A History of Coworking & Technology Culture at the Jersey Shore.
The Early Days (2008 - 2010)
It’s been two and a half years since Danny Croak and I started Cowerks and we're just weeks away from the big move to our new offices. It’s been a huge undertaking, starting when we signed the lease on 619 Lake Avenue last June. We are on the eve of opening the new location and I want to reflect a bit on the budding technology and entrepreneurial eco-system that has sprung up in and around Asbury Park and the Jersey Shore.
The origins of Cowerks started way back in 2008 when my father shared with me an article on coworking as a “new” kind of office paradigm and suggested that we open up a space in Asbury Park. At the time Danny Croak and I were running BandsOnABudget.com out of a small 400 sq/ft office space we happened to share with another company. I saw the value in a community of “like minded” people but we were still in a lease and not quite ready to make the leap. Nonetheless, the seed was planted.
Fast forward to the winter of 2010. Our lease was expiring in a few months and we had outgrown our space at 626 Mattison Avenue. We were looking to upsize but were a little hesitant to take on too much space too quickly. It was around this time I dusted off a google doc with some notes I had put together for starting a coworking space here at the Jersey Shore. I shared the ideas with Danny and in our typical fashion, over a few beers it snowballed from a few key points to a solid business model with financials and a plan.
The hunt was on - over the next few months we checked out every available piece of commercial real estate in downtown Asbury Park, but whenever we ran the financials on a particular location, it became clear that we didn’t have a viable business model in that particular space.
After a few months of frustration the entire idea of coworking at the Jersey Shore was almost mothballed until the tenant in the space next to our existing office tipped us off that he was vacating exactly at the time we were planning a move. This space, located at 630 Mattison Ave, was about double the size of our existing office and when we ran the numbers, we soon realized that we had a viable business model for Cowerks.
We launched in June of 2010 to very little fanfare and our ideas of having a vibrant coworking community seemed more like pipe dreams. BandsOnABudget.com was profitable enough to carry the operational costs but we knew that we needed to do something to attract talent to the space.
The Rise of Jersey Shore Tech
The idea of the Jersey Shore Web Developers meetup started as a lead generator for Cowerks - we figured that if we could build a community to hang out in the space we’d be able to attract a few talented individuals to work here. The first Jersey Shore Web Developers meetup was held in August 2010 with about ten attendees. One of those individuals happened to be Kevin Fricovsky, a designer and developer who coincidentally was trying to run a creative meetup of his own in Red Bank. Kevin would soon come on board as a co-organizer of Jersey Shore Web Developers as well as become co-founder for Asbury Agile.
The first six months of Jersey Shore Web Developers was slow - the busy months had 15 people and the slower, 2 or 3. In true start-up fashion, we were too stubborn to quit so we plowed through that first winter and our numbers started growing by the spring of 2011. It was at this point that Chris Ackermann approached Kevin and myself about a tech meetup he had recently started and suggested a possible collaboration. We ended up bringing Chris on as a co-organizer as well and merged the two groups under the umbrella of the Jersey Shore Tech Meetup.
Since the merger, our meetup has grown into a vibrant community of 500 members, making it one of the larger tech meet ups in the state of New Jersey. Each month's event is attended by close to fifty entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts from all over Monmouth and Ocean counties and most months boast a waiting list.
We've also been able to spawn off satellite workshops & events such as Cowerks University, the Jersey Shore Entrepreneurs & Investors meetup, a 5 week entrepreneurs bootcamp, hack nights, monthly art shows with live music, as well as Asbury Agile, NJ's first and only Web Developers conference. We also host the NJ Wordpress, Jersey Shore Facebook Developers, & NJ Hadoop Meetups.
We were also fortunate enough, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, to raise over $100,000 for the Red Cross in just seven days via our Cowerks Restore the Shore campaign by turning our space into a fulfillment center that sent out over 4000 packages over 2 weekends.
Tech and Entrepreneurship is alive and well here in Asbury Park!
...and it's about to get a lot bigger.
Over the past 9 months we've built what we feel is going to be a community hub for tech and entrepreneurship here at the Jersey Shore.
Our new space boasts four private offices, a conference room, common space to accommodate about a dozen freelancers, contractors, and other "one-(wo)man" shows. Did I mention that there's a huge walk out balcony overlooking Lake Wesley and Ocean Grove?
Aside from the amenities, we plan to expand upon the events we've been hosting. We plan to partner with additional service providers, as we've been doing with startup law firm SorinRand and IncubateNYC, to bring quality, "real world" advice through workshops, bootcamps, and breakout sessions.
Further down the pipeline we plan to partner with local high schools to offer students access to technology classes as well as mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs. I sincerely feel that what we've been building is going to help pave the way for the next generation of entrepreneurs right here in our backyard.
We Must All Hang Together, or Assuredly We Shall All Hang Separately
What we are building is bigger than any one individual or business and that is evident in the community that has grown over these past 2 1/2 years. With that being said, it's time for you, as a valuable member of this community, to step up and get involved.
We've decided to launch a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo to help fund our vision. We've created levels of participation starting as low as $20 and made sure you'll get some cool schwag to show off for your contribution.
We've tried to keep all of our events either low, or in most cases, no-cost and feel that the value to the community has been immense. You no longer have to travel to NYC or attend a conference costing hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, to have access to the insight and experiences of some of the industries best and brightest. No more sitting on a train for 2 hours just to network for 45 minutes with other entrepreneurs.
As we continue to expand our content offerings we have every intention of keeping things either low or no cost in the interest of building a vibrant network and resource for the community.
If you can share in this vision I hope you'd consider contributing and help fuel the fire of entrepreneurship here in our backyard.
Thank you for your support,
Bret Morgan & Danny Croak
TLDR; Help us continue to build great resources for entrepreneurs & tech enthusiasts here in Asbury Park & the Jersey Shore.
Co-founder of Cowerks, Jersey Shore Tech, Bands on a Budget, & Asbury Agile