With 3rd Ward closing and General Assembly discontinuing its co-working space, it doesn’t seem like the greatest time to open a new workspace in the city. But that isn’t stopping Rena Tom from bringing her San Francisco-based Makeshift Society to Williamsburg. With 15 minutes to go, its Kickstarter campaign has surpassed its $30,000 fundraising goal.
As the owner of a small jewelry business and retail consultant who worked form home, Tom became frustrated with trying to get her work done in cafes and found other freelancers felt the same way. Soon Makeshift Society was born.
“We wanted to emphasize the society part, because if you look at a lot of the other co-working spaces, they’re all about work. Work, work, work! Productivity! And while people work there (we figure that’s just a natural, people will work anywhere they can) what we can bring that’s different is the people.” Makeshift makes it a point to cater to artistic freelancers and creative small business owners. “We think there’s value in people who want to stay small,” Tom said when drawing comparisons between her space and places like the Yard and Green Desk. Instead of cubicles, the main feature of Makeshift Society is a large community table that encourages members to network and maybe even collaborate on projects.
“We’re focusing on creative entrepreneurs,” said Bryan Boyer, who is preparing the new space at 55 Hope Street in Williamsburg while Tom continues to live in San Francisco. Boyer walked through the space earlier this month, highlighting where things will go and why Makeshift is different. “Not everyone is going to be a billion dollar start up. So a lot of people are going to have kind of bread-and-butter companies that can do well for themselves and we want to foster that kind of entrepreneurship.” In San Francisco, Rena created a kind of “pop-up” cabinet-shop under the stairs, where their small-business members could sell products.
Boyer also points to other workspaces as places that cater more towards the tech startups, which continues to be a boys club; Makeshift Society, while there are male members, is predominantly comprised of women.
One of the most important things to both of them was finding a place on the ground floor of a building. “We feel very strongly that makeshift has to be tied to a place and a community and that just doesn’t happen if you’re on the fifth floor.” The Brooklyn location occupies the ground and basement levels of the Hope Street building and formerly functioned as a pencil factory. “Welcome to the world’s best basement!” Boyer proclaimed once we reached the bottom of the stairs. The east side of the basement has a long row of square windows that started at the ceiling and came about halfway down the wall making the room feel bright even on the overcast October morning.
“I’m embracing the fact that it’s below ground, and I’m inviting our members to embrace it as well,” he said. The basement will house a kitchenette, a second and larger conference room, and 20 desks that members will be able to rent out monthly. “The bet that we’re making is that we can find 20 people who think it’s better to work in the open,” Boyer says. The desks are the kind you’d find in an art school: large, flat table tops sectioned off into four individual spaces.
The space will also be equipped with a “tool library” from which members can rent video equipment, printers, and sewing machines. And it’ll host events and classes on topics ranging from business to calligraphy. Booths on the ground floor will offer some privacy for phone calls.
There are three different levels of membership. One being the designated desk, the second being ground floor or general lounge access – which fluctuates depending on the number of weekly visits – and a supporting membership. Supporting members pay a yearly rate ($100 in San Francisco) and receive discounts on day passes ($30 for non-members and $20 for members in San Fran), but use the space during the evenings and less frequently. Brooklyn rates haven’t been set yet but will be competitive with other NYC co-working spaces, according to Makeshift.
“You know we’re not the cheapest, easiest place to check your e-mail, but we don’t want to be. That’s what the cafés are for,” Boyer said at the end of the tour. Makeshift’s Kickstarter video puts opening day around early spring, and Boyer feels confident – given New York’s trend of winters lasting until April – they are still on track for this. “We can be the cheapest, best, most well-liked place to start and sustain your business if you’re a creative entrepreneur. That’s the goal for us.”