Co-Working Space For Feminist Entrepreneurs Pivots As It Grows
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Alexandria-based political business consultant Michelle Coyle was tired of working alone at home, so she opened her own co-working space in January targeting women involved in progressive politics.
The 1,200 SF space in Alexandria's Del Rey neighborhood, GSD Work Club, has 20 members and has carved out a niche market, described on its Facebook page as a "work club for feminist entrepreneurs, activists, artists and badasses."
As Coyle looks to expand the business — her second location in Takoma Park is opening next month and she plans for two or three new spaces a year — she said she is broadening its target audience.
"I don’t think that limiting by gender is a great business strategy moving forward," Coyle said. "If I were looking at it just from a business angle, I would have said, 'that’s not the easiest or fastest way to get the most people in here.' But that wasn’t my motivation for doing it. My motivation for doing it was to create a space that I wanted to be in."
She plans to open her Takoma location, which she has dubbed "Takowork," on Sept. 7. Coyle has leased 3K SF and has divided it into private individual and group offices around a large open area. The Alexandria location began as one small office suite, and Coyle has since expanded into three adjacent suites within the building, including a common area with a couch and a conference room with a 10-seat table.
Coyle said she wants to keep the spaces small to maintain the tight-knit community she has developed at the first location. Part of the appeal of her concept, she said, is that everybody knows each other and lives in the neighborhood.
"My concept is meant to be sort of the antithesis of a WeWork or something like that, where you go in and there’s maybe hundreds of other people in there, and it’s a very beehive-like atmosphere," Coyle said. "You can meet a lot of people that way, but that’s not what’s productive for me. I think there are other people who want to know everybody and go out to lunch together."
Since reaching out to Takoma Park neighborhood groups and making her plans public on Monday morning, Coyle said she has received strong interest with more than 10 prospective members requesting tours and two already signed on for individual private offices. If the space fills up quickly, Coyle said there are adjacent office suites available in the building that she has the option to expand to.
Leasing a dedicated desk at Takowork will cost $300 a month for those who commit to a full year, down from $350 at the Alexandria location, where Coyle said her lease is more expensive. Members at Takowork can also buy a year's access to shared hot desks for $100 per month and individual day passes will cost $20. Members have access to a kitchen where free coffee will be provided and four small telephone rooms for taking private calls.
The new space also has a large central area for events. Coyle has begun to host local organizations at the Alexandria space, which she said has fueled her success.
"I realized the business is not necessarily in selling these desks," Coyle said. "The business is in having this flexible use space and having the conference room and evening rental. It’s great to use it this way during the day, but we get just as much use in the night."
After the Takoma Park opening, she plans to continue expanding with a new space every four to six months. Coyle said she is working with a broker to open a location in the District and has her eye on hip emerging neighborhoods such as Petworth and the H Street corridor.
She is also looking at Richmond, Virginia, and would like to expand to smaller cities beyond the D.C. region that do not have many co-working offerings. As the company expands, she plans to partner with locals who live in the neighborhood to help with outreach and management of the space.
"I would like to turn it into a large company down the road," Coyle said. "I’m talking about a 10-year plan here, but if we can add another space every four to six months and go into these smaller neighborhoods and smaller communities that don’t have their own co-working space ... what it does is provide community space for people in their own neighborhood."
Coyle has already painted the walls in Takowork with bright colors similar to her original location. She said the new space will have similar décor and she expects the atmosphere to feel like the Alexandria location. Even though she will not actively market her new locations to women with left-leaning political tendencies, Coyle believe they will naturally be drawn to her spaces.
"I think going into the right communities moving forward, that is going to naturally happen, versus being an explicit marketing tactic that we’re using," Coyle said. "When you’re going into a community like Del Ray or Takoma Park, you’re going to get progressive feminists regardless of their gender. That’s who lives there and that’s who’s going to be in the space."