I left my corporate job a little over a year ago and since then I’ve been dwelling local coffee shops, working from home or from wherever I can get a decent signal. I carry a huge backpack with my computer, camera and all my office supplies. At first it was fun because I was able to make my own schedule and wear whatever I wanted. But in the past two months I have found myself missing having a place to go to every day, a place where I can leave my things, bring a lunch and also a place where I can meet and collaborate with like-minded people.
I was never really familiar with the concept of coworking spaces until I met a few local entrepreneurs that swear by it. They all have different reasons why they opt to get a space; some feel like they can’t get things done at home, others just need to be around other creative people.
I heard about Indiegrove, a coworking space in the heart of downtown JC on the corner of Newark ave and Grove St when I first started blogging. I walked by the building a few times and saw the Indie Grove sign, and never really thought to go in and check it out. I think deep down I was nervous about going back into an “office” setting; cubicles, no sunlight etc. Remember that scene in the movie “Fight Club” were Edward Norton is in an office making photocopies? It’s a depressing scene and one I think about whenever I think about office space. Anyway I was very wrong about Indiegrove.
Zahra Amanpour is the owner of Indiegrove and she invited me over for a tour of the space. As soon as I walked in and saw the natural sunlight and a beautiful Mustart mural, I knew this was not your typical office. This place is amazing! It has such a great energy that is so conducive to creativity and productivity.
This just might be my new office very soon.
What’s your name? Zahra Amanpour.
What do you do? I am the founder of Indiegrove, a coworking space in Downtown, Jersey City.
How did you start? We opened Indiegrove in January of 2013. It started actually out of my love for entrepreneurship. I had worked at a nonprofit in the city called WIBO, Workshop in Business Opportunities, which helps women and minorities start businesses. It’s an incredible organization that started out of a civil rights movement and is the oldest entrepreneurial training program in the United States. So I really fell in love with entrepreneurship being the way that you create economic development and not hurt or disenfranchise a local community. Basically, it allows for a local community to participate.
So I really became an advocate for it and fought for it in the city. I got a job with New York City where I ran a program called NYC Business Solutions through the Department of Small Business Solutions. NYC Business Solutions is the city’s arm of services for small businesses and I ran that program for a few years. I learned how to scale projects and create healthy economic development. And then I saw these (co-working spaces) starting to pop up everywhere in New York and around the world really. They are all over South America and Europe.
I thought “Wow, this is a cool concept,” because it allows for the natural things that entrepreneurs do to happen in an organic way without too much intervention and all the different aspects of creativity to come out in a good way. So I thought, the more of these you have, the more likely that type of vibe will be created in a community. New York City actually started to subsidize the cost for these getting started all over the city. I was here in Jersey City, living here and every day thinking, “We have this amazing community and there’s no services for small businesses.”
At one point I got the bug and said I want to do my own thing; I was doing really well in the city in the sense that I was moving up in the ladder and from other people’s perspectives, I was doing great, but I wasn’t happy and I wanted to do my own thing and I wanted to be more in a community setting on a daily basis.
At one point I said, “Okay, I’m gonna do this,” at the beginning I thought I would do it in New York, but then I decided to do it in Jersey City. Jersey City didn’t have a co-working space and it needed one and it’s an amazing community and I wanted to see if I could pull this off here.
I did all the research and then I gave notice at my job and I walked away. At that point they offered me a raise and a new position, six-figure salary, 90 people reporting into me, the whole-nine and I was like, “I’m done, I’m walking away and I want to do this.” So I quit the job in June of 2012, I started pursuing financing and space, full-time.
After being rejected from every major bank, because as a startup business you don’t get money, I found two community lenders—Jersey City Economic Development Corporation and Greater Newark Enterprises Corporation—that are alternative types of community lenders that gave me loans. I got $75,000 from those two and I found this space, signed the lease and started the construction.
Construction started in October and I parked in that seat and drove my contractor crazy. He was like, “You’re really going to sit here all day,” and I was like, “Yeah, this has gotta get done. I’m opening in the new year.” October, November, December was about building out the space.
My husband and I spent the entire month of December building every piece of furniture in here by hand; we had a furniture building assembly line happening. Then we opened on January 2nd as planned and it was terrifying. I sat here, I had Daris, I had Elsie, and I had one other guy and I had 6,000 square feet and incredible overhead.
A lot of people were like, “What is coworking? You’re crazy. What are you doing?” and people would come in here like, “Why would I want to do that?”
It took a while to get to a point where there [were] enough people here where the non-trail blazers got it. And then also, more and more people [who] saw co-working in New York were like, “Oh! That’s cool,” so it became something cool.
So the first six months were pretty terrifying, I was like, “What have I done?” I’ve walked away from all that and I didn’t know if this was going to work. Thankfully because of the first few people [who] joined the community and the first few businesses that believed in this, it did work. They held it down for me; they came to all the events and every time were excited and over time that just got bigger and bigger and bigger.
The first sort of breathing point for me was when I knew I had to hit 50 members and we hit that in six months which was incredible.
How many members do you have today? 150.
And you know, it’s growing and Jersey City is growing which is why I’m doing it again. I’m probably crazy to do this again, but I’ve taken another floor, taken on more debt again, but I believe this city is just getting started. There’s so much potential here. We need a support system for our businesses. We need a place where people [who] are running these amazing ideas can just come and be themselves and not worry about everything else. So that’s what we’re here for because of HDSID and all these other great support services, we’ve become a part of this community. So it’s been quite a ride but it’s been great overall.
How long have you lived in Jersey City? I’ve lived here almost ten years now. I started on Columbus Avenue, I’ve lived off of Grand Avenue, I’ve lived off of Hamilton Park, now I live off of Journal Square because I can’t afford Downtown and I believe Journal Square is the next chapter. So we have a place up in Journal Square now. We’ve lived all over and we’ve watched it happen.
When I moved here ten years ago, I wouldn’t at night-time–as a woman–walk around Downtown, Newark Avenue especially by myself and now it’s like a bar scene at night, it’s crazy, but it’s really cool to watch. My thing is to continue to, hopefully, do it in a healthy way and make sure that people don’t get pushed out.
They’re gonna get pushed out. They’re already getting pushed out, but the less we can have that happening, the better as far as I’m concerned. So the more ideas and stuff come from this community and we don’t get big corporations coming in and big franchises coming in, I think the better off we are as a city.
Do you have a favorite Jersey City hangout spot? You know I have a nine-month old so these days I don’t hangout much of anywhere other than Hamilton Park. For a long time LITM was our spot ‘cause we would go across from here and just grab some drinks, so we did that for a while. I like to support the businesses that have been here for a little bit. I think Roman Nose is fantastic, right downstairs, and they’re a great business and great people.
How do you balance being a businesswoman and a new mom? It’s really hard. It’s really, really hard. It’s probably one of the biggest struggles professionally that I’ve had to deal with. I’ve always been someone who comes up with what I want to do professionally, whether that was school, graduate school, my career, and now my business, and I just put in the hours and I get it done and that’s just my mentality and that’s how I’ve been. When you have a kid, you can’t do that anymore, all of a sudden you have limited hours and very different priorities. She’s on my mind all day and I have to leave by 5:30 because my nanny leaves at six.
Is this open 24 hours a day? Yeah.
So is the staff here 24 hours a day? No, staff is here from eight to eight. And then if people want to come in here after eight, they have to do a background check so that it’s safe. They get a key fob to access the space after eight o’clock at night. But yeah, 365 days, 24/7, we’re open. Which you know, stuff happens, I get calls like, “Zahra, I broke something,” at like 3am and I’m like, “Okay, don’t worry, I’ll be there in the morning.” My husband and I have been here plenty of times in the middle of the night, but that’s the nature of small business. That’s just the beast that it is.
Can you breakdown the pricing for people who may want to know what the options are? So the smallest payment you can make is you can rent these meeting rooms by the hour, so this for example is $25 an hour and the bigger conference room is $35 an hour. That’s if you don’t want to be a member here, but you just need a meeting room from time to time. But if you want to become a member here, we have two part-time options—for $225 a month you get ten days access, you can stay as long as you want or as little as you want in those ten days. You can come and go as much as you want.
You also get access to all the meeting rooms and mailboxes and all of that stuff. You basically come into the co-working, shared space and you work ten days a month, you don’t have to reserve. You can come in whenever you want. Then for $350 a month you can be here all day, every day and work 24 hours a day if you want to. I hope not, but if you want to. So those are the co-working options.
$350 is really not that bad.
Then you have people who go get offices. The offices downstairs for six people are $2,000. They don’t pay for Wi-Fi, they don’t pay for printing or any of the office supplies, they don’t pay for cleaning, they have someone taking care of all of the logistics of their business for them. They don’t have to worry about keeping their employees happy because we have mixers and community lunches and all of those things that normally entrepreneurs have to say, “Okay, I can’t just do the business, I have to keep my employees happy,” so we take care of all of that for you too.
So you guys have Pizza Fridays and stuff like that? We have Pizza Fridays, we have Happy Hour Fridays, we have mixers once a month where it’s just purely drinks and snacks and chill out and get to know each other and we have community lunch on Wednesdays.
Do you guys ever do birthdays for people? We do birthdays. Everybody gets birthday an email and a shout out on the board and everybody gets a $10 gift certificate to Roman Nose. When you’re leading a company these are the kinds of things that you have to do and think about. Not only the cost of that but the time you invest in all of that. So when you work in a co-working space you get the office plus all of the other stuff.
Is there a dress code? No, I mean you can’t show up here naked, but pretty much that’s about it. People wear flip-flops and people wear suits. My attorneys come in full suits every day and my tech guys come are in flip-flops and torn shirts every day, so there’s no dress code. As a brand, how we differentiate ourselves from other co-working spaces is some co-working spaces you go to are too casual, it’s almost like frat-boyish, the beer kegs get pulled out at 11am, can’t get any work done, there’s music playing, so that’s one end of the spectrum. Then you’ve got the Regis’ of the world where it’s box cubicles. It’s just like working for the corporate world and there’s no sense of community.
So what we try to say is we are a balance between comfort and professionalism where you can come in your flip-flops, but if you need show your client a nice looking meeting room and impress them, you can do that here. So we try to find that kind of balance as a brand.
You mentioned that on Fridays anybody can come and work here—can you talk about that? So it’s Free Co-Working Friday!, every Friday. You basically can come in—it’s a onetime deal—but you can come in any Friday that you want, anytime between eight and eight and work here for as little or as long as you want, get to know people here, have pizza with us and just get some work done.
It’s our way of getting that day pass thing out-of-the-way ‘cause so many people are like, “Why don’t you do day passes?” I don’t want to go into that world of day passes, as one of my competitors said, “We’re not a theme park,” but at the same time, I think it’s fair that people want to try out the space. And then we have people who just come one time and that’s the end of it, and that’s cool too. So it’s a great fun thing to do. Fridays during some seasons are really busy here and some seasons, like summer time, are quiet, so depending on what you like and want to do.
How do people go about signing up? It’s very easy and flexible. You sign an agreement which basically just says you’re not going to do anything crazy here; it’s month to month so you’re not committing to any long period of time or anything like. We take credit cards and we put it on file so it automatically renews every month unless you give us notice that you want to cancel it. We give you a key fob you so can get in and out on your own into the building and the space. Walk you through how it all works and then you’re done. So you can sign-up and the same-day [and] start working.
Coworking spaces have all types of memberships. What we do here is everything is month-to-month. In other words we don’t do six-month leases and we don’t do one-day passes. The reason for that is we wanted to build a strong community from the beginning. So we decided that people should at least commit to that much time, but we’re also working with entrepreneurs so we also don’t want to put somebody in a situation where they can’t afford something six months out.
So to find that balance, we did month-to-month, so all the packages we offer include access to everything. Each month, they can just switch them, change them, or cancel them.
Yeah, when you’re an entrepreneur you never know what’s gonna happen. Who knows, three months from now you may need to hire somebody, need a different type of space, or hopefully not, you might not be doing very well and you’ve got to draw back a little bit.
So Mr. Mustart did the tables—He did the tables, he did the mural over there. That he did in one night which was pretty impressive, I thought. I came in the next morning and he was asleep on the couch and this was done.
I love him! He’s a notorious couch-surfer.
Let’s take tour!
Everything that I go through is included in this package, so you get these meeting rooms, everybody gets access to an online calendar, they can book things themselves, this is one place they can meet with their clients. I have a lot of attorney’s who use this room, I have a lot of therapists who use this room, all different types of businesses use this room.
And you can even get your mail here I see. Yeah, these are our mailboxes. One of the situations that a small business owner deals with is that everything gets mixed up with the personal, so the mail [goes] to their house, their clients show up at their house, all that kind of stuff. So this gives them a professional face for their business and then we also take care of packages.
So if I needed something shipped—You’d have to get everything ready, but you don’t have to sit here and wait for UPS, you give it to us, we get it out or vice versa, when your stuff comes in we just email you say, “Something arrived for you, it’s waiting here.” Phone booths so that the place stays manageable and not too loud and people have privacy when they need the privacy. Printing, faxing, coffee, all of that kind of stuff, and the whole space has Wi-Fi so everybody has their preferences on where they sit and stand, but you can pretty much work anywhere.
This is our open coworking space, so this is where you get part-time options, fulltime options. So you can get ten-day a month for example here or you can get our all day – every day, it’s a 24/7 facility so members can come in anytime a day depending on the type of access that they get.
You can have teams working at these tables. This is the most fluid part of the space; you get a locker so you can leave your locker and a few things behind. So you don’t have to do that back and forth.
Back here we have private desks, another version of the co-work space. So if somebody wants a something more permanent that belongs to them, they can put a monitor down, decorate, do all that kind of stuff, this is that option and you still get the meeting rooms and the mailboxes.
I love the colors of the walls, very colorful. Thanks, those come from the logo. The tagline we’re using right now is “Be Original,” different colors, diverse industry, diverse types of people, diverse types of everything come together and work in one space, so the colors are part of that overall theme that we have for this space.
This is likes a private office, the highest level of membership basically. These lady decorate themselves, I can’t take credit.
Who’s in here? This is C.H.I. which is the Center for Holistic Intervention. They do therapy with children and families. Two ladies, Elsie and Dyvia, wonderful ladies. Elsie was one of my first members also, so she’s been with me since the beginning.
How much is an office like this? These now are going for $1300 a month; they originally started at $900. This is another office, similar thing, but you can see the personality. This is Adamas Building Services, they actually have over two hundred employees. What they do is staff buildings in Jersey City, so they do the concierge services, cleaning, maintenance. They staff luxury buildings so their office here in Jersey City is doing very well right now and this is where the management team meets. And this is where the interview all their staff so everybody uses it very differently.
So this is the kitchen.
So tell me about the kitchen ‘cause that’s really important. I think when you’re an entrepreneur bringing your lunch to a coffee shop is not ideal. So one you save money on that. We provide coffee, tea, hot chocolate, so you don’t have to spend any money on that kind of stuff. We provide cups and mugs and silverware. Most importantly is a community room for everybody. On Wednesdays we have a community lunch every week so it’s a chance for everybody to relax and get to know each other.
In the evenings there’s a lot of MeetUp groups that meet here like the Jersey City Writers, which is a huge group, they meet here regularly. We have some tech groups that meet here regularly, so all different types of MeetUp groups meet here regularly. This is really a community room and it helps to bring the whole thing together, ‘cause you’ve got all these more tangible things like offices and desks, but what’s more important is you have a place to let people know each other. You have some place to come every day. This is really what pieces it all together.
I love these paintings. This is from a local artist named Miguel Hernandez. He did an exhibit here a couple [of] years ago and he took the whole space for a weekend and his art was everywhere, it was just gorgeous. One of the things I wanted to do with Indiegrove from the very beginning is support local art. So I’ve tried to give back. We do JC Fridays. We do this kind of stuff to make sure they have a voice too.
Tell me a little bit more about the types of entrepreneurs work out of here. So we have everybody here which has been really amazing to see come out of Jersey City because a lot of people assume a co-working space is tech only and that’s kind of the reputation they have. But what was going on here in Jersey City was this enormous eclectic group of entrepreneurs—there was no hub for them because the city unfortunately in the past hasn’t provided services to small businesses so there’s no center for small businesses.
There’s no place for us to come together, exchange ideas and have a place to call our own. What happened is because of that is we got everybody. So like Daris that you met upstairs, JCF Fitness. No one would think that could function in a coworking space, but he has to do his one-on-one meetings, he has to work on the business itself other than teaching classes and doing boot camp. He has to do all those other things so this works for him.
We have therapists, we have a ton of attorneys; alternative energy is becoming a big, big industry for us. We have several people [who] are working on all types of wind, solar, all different types of alternate energy. They’re doing everything from selling the hardware to trading it on the market to all different aspects of it, developing cool apps around it.
When you first came in, that gentleman, he is a roofer, but he needs a place to do business too. So we have a little bit of everybody, tech is certainly strong, like 50% are tech and they’re working on some sort of tech project—lot of healthcare tech, financial tech, all different parts of tech, but we also get everybody else like that staffing business I mentioned.
We get a little bit of everybody which is cool because people are not so much in competition with each other. Rather, they’re very supportive of each other and everybody needs an accountant, everybody needs and attorney, so the community can build on itself and help each other grow so it’s turned out to be a really cool thing.
One of the things that became very clear from the beginning is that if someone were to be successful at Indiegrove, they would grow, which is great, but we would lose them as customers because we don’t have enough private offices. So it became clear very early on that we needed more private offices, so we’re carving out a bunch of more private offices on the additional floor.
Also meeting rooms, in our busy seasons which are fall and spring, the meeting rooms are booked from morning till night which is a huge demand in Jersey City that nobody else is providing affordable meeting room space—people were having meetings in cafes and things like that. We’ve carved out some more meeting room space too on the additional floor and then we’re also going to have a little bit more co-working space down here so that we can continue to grow that part of the business.
I got a loan from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority; they put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) for people to compete and it was great, we won. We got the RFP so we got a government loan to do this from New Jersey and now we’re building this out. So this is going to open right after Labor Day, we already have a waitlist for it.
You have a waitlist for all the offices? Mhmm. Now paying and being on a waitlist are two different things, so hopefully we’ll be filled very quickly in terms of the offices. It’ll give us more leg room.
It’s so bright, I love it. If you’re building a business you don’t want to be in a depressed [room]. I never understood corporate environments with all the cubicles.
Anything else you’d like to let people know about Indiegrove? There’s a really amazing network of businesses here. It’s really something that even if you’re not a member here, you need to tap into. The more we all get to know each other and support each other, the more we’re gonna grow in a healthy way. Come and get to know us, come and get to know our businesses here. We have the best of everything here. Jersey City is a really great city in that way so I think Indiegrove is a reflection of that beauty and that wonderfulness that we have.
The additional space opened the day after Labor Day, as planned. The expansion party is on October 16th. To RSVP Click Here!
To learn more about Indiegrove and schedule a tour go to www.indiegrovejc.com