5 Questions with Jeff from Platform Coworking

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Hello everyone! Today we are excited to unveil our newest Featured Space article where we discuss Coworking with Jeff Park, the founder of Platform Coworking. Chicago’s coworking community is constantly growing and we thought it would be interesting to reach out to one of our favorite spaces there. Check out what Jeff had to say!

So Jeff, tell us a little about Platform Coworking

Platform Coworking

Usually, when I ask a founder why they created a Coworking Space in the first place, I get the same types of answers: “Because I saw a need for work space my city didn’t offer”, “I liked the idea of a coworking space, it’s new and exciting”, “To help startups grow by providing affordable rent”, etc. So I certainly was quite surprised when Jeff simply said: “Well, it sort of happened by accident”. How? He explains: “After taking over my mother’s vitamin manufacturing factory (which is still his day job) when she moved back to Korea, I was alone in a huge office. There were no interactions for weeks on end and it got pretty lonely, so I started looking for another office which I could share with others”. He found a space in the Ravenswood neighborhood, and put an ad on craigslist to find his new coworkers. This was in 2007, when the coworking concept was still pretty much unheard of.

His coworking space even got some press, as it was the first in Chicago and was considered at the time an oddity. Between then and 2009, people would come and go, simply responding to a standing ad on Craigslist. Then as time went on, demand began to exceed available space, so in 2009 he moved to a bigger space, bringing his fellow coworking members with him and calling it the Ravenswood Coworking Group. Finally, in 2012, he moved to an even bigger location and launched a more formal operation: Platform Coworking.

You recently opened another Coworking Space, this time in the Wicker Park neighborhood, and are planning on opening a third one soon. Coworking is clearly quite successful in Chicago. Is there a startup boom happening there? What types of people work in your Coworking Spaces?

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Jeff mentioned that the opening of the second Coworking Space was also kind of by accident: “This time because it wasn’t the location we were looking in. There was either nothing was available, or it was too expensive”. By then coworking had gained popularity: “In the beginning it was really easy to find coworking members, it isn’t as easy anymore as there are now quite a lot of new Coworking Spaces”. So is there a startup boom taking place in Chicago? I expected him to tell me his coworkers were mostly startups, as here in San Francisco they are the main clients of Coworking Spaces. Apparently not in Chicago: “It’s a mix of startups, freelancers, small companies, 2 person teams, remote workers, consultants, a lot of programmers. It’s a wide spectrum, there are all kinds of industries”.

What do you think are the most important factors for developing a successful Coworking Space?

Again, Jeff’s answer was unexpected. Usually, I’m told that the focus is on building a community. Not for Jeff though, and his explanations make sense: “Space design itself is really important. It’s better and unique to design each space with the inspiration of the neighborhood they are in. I used to think community was the most important, but Platform Coworking is different: they are in Chicago proper, but in a neighborhood almost considered a suburb, therefore the coworking members are mostly married people with children that have other obligations. They aren’t here to socialize: they’re usually gone by 4 or 5 o’clock. Of course there are some events, but they just aren’t the main focus.”

Indeed, the location of your Coworking Space will most likely influence the type of coworkers you’ll attract: take note, folks, and adapt to your clients’ needs. Proximity is another important factor: “The proximity to amenities like parking, public transport, shops and restaurants: all within walking distance”.

The reason I personally wanted to interview Platform Coworking in particular was for their amazing wall murals you can find in the Ravenswood location. I had to ask how that came to be?

Platform Coworking

“It’s a funny story. A couple of years ago I saw a mural on the exterior wall of a bar called Simone’s and I was fascinated by it. I searched for the artist for years, in vain. Then one day at a friend’s birthday party, I was talking with a guy about street art and I mentioned this piece: it turns out the guy I was talking to was the brother of the artist who had done it! I got in touch and he did the piece in Ravenswood in 2013. Only problem is that we are expanding the office so now half of that wall is white”.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the movement as a whole?

“Right now there are still obstacles to overcome, as awareness is still limited. When people know about the coworking concept it’s an easy choice: it’s not hard to be convinced of joining one. But a lot of people still have no clue: many come in to talk to us having no idea of what it is and need an explanation. Maybe it’s due to a generational gap, there’s still a long way to go to achieve mainstream awareness. Though it’s not going anywhere for those that know. The concept is still quite new so a lot of things are being figured out, like norms and practice in space design. People are still enamored with the open space plan; which is terrible idea. Different work environments are important.” Platform Coworking has been open since 2012 and has 2 locations, a third on its way.

Clearly they are doing coworking right! (You can check out their listings here) Thanks again Jeff for ever so kindly answering our questions, and we wish you the best of luck in the opening of the third location!