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Around the same time I discovered Jelly, I also discovered a site called Meetup.com. As its name implies, Meetup lets people host local gatherings around a particular interest, so people who share that interest could find each other and connect.
As a 22-year-old who knew no one in New York City, Meetup proved a godsend.
Before Meetup, I struggled to meet people. I remember times when I’d go into the city on a Friday night, just to see what I could see. I’d troll around Bleecker Street and eventually into the West Village, going into bars and timidly buying a beer while throngs of people who all seemed to already know each other gathered around me.
How was this supposed to work? Was I supposed to just start talking to strangers? I clearly wasn’t super socially well-adjusted.
I’d end up back home having never spoken to anyone.
Then one day, while surfing Reddit, I saw a posting for a NYC Meetup of enthusiasts of Reddit’s video show.
I clicked the link and was brought to a Meetup group page where, if I just joined and RSVPed, I could connect with other folks like me who liked reading tech news all day.
The next thing I knew, I was signed up and on the train to New York.
This time was different, though it didn’t appear that way at first. I entered an East Village bar by myself and found groups of people talking to each other, not unlike last time. Before long, however, I had encountered the organizer, Mike Lewis, who was tremendously friendly and welcoming. Talking to other people quickly became easier as I realized that many of the other folks here also didn’t know anybody coming in.
We talked about top stories we’d read on Digg. Those conversations led to other conversations.
Fast forward a few hours, and a group of us headed to another bar after the Meetup is over. From there, a smaller group of us headed to another bar. And then a smaller group to yet another.
By the time I was on the train on my way back home, I had friends in New York City.
Needless to say, I was hooked. Mike, the organizer, had told me about another Meetup he loved, called the NY Tech Meetup, so I signed up for the next event and ventured back into the city to check it out.
Now, this was 2007. The tech industry was still recovering from 9/11, so there was a sense of camaraderie in what was regarded as a nascent but growing group.
Tech in NYC has sure come a long way since then. But at that time, if you worked in tech in NY, it would be pretty easy to reach just about anybody else who worked in tech in NY too.
The NY Tech Meetup, or NYTM, was the watering hole for the whole community. You could meet anyone there: people working on awesome things, people who worked for Google (“Ooh, exciting!” I thought, when I was first starting), which had just started to build what would become a massive team in NYC, investors, organizers of other Meetup groups, you name it.
At some point along the way, I met a man by the name of Sanford, who shared my desire for a coworking space. One day he got up on stage to announce that he’d worked out a deal with a nearby cafe to pilot a sort of pop-up coworking space, but he needed people to help make it happen. Needless to say, I was there.
The spot, a below-the-sidewalk restaurant on St. Mark’s place in the East Village called Cafe Fuego, became a new hangout. We worked with management to get new internet and routers installed, and hoped that enough people would buy their rather delicious cuban sandwiches during business hours to justify the cost of staffing their place for longer.
A small team formed to help put it all together. In a homage to Peter Cooper and to Nate Westheimer’s early vision for a NYC-based cafe coworking space he called Cafe Bricolage, we called it Cooper Bricolage.
Over the summer, we played with membership models and figured out how to form a community. We tackled ideas like how to tell whether or not someone’s feeling social by designing colored coasters that were red on one side and green on the other. Walking by, one could easily see who was up for talking and who wasn’t.
(This idea never really stuck, but people keep trying in other communities.)
We set up a wiki page to reproduce some of the experience of a Jelly. It was clear that knowing who was coming and what they’d be working on really helped make the experience better for everyone, but how did that look when people were coming in and working there daily?
At the end of August, we packed the house for a huge launch party. Sanford and I gave a couple of speeches, the crowd cheered, and we were on our way.
Years later, Adrienne Jeffries wrote of our launch party:
One night in the summer of 2007, a group of freelancers and entrepreneurs met in a brick-walled coffee shop on St. Marks to toast their untethering. It was the grand opening of CooperBricolage, one of the first coworking collectives in New York City, and everyone in the room was flush-faced and smiling like idiots. Tony Bacigalupo, then 25, stood and addressed the group like a new kid at school who had finally found a lunch table to sit at in the cafeteria. “At the beginning of this year, I knew nobody in New York City,” he said. “I project-managed for a tiny little design company out in Long Island and I was sitting at home one day on a cold winter day, working, thinking, ‘there’s got to be other people who are sitting at home like me.’”
It wasn’t the Gettysburg Address, but it captured the essence of coworking: There’s got to be other people like me. A growing percentage of the workforce no longer needs a traditional office for equipment or credibility, but damnit, we’re lonely.
I still didn’t actually live in the city yet, but I was about to.
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