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Colearning Before Coworking

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by Melissa Geissinger,
President & COO of WIMP and General Manager of WIMPspace

 A geek. A nerd. A dork. If you’re anything like me (a 30-something tech entrepreneur who built her first website in 1996), you’ve been called at least one of these things at some point in your life. The crazy thing? These days it’s actually cool to be identified as one. Well these days if you wander the streets of Santa Rosa, California, about an hour north of San Francisco, and someone yells, “Hey! You’re a Wimp!” fear no more – that’s actually a good thing.

 The North Bay is a very rural area. Think farms, wineries, redwood trees, rolling hills and a population density of about 280 people per square mile vs. San Francisco at 3,611. People are more spread out and everyone kind of does their own thing. Unlike our neighbors to the south (Silcon Valley included) where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a tech entrepreneur, here it required effort to meet members of our own “kind”.

 In 2011 my world changed. My web design business was growing and it became clear: I couldn’t do it all alone; I needed to work with other people who I couldn’t find on Craigslist. I connected with my partner Joshua Simmons, a web developer and fellow business owner, and we decided to start a Meetup group.

 WIMP, an acronym for Web & Interactive Media Professionals, was born in April, 2011. At our very first meetup, 25 people showed up with absolutely no action beyond saying “hi, we’re here!” Very much a “build it and they will come” moment. Where did they all come from?!

 Word spread. 1 month, 42 members.

 We started out having one potluck-themed meetup each month. For some we had speakers, for others we had panels, and others still we simply had a topic and lead a group discussion. Topics ranged from responsive web design (before it was cool) to sharing client horror stories as we passed around a flashlight in a dark room the week before Halloween. We began to host lunches and launched a Facebook group to continue the conversations in-between events.

 The community grew. 6 months, 91 members. 1 year, 151 members.

 In 2012 we hosted our first unconference, WIMPcamp. In 2013 we had our first charity hackathon, WIMPgives. We began to get recognition from people outside of our own Wimpy community and we started hearing more stories about people having success in their careers based on connections made through WIMP.

 2 years, 288 members. 3 years, 395 members.

 We continue to maintain an average of 80-90% attendance rate at our meetups, where the average is somewhere in the 40% range. People didn’t just come to our events if it was convenient, they committed to the community.

 It wasn’t until after we concluded a round of crowdfunding to grow WIMP as a business and not just a hobby that we realized we had a huge need for our own physical space. We needed the freedom to run events as often as we needed without the limitations of borrowed and donated space from our friends and partners.

 And then it came to us – if we had our own event space, it only made sense to open it up to coworking during the day. So WIMPspace came to be, almost by accident.

 WIMPspace has only been open for 5 months and the coworking side of the business has a lot of room for growth. We have much to learn and we’re not yet breaking even, but we have plans to (very soon) better leverage the 1,000+ members in our world-wide community. We’re launching a premium membership where – get this – basic coworking access is a perk of membership rather than the other way around. Crazy, right?

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