By Veronica Sandate Craker
To view business competition the way web designers Doug Waltman and Shenoa Lawrence do, could have your stomach growling.
“Just being a single guy by myself in this business I can’t grab the whole piece of pie, there’s a whole lot of pie to go around and it’s pretty delicious,” Waltman said.
Waltman runs a web design company like his friend Shenoa Lawrence, a freelance web designer.
“When the pie is too big, it’s like this is some great pie, but we really need to share it,” Lawrence said.
The two are explaining how a friendly working relationship between independent companies can come together and coexist under one roof. The idea is known as coworking and its premise has contractors, freelancers and small businesses — that might normally work out of coffee shops or home offices —coming together to do business side-by-side.
“It’s pretty difficult jumping in and starting a business by yourself and when you’re by yourself you don’t really have anyone to bounce ideas off or check your sanity,” Waltman said.
When he first started his business, Waltman was taking his work to Roaster’s Coffee in Richland. Eventually he started meeting up with the Meetup group the at the Richland Library.
“I had just started my business and was craving a little interaction with people,” Waltman said.
Meanwhile Lawrence was doing her work at the public library.
“We actually kind of took a cue from them because they were so successful in reaching out to people in the Tri-Cities that had a common interest which is kind of website design, development, software, mostly revolving around web designers,” she said. “We saw how many people were attracted to that and we decided to use Meetup as a mechanism to try and reach out to other small businesses and freelancers in the Tri-Cities.”
As they researched starting their own coworking group, more and more people showed an interest in helping them get it off the ground and into a permanent location.
“Part of the reason that we have had this longevity and success is because we’ve had the support of the library,” Lawrence said. “(Library manager) Ann (Roseberry) kind of used the library as a way to do more than just offer people books. She sees it as a community resource and so she helped us in this little seed of an idea that we had and helped it grow from just a few people meeting a few times a month to an actual viable coworking group.”
Eventually Waltman and Lawrence were able to gain enough interest and financial support to start Room to Think, the first coworking group in the Tri-Cities. They moved into their new building at 710 George Washington Way Ste. A in late June.
Waltman said the office, which sits next to Howard Amon Park provides workers with a view of the Columbia River.
“I’m surprised we got it so cheap,” said Waltman, who looks forward to skating on down the trail along the river and popping into work.
The 1,800 sq.-ft. office space has three rooms, an office space, a conference room and a kitchen/lounge area.
“I believe that the space that you work in has a lot to do with how you think,” Waltman said. “So having the ability to walk into a big space and walk out into a park and think those big ideas it’s a benefit we won’t see financially, but I think that they will see in the quality of their work and where their ideas take them.”
Although a majority of workers sharing the space are web designers, Waltman and Lawrence said the space isn’t limited to those working in the information technology field.
“Coworking I think makes sense to anybody who is a small business owner, freelancer, contractor, we have a couple of telecommuters who just get sick of working at home all the time and they like being in the environment of just being around other people who are doing cool things,” Lawrence said.
Month to month memberships for Room to Think can be purchased under basic for $30, partial for $175, full for $250 or biz for $200.
“We have two business memberships already,” Lawrence said. “One is a technology company here that’s been extremely supportive in helping us get up and running and the other is actually the City of Richland. So anybody from the economic development department, or any other department, that kind of wants to come and spend the day with us will be able to take advantage of that.”
In order to make sure that the coworking group serves its users, Lawrence and Waltman setup the group to serve as a nonprofit so money raised would goes right back into the office.
“We want every bit of revenue to go back in to help the members,” Waltman said. “The board is setup with elections and all that cool jazz that comes with it so that if they don’t like the way we’re running it, somebody gets booted out and someone else takes over. We want the place to kind of run itself.”
To find out more about Room to Think visit rm2think.com. Lawrence and Waltman said they hope to attract a variety of businesses to the working space.
“We want to be a place that’s inspiring, helpful and encouraging to people to come here and also a place to go out and get some work done,” Waltman said. “It’s amazing what you actually get done when you get out of your pajamas.”
by By Veronica Sandate Craker
Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business