4 Questions with Katie and Megan from Mercury Studio!

A behind the scenes look with Mercury Studio

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In our latest Featured Spaces interview, we talked with Katie and Megan, co-founders of Mercury Studio in Durham, North Carolina. This coworking space encourages the growth of creative types and prioritizes community over profits and growth. With an art studio, comfy furniture, and a unique clientele, Mercury caters to a whole new audience. Here’s what the pair of founders have to say about their space.

Tell us a bit about yourself and Mercury Studio

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The idea for the space was born a few years after college, with Katie tired of her job and Megan looking for a place to work on her art. The pair had graduated from the humanities and had creative dreams for their careers, but they couldn’t find a place where their talents were being put to good use.

That’s why Mercury Studio has always been hospitable to creatives. The space opened its doors in 2012, and it currently hosts around 40 tenants—an impressive number considering the niche it serves. What’s more interesting is that the clientele is markedly different than the more mainstream, tech-driven coworking spaces. Mercury Studio counts among its members all forms of visual artists, photographers, nonprofit workers, and even graduate students.

This unique clientele is the secret to Mercury Studio’s success. They are “community-minded”, and they’re proud of the unique demographic they attract. The space is also roughly 70% female, which is a likely factor in encouraging other female artists and creatives to join.

How were you first exposed to coworking, and what made you interested?

“We weren’t from tech,” Katie and Megan agreed. Neither of the founders are members of the traditional coworking demographic, and they hadn’t done much research into the industry or the competition. They were recent graduates suffering the pains of finding a job and making ends meet in the meantime, and so they were uniquely positioned to understand the struggles of freelancers and creatives with day jobs that they’re unsatisfied with.

This was a particularly big change for Megan, an oil painter. Starting a business was not the first thing on her mind, but the pair of friends were so familiar with the problems that artists face that solving their own problem wound up solving the problem for others.

What do you think is necessary for a coworking space to succeed?

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“That depends on how you define success.” A fair response, especially for a community-driven space like Mercury. The question that Katie and Megan try to answer is different: “who are you looking to serve?”. If you can answer that, you can create a space that’s perfect for your niche.

If at all possible, it helps to build the community beforehand. If startups, artists, and small coworking spaces having anything in common, it’s that they all have shaky business models. You never know what’ll happen next, so the member-owner relationship depends on a lot of trust and loyalty. The risk is too great if you can’t trust each other. Running a small coworking space is fundamentally a grassroots business—you need to appeal to some niche within the local community, and you need to trust each other.

The founders of Mercury didn’t have the luxury of a large pre-existing network, but they worked hard at building a community once their business got running. They grew by understanding what their target audience needed to feel at home.

What makes your coworking space unique?

Mercury Studio stands out because its design and feel are in line with its vision. The space was designed to feel homey and hospitable; welcoming open spaces, comfy vinyl couches, tea in the kitchenette. The space is suited to the creatives that inhabit it.

Overall, this creates a culture that’s hard to replicate. Even though there are other coworking spaces in Durham, none of them are in direct competition. The value that Mercury offers is a comfortable sense of home that you can’t quite get anywhere else.

As Durham continues to develop, Katie and Megan expressed worry that rent might go up and that it’ll become harder to afford a space that’s accessible to everyone. This makes it all the more important to be part of a tight-knit community and to have a real relationship your clients. Even if real estate prices put pressure on Mercury, community is something that you can’t replace.

Photo Credits to Justin Cook: http://justincookphoto.com/