A few years ago, when I was fairly new to this area, I got a job at Starbucks and was absolutely miserable. I wanted to leave but I wasn’t sure where to go, and I had no connections. Overtime I met some people in Albany, and while I was (nervously... awkwardly) hanging out at their home one day I was struck by a particular moment: someone asked me what I did for work and the nervousness began melting away. My NEED to vent my frustrations brought me out of my shell. I expressed how I really felt about my job in a manner that garnered attention, more people started tuning in. As it turned out there was someone there who owned a coffee shop (Stacks, as luck would have it!) I must have made a strong impression that day, because my tale of woe resulted in a job offer! At the time I had never even heard of Stacks, so the skeptic in me thought it was a too good to be true. A couple of weeks later he followed up about an interview, and not long after that I got the job that has changed my life. This experience taught me that opportunities can come from where you least expect them. These instances don’t seem like networking opportunities, but if I've learned anything about networking, it's that you are always representing yourself. If I had been too shy to speak, too rude or vulgar, or if I hadn't been open about my circumstances--even though I had no idea what opportunities were laying in wait--I could have made the wrong impression with a future employer and coworker. And what a shame that could've been. If I hadn't been open, honest, and authentic in that moment, who knows where I would be today! You really never know what doors will open for you so long as you remain open and be ready to connect. Networking occurs more naturally than we realize.
What is CoLab? How can we define something that is less a concept, and more a lived experience?
To put it simply: CoLab is a shared work space.
But often that definition falls flat. I’m met with a disappointing look, a blank expression, an understandably empty, “oh, uh... okay.” I get it! That’s how I reacted when I was first approached about this concept, and I when I first saw the big empty room that would eventually house it.
I was confused by the energy with which it was being presented to me. How anyone could be so jazzed about a large room filled with desks and chairs… like a library without the books.
I could imagine a demand for it, but I couldn’t see clearly why the idea of it made my boss so... giddy (for a lack of a better term).
At his insistence I researched other coworking spaces to get an idea of what kind of environment we’d be selling. To be frank, I had no clue what he meant by “coworking,” but I was eager to understand what all the fuss was about. I googled the phrase “coworking space” and with one click entered an entire universe I didn’t know existed.
Coworking is a new way of working (post-corporate office, and coffee shop work sesh-adjacent) that focuses on the one thing that all other work environments seem to lack: COMMUNITY. What makes coworking difficult to explain--and therefore difficult to sell--is that it isn’t something that can be quickly understood with a verbal explanation, but rather by lived experience! If you don’t believe me then try and think of ways to explain a community while capturing the true essence of what a community is. Not so easy, huh? It’s like trying to explain a scent or a color, the best way to get a sense of what it is is to experience it yourself! Words alone often don’t do an experience justice. My job is to sell a feeling, an idea, an energy. That is freaking hard to do when I am asked to explain it in words, but I’m going to try!
Imagine being tasked with a project you’re super stoked about. You can’t wait to dive in and learn everything you can. But then your phone rings, or your kids make a fuss, or your laundry cycle finishes, or your food order is ready, or you just lose your train of thought because the space around you is either too isolating or too hectic! Does that sound familiar?
Have you ever wished you could turn to the person next to you and share with them a piece of a puzzle you’re stuck on or excited about? Have you ever gotten lost in a thought and needed to figure your way out of it but had no one around you to share ideas with? Have you ever felt so pressured to do better than the person sitting next to you that you lose all drive and passion for the work that you do? I mean, just writing all that out I got exhausted. I have felt all of those just today. Lacking the space and resources I need to focus has turned the things I love to do, or learn about, into a chore. As an adult I have to spend the majority of my time working to support myself and my family. Working is a part of life, why should it be so unenjoyable?
The idea behind coworking is to provide communities with space to work on the things they’re passionate about without those restrictions I just listed ad nauseam! I hope to see individuals come in with their own projects, ideas, skills, dreams, and businesses, and utilize one another to generate some truly amazing things! I cannot thrive alone, I NEED other people to direct and support me on my path to success. I need a community to hold me accountable, and to inspire me keep moving forward. I hope to make the CoLab an integral part of the Capital Region.
I believe people need a place where energy is focused on productivity, creativity, inspiration and togetherness, and I believe the CoLab will be that place.
So once more, what is CoLab? To put it simply: a thoughtfully-designed, living, breathing ecosystem for innovators, entrepreneurs, students, artists, and straight-up working folks to focus, network, nurture and build up the communities in which they live.
A couple months ago I got a message from Tyler, one of our owners at Stacks--the brain-father of CoLab--, to talk about a coworking space. At the time I was a barista working only a couple of shifts a week. I'd been a Stacks employee for almost two years, and in that time I’d found more than just a job, I’d found a family. They have been with me through some huge milestones in my life. When I announced I was having a baby, I was shown more love and support than I could've ever imagined. It was clear that Stacks was more to me than just a job, and that these people were more than just coworkers and customers.
The community that has grown around Stacks has helped draw me out of my shell, and has given me the opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself. It was in the shop where I met my fiance. It was the people I work with who have helped me through the months after having my son. It was the people I serve coffee to that showed me that I can be an important member of the community.
When people come into the shop they know my name and ask me about my family because they know, or want to know, what is going on in my life. I go to Stacks not just to do my job, but to be around people who teach me, everyday, what it means to be part of a community. When Tyler brought up this plan to open a coworking space, I admit I was a bit skeptical at first. I wasn’t sure how an “office space” could contribute to this community, but after doing my homework I realized it was so much more. Below are some of the initial resources I used to replace skepticism with inspiration, hopefully they’ll inspire you too!