The door to Collective Chemistry is nestled in the side of an unassuming brick building,
hidden between a bustling corner cafe and a spotless 7-11. It’s easy to miss, but inside it
feels like a secret passage. After a few stairs the tight corridor opens out to
a wide room, and the frenetic downtown exterior gives way to a relaxed, well-equipped studio that bears more resemblance to a lounge than a traditional office space. A long, and admirably stocked, bar is filled with people discussing projects and endeavors over lunch, while a blue betta fish swims contentedly in the background. This is the coworking space James Macallan and Adam Knight founded in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
Their story started in video production, with Macallan’s Yoyostring Creative and Knight’s Red Element Studios. Between the two, they have experience with everything from live production to 360° video. I got the opportunity to talk with Macallan about the story of Collective Chemistry and the future of coworking in Seattle.
Before there was a collective, there was Macallan and Knight. “We were both working out of our houses,” says Macallan, “And after a year of working together, we got an office, just the two of us to start out.” It’s quite a shift from working at home to heading to an office everyday, but the benefits of a separate shared space quickly showed through. “What changed right off the bat was that it made us feel, for our own businesses, more legitimate,” said Macallan, “It made us feel more professional. We looked more professional when we talked with people - we had an office downtown. I think that mindset of going to the office, being able to ask each other questions, and get each other’s opinions made us feel like we were actual businessmen and we were actually running a business.“
Macallan and Knight aren’t the only ones who have realized the benefits
of working in a shared space. Other homebound freelancers began to hear about Macallan and Knight’s space, and the group naturally grew into what it is today. “We didn’t set out to open a coworking space, we just wanted to work with people. In fact, it’s kind of funny: about two years into having our space, we had about 8 people, and we had a couple people come in and say ‘Hey, we were interested in being part of your coworking space.’’’ Macallan recalls. That’s when they decided to be more intentional with developing the space. “But it’s not a business for us,” says Macallan, “In other words, we don’t make any money on it and we don’t run it as a separate business. Adam and I pay for our desk just like everyone else. We don’t make any money on it, we just get the benefit of working with cool people.” Today, 90% of the people working at the collective are freelancers.
As the group continued to expand, Macallan and Knight decided to move to a bigger space and chose Pioneer Square in a lucky combination of affordable rent and a more creative, artful atmosphere. They fit a big “high top table that laptop members could sit at,” says Macallan, along with eighteen desks for full time members that kept the space comfortable and open. A phone room was put in, along with a glassed area for meetings and cool little elements that matched the theme. Indeed, it was hard to miss the giant connect four, vending machines with M&Ms, and Lewis structures of different atoms on the glass. “We just wanted the place to be fun as well as comfortable, but not cluttered and clean,” said Macallan.
Freelancing continues to grow in Seattle, and Macallan says that the city is primed for it. Outside of providing a creative space, Collective Chemistry also hosts events for the freelance group Macallan started. It’s a support group and a resource for local freelancers, as well as a way for people to connect with the space. “Word of mouth is big for any business,” he says, “They are freelancers and they want to connect with other freelancers.”
Collective Chemistry isn’t the only coworking space in the area, however, and I’ve passed by numerous construction cranes with WeWork posters. Since the creation of the term “coworking,” the convenient workspace-sharing trend has grown fast, particularly in the technology and business centers of downtown Seattle. The idea of coworking falls in line with businesses like Uber and Airbnb: utilize the resources of the community to help people get what they need, when they need it. When Collective Chemistry started out, there were only about four coworking spaces in Seattle: “It was still a really new concept. Now, it’s the buzzword,” says Macallan, “I think there’s maybe 58 coworking spaces...and it’s way different than it was.” Larger companies like WeWork have rushed in and built a number of spaces across the world. “A lot of smaller spaces,” Macallan points out, “have kind of folded or not as done as well because of these bigger guys, these national chains, who’ve come in and are able to provide huge, beautiful spaces.” In the coworking space market, a lot of the success comes from the community that is created, and Collective Chemistry stands out with its specificity. “I think the one reason we’ve been able to hold our ground is because of our commitment to being specific to [freelance] creatives,” says Macallan. Their members and other freelancers can collaborate easily coming from similar and complementary industries.
As for the future of coworking spaces, Macallan says he believes the market and interest will continue to grow and while it’s a bit of a fad at the moment, there will always be freelancers and they will always be people looking for a place to relax, work, and connect with others. As it becomes a more normal part of life, it’ll be taken for granted and the buzz will fade a bit. If you’re thinking of joining a coworking space yourself, Macallan’s advice is: “connect with people. Talk with people; try to collaborate as much as possible; and let people know you are open to working with them and what your skills are. That is not only going to give you more experience with different types of work, it will also increase your income and lead to landing your own clients. You’ll never know when you’re working on a job or collaborating on a project and a client likes who you are or likes your work and would recommend you.”
As the world of coworking continues to grow, there’s something that makes Collective Chemistry stand out from the rest. “Our goal has always been for our space to be a resource for people, not just a place to work and collaborate,” says Macallan, “We want to be seen as a place where people can get help with budgets and clients, and how to get work and find work.” From its humble beginnings to its ongoing success, the Collective Chemistry community is one that is truly collaborative, welcoming its own members and outside freelancers alike.
Find more of James and Collective Chemistry on her site: https://www.collectivechemistry.com/.
This story was first published in Issue 8: Grow.