Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Coming to you today from ATLAS Workbase in Downtown Seattle where my guest is Bill Sechter, Founder and CEO of ATLAS Workbase; Bill, welcome to the show.
Bill: Nice to be here Russ.
Russ: You bet and thank you for having us here.
Russ: This is a fantastic facility to conduct interviews so I’m delighted to be able to talk to you now, in fact let’s start right at the top, tell us about ATLAS Workbase.
Bill: Well ATLAS Workbase is really the marriage between co-working, where it’s evolved, and third place. Our mission is really to provide flexible, intentionally designed workspaces that allow our members to create and conduct business successfully.
Russ: Okay and I would like to hear your description of how you differentiate yourself from these other workspaces that have popped up everywhere.
Bill: Well as you have heard and seen in the marketplace there’s been a whole evolution of workspace from the traditional office to the shared office space where still you can share amenities and whatever but you’re still signing a long term lease to lease that space and you’re really kind of grounded into that one location. And that’s evolved with the whole evolution of co-working, which came from the evolution of technology. Technology has enabled us to be more of a mobile work force and the folks that really have fueled co-working have been the people that have created the technology, so the initial audience for those spaces have really been focused on the technology sector. So what we’ve done is we’ve taken co-working where it’s evolved, where it’s that month-to-month, all-inclusive amenities included type of model and married that with third place. Are you familiar with third place?
Russ: Yes I am.
Bill: So third place is that home, work and that other place that you actually conduct business.
Russ: Which a lot of people refer to Starbucks as being their third place.
Bill: Exactly, so think of us as a co-working space married to a Starbucks and then we’ve taken it a step further and elevated the scale of how we present the brand and added services on top of that and made it even more flexible than the standard co-working space,
Russ: Well the flexibility is something I noticed right up front too. I mean it’s sort of like you offer an a la carte assessment of services here.
Bill: So basically in a traditional office you pick your office; in a traditional co-working space you’ll still pick your office and have some access to other amenities and spaces to be more fluid. Here at ATLAS the first thing that you do is you pick your type of space that you like to work with; we offer a lounge, we offer a table top, a flexible desk type of thing and a fluid what we call work basis and I can talk about that a little bit later. That’s our product base. And then you marry that against the time you’re going to actually use the space, so we provide full time, half time, quarter time programs both monthly and daily. So it allows our members to basically in essence pay for what they’re using for how long they’re using it.
Russ: So obviously along the way this idea gelled in you and your partner’s minds on how to do this, take us back there; what motivated it?
Bill: My background has all been sales and business development and I’ve primarily worked independently out of my home and have represented the companies that I’ve worked for both in my city and globally. So I pretty much always had to work in different spaces that were not the central office if you will. That all evolved about 2010; I kind of stopped, I was in and out of Fortune 500s to startups, so I went and got my MBA and from that experience I determined I wanted to do something on my own.
I wanted to be very entrepreneurial. Part of that experience is really tying yourself to something that you believe in and that you love doing. Well, I love to travel. I’ve booked over close to 10 million miles on various airlines all over the world and that pretty much influenced a little bit of what you see here at ATLAS because a lot of the space here is what you would see in a first class business lounge in an airport; you’d see it in hotels, you’ll see it in really nice offices, you’ll see it in coffee shops. All these different things are all kind of married into here.
So the opportunity I met my business partner who was a real estate developer, had this space, wanted to look at creative work space. We’re right across the street from the Gates Foundation and Seattle Center which is a great central area within Seattle and it was a prime location for some sort of flexible work space. So I kind of looked at the market and where it was at, saw that there was this new evolution in co-working, a unicorn in the market that was doing really well, and said well how can we do something a little bit different and cater to more of a wider audience than just the traditional technical person that’s bro coding – the typical bro coder is the common phrase that’s used.
Russ: Well they seem to intentionally just sort of attract people that are technologists.
Bill: Well again, that’s the evolution of co-working. Back when the internet was just coming on board – and that’s kind of my background, I’ve worked with U.S. Robotics that did with the modems and computers, I worked with the Palm Pilot which put it in our hands and so I’ve kind of lived through this whole evolution of making us more mobile and able to work outside of an office. We’re no longer needed to be tethered to a desk as long as you have a great wireless connection that’s secure and you have the technology to support that and the hardware you can really conduct business everywhere. And that’s what we’re trying to provide, the appropriate space that marries to that technology to be able to conduct business successfully.
Russ: The range of work stations here is phenomenal. You have private sort of cubbyhole type places and you have big board rooms and even meeting rooms and first class furniture. It looks like a major office furniture store almost because everything is new and cool and good looking. And even behind us we have the cloud which right now today is red and that is just a fantastic piece of art and well thought out obviously. Your customers must love this space.
Bill: They do. What they love about the space is – and you talked a lot about the physicality of the space – but there’s another element and that’s the service side of it. From a physicality point of view – that was when I talked about what our mission is, to intentionally design – we know that the typical worker today is fluid and is mobile so they don’t have to go to their desk and that’s the only place that they work. So our members love the fact that they can come in, they can go to a private office, work on that spreadsheet or presentation, 2 hours later go out and collaborate with a colleague about that presentation, go into a meeting space for another hour, present it to their clients and after the meeting is over go and sit in a chair that’s similar to a business class seat on an international flight and just relax with a cup of coffee and review their emails for the day and catch up.
And that’s the physicality of the space but really more important to me is the service side of the space. And that is you’re greeted at the front door by a concierge team that knows who you are, we understand your business, we can cater your experience of what you’d like to represent your brand as to the people that come walking in the door. You have amenities like if you have a dog we have doggie daycare; the concierge that comes and picks up your dog and they can give your dog a bath or actually do daycare for it. We have onsite FedEx Office for your business needs, we have a dry cleaning service that comes in and you can drop off your dry cleaning and pick it up. So we try to take all the elements of life along with work and just make it easy for you to do what you’re here really to do for and that’s to move your business forward.
Russ: Did I notice this correctly, do you also have free parking here for the building?
Bill: That’s a real important element.
Russ: Yeah in Seattle it’s a deal.
Bill: It’s a challenge. I’m not sure that we’ll be able to offer that everywhere we go but our whole model is going to be very transit-centric. Our location is really important to us. We consider ourselves more of a retail brand than an office brand and when you think about that, if you think of an office and an address it’s like I want a premier address and I want to be on the top floor, right? Here we want to be on floor one or two, we want access for people and we want to be able to provide those other services back and forth. And when you’re on the first floor and have access then buses and trains and parking downstairs are all critical to make it easy for you to get here and work here.
Russ: Well I know you’re still relatively new but what sort of people have you been attracting? Are there travelers that come to town and use the space? Are they all local people that were working at home and now they’re working here?
Bill: Well that’s the beautiful part, we are new. So we opened up officially in February so we just closed out 6 months and when you’re building a business plan you have this idea of who your perfect customer is and it’s really refreshing to actually be seeing those types of people walk in the door. So of course yes, being a business traveler nomad myself I certainly see that crowd come through.
People will call up, they’ll Google us up and they’ll say do you really have a place that I can work for a few hours before I catch a flight? I’m like yeah, come on in and you can some into our space and for a small fee you have access to everything that a full time member would have. But in terms of the demographic we see everybody from the house painter that’s coming here and bringing their clients in instead of meeting them at a Starbucks or a café or even at their home kitchen table, they have a neutral spot with beautiful technology to showcase here’s your home today and here’s what it could look like after we do it and their close rates are awesome.
We have those types of folks all the way up to regional reps, lawyers, accountants, startups, investment people and of every age group. And that’s really why I wanted to – it was one of our missions, kind of the why I wanted to do it. I wanted to create a space that was available to everybody and not just that person that’s focused in on technology. So when I speak about ATLAS I hate to use the work co-working because to certain age groups that’s like okay, it’s got a certain thing; it’s going to have ping pong and foosball and free flowing beer and on the opposite side to a lawyer or professional person that’s the last thing they want to be doing is having a meeting where there’s people outside playing foosball and drinking beer. So that’s kind of the difference, so we’re attracting that type of demographic and they’re coming in and enjoying the space.
Russ: So before I let you go when we were talking about parking and you said well I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that in all of our spaces, tell me what the future looks like. Apparently you have plans for more ATLAS Workbases.
Bill: Well the space you’re in today is our prototype and it was our intention to work in this space for at least a year and kind of figure out what this flexible work environment should be. We’ve been successful enough that we’ve decided that we’re going to go out and build some more. So absolutely, hopefully you’ll be seeing ATLAS Workbases initially across the West Coast and wherever that takes us.
Russ: Okay. Bill I really appreciate you sharing this story and I really appreciate you having us here as your guest to do these interviews.
Russ: You bet.
Bill: Thank you.
Russ: And that wraps up my discussion with Bill Sechter, Founder and CEO of ATLAS Workbase and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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