With WeWork Deal Up in the Air, Will Geekdom Remain the Only Game in (Down)town?

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Geekdom members work in pocket offices in the popular co-working space in downtown San Antonio.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Geekdom members work in pocket offices in the popular coworking space in downtown San Antonio.

It appeared a few months ago that Geekdom’s hold on the downtown coworking scene would face a test with international coworking company WeWork slated to arrive in late 2019.

Despite detailing in September where and when it would be launching services in San Antonio, however, the company has told the Rivard Report it has not finalized a lease at the Kress Building on Houston Street and is exploring a number of sites.

“WeWork is actively looking at real estate in San Antonio,” a spokesman for the company said. “We think San Antonio is a lovely and growing city. We want to find the right opportunity here, but nothing has been signed as of yet.”

The company previously stated it would open in five floors at the Kress Building in late 2019 and would accommodate more than 1,100 members.

The Kress Building located on East Houston Street.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

WeWork had announced it would set up shop in the historic Kress Building but now says its search for space is ongoing.

If WeWork does arrive in the city, Geekdom’s leaders aren’t worried about the perceived competition. In fact, WeWork’s potential expansion in downtown San Antonio, they say, validates the work they’ve done to cultivate a veritable tech district in the center city – a Houston Street corridor that boasts Geekdom-incubated startups such as Merge VR and Codeup and increasingly larger companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers and, soon, The Hut Group, a British e-commerce enterprise.

And despite Geekdom and WeWork sharing a main product – tech-centric coworking space – that’s really about all the two entities have in common, said Nick Longo, Geekdom co-founder.

“WeWork is not in the business to grow my downtown,” Longo said. “But we are.”

Although some may perceive an overlap in services, Longo said there is a clear distinction: In addition to coworking space, Geekdom – in the Rand Building, 110 E. Houston St. – sells the tools to successfully begin a startup.

He said the entrepreneurial activity in Geekdom has stagnated recently, which is why the 7-year-old organization is injecting more education into its programming.

Starting on Feb. 4, Longo will lead instruction at Geekdom’s new entrepreneurship boot camp, The District. It’s a six-week course geared toward aspiring startup founders. The goal, Longo said, is to create a steadier pipeline of new ventures and prepare them for the road ahead.

Eventually, he hopes that road will perhaps include officing at WeWork or other downtown office space.

“Our goal is for you to move on once you’ve had any kind of modicum of success,” he said. “That’s how San Antonio will grow; that’s how downtown will grow. I actually look forward to some of those companies that are at Geekdom [saying,] ‘Hey we’ve raised enough money or we make enough money to go office at WeWork.’”

Or, as Geekdom CEO David Garcia Jr. explains it, Geekdom is geared toward entry-level entrepreneurs with anywhere from a single employee to about 15 team members. WeWork, meanwhile, mostly caters to larger, more corporate entities, Garcia said.

“I’d be more than happy to say, ‘Hey you’re too large’ or ‘you may not be the right fit for us,’” he said. “‘But there’s another place down the road that you can go and check out and see if it’s a better fit for you.’”

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

CEO David Garcia Jr. stands in Geekdom’s basement expansion, which is expected to open next week.

A base membership at Geekdom costs about $50 a month, while the starting membership plan at WeWork – for access to common areas and unassigned desk – is $220 a month, according to the company’s website. The price disparity – as well as the more luxe amenities and professionalized services available through WeWork – likely moots the suggestion that WeWork could cannibalize Geekdom’s place in the market.

But there are perhaps a few itinerant Geekdom members who would find WeWork’s omnipresence in many major cities helpful. WeWork offers credits so that members can use their collaborative space in its 25 U.S. locations as well as in dozens of other countries. The company has more than 250,000 members across nearly 300 locations globally.

Member companies can also opt for human resources services through WeWork, which could provide members with such benefits as health insurance, retirement plans, and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) coverage.

Geekdom member Braustin Mobile Homes is celebrating a graduation of sorts next week. The digital mobile home dealership is moving a portion of its staff to a brick-and-mortar facility in far South San Antonio but maintaining a presence in Geekdom indefinitely, said Alberto Piña, Braustin co-founder.

“I don’t see a time when we won’t have some office presence in Geekdom,” Piña said. “There are just so many ideas we’ve been able to get out of there and so many people we’ve been able to meet that it’s just probably always going to be part of our business.”

Pina and the Braustin team host a podcast titled Doublewide Dudes. They had been using a living room to record the show but will soon use the newly built podcast rooms in the Rand Building basement, an addition to the expanded coworking space that will be unveiled next week.

The expansion also includes two classrooms that hold as many as 20 people each, four offices, a conference room, community space, and a military corner sponsored by USAA, Garcia said.

It started off as a fun side project, Piña said, but creating audio content – the team has recorded 27 episodes since 2017 – has helped spark a conversation and added another layer of legitimacy to their exclusively online business. One dubious West Texas customer told Piña listening to the podcast alleviated his concerns about not meeting anyone from the dealership face to face.

“Having content helps establish ourselves as thought leaders in industry,” said Piña, whose podcast episodes run the gamut from the homebuying process to dispelling stereotypes about the mobile home inhabitants.

Garcia said Geekdom’s membership sits at 1,840, a jump from about 1,200 two years ago, and he expects that number to rise in the coming year.

“2019 overall is going to be a huge opportunity for people to get re-engaged, showcase what entrepreneurship is, and really enjoy the space,” Garcia said.

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