It’s been one year since The Mill opened its doors, effectively doubling the coworking space on Capitol Hill. Since then coworking businesses in the neighborhood have grown to include around 160 members at 3 locations — Office Nomads, The Mill, and Agnes Underground.
CHS checked in with Mill owners Keith and Jana Harper to see how business was faring and to get a peek into what’s happening at a few of the Mill’s, mostly hidden, single-desk operations.
In 2011, the Harpers moved back to Seattle from New York to launch their new venture, Well Crafted. They had done coworking in New York and loved it. After 2-3 months of searching for a space, the couple decided to open their own (getting desk costs covered was also a nice incentive).
“The Mill was never supposed to be a business,” Jana said. “It came out of necessity.”
The Mill, located in the Broadway Building at Pike and Broadway, is a bright space with tall ceilings, a shared kitchen and conference room, and a sleepy yellow lab (the antithesis of the creativity-black hole that were some of our former newspaper offices). Each member at The Mill has a designated, full-time desk space with 24-7 access to the office. Rent is $350/month. Members include three programmers, an information architect, graphic designer, motion designer, copy editor, and business strategist.
The Mill has 10 desks with 8 filled (contact Keith and Jana if you want in.) The duo said they have a designer/developer focus, and are interested in finding entrepreneurial-minded people. Most importantly, people who want to participate in a community. “It takes the stress off Keith and I to build the community and networking, and planning events,” Jana said.
Jacob Sayles of Office Nomads, one of the first coworking spaces on the Hill, is just as adamant that the coworking business (and that’s “coworking,” no hyphen) is about much more than plopping a few desks in a room.
“I can tell you flat out that no one comes into Office Nomads for our printer or just because they need a desk or an internet connection. Those things are prevalent, and people’s home offices are customized and conveniently close …” he wrote CHS via email. “Home offices, even coffee shops are isolating and that is the need coworking spaces address.”
No doubt the enterprising work in the creative/tech industries is increasingly fueled by freelancers and self-starters in areas like Capitol Hill.
“It seems like we’re approaching an era of people who are perma-lancing, freelancing for a living, and there’s less stigma about it,” said Aaron Gaponoff, motion/graphic designer and Mill leasee.
For his industry, and others, Gaponoff attributes the rise in creative/tech freelancing to the democratization of tools and technology. In the days of analog animation, for instance, you needed loads of man power and loads of heavy, expensive equipment.
With increasing demand for coworking spaces, the businesses have organized. Soon after opening, the Mill joined the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance (formerly Co-Working Seattle). The coworking alliance runs a Google group, holds regular meetings, and refers potential members to each other.
“They personified the ‘we succeed when we all work together’ attitude,” Keith said.
Keith and Jana plan to move back to NYC eventually, but intend to keep the Mill open. They’re even kicking around ideas to open a new coworking space in NYC.
Like The Mill, Keith and Jana’s Well Crafted business was also born of necessity.
As a graphic designer, Keith said he was constantly struggling to keep his portfolio fresh and up to date. He wanted to make a product that would simplify the process, something he could use himself.
Combing Jana’s programming background and Keith’s design chops, the two created a customizable digital portfolio for designers to show-off their work online. Users get a Well Crafted account and URL with their portfolio. Portfolios are limited to 10 images per project. “You want to show off only your best stuff,” Keith said. Users can upload their entire portfolios and change out projects that are publicly displayed. Custom domain names and mobile versions are in the works.
Gaponoff is the Mill’s longest member, having moved into his desk nearly a year ago. He’s a freelance motion designer, graphic designer, and animator and works on a mix of projects for a mix of clients, including larger motion design studios and smaller companies who want to animate project proposals.
The Seattle native moved back to the city in December 2010 and started doing animation design for a firm downtown. “After a full year I didn’t really have much to show for it and I didn’t want another year of stagnating work.”
So he set off on his own. Gaponoff says it was slow-going at first, but business picked up. He landed a major contract and decided he needed a more professional space to work. He saw on the Seattle sub-Reddit that The Mill was looking for co-workers.
“I needed a psychological schism between work and school,” he said. “There’s a certain reward to closing your laptop … and walking home.”
Beyond the work/home divide, Gaponoff said coworking has made freelancing a less isolating endeavor. Unless he gets an offer from a firm that will give him the work he’s most passionate about, Gaponoff said he’ll keep freelancing and working at The Mill. But even if he gets that offer, he said he’ll keep his coworking space for his own projects.
Sarah Rudd is one of the Mill’s newest members, having arrived in January. She’s the Vice President of Analytics and Software Development at the Boston-based StatDNA. The company does (super neat!) high-end statistical analysis of soccer matches to expose team’s strengths and weaknesses. All of the work is based on video analysis and clients range from college squads to international pro clubs.
If you want a taste of what soccer analytics looks like, check out Rudd’s first foray into the field at onfooty.com. The blog, which is still active, eventually allowed her to make the transition from programming at Microsoft to full-time soccer statistician.
In addition to having local roots, Rudd said Seattle and Capitol Hill were an ideal place for her to set up shop.
“Seattle is the hotbed of west coast soccer activity,” she said. “And The Mill looked like the perfect opportunity for me.”
While Rudd said the nine-employee company probably won’t expand in Seattle, she’s intent on staying put.
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CHS is a community partner with Office Nomads and Agnes Underground.