Dog-Focused Coworking: A Q&A With Work & Woof Founder Jillian Dretzka

Work & Woof founder Jillian Dretzka talks coworking, community, and doggy daycare.
  • Based in Austin, Texas, Work & Woof is much more than a dog-friendly coworking space.
  • With play areas and on-site grooming, the space is home to a variety of professionals, including dog entrepreneurs.
  • Allwork.Space spoke with founder Jillian Dretzka about her vision for Work & Woof and how she’s tackling her biggest challenges.

When Jillian Dretzka moved from Chicago to Austin, she knew she wanted to cowork. A former member, fill-in community manager and social media contributor to the former NextSpace River North in Chicago, she had already fallen in love with coworking.

There was just one problem. Dretzka had recently adopted her dog, Lucca. Austin is a dog-friendly town, with lots of dog-friendly coworking spaces, but Dretzka needed more than just a place where Lucca could lay at her feet while she worked, because Lucca’s boundless energy made that virtually impossible.

Dretzka didn’t find a space that worked for her, so in June of 2018, she opened one named Work & Woof. A 7,000 square foot space with offices, conference rooms and open coworking, Work & Woof also has large indoor and outdoor spaces for dogs to play in, staff to monitor the dogs, on-site grooming and more.

Allwork.Space spoke with Dretzka about her vision for Work & Woof, the community that’s emerging in the space, and how she’s tackling her biggest challenges, including educating the market about her offerings. Here are the highlights of the conversation.

Allwork.Space: Let’s start with the basics. Will you give me an overview of what Work & Woof is like?

Jillian Dretzka: It’s a 7,000 square foot building; 4,000 of that is an interior play yard and 3,000 is coworking. We have an open area with couches and a TV, and we have hot desks in the open area.

We have three private offices, two phone booths and two quiet rooms that line the perimeter. The quiet rooms consist of communal tables and desks where you can go in, shut the door, and it’s a lot quieter than if you were to take a desk in the open space.

Today we have 20 dogs and they’re all outside, so the interior space is completely empty — it’s dead silent. One of the ways we are able to do both is we commit ourselves to a couple days a week of just being outside. In our marketing, we let people know that if they’re thinking of coming in to cowork, Tuesdays and Thursdays are good days for that because we’ll usually be outside.

I saw that you also offer grooming and daycare. Is that all on-site or do you outsource it?

The grooming is in a room we have in the back. We do everything but cutting on-site, so nail trim, baths, blowouts, brushing, we do in that back room. We also do daycare for the day, so you don’t have to cowork and leave your dog, you can just leave your dog.

How many people do that?

Right now, coworking is about 20 percent of our business and daycare is about 80 percent.

So the need for daycare is there, and you’re still educating people about the coworking space. A lot of space operators work to educate people about coworking. You’re taking it a step further and educating them about coworking and the dog space.

About one in five people will start with daycare. Then, once their circumstances change, or they get more familiar with us and realize their dog likes our facilities, they’ll come and use the coworking. We’ve been able to convert some of the daycare into coworking memberships, which has been great.

What does a typical day at Work & Woof look like?

We do intake in the morning, so people drop their dog off and we have one or two handlers in the yard at all times to monitor the dogs. Typically, I’m here in the mornings to greet people and give tours. We take the dogs right at the front door and walk them back to the yard.

We don’t have any set drop-in times, so coworkers come at their leisure. Right now, because we’re not full, they can just drop-in. There will probably be a time later on when we’ll have reservations in place to make sure we’ll have enough space.

Coworking spaces generally have a lot of digital creatives, freelancers, remote workers, independent professionals. Who makes up the community at Work & Woof?

It’s a mix of everyone. I’ve made a ton of connections with other dog entrepreneurs in Austin. Our space hosts a dog entrepreneur meetup once a quarter.

Of our coworkers, it’s a third remote workers, a third freelance, and a third dog entrepreneurs, but it’s a pretty mixed bag. When we first started, we had a lot of remote workers who were just looking for a way to get out of the house. Now we’re getting a lot more people who work for themselves.

The fact that you have a lot of dog entrepreneurs is very meta. People working on their dog projects in the dog-friendly space. It seems like there’s a lot of potential for you there.

Absolutely. A friend of mine owns Pupsicool, a company that makes venison bone broth treats for dogs. She was one of the first people I met here. She and her team have a weekly meeting in the space where they rent an entire room and meet for eight hours. She was looking at coworking spaces, but her team is all animal owners so they wanted to meet and also incorporate the animals.

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One of the biggest things we had to worry about was noise because we don’t separate the spaces. When you walk in the front door, you can see all the way to the back wall. But we’re finding that anyone who’s a dog owner anticipates that if they come to a space where there are dogs, there’s going to be noise.

At the beginning, the noise turned people off. Now, they say it’s no big deal, that they expect it. That’s been really nice. We didn’t know if that was going to be a huge hurdle we had to overcome or something that wouldn’t matter that much.

The tradeoff for them is to be able to go in and know their dog is in safe hands, running around having fun and not chained to their desk. So they can put up with some barking, I imagine.

I tell people that, in a regular coworking space, if my dog was at my feet, I would end up looking down every 20 or 30 seconds to make sure she wasn’t eating anything. Until you sit here and work and know that your dog is outside having fun, you don’t even realize how much time you spent thinking about the dog and making sure they’re fine and safe.

Now, I know that she’s outside, in a fenced-in area with people watching her. And, in addition to knowing she’s safe, I know she’ll be exhausted when we get home, which is every dog owner’s dream.

How has the space been received?

It’s been received extremely well. We’re tucked in the back of a business park because of the sheer amount of space we needed, so getting people in the door has been our biggest challenge. But, once people are here, we convert about 97 percent of them. People sit down, have one productive day, and go home with a tired dog. They’re like, “Where has this been my whole life?”

How does Lucca like the space?

She loves it. Because we’re new, we’re here almost seven days a week and she’s so much easier at home. She’s such a social dog and she loves people. She’ll lay at the feet of some of our members. She’s kind of the office dog.

There are lots of dog-friendly spaces, but this is something else entirely. Have you attracted a lot of attention?

The only other concept that comes close to this is in Columbus, Ohio called Tail Wags Playground. But, instead of traditional coworking, it’s just a lounge. They encourage people to work, but we took it a step further and made coworking official. I took everything I loved about NextSpace and brought it here, so it’s more than just a lounge.

Do you plan to open more Work & Woof locations?

The dream is to have as many as we can. We’re in the beginning of month seven, so we’re still trying to figure out how we’re doing and making sure our numbers are right. But I think anywhere that is dog-friendly and has inclement weather could really benefit from something like this. We haven’t actively sought out any VCs or done any pitching because we haven’t needed to, but that may change.

What is the biggest challenge you’re working on?

We’re trying to find the right marketing mix. We’ve done some print advertising and, being that social media is what I do in my other job, I like to put dollars behind social media. My parents are both extremely successful in their own right, and they’re a little bit more old school. We’ve been trying to mix their old school ideas of marketing with my millennial attitude and tools.

We’re working on just getting the word out and finding different ways to get into the entrepreneurial community through hosting different workshops and things like that, versus relying solely on social media marketing.

That’s been our biggest challenge because, like I said, once we get people through the door, they’re sold. It’s just about making sure we’re spending enough money, and the right kind of money, and putting it in the right place.

What’s next for you and Work & Woof?

We’re putting together more community events. We’re thinking about doing a big fundraising fun run this Fall and partnering with some of the local charities. We’re continuing to make our presence known in the community. Austin is very charitable, so partnering with local organizations is a good way to go for us, in terms of good exposure.

We want to continue to bring people in, continue to grow, and hopefully have a stellar first year. Our one year anniversary will be in July. The goal for us is to be a one-stop shop for dogs and their owners. We want to bridge the gap. A lot of people don’t want to be gone for the day without their pets — we’re trying to make sure they don’t have to.

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