Expanding Coworking: Rena Tom of Makeshift Society

A Desktime Series on Individuals Opening Multiple Coworking Spaces

Rena Tom. Where to start? She’s a bedrock of both talent and support for the maker, design, coworking, and entrepreneurial communities, the queen of collaboration, and a killer speaker on topics ranging from business to passion, and where those things intersect.



She’s also responsible for San Francisco’s coworking space and clubhouse for creative freelancers, Makeshift Society. In the last year she’s moved ahead with plans to build a second space in Brooklyn and generously offered to be the first in our series exploring the growth & expansion of coworking spaces.

How to Grow, When to Grow



[T]he coworking movement is booming and it felt like the right time to sneak into Brooklyn.

How did you decide it was time to grow? Did you consider more spaces in the same city or expansion to a new city? Were there reasons you did one or the other?

We had been receiving many requests from other cities to come, very early on, but the most requests came from Brooklyn. I used to live there and still have a pretty good network of people in New York, and my friend (and now business partner) Bryan Boyer was moving there, so it was just the right decision. I honestly wouldn’t have started to expand Makeshift so soon if I didn’t have somebody I trusted to manage the location.

Also, Brooklyn has an incredibly vibrant creative population and there are strong ties between the SF and NYC communities already. It’s a little soon to open the second location but the coworking movement is booming and it felt like the right time to sneak into Brooklyn.

We briefly considered opening in Oakland, CA which would have been less expensive and easier to manage, but there’s something about having a beachhead on both coasts that was tremendously appealing.

Did you use outside funding or bring in external partners?

We have some private loans and small investors. We were looking at SBA loans but they don’t know what to make of the coworking environment as of yet so that was out.

What did you do differently from the get-go with the second space?

We’re in the process of opening right now so I can’t really say! The second space is larger, and we’ll have room for a creative tool lending library, which I’m really excited about. We’re taking some lessons on the operations side from the first location but since doing business in NY will be different, we’re going to wait and see what the membership wants, and make adjustments as we go.

note: the lending library is being funded by a super successful Kickstarter campaign.



Do you plant to spend equal amounts of time in each space?

I’ll still be based in SF but imagine I’ll get out to NY every quarter to check up on things. I did six trips last year, that was a little crazy. Fortunately, Bryan and I are in sync with our goals and mission so he will be the main point of contact for NY.

Coworking Culture

We’re scrappy and resourceful and design-driven and a little goofy.

In what ways do/did you want the culture to be the same in the spaces? In what ways did you want it to be different?

I want to have a similar vibe, for lack of a better word. The SF location is relaxed yet productive. We really do have a nice community which is truly close-knit, respectful, helpful, and funny. Everyone is laid-back Maybe that’s the West Coast thing manifesting! I want to import some of that to New York; people are super ambitious and I don’t want to halt that in any way but the vibe is one of the things that makes our space unique.

I think the NY space will be a little more polished, and diverse in industries represented. I love that and am excited seeing how that turns into culture and collaborations.

Because you are opening in a new city, what are you keeping consistent and what are you changing? How are you learning about the culture and needs of workers and businesses in a new city?

The biggest difference is the size of the second space – it’s four times the size. We’ll have some dedicated desks (San Francisco is entirely flex desks) and we’ll have a little bit of storage and a way to accommodate bigger events. New York apartments are so little that storage and mail handling are things we are going to target.



How do you deal with folks that don’t fit the community you are building? Is it the same in all your spaces?

Honestly, we haven’t had much of a problem at all. The clearer our message is and the more we show via social media or our blog what our members are up to, the less trouble we have. The lack of dedicated desks and the very intimate scale [in San Francisco] also fits our freelancing population very well.


What are the best, most effective tools for marketing and driving folks to your space(s). Does it differ for each space?

Right now we are word of mouth and social media. Oddly enough, we have the most followers on Instagram. We’re growing at a very nice pace and not feeling the need to do too much more advertising. For New York, the newness factor will help a lot, and the fact that we’ll be in media central.

What’s a service that doesn’t exist for growing coworking spaces or a network of spaces that you wish did?

A better community layer or application made for networked spaces. It still doesn’t exist.

What the best piece of advice someone gave you as you started to grow your space? What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone thinking about growing a space?

I think imbuing your space with your own personality is key. Physical spaces can be replicated but the community cannot, and community members are attracted to the spirit of the space. We’re scrappy and resourceful and design-driven and a little goofy. We encourage people to DIY, where “it” is making their own dreams, projects or careers happen. Those are the people who come to work at Makeshift.



Want to learn more about Makeshift Society?
Check out Makeshift
Read more on their blog about the Brooklyn site
Follow them on Twitter
Follow them on Instagram
Want to learn more about Rena Tom?
Check out her site
Follow her on Twitter

Featured post image from sfgirlbybay.