Niche Coworking For Music Industry Pros: A Q&A With Indo Nashville’s Kate Richardson

Advice from Kate Richardson, co-founder of InDo Nashville, “if you’re looking at opening a coworking space, you need to do a majority of the space as individual offices”

InDo Nashville is an exciting model of niche coworking. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, aka Music City, the space is home to entertainment professionals of all types. In addition to fostering a professional network, InDo provides a space where industry folks, including big name artists, can get work done.

Allwork.Space spoke with InDo co-founder Kate Richardson about how booking a client on the Tonight Show led to the creation of InDo, how she’s educating the local community about coworking, and the importance of having a space where people won’t freak out when a star walks in. Here are the highlights of our conversation. I regularly use Indo Nashville as an example of a necessary niche coworking space because of something you said last time we spoke: that famous people come into the space and you need a community that won’t freak out when they do.

Kate Richardson: The idea for InDo Nashville came to me when I was working at a very sterile, corporate coworking space. I had a moment where I had booked one of my clients on the Tonight Show. It was the first time I’d ever booked anybody on the Tonight Show and I was literally jumping up and down screaming; I was so excited.

People around the room looked up from their computers and started giving me dirty looks. I thought, “Why isn’t there a space like this for creative people?” I envisioned a space that was fun and had music, that had colors other than grey and off-white, and that wasn’t cubes with custom-made tables. I wanted a totally different vibe and there wasn’t anything like that in Nashville. I had a lightbulb moment that I should create it. It seems that Nashville is a great town for a space like InDo.

Nashville might be unique in that it is one of the capitals of the entertainment industry, so having a niche works here. We’re also careful not to be too niche, which might turn people off. We have a wide range of members—everything from entertainment attorneys to a lighting and staging company, to artist managers, to my marketing and PR firm. We even have a couple of investment bankers who have offices here. It’s not limited to entertainment people, but it’s definitely designed to just be a warmer, more creative environment. You certainly capture that warmth and creativity, with the songwriting rooms and the decor and the records hanging from the ceiling. It sets a tone that the space is not at all sterile—it’s creative, colorful, fun. You have people in the space with high stakes gigs and big-name clients. How do you balance that playful spirit in an industry with high stakes and professional seriousness.

One of the things we tell people who come look at the space is that the people who work here are very serious and intense about what they do. The building is a combination of private office suites and open coworking space. There are times that I’m so busy I don’t even venture to the coworking space for days on end because I’m so head-down in the middle of 10 different projects. There are a number of people here who are like that.

We balance that out by making sure that we have something, even a happy hour, once a month that invites people to come out of their office. We also foster an environment that is comfortable for celebrities. We have a lot of celebrity clients—several of the companies in the building work with well-known celebrities. We need a place where people can walk in and not be accosted. Even though we’re niche, and entertainment sounds really fun, entertainment is a lot of hard, hard work, and long, long hours. There’s definitely serious business being done here. How is it being a niche space in a city where the big coworking chains are competing for your members? Do you think being niche is an advantage?

It has definitely been helpful to us. Recently, in particular, we’ve been really marketing  ourselves as a locally-owned option, the non-corporate option, the one where you’re really going to know the owners. We’re on-site every day creating a special environment and taking care of needs.

We listen to our members and a lot of members have expressed that they want more private offices versus more open space. It seems to be a trend for us that people really want their own dedicated space with walls and a door, which is not what we expected when we first built the space. We’re actually in the process of building out more private offices.

We’ve done a lot of outreach to international executives who travel to Nashville for part-time memberships, which has been great. We have a lot of people in the entertainment  industry coming here from the UK, Australia and Canada, in particular. That’s been a really nice source of daypass, drop-in or half-month people. How do you find those international music professionals and let them know about InDo?

It’s been through a lot of networking. We’ve done a few events for international organizations. During the Americana Music Festival, which we’re an official venue for, we had events from Australia and Canada in our building. That really opened the eyes of other managers and booking agents and even artists who were coming to town. With the focus on building more private offices, who do you see working in the open coworking space? Is that even something there’s a need for at InDo?

For us, the trend is toward individual offices. The coworking people tend to be the part-time people stopping into town. We had a film company working on a large music video for a big, big artist. They were here for two weeks of pre-production; they used our event space for wardrobe and some of the staging of the sets; and they were here for a week after the shoot. That was a crew of six people who ended up working here for a month.

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The coworking space tends to be more temporary and for more transient people. It also attracts people who are trying coworking out. They normally work from home and they’re finally getting stir-crazy, which I can relate to in my own company. I went from working at home, to working in coffee shops, to coworking, to having a private office. It’s almost like it’s a natural progression for a company.

The other people we find in open coworking are older executives who are transitioning into consulting. Oh, that’s an interesting demographic.

They’re people who might have finally left that crazy, high-powered job and now they’re consulting, and they just want a great place to come work. They tend to be part-time and to use the space for meetings. Is InDo full? Where are you with capacity?

Our private offices are almost always full. We happen to have one we’re renting this month. We’re currently building out six more one-person private offices, as these tend to always be rented. We have plenty of opportunity to add coworking. Last time we talked, you were doing a lot to educate the local community about coworking. Is there more understanding now of what it is you’re doing at InDo?

More people know what it is now. We still do outreach and go to events. I just had a meeting with someone from the Chamber of Commerce the next county over. They were just coming in to try to understand what coworking is. As much as you think everybody knows about it, it’s a brand new thing for some people.

Almost three years in, people are starting to know who we are. They’ll mention that they’ve been to our building. That took longer than I expected, but finally three years in, we feel like people know we’re here. What else is new in your space and community, what are you working on?

The focus on international has been a new thing for us, and it’s got some traction. We have an Australian performing rights organization (PRO), which is almost like a union for songwriters—they collect royalties on behalf of songwriters. There’s only one PRO in Australia and they opened a satellite location in Nashville. That’s been really interesting because all kinds of artists have been coming through, including multi-platinum artists and one of the guys from INXS who was here songwriting.

You never know who’s going to be here. It ranges from baby bands just coming through town, writing some songs and doing their first show in Nashville, to superstars. We thought it was cool that we could be an international house, so we’re doing that. That’s a new thing for us. I’d love to dig into the financial viability of a niche space like InDo. Is there anything you can share about your profitability for other space operators?

If you’re thinking about a space, there are a few things that are really key for us. We were able to buy our building, which made a big, big difference. If we’re just breaking even, we’re still making money because our building is appreciating in value so much. You can’t do that in every city—in New York or LA, it’s not an option because it’s just too expensive. But in a smaller city, I highly recommend trying to figure out how to buy your space.

The other thing is that, in the first plans for our space, we were not going to have any private offices. Our contractor was helping us work with the bank to get the loans to renovate the building. He was the one who told us we really needed private offices because those are guaranteed leases. We only do a one-year lease and we’re pretty flexible if somebody crashes and burns and needs to get out of it. As long as we can rent the space, we let somebody out of their lease.

Having those set leases and being able to project the income from the offices was really what the banks needed. They don’t understand coworking at all. They kind of understood that it was like a country club, and you had a membership, but they definitely saw membership projections as much riskier than leases. In hindsight, because the private offices have been so much more popular that we expected, it turned out to be golden advice. I definitely think that if you’re looking at opening a coworking space, you need to do a majority of the space as individual offices. What’s the community like at InDo? Are you able to create a sense of community in a space that is increasingly private offices? Do you find people collaborating and connecting in the space?

This is going to sound horrible, but I think the whole hype about creating community, where everybody hangs out and there’s a big, collaborative, kumbaya environment, in the entertainment industry, is not that realistic. We’re all so busy and intense. I don’t have time to be all that kumbaya, but I think we have just the right amount of community.

We’re not in each other’s business, but it’s a super-friendly environment. We all know each other by name, we talk about what projects we’re working on, and whether someone is traveling a lot. We’re definitely conversational friendly, but we’re too busy to just be sitting around eating bon-bons.

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