The age-old notion of artists collaborating in a central space has been given life in the 21st century as start-up businesses champion the practise of co-working with each other.
What started almost a decade ago in Silicon Valley – when lone freelance developers working from home sought to replicate the social and professional benefits of an office – has since gained traction in the US and, increasingly, Australia.
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It is now becoming an increasingly popular way for start-ups to collaborate and looks set to become a key part of Australia’s start-up ecosystem.
But is co-working truly different from a humble shared office space with WiFi? And what value does it really offer start-ups?
The co-working “a-ha” moment
Click PR founder Vuki Vujasinovic is the public relations go-to man for members of the Fishburners space in Sydney.
He recently had a co-working “a-ha” moment when he struck up a conversation with his neighbour, a software developer.
The pair realised they both shared a similar idea to develop a web-based hospitality service and within hours were working on how to get the idea off the ground.
It exemplified the value of co-working.
“Every start-up needs a hacker and a hustler,” says Vujasinovic.
“The hacker can develop the platform, code it and figure out inventive ways to build it, while the hustler will make sure people use the product.”
“For me, this serendipitous moment where a marketer and a developer joined forces captured the very essence of co-working.”
Kim Heras is very familiar with co-working spaces, having just returned to Australia after a lengthy start-up fact-finding mission in the United States.
Heras is the co-founder of mentoring collective PushStart and Australian representative for family social network MyHeritage and in New York he observed the unique co-working space General Assembly, which he described as the co-working petri dish in which the city’s start-up community is cultivated.
The unique aspect here is that the majority of working spaces available is for drop-ins, where at any time of day people can come in, pull up a bean bag, access the WiFi, and start working.
This differs from other places (including Fishburners) where the space primarily caters to full-time, long-term customers and provides a small availability for drop-ins.
It attracts entrepreneurs and investors alike, perfectly exploiting the networking value of co-working, Heras says.
“At General Assembly you get different people dropping in, there’s new people coming through, and investors would drop-in when they could and see exciting thing,” he says.
“It becomes more like Silicon Beach drinks and Open Coffee, you don’t know what you’re going to get because the crowd changes.”
He said the concept worked best when skills and workers were grouped around a particular theme.
Swimming with the Fishburners
Fishburners is the name of one of the ships in the First Fleet and the space promotes itself as a vehicle for 21st century, digital pioneers.
It was founded in March by the managers of recruitment start-up GradConnect and venture capitalist Pete Davison, whose Silicon Valley VC firm was one of PayPal’s earliest investors.
GradConnect’s owners had a vision for an office space for like-minded workers and companies in the tech space, and this vision has come to life as Davison has spread the Fisburners gospel.
It costs $250 a month for a desk and there is a range of cutting edge start-ups, from taxi booking application goCatch, gaming application IRLGaming, or social events app UniLife.
Other businesses provide specific skills such as legal and PR services; while other sites target niche communities including backpackers, photographers and logistics.
In its short life the space has already seen a number of its occupants and alumni take out the top prizes at the recent Tech23 showcase, and was recently awarded a $20,000 NSW government grant.