Coworking Perspectives: A Conversation with Cowork Founders

Chris Cooley and Barry Strauber (co-founders of Carlson Cowork, Rochester, New York) discuss culture, support, and establishing a community-focused coworking space.


BS – We’ve created a culture and by creating a community of like-minded people. We totally understand and support one another and buy into it because we all understand the group ROI. Which is good because you’re getting so much from it but it has not been easy to create.

CC – I mean it’s it’s been easy but it’s been a it’s been a lot of work…

BS – Right, it’s been easy when we’ve been able to find the right people and realize that that’s all we needed to do was add more great people to the mix that are going to add to the whole. – Barry

CC – You also mentioned the culture. To me,when anyone defines a culture, it makes it that much easier for people to understand what you’re all about. That way, people who are like-minded can buy in immediately and get value out of what you have to offer.

A lot of other co-working spaces — they are space. And I get that. It’s totally cool that there are different co-working spaces for different kinds of people. We talked about it like there’s a reason why there’s different churches. I’m not saying we’re at church, but there’s a community aspect that’s relatable to both.

BS – I think our aspiration was higher because we saw the need for entrepreneurs to be lifted up and supported. We wanted to create a place where that was going to happen. We knew how hard it was, and we knew we wanted to create a place where people could go for the things that they need.

CC – And support… the other thing about this place is that there are all sorts of people. If you’re being a film-maker, you might get an idea from somebody who’s in a non-profit organization, teaching at a school. It’s the blend that is amazing– And the like-mindedness.

BS – It’s really interesting. One of our members actually put together a matrix of connections, which is sort of a spider web of stuff. I think, in a sense, that’s the ROI, because what that shows is you’re not just coming into a community where people are going to be nice to you and talk to you sometimes. You’re coming to a place where you work with all these people that will teach you firsthand all these different things that they are doing. So that’s the incredible value.

That really shows the organic growth that can happen in a place like this. You meet somebody over a cup of coffee or in the cafe. Someone comes in for a presentation and you make a connection with them. Someone who sits next to you might say, “you do that well. I know this person you can help.” Someone might say, “my business I’m really struggling with XYZ,” and a member across the room says, “hey, i overheard you talking about your issue, and I have resource”. When that happens organically, I really like to stress that nothing is forced.

Barry Strauber and Chris Cooley talk Coworking CultureCC – There are different groups that you can go to and buy into a membership, and you go and give your 5-minute talk about your company and hand out 50 business cards. It’s not that kind of place. The first question I like to ask new people is, “how’s it going and where are you from?” It’s not like, “Hey, how do I get business from you?” In the community model, a week later the person you got to know will come up and say, “Hey, I could really use some of what you do,” because of the relationship that you’ve formed.

BS – Well, I do think that in the future of business, we need to be in atmospheres supportive of a life/work balance as well..Is it moreso that we’re creating a work environment that’s more social — which is maybe why the Next Generation coming up has embraced this? Because maybe that is the work environment that they want?

I think it comes back to human nature. People really thrive off of being together with other like-minded people in a support network. As far as the future of business, yeah. The thing about a place like this is that people can use it for whatever they need it for. We’re not telling you, “this is your office — do this.” We are saying, ”Be yourself.”

CC – We have a member who says it’s about family and the potluck dinners that we have. That’s huge for him, and I feel that too, you know. But I also do business here, so there’s different elements that I totally pulled in. Another member said being at Carlson is like a business home. Rather than work from home and blur those lines, we’ve got different spaces, so it’s not like it’s just a workspace. It’s a work home.

BS – As an entrepreneur, he was able to find a work-life balance, and Carlson helped with that.

CC – Right, and he also found that there’s a family here. When you use the word home, that’s a strong word. That’s not, “I have a work space or an office!”

BS – So if that’s the thing that we’re doing here, I feel like we’re doing something important. It’s not just work. It’s not just home. It’s a combination of so many things.

CC – It’s your choice, it’s your tool, it’s your resources, it’s your support network — whatever that means to you.

BS – Again, it creates that sort of support that will allow you to maybe do something amazing and different.

CC – The web that you mentioned earlier is awesome, too, because it talks about the capitalism part — the actual making money. I’ve been here for around a year. I mean, I have tripled my business. It’s a six-figure business now, and that’s amazing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m making these connections and being fueled by others and supported, encouraged, and all these awesome things. And some of the money that my business includes has been exchanged through members here — different companies that are in the space. But it all comes out because of those relationships that we mention.

See this interview (a segment of the Carlson Cowork Conversation with Chris Cooley) on YouTube