Alex Hillman on Coworking That Works & The 10K Independents Project

Passionate About The Ecosystem Behind Good Co-Working

Alex Hillman is passionate about co-working that works. He is the founder of Indy Hall, one of the longest-running co-working communities in the world in Philadelphia. When he set out to create the space, he was really just intending to find others like him who were working independently and didn’t want to feel so lonely:

Alex missed the camaraderie he’d found in the companies he’d worked for in the past. He longed to bounce ideas off of creative colleagues, and learn from each others successes and challenges. Anything was better for his creativity and productivity than the isolation of working alone.

What started out as a “clubhouse” for independents ended up turning into a business that he’s still running 13 years later. While he doesn’t love the real estate management aspect of the business, he remains deeply committed to building and cultivating a community that people want to be a part of.

He worries that co-working has come to mean too many things to even be a useful descriptor. He sees many “co-working” spaces being run as real estate occupancy businesses without any deeper meaning:

coworking at its best isn’t an occupancy based business at all. If the only time your members can get value from their membership is when they’re in the room, you’re limiting the potential of your community AND fundamentally you’re limiting the size of your business by tying it to your square footage.

One thing he has found that works in co-working is focusing on the underlying relationships and the people instead of the work. Our natural tendency is to focus first on finding people to help us accomplish something. However, what he has found is that people that cultivate friendships and relationships first end up creating new opportunities and partnerships that last.

From our discussion:

If I look at the best collaborations, the best experiences, the most enduring business partnerships I’ve seen form through the Indy Hall community, its was people that built relationships before they started working together…we want to give people the opportunity to make relationships with people that they might need later, but they don’t need yet…

Alex Wants To Create 10,000 Independent Jobs

After seeing countries across the US lose their mind to woo Amazon and the prospect of tens of thousands of jobs, he thought there had to be a better way. He felt that getting one company to move to your city was not the best strategy (just look at Enron and Houston) for our modern working world.

As he started having conversations, he started brainstorming a more sustainable approach for local communities. This led him to publish a working draft (and in my interpretation, a plea for people to dream bigger!) of what he calls his “10k independents project.” Here is his starting point:

That level of dependence on a single employer is brittle at best and dangerous at worst. And that single source of 50,000 jobs being Amazon, who is notoriously one of the most ruthless businesses in the world, is the WORST worst way to generate those jobs.

We discuss his working plan to use Indy Hall as a basis to create 10,000 sustainable independent jobs. He thinks that through giving people the skills to create their own work, this will inevitably lead to many small (and perhaps a few big) employers that are more sustainable for ecosystems across the country/

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