Thursday, December 29, 2011

An entrepreneurial idea: We need a coffee shop without the coffee

No, not really. And I love all our local coffee shops, each with their own, slightly different feel, clientele, music, snacks, and vibe. But often I go to the coffee shop just to use the internet and the chairs, and buy the beverages or snacks to justify using the facilities. What I really want is a place to work besides my house.

So I'm going to again do something that people hate, and say, "Someone should...." It's true, I'm not going to do it myself, for a multitude of reasons, but I think it's a great business idea waiting to happen. And I'm not the only one.

Madison has tons of people that work from home, or more precisely work from the coffee shop, library, or anywhere else they can get an internet connection. Until recently, I was one of them. (I now have a real office, but that's another story.) Like many people, I have trouble getting work done at my house. I'm distracted by housework, cooking, bills, or something else in easy reach. Besides, I get a little squirrelly working at my house with no other humans around.

Other people can't work at home because there are too many people around: roommates, kids, spouses or neighbors.

Having a little separation between home and work - literal and figurative - is necessary for many people.

The problem with working in a coffee shop is that you have to carry your stuff around in a bag or backpack. You have to pack it all up if you need to use the bathroom, make a phone call, or run an errand. And maybe you aren't in the mood for anything to eat or drink. Maybe the music just doesn't suit you, a bunch of people just came in an started talking loudly just when you needed to concentrate, or all the good chairs are taken.

What many of us really need is a place to work that isn't home, and doesn't require a separate purchase each time you come in (or every hour or two, depending on the location.) And it would be nice to be able to leave a few things there, so you don't have to drag it around all day, every day. I could do just fine with one drawer, or even a little cube locker. But we don't really need, and can't afford, a full-on office. We just want a place to work.

My ideal would be a shared office with tables/desks, some comfortable chairs (I prefer to type sitting in a chair, with my laptop on my knees), and some locking file cabinets or small lockers. Maybe a small conference room and/or a separate room where you can take a phone call without bothering other people. Internet service would be provided, but no mail or phone service. The conference room would be available on a sign-up basis, and any other meetings would have to take place off-site. A fridge and microwave would be useful, if only to save a few bucks - now that we are paying rent, don't need to buy that sandwich at the coffee shop to justify sitting there, and in case we are hungry but want to keep working.

As to cost, maybe $100 or less per month. I have no idea what office space goes for, but there has to be some underutilized offices around. Hell, even a big loft/warehouse area could be fixed up to make it usable. Many people are probably spending $100/month at coffee shops as the price they pay for sitting there.

Somewhere in the downtown/campus area would seem the best location, because that seems to be where people are already working. Besides, a successful shared office would need to be close to other businesses, food, coffee shops, bars, etc.

There would need to be some sort of agreement among those using the office as to noise, acceptable uses of the internet - so no one hogs the bandwidth, food/beverage rules, and cleaning. Ideally, each renter would be given a key fob that would open a door to the office, so there would be no set hours. You could rent access monthly or yearly, and when your rental period or membership was over, the owner/manager would simply deactivate your access.

I just mentioned this idea to an acquaintance, who also works from home. This person is very well connected and successful, but said he would definitely utilize something like that. And he told me that another person had just expressed an interest in the same type of facility.

Apparently, these arrangements are pretty common in larger cities. Someone should open one in Madison. Not me, but "someone."