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#CoolGigCompanies – Canopy, Co-working Differently

The trend of independent work is not just a story about the workers, but also the ecosystem that supports them.  In my #CoolGigCompanies series I highlight some of the firms that may not be as ell known as others, but are equally cool…

The Canopy Neighborhood

In a tony residential neighborhood in San Francisco in the second floor space above a Peet’s coffee and a bookstore is the first Canopy co-working site.  When you ascend the black marble stairs you enter an elegant open space with work stations and a kitchen in the rear.  There are glass enclosed conference rooms around the perimeter, which ensure that the suite remains bathed in natural light.  Comfortable couches and lounge chairs occupy one area, and intimate two person banquettes with tables frame the other side.  Fluted black marble columns punctuate the space, which is painted in tones of grays, blues and black accents. The space exudes artful efficiency, elegance and serenity, terms which you might not associate with co-working.

Co-working has seen an incredible rise with the growth in the gig economy.  According to the Solo City Report, in 2007 there were 75 co-working spaces worldwide and by 2015 there were 7800. WeWork, the largest of the new co-working providers, has a market cap of $20 billion, and recently got an injection of $4.4 billion from SoftBank.  In a recent WSJ piece, the founders explained that they are not a real estate play, so much as a technology play.  They have created a platform and  just as important, a company culture  targeted at Millennials who make up the largest cohort in the gig economy.  Their vibe is hip and  high-energy, with lots of seating options, cafes and ping pong tables. Their locations are deliberately in the middle of the action, in the technology hubs and financial districts of major cities.

Amir Mortazavi, an architect, wanted to share space, but he definitely did not want to have to go to the crowded city center to do so.  Dealing with downtown traffic, astronomical parking rates and congestion did not appeal to him at all, and nor did the frenetic vibe of the spaces targeted at Millennials.   He much preferred the notion of something quiet and convenient in his Pacific Heights San Francisco neighborhood.  At first he thought he would try to co-locate with folks in adjacent industries, like landscape architects, interior designers and real estate attorneys. However many of those had different locations priorities; the landscapers wanted to be near nurseries, the designers near the design district and the attorneys near the courthouse.  Undaunted, Amir decided there must be others like him, who wanted to work in the neighborhood.  He was right.

He hooked up with Yves Behar, a noted Herman Miller furniture designer and Steve Mohebi, the financial part of the team to launch Canopy, a co-working space with an emphasis on design thinking to support the work efforts of its members.  They managed to secure their first 3000 square foot location on Fillmore Street in 2015.  The space had been vacant for 30 years, and had once been a movie location; the corner office was the office of Clint Eastwood in one of the Dirty Harry movies.   The lease negotiation and  complete overhaul of the space took 18 months.  Once they opened, they were full within a month.

Amir attributes their success to the fact that they have created a premium brand in the co-working space.  “Canopy is to WeWork”, he explains, “as Blue Bottle is to Starbucks.”  The furniture in the space is all of the highest quality Herman Miller designs. Beautiful Heath ceramics line the walls and the rest rooms. Canopy believes that where you work affects what you do and who you are, and that construct has been central to everything they do.

The Canopy members are diverse, but there are fewer Millennials than Boomers. That’s is not a problem though, since Boomers make up 39% of the independent workers in the US and they tend to be the most highly paid cohort, given their longer term expertise, according to the most recent  MBO Partners State of Independence  in America Study. Their members include a creative design agency, a venture capitalist and a media content guru. The aesthetics of the Canopy space help them do their work better, as one said, “It is a really elegant space, and it seems to make my work more enjoyable.”

Part of the Canopy ethos is being part of the neighborhood. The team deliberately decided not to include a café in the space, since there were so many great eateries on Fillmore Street. Members love to have clients to the office and then head off to coffee, lunch or drinks in this trendy part of town.  Canopy builds community with its members by hosting events, many of which involve the greater community as well. For example, a liquor store across the street hosted a Mezcal tasting event for members, which helped raise money for the victims of the Mexican earthquake. As the wine country wildfires raged, Canopy became the spot on Fillmore Street where people could drop off donations for the fire victims.

Soon, a very different second location will open.  A much larger, 11,000 square foot project in North Beach is in the works.  Although in a wonderful San Francisco neighborhood, it will be adjacent to the financial district, so the mix of members may differ.  The space has several unique attributes, one of which is an enormous deck, which will be accessible for members. Amir stressed that each space will be tailored for its neighborhood.  “We don’t have the one size fits all mentality of other players in the space.”

In the next 3 years, the team hopes to have 2-3 more 10,000 square foot sites in a number of cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland. These sites will be in neighborhoods where like-minded members can congregate and do good work in a well-designed, elegant space.  Their tagline says it all, “A Beautiful Place to Work in your Neighborhood.”

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#CoolGigCompanies – Canopy, Co-working Differently


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