So, in 2014 I started trying to find a place I could work remotely (and not go into the architecture firm I was working at) and also have my kid taken care of. I was still breastfeeding and my babe didn't take a bottle (tell me about it) so I had to be close to her. So, I thought, coworking with childcare is exactly what I need. Then began all the googling...
It didn't exist in Chicago! What? How could this be true? So I started digging some more. I found this model wasn't really anywhere. How? It would be so successful! Such a hit! Such a need! Such a market demand! I researched more and found a coworking with childcare space called Plug + Play in Austin, but the links were wonky - it had shut down after only about 8 months in business from what I could tell.
There was also a place in Seattle that tried to get up and running with a Kickstarter, then went the nonprofit route. But they had "coming soon" on their website for a long time, which made me think it wasn't really "coming soon."
Then I found NextKids and it was like angels from heaven singing. NextSpace is a well-established coworking space in California and NextKids was a side daycare attachment next to one of their spaces in San Francisco. Hallelujah. If only I lived there. But I didn't, soooo...
Researching Coworking and Childcare
I decided to pursue it on my own. I emailed a lot of people. If your email was somehow available online and indicated you were a working mom in Chicago, you probably heard from me. I was on fire and so pumped about bringing this much-needed model to empower all the moms in Chicagoland. I compiled a list of about 100 women who said they were interested in hearing more!
I met with a commercial real estate agent, then started crunching the numbers and unfortunately the profit margins just seemed too tight. Opening a coworking with childcare space was too risky for an unproven model.
Pop-up Coworking and Childcare Events
So instead of opening up a full-fledged brick and mortar, I decided to start hosting "pop-up" coworking with childcare events. I tried it two different ways - I hosted coworking in event rooms at children's play spaces and I hosted childcare in conference rooms at coworking spaces. I thought it was the perfect way to market and grow the business organically.
Pop-up Coworking and Childcare Events Didn't Work
Why didn't they work? So many reasons. But here a few:
1. Money. In one of the crazy amount of articles we were featured in at the time, The Christian Science Monitor wrote How parents cope with America's child-care 'crisis'. In it was this quote that has always stuck with me, “Parents and teachers are caught between a rock and a hard place,” says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of the advocacy group MomsRising. “Parents can’t afford to pay any more, and teachers can’t afford to be paid any less.” When I said before the margins were tough...they were tough as in, I wasn't making any money, and I probably wasn't going to be making any money in the future.
2. Demographics. Because the events weren't consistent, parents who did need consistent childcare couldn't rely on us. So I was reliant on parents who needed inconsistent childcare. And an unreliable client is really hard to, well, rely on for money.
3. Numbers. A lot of people pointed out that it could be like a gym daycare. Well, have you ever talked to a gym owner that has childcare attached? They don't like it. It's a headache and a hassle. Also, successful gyms that can actually offer this service have thousands of members. When you're starting your coworking space, no matter how much marketing you do, you're probably not going to have thousands of members when you open.
Then NextKids Folded
NextKids was the only coworking with childcare space in the nation that was investor-backed. It was also run by a woman with an MBA. So it had all the makings for success. When Diana Rothschild (founder of NextKids) was out in Chicago, she and I had dinner together. We talked about the potential of opening a Chicago chapter of NextKids and me being a part of it. But before that happened, NextKids closed. I was emotionally and socially invested in its success and when it shut down, well, I was really sad about it. (more on NextKids closing)
Merging Existing Coworking and Childcare
Despite all of these challenges, I was still determined to make this model and relationship of coworking and childcare happen. So I went another route and contacted existing coworking spaces with nearby daycares to see if I could have them work together with me being the broker. That way, I didn't have to open a brick and mortar and it would be a win for everyone. We called this idea "The Village" - a website where working parents could find coworking spaces with daycares nearby. And we would make money by taking a cut when people signed up for both.
Merging Existing Coworking and Childcare Didn't Work
Why didn't this work? A few reasons:
1. From the coworking spaces' end:
- At the time coworking spaces were still proving their model. In 2014 people still didn't know the term.
- Coworking spaces run on pretty tight margins. So any percentage taken from their profit was too much and they weren't willing to lose it
2. From the childcare spaces' end:
- Childcare spaces, at least in Chicago, don't have an issue filling spots. You just have to be average (nothing special) and you're going to have a waiting list. So they didn't really need us to increase their business. We weren't filling a need.
Where I See Coworking + Childcare Going In The Future
Honestly, I'm not sure. But I think the best way to do it would be to open a new coworking space and partner with an existing daycare that cares about this type of service to parents and more specifically empowering women. There are so many amazing coworking spaces out already (and there will for sure be many more) so if a new coworking space could create a relationship with a daycare (but stay two separate businesses) that would probably be the surest way to success and a great differentiator.
What I Tell People Who Ask For My Opinion
Look, coworking is a completely different industry now than it was 5 years ago when I was doing all of this. For one, people actually know the term! And, there are specific spaces just for women (The Wing, One Roof)! Amazing! However, if you're wanting to open up a coworking and childcare space, you're opening two businesses, with two different sets of needs that don't have a lot of overlap.
But if that's what you want to do - go for it! There's nothing like someone telling me it can't be done that motivates me to do it! Ha! An incredible resource for me was the Coworking and Childcare Googlegroup. So cool to look at the archives and see people who started out in there and then actually created their business! And you can see what they learned from it. If you're called to do it, do it! I'm writing all of this to hopefully give you some pointers and shortcuts.
You'll never regret following your curiosity, even if that means in the end it didn't work out the way you planned. I'm so glad I tried to make coworking with childcare work because it led me here to form Feminest and create relationships with all the incredible women I've worked with. So if you decide to try to make coworking with childcare work, you're going to be successful now matter how it turns out.
Some articles I was featured in along the way: