by Melissa Mesku
Isn’t it odd that coworking – a global phenomenon – is in practice almost entirely local? By and large, people who cowork identify with their own coworking space and seldom have a viable way to connect with people at other spaces. It’s even more odd considering that coworking is all about connecting with others.
That’s why I was so excited to talk with Correll Lashbrook, co-founder of Townsquare. Currently in beta, Townsquare is a platform that aims to connect coworkers with each other around the world. Their team of nine was born out of coworking space 100state and even shares some of its founding team. Last year, Lashbrook moved back to Madison, Wisconsin from NYC to help launch the company.
Lashbrook told us, “We know that coworkers understand the value of connecting with each other. We also regularly see businesses trying to figure out how to make use of coworking and they are eager to tap into its diverse pool of talent. In the center are the people who run coworking spaces, who spend a lot of time being the super connector trying to put all these people together. What we’re trying to do is make those connections more distributed and efficient.”
The platform is designed for three distinct users: coworking space members, operators, and outside companies that want to connect with coworking communities.
Coworking space members on the platform can connect by skill sets, interests, projects, companies, and have the ability to post and find work and source each other for expertise. Townsquare also aims to increase opportunities for coworkers by connecting them with companies working on innovative and impactful projects that need specific skill-sets.
Beyond that, the platform has a robust set of features for coworking space operators, from essential administrative tools to an incredibly handy members’ directory that’s dynamic and embeddable so it never needs manual updating and integrates directly into a coworking space’s website. Basics like automated payments, processing of new member applications and onboarding are all integrated.
“We recognize that coworking space operators are also the curators of their communities, so we’re building tools that allow them to have members connect more easily, and also make productive use of outside companies who are interested in connecting with members,” Lashbrook said.
If all that sounds too good to be true, then consider this. The platform is permanently free for coworking spaces and members. How? Because their revenue comes from charging non-coworking businesses that use the platform to connect their workplace communities and connect with the talent in coworking spaces.
Townsquare is attempting to solve a problem many have tried to solve before, particularly with the operator side of its platform. A number of coworking management tools exist and, as with any software, businesses are generally loathe to switch. Coworking software like Nexudus, Cobot and Coworkify require a paid subscription, often pegged to the size of a coworking space’s membership. Dovetail is currently free but is planning to charge a flat fee once they roll out additional features. There are also a slew of free tools that many smaller spaces use.
Lashbrook told us, “It is really important to us that Townsquare is free for coworking spaces and their members. We don’t think they should have to pay for administrative tools—we’re here to provide them value.” Offering free high quality management software is one way to onboard spaces, and by extension their members.
The members’ side of the platform is essentially a social network for people who cowork. The possibility of engaging in coworking-style serendipity on a global scale is staggering. Coworkers could use such a platform to make contacts in different countries, find the best talent, etc., all within an interconnected network of trust. But before Townsquare gets there, it must endure the burden all social networking platforms face: gaining enough active users to get the party started. Many social networks die from empty dance floor syndrome, and Townsquare is actively looking to bring spaces on board to join the members of Gravitate coworking in Des Moines, Iowa, Blue 1647 in Chicago, and other Madison spaces like MadWorks.
As for companies whose subscriptions to Townsquare keep the platform afloat, it will be particularly interesting to see what they bring to the table. Nobody wants to see coworking talent be auctioned off, Task Rabbitted, Fiverr’d or oDesk-ified. How will outside companies devise opportunities that are mutually beneficial? The Townsquare team is banking that they have a good roadmap for this new approach. “Our goal is to have very specific opportunities that meet the individual’s need. The ones we hand-select are generally freelance, and they require something innovative, solution-oriented and challenging enough that they require an expert,” said Lashbrook. One Fortune 500 company is currently using the beta platform as a sort of private sandbox from which to source ideas and hire for project work.
That a growing number of experts are now available on-demand, as opposed to being hired for traditional full time jobs, is a hallmark of the future of work. It is generally thought to be a trend driven by companies keen to slash costs, but at this point, it may be a two-way street. “Coworking spaces are where top talent goes today. The experts are moving out of companies and into coworking spaces,” Lashbrook said. “I think what we’ll see in the next five to ten years is that businesses will come to coworking spaces to find the best people.” The founders of Townsquare certainly hope so—they’re pegging their business model to it.
To help shape the future of Townsquare, join the platform while it’s still in beta: members of coworking spaces can join directly; if you’re not a member of a coworking space you can apply to join. Visit Townsquare at www.townsqua.re.
For more on companies, organizations and projects created by people who cowork, check out our series Made by Coworking.