04 Aug Space Profile: Proximity Space in Montrose, CO
“It’s 95% people. 5% space,” advises Dennis Lankes, cofounder of Proximity Space in Montrose, CO.
No, Proximity Space isn’t in a tier 1 city, not even a tier 2 city, not by a long shot. And yet it’s a stellar model to look to for doing coworking the right way. I had the privilege to speak with Dennis at length on more than one occasion, and it’s clear why the space is so successful: Dennis cares. He and his team care a lot.
A recent Forbes contributor article stated Proximity Space as the #1 coworking space in the world. While the methodology behind this rating was certainly not scientific (reviews on one particular coworking directory), it did call a lot of attention to a relatively small space that, in my opinion, absolutely deserves that attention.
This article is about community, it’s about heart and vibe, it’s about automating minutia to focus on what matters.
First, as always, some pictures:
The Connecting Tissue Existed Prior to Opening
Montrose is not a big town. With something like 20,000 residents, it’s reasonable to bump into the same people over and over again. People form a different kind of relationship in this environment. Yes, you know each others’ business, but you also have a neighborly bond, something we’re missing all too often in major cities.
The people at Proximity Space benefit from this larger community cohesion, which is largely tied together by lifestyle. Many professionals move to Montrose (and often commute into the city a couple times per week) for the outdoors and more relaxed lifestyle. This shared love of lifestyle played a big part in connecting Proximity Space’s members together.
Some prospective and current space founders might find this disheartening or irrelevant. “Well, my city isn’t very connected, so I can’t benefit from that preexisting connection,” you might say. Look harder, there are always pockets of community, there is always a fabric that can be woven to bring disconnected groups together in a bigger and more impactful way. You just have to notice them, and make your space for them.
What’s more, the point isn’t that you need to be in a small town. Read a little deeper.
The point is that your space is only a vessel. Is it a vessel for a community of some type? Or is it a vessel for something else (e.g. events, parties, your ego)? All you’re doing is providing a home for a group of people, nothing more, nothing fancier. So start with a community. It’s always easier if you build off of the reputation and community you already have.
It’s About Workers Not Startups
Proximity Space supports local artisans, small business owners, freelancers, and remote workers far more than it supports “startups.” With startups being in vogue right now, I find this very refreshing. Proximity Space is about creating an environment of people who love working together and love where they live, not raising another round of funding or impressing the startup elite of their town (which is good because there probably aren’t many).
This is not to say Proximity doesn’t host events like pitch nights, it’s just that you’re as likely to get somebody pitching a local event planning business as you are to get somebody pitching a tech startup.
They Automate, Which Frees Up Time to Connect
Instead of creating a hodgepodge of disparate systems or underinvesting in security and technology, they opted to invest in the right systems up front, so they could set it and forget it.
Dennis and his team have built their own management software and hardware systems, integrating with tools like Kisi in order to automate the parts of the space that are relatively unimportant. While many founders end up obsessing over details like hours of operation, security and always having a person at the front desk (usually because they are trying to save money and aren’t investing in systems), Proximity Space uses the time savings to create better experiences for members and the larger community, acting as a community center, hosting summer programs for youth, and more.
The one thing they don’t automate, nor would they try to? Connection. They are very high touch when it comes to the meaningful things like introductions, community partnerships, and event collaborations, but are very hands off when it comes to things like space access. This was very clear in Dennis’s demeanor during our interview. Proximity Space doesn’t benefit from this article much. Prospective members in Montrose don’t read this. Dennis participated because he loves connecting with people in a heartfelt and genuine way, because it’s fulfilling to him.
They Find the Comedy in Frustration
We’ve all had or worked with Community Managers that turn apathetic, even hostile. Some of us have even been them ourselves. Proximity Space’s approach is to encourage staff to address problems with lightheartedness and a bit of humility.
“We tell [staff], when you find things that are frustrating, find the comedy in it,” explains Dennis.
A very poignant example is Proximity Space’s hours of operation and public access policy. They don’t keep strict regular hours as staff. Sometimes, you know, they just go get a beer in the middle of the afternoon. So many of you are panicking right now (I almost did when I heard that), but calm down for a moment. It turns out that their relaxed approach is all okay because this sign, posted on their door, says so:
Personality is Key
“When you walk into a room and you don’t have the desire to walk up and introduce yourself to somebody, then you have no business running a coworking space,” Dennis says. He goes on to say that you really need that drive to know what’s going on with people and their lives in order to run a successful coworking space.
The team at Proximity Space firmly believes that either they, whether as founders or the front line employees, need to have that drive to connect and really care about members and the larger community. It’s not something you can fake. Though many try.
Dennis was just wonderful to talk to. The space looks great, but no it’s not as beautiful as many I’ve seen. That’s not the point though. The point is vibe, connection, people. The vibe I got on my virtual tour was fun, casual, and lighthearted. Everybody seemed incredibly friendly, whether long-time members or members of the team.
*Honestly, there is so much more amazing conversation I wanted to include in this profile. It’s material that doesn’t translate well into a profile, though. It’s too nuanced, too specific, and you lose a lot of the emotion. But that’s where our upcoming podcast comes into play, which launches next week. Proximity Space will be Episode #1. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get it as soon as it’s out. The conversation is priceless.