I’d love to retire early, but then what?
Although I retired about thirteen years ago, and continue to be retired, about one year ago I opened up a little business on Main Street here in Longmont, Colorado. It is a multi-purpose gathering space, under the guise of a coworking space, with the typical-for-me grandiose name of “Mr. Money Mustache Headquarters”. Or, MMM-HQ for short.
At the time, I wrote a blog post about it, and promised to keep you updated on how it was going. Since then, many people have been asking for updates. Approximately one group of random roadtripping Mustachian tourists has stopped by each day to peer in the windows*. And several people are considering opening their own coworking spaces in other cities, if the case for it looks good.
Although this HQ is a small scale thing (we are hovering at about 50 members and I’d love to get to 80), it has provided me with some great lessons in both life and business, which are long overdue for sharing.
Plus, I can now fully vouch for the idea as a good one for other people to pursue, given the right situation. Owning a coworking or other community-oriented space can be both a good business and a great life choice, for people before or after the early retirement stage.
So, here’s what I’ve learned after launching into the most unexpected business of my life so far:
1: Owning a business can be like a having mental health therapist that pays YOU:
As I always say, early retirement is great, but it doesn’t mean you’re allowed to stop working. You need to accomplish something meaningful with almost every one of your days, whatever “accomplish” and “meaningful” mean to you. You also need to get out of your house, strain your muscles, have positive interactions with other humans, and experience at least a bit of hardship. These are simply parts of the recipe for Human happiness, like a series of buttons you can press to get more of it.
So in my case, adding HQ to my life has been a very nice way to press more of those buttons. Almost every morning, I walk or bike or jog the 1.2 miles down to the building bright and early, open up all the doors for some fresh air, put on some music, and sweep the floors or make coffee or set things straight in preparation for the day. Then I head out to the patio and the “Prisonyard” outdoor gym beyond to do some basic weight training before I get sucked too deeply into computer work or any to-do lists.
As the day goes on, there will be a random stream of members and conversations and tasks and meetings and errands around town, which is just unpredictable enough to keep each day fun.
And the best part of it all is that it’s completely optional work. I can choose not to visit, and the members take up the slack and care for the place themselves. I can go on vacation and nothing blows up while I’m gone.
Owning a coworking space has all the benefits of having a really good office job where you like all of your coworkers, except without the accompanying obligations or politics. I refer to it as my therapist because a visit never fails to put me in a good mood, no matter how I felt before deciding to head down there. And a healthy and reliable way to make yourself feel great is an important part of any life.
2: It’s easy to arrange big events, but slower to create a consistently buzzing daily scene.
The year started big, with about 90 people crammed in for the first pop-up business school. Then, the vibe flipped around completely as we moved on to just a few people hanging around during normal days, working on laptops or perhaps the squat rack. But there have also been a pretty good series of after-hours events including barbecues, potlucks, regular meetups of the Northern Colorado Mustachians Group, a visit and Q/A session with YNAB founder Jesse Mecham, a Virtual Reality demo night, a music jam or two, and various charity and learning events and markets.
On the down side, it takes more work to meet and sign up each new member than I expected, and we tend to lose more than expected, as people who signed up early but realized they don’t really need a coworking space have dropped out. And in the classic Blogger’s Dilemma where the demographic of the audience often reflects that of the writer, we end up with quite a high percentage of well-to-do white males in our 30s and 40s, which could lead to the term “Broworking Space”. But I’m trying to break this trend!
On the upside, the community side has been just as good as I had hoped. Thanks to the magic of our private Slack group, Members of HQ have been helping each other with both business and leisure pursuits on a daily basis and the connection has helped all of us including me. I often joke that my primary purpose for this coworking space is as a “Friend Harvesting Machine”, and it is living up to that promise.
3: The Money Side of Things
In principle, coworking is a good business model because it works a bit like a gym: you can have a large number of members sharing a common space because not everyone is there every day. This is why there are so many companies expanding into the business like WeWork, Regus, Proximity, Galvanize, and a zillion more.
But like any business, your income and spending need to be balanced. I’ve deliberately gone low on both sides, by starting with an affordable building and subsidizing it with my own mostly-unpaid labor. Because of this, the $2500 per month income (50 members at $50 each) is enough to sustain the place including property taxes, utilities, maintenance, beer (and artisinal coffee from one of our own members!) The downside of this approach is that our space is smaller and less fancy than other coworking spots. It was really just one big room until I opened the Tinyhouse conference room in June. Since the space is still way underused on any given workday, we could easily double this to 100 members, which would bring the business up to $60,000 of gross annual income – more than enough to sustain any reasonable lifestyle with very part-time hours.
Normal coworking spaces will tend to have a much larger building, with hundreds of members paying between $150 and $300+ per month for semi-private working spaces, or more for fully dedicated offices. This leads to higher rent and utility costs, plus the need for at least one full-time administrator and even a receptionist (although both can be the same person, which could be you if you are motivated.) The end result is a good income stream, at the expense of a business that requires real work on a fixed schedule.
So you can see why MMM-HQ is taking the slower paced road, for now.
4: So, should I start my own? (or join one?)
If you’ve got the time and energy, hell yes!
If you are thinking of opening a space in roughly the MMM-HQ model (or already have one), feel free to give me the details by dropping me an email via my about->contact form. Before doing so, I’d suggest you
- start by putting up a good website with your proposed building/location, amenities, monthly cost and your contact info.
- Then share it around with anyone you know who may be interested and get feedback.
- Then email me with that you have so far.
At this point, I will link to it from my own HQ page, which will then become a directory for a network of community-oriented Mustachian coworking spaces. You can gather interested parties first before taking the plunge, although I would suggest that you only do this if you are financially well established and not overly dependent on the whims of bank financing.
Although I would (of course) charge no franchise fees, we could still set up an informal sharing arrangement where members of any Mustachian Headquarters affiliate location would be free to visit any other one.
And if you are wondering if joining a club like this is a worthwhile use of your own fifty bucks a month, I have to say it’s hard to see the downside as long as you use the amenities and like socializing with other people. If free coffee, beer, work space, an outdoor gym, tool library/workshop and access to fifty local entrepreneurs is not worth it to you, then I’m not sure what is!
In The Comments: Do you have any questions or comments about this or any other lifestyle or post-retirement business ideas? I’d be happy to answer them, and hopefully many other entrepreneur-readers will be willing to share their own knowledge and experience as well.
*Out of respect to the members who are in there trying to get real work done, please don’t show up unannounced – instead, join one of our public meetups if you happen to be in the area, which I always announce on Twitter and usually Facebook too.