points to companies like JetBlue, whose customer service operation is decentralized (i.e. reps can work at home). “We wanted to continue what we started with Co:,” says Montague, “because we think that it’s not just advertising but business in general that is going to be restructured in the coming years.”

There are several coworking spaces already in Manhattan--a search on Deskwanted.com, the space-finding resource of coworking site Deskmag, reveals over 20 Manhattan options (the fact that there is a site devoted to coworking is itself telling). Where perhaps the highest profile New York spaces, like General Assembly, are tech-focused, the founders of Grind want to attract workers from every sector.

Montague also says Grind is designed to actively facilitate the leap from corporate life by offering not only a place to work but a community of like-minded people who can share advice and, sometimes, skills.

Over time, he says the Grind partners intend to create something they’re calling the agora, an internal digitally enabled marketplace that matches Grind users according to skills possessed and needed; for example, two Grind patrons may exchange coding expertise for legal advice.

A visit to Grind several weeks pre-launch revealed an open airy space with communal tables of varying size and soft-walled pods for privacy; all told the space seats about 140. The east side of the space is bookended by those stenciled glass walled conference rooms; in between is one of the gee whiz features of the room--a wall of framed screens that serves as an art element and a mechanism to showcase work. The 12 screens are linked to Behance’s online portfolio platform, so Grind clients can call up their work or presentation materials using their RFID-enabled membership card. Users can also print off any of the work on the screens.

Patrons, or Grindists, as the founders like to call them, also check into the space via RFID, so that upon walking in, they are logged in to Grind on their laptops, allowing them to see who else is present, and, should they wish to share, what they’re working on. In lieu of a receptionist, Grind employs an on-site "experience director," Susan Yenni, ex of the Ace Hotel, who will handle everything from presentation tips to restaurant recommendations. The founders also promise a "bat phone," allowing patrons direct access to one of the principals for, one assumes, the bigger questions. A full-service kitchen includes a coffee bar courtesy Intelligentsia Coffee.

The new business is a reflection of Co:Collective's model. The agency was founded in 2010 as a counterpoint to the standard agency setup that houses layers of creative, account management, strategic, media, management and administration talent under one roof. Instead, Co: employs a core group of high-level brand thinkers and outsources implementation to a network of affiliated specialty companies and individuals based on the specifics of the brand assignment. Montague says part of the Co:Collective model has always been the plan to launch one self-driven Co: business a year. Grind is the first such business.

“We chose it as a first venture because it resonates with our beliefs, specifically that the future of work is a much more diverse place than it is today,” says Montague. “We believe that many more people are ready to make the same choice we have--to step out of working for a big corporation and work on their own, or collaboratively in small groups.”

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5 Comments

  • kevin li

    How does this place work? Why do I need it to freelance or start my own business? Couldn't I just work from home or Starbucks? What is the importance of their roll? I assume you have to pay them to work in their space but I just can't justify why. And if it's about networking what not just have an online site that does the job. Seems gimicky.

  • Brittany Mendenhall

    You can rent the space. It's justifiable because with a space like this you have to get up every day, get dressed and go to work. 

    It's hard to be at your best freelancing from home (in your pajamas with your bed and tv available) or at Starbucks (where many people are not working and which has just begun sealing up their electrical outlets.) Also if you need a conference room/telephone line/mailing address, you can have all of that here.If you have the discipline to work from home, great. Most people, including myself, do not.

  • Randy J Mitchell

    Well spoken Daylle. Glad to see efforts like this coming to the East Coast. Maybe I'll build something like this in Atlanta, GA.

    Cheers,
    Randy J Mitchell
    "It is in our moments of Decision that our destinies are shaped" - Anthony Robbins
    "One Life, One Moment. Make It EPIC!™" - Randy J Mitchell

  • Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    As a co-author of, Effortless Entrepreneur, I applaud this effort to offer a supportive space for people to go out on their own. Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, founders of College Hunks Hauling Junk, talk about why they blew off "great" corporate jobs to start a junk hauling company shortly after college b/c the dynamics of the corporate world seemed futile. I was a teacher and unhappy doing it. I finally burned my license renewal to pursue my passion of writing and speaking and while I don't have a steady paycheck or job security, I have a smile every day. Having a place like Grind to work from sounds like a gift to people who want to create their own destinies.