We've used this blog to announce all kinds of things, from new classes and workshops to better membership options and profiles of our members. Today, we're using it to announce that at the end of this month, we'll be closing our coworking space.
Caveat: This is not a sad blog post! The news is admittedly bittersweet, but we're excited about this decision, even if it means saying goodbye to our space and the terrific people who call it home. This has been a hard decision. But we’re confident it's the right one.
First things first: Business has been good. We've been profitable for most of 2016. We finally feel like we understand how to keep expenses in check, and that's helped us remain in the black. Membership growth has slowed, but our members have been paying for more expensive memberships, and add-ons like semi-private desks. October was our most profitable month ever.
Coworking Revenue Over Time, Monthly
This decision — like so many that we've made as a small business over the last five years — was not just about data and numbers and money and projections. It was about what’s driving and inspiring us. This is not just a business decision. It's also a personal one.
Timing played a role: Our lease was up for renewal. Our rent was going up by almost 30 percent (though it’s still a below-market rate, and a great deal). Initially, we expected to re-sign the lease. But with that renewal in front of us, we paused. It's a natural transition moment, and moving forward would have meant a new juggle to make ends meet. We feel confident that we could have realigned our costs, pushed forward and hit profitability again. But we took a little time to reflect, and after a lot of back and forth, and many honest discussions amongst our team members, we felt drawn in another direction.
For one thing, energy, of late, has felt low. Tours are less frequent. Making some additions we’ve wanted to make — like opening up semi-private offices and workstations to members — seems to have contributed to a more heads-down vibe, which is great, but a leap from the community-minded energy we initially felt inspired by.
The growth of our coworking membership base has slowed. The quality side of that metric is, bias accepted, off the charts, and our current members are paying more per-head than ever before. But we don't feel the momentum from new/prospective members that we’ve felt in the past.
Number of Coworking Members, Total
The coworking landscape in Nashville has evolved, too. What we offer — flexible, open space, with a lo-res feel and minimal private space — flies in the face of what most coworking spaces are doing these days. The momentum in the coworking world has shifted toward offering small private offices, which command higher rent and, in most cases, are more appealing to small companies who seem to want a “space of their own.” We've never really offered that, and we’ve had lots of prospective members ask for it, or existing members shift to another space because they wanted/needed it.
Here in Nashville, that model was pioneered by CoLab Nashville and Center 615 and, since we opened our doors, it's been followed by Industrious, Weld and others. More “private office” coworking spaces are on their way, too, with the expansion of existing spaces like Refinery Nashville and Center 615, and the (rumored) East Nashville opening of WeWork in the old Fluffo Mattress building. So, we've very deliberately asked the question: Do we want to pivot in that direction?
The answer we settled on is no. Our hearts just aren’t in selling space, or renting square feet, or being a landlord. Community and shared inspiration and education drew us to coworking. The space was, to us, a place for that to happen, more than a collection of desks and chairs.
We didn't make this decision without thinking very carefully about what happens next.
For one thing, our space will have a new (old) tenant: 1323 Sixth Ave North is becoming the home of one of our longtime partners, stoke.d, who’ll be taking over our lease effective January 1.
Also, The Skillery will live on, if a little quieter, as we pursue expanding our Introduction to Entrepreneurship workshop, which continues to have momentum around it. We’ve been steadily selling our study-on-your-own Starter Kits, as holiday gifts, birthday presents, or anytime demonstrations of support for a loved one trying to start a small business. We've also seen interest from economic development organizations and entrepreneurship organizations who are buying our course materials in bulk, asking questions like, “How do I license this curriculum? Can you white-label it for my organization?” With running and maintaining a coworking space, we've often been too busy to answer that question adequately. But now, with the shuttering of our space, we'll have the bandwidth and focus to pursue those questions, and explore whether our Intro to Entrepreneurship workshop and curriculum has the potential we think it might.
And, of course, we'll take care of our members. We're working with our terrific community of Nashville coworking spaces to help members land in new homes that work for them. And while our doors are closing on December 31, we've arranged for members to have access to a one-month grace period; we won't kick anyone out in January, should anyone need another month to find a new place to work.
We have evolved so many times over the years, and each time has been full of uncertainty.
This evolution is particularly hard, as we have to say goodbye to some people who have become like family. People we see every day, people who call The Skillery home, friends, colleagues, their dogs, the things they leave on their desks or hang on our walls… We have to say goodbye to all of it. To our members: we are grateful for your business, and even more so for your friendship, and we're certain we'll cross paths down the road.
At the same time, this feels like a moment of incredible potential. We’re filled with excitement about our next steps, and optimistic about new adventures for members of our community. We're ready to take back some bandwidth, and put it to good use for ourselves, our families, and the professional endeavors that light us up.
A big thanks to everyone who has walked through our doors since we opened them in 2014. We remain humbled by, and grateful for, the support of this community.
If you get a chance, stop by in December and see us. We're still here, and we'd love to have you.
Our digital homes will stay the same, too — TheSkillery.com, The Skillery on Facebook, @TheSkillery on Twitter and Instagram. We welcome questions, comments, thoughts, whether they’re about this change of about how Intro to Entrepreneurship might help you explore your own business dreams.
One thing that has never, and will never change: We’re inspired by people who want to build something, create something, do something new. Sometimes those people are us.
With love and thanks,