Personal Stories of America at Work

How One Woman Built a Career Creating Community at Work

Rebecca Brian helps shape the future of the workplace

“I started to find working from home to be insanely isolating and lonely . . . My reality was twelve hours a day of Ally McBeal reruns.”

The happiness formula

I’ve always been a community builder. Though for eight years, I didn’t know it and would have just called myself friendly.

When I got out of college with a degree in graphic design and my internship didn’t pan out into the job I expected, I started a design firm called Tribecca Designs. I didn’t know what I was doing, but the work was exciting. I loved dealing directly with clients and thrived on all the responsibility and creative license, creating logos, branding, websites, and brochures. I was hooked! I talked about design and business and my new venture everywhere I went and was the cheapest designer in the country—or at least New York City—so the work came easily.

That excitement lasted for about eight months. I started to find working from home to be insanely isolating and lonely. I think I knew sitcom characters better than any of my friends at the time. My reality was twelve hours a day of Ally McBeal reruns. I don’t know which came first, work drying up or my depression, but either way, I stopped going out, stopped talking about the business, and stopped getting work. All of the exciting profit I’d made flitted away over the next eight months.

I had a heartfelt conversation with my dad. I told him I was depressed and lonely and the business was doing poorly. I was mad at myself for failing. I told him I needed to change things, look for an agency job, walk dogs, wait tables, something. My dad created an excel spreadsheet for me (an MIT grad, my Dad is a firm believer in the power of quantitative data). It listed all of my skills and interests, what I felt I needed in a job to be happy, and the possible options for which I was qualified. It further calculated everything into a happiness formula, which cross-referenced my job requirements against my skills and came up with which options would make me the happiest.

We came up with two finalists: get an agency job, which would allow me to be creative, get me out of the house and around people, but limit my flexibility and ability to work directly with clients. Or, continue with Tribecca Designs but get out of the house and into an office and/or surround myself with other designers in some way, shape, or form. Walking dogs, house sitting, and waiting tables all came in lower on my overall happiness scale, so I decided to plunge ahead with my company but make some big changes.

Pulled out of my funk

I moved Tribecca Designs to a lovely office in SoHo with other designers. I also co-founded Spark Design Professionals, a graphic design association committed to improving design and business practices for designers and owners of small firms. This gave me access to all sorts of experiences, advice, and people in my profession. I learned what to put in my contract, how to negotiate with clients, and how to network.

Being a part of Spark and going to a shared office every day pulled me out of my funk entirely. I had purpose again and a community of creative people to support me and whom I could support as well.

Fast-forward five years to 2008. I threw a big party to celebrate Tribecca’s fifth birthday. Surrounded by happy clients, close friends, and amazing family, I felt on top of the world. The company was doing very well, and things were stable. I finally felt like I knew what I was doing. And as ungrateful as this is to say, I started to feel a little bored. Uninspired. I also started to question why I was still in New York City (a boyfriend-turned-husband had brought me there), when I’d always wanted to be in San Francisco. That marriage was long gone, so what was I waiting for?

Later in 2008, I opened a branch of Tribecca Designs in San Francisco. Learning from my past mistakes, I skipped working from home entirely and found an office at a design studio that had too much space. It was wonderful! But after a few months, the building kicked us out to get ready for a sale. I moved my office back home into my San Francisco apartment. Every month I flew back to NYC and was wildly productive with my staff and office there. The rest of the month, in California, I was unproductive, unmotivated, napped too much, and watched enormous amounts of Hulu.

Pitching NextSpace

When a fellow agency owner pitched me on the idea of a shared space for creatives, to get us all out of our homes and collaborating together, I told him, “Yes! We need that right now. I will make that happen with you.” I was so inspired. Even more so after we visited NextSpace Coworking in Santa Cruz and fell in love with the space, community, energy, everything. That same day we pitched NextSpace on partnering with us to bring a space to San Francisco. It took NextSpace a little longer to fall in love with us, but three months later we had them convinced, and another three months after that, we opened at 2nd and Market, right downtown on the best corner in the city.

Initially thinking I would host Tribecca Designs at NextSpace, I soon realized that running a coworking space is a full-time job. It’s a gorgeous space filled with passionate, interesting consultants and startups, and unlimited gourmet coffee. But it doesn’t run itself. In fact, it takes two full-time people to make sure everything runs smoothly. From thinking big thoughts on the future of work, to marketing, to delivering mail, to working with vendors and event planners, to dealing with the occasional clogged toilet, everything falls under my purview. I had a big decision to make: should I sell the company I had spent eight years building? When I pulled out my dad’s excel spreadsheet from back in 2002 and ran the numbers, the answer was clear. I was ready for something new. I sold my company and took on running NextSpace full time. I’m very proud to say we now boast over one hundred members, recently opened a second floor to double our space in San Francisco, and added a third location in Los Angeles, and a fourth space in San Jose.

I truly believe that coworking is the future of work. It gives members an incredible community to hire from, be hired by, become close friends with, and depend on. It gives members a place to come every day, or a few days a week—a place where the work-focused mentality translates into so much getting done every day that it accelerates everyone’s business. It’s a beautiful space, filled with sunlight, warmth, and energy. I just love it and love being a part of it.

We say this cheesy thing a lot. That people come for the space but stay for the community. Every time I say it I realize how true it is. It’s what I have created in one way or another since I started my career, and I’m so proud to champion a solution for all of the Rebeccas of the past and future. No one needs to work alone.

| July 26, 2011 | Entrepreneurs, Leadership, Small business | 3

3 Responses to How One Woman Built a Career Creating Community at Work

  1. Sandy Jones-Kaminski says:

    Love Rebecca’s story, the community focus of NextSpace and the coworking concept in general. Question now is…when will they be opening a location in the East Bay or Marin??

  2. Claire Wagner says:

    It was fun to see this story. I’m actually at NextSpace San Jose right now and really enjoying the friendly vibe. I met Rebecca a few weeks ago when she was filling in here. As a freelance writer working from home, I really need a change of pace sometimes and to stop sequestering myself. NextSpace is a great alternative!

  3. askmrlee says:

    I just used the NextSpace in San Francisco today to help me prep for an interview. Getting the Signpost deal helped seal the deal, but I would have been happy to pay the standard price.

    Only thing I missed was the happy hour which Rebecca said started at 3:58pm! Next time I can stay late on a Friday, I’d be game. Want to check out the SJ location soon too.

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