Yet another #co-working space opens in #Melbourne – what’s going on?

Co-working spaces continue to pop-up all over Melbourne. The latest I’ve heard about is LSX (aka Lennox Street Exchange, in the heart of Richmond’s startup zone), which opened in September.

I’ve not had the opportunity to visit all of these venues – but I’ve been able to spend some time in a few of them such as York Butter Factory, the Hub, inspire9, Launchpad and Queens Collective. The decor and ambience are usually New York loft conversion meets warehouse chic meets funky cafe meets London Free School. Some offer little more than a serviced office with some added startup appeal; several are closely linked to incubator programmes and angel investors; and a couple want to create a whole philosophical/spiritual experience around personal development, collaboration and sustainability.

A key attraction of co-working spaces for early-stage startups and budding entrepreneurs is the relatively low-cost business accommodation. Plus, if you are new to being self-employed/freelance, or if you are just starting your own business, going to an office (at least once a week) can instil some discipline, provide a change of scenery to the home office (or garage), help with networking contacts, and offer the chance to meet people who can offer skills you don’t have.

But, these spaces are mostly open plan, have an itinerant population that comes and goes, and the communal kitchens sometimes remind me of the worst shared houses I have lived in….. So, you have to enjoy that sort of vibe, and as we know, open plan offices are not always conducive to productivity or personal concentration.

There are some genuinely philanthropic values inherent in a number of these venues, but others are more commercial and seem only interested in getting investors through the door to nurture the “talent” they think they have uncovered.

If you are thinking of signing up to a co-working space, it pays to do your due diligence:

  • Commitment – not just the cost, but time and other contributions that may be expected of you
  • Values – it helps if your values generally align with those of the hosts and other members; if you’re not a creative type, or if 3-D gaming development is not your thing, maybe look elsewhere
  • Location – proximity to prospective clients and/or partners and collaborators may be more important than a cool hot-desking venue in a trendy part of town
  • Services – what’s included in the membership fees and/or rent? are there any hidden extras?
  • Insurance – make sure the premises are up to date with their building and other statutory insurances; do you still need to take out professional indemnity/public liability policies; are your personal belongings and equipment covered while they are on site?
  • Ownership – are you buying a membership or a “share” in a business? if the former, does this carry any voting rights at member meetings? if the latter, could you be taking on more legal risk or financial liability if the venue fails?

No doubt there are some vibrant co-working communities, that offer great support and service to the growing number of people who want to “do their own thing” rather than join a more corporate environment. Even some banks seem to be getting in on the act, as they recognise an opportunity to engage with their business customers via co-working spaces and startup facilities.

Next week: Who’s making money in financial data?

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