When Betsey Elbogen
discovered Perch Studios
in Carrboro in 2013, it was a revelation she had long been waiting for. The entrepreneur had just retired from her jewelry import business and had stumbled across an article on coworking. After a search for local spaces, she met Vinci Daro
, manager of Perch.
Elbogen became so enthralled with the coworking space that when Daro moved to California for her post doc, Elbogen offered to buy Perch. Growth hasn’t stopped since then—membership has doubled, and just last month, she moved into a much larger space in the heart of Carrboro.
Thanks to Elbogen and Daro’s work, entrepreneurs and freelancers in Chapel Hill and Carrboro now have an office option besides their living rooms and coffee shops.
“I worked from my home for 18 years so I really could’ve used this sort of community back then,” Elbogen says.
The co-working trend is becoming more popular across the country and the Triangle over the last several years. American Underground opened its first location in the American Tobacco Campus in Durham in 2010 and has since added two other campuses to house more than 250 companies. Bull City Coworking and Mercury Studio have been open and growing in Durham since early 2012. HQ Raleigh opened in 2012, moved to a larger location in early 2014 and will more than double in size again next year. These spaces tend to cater to startups, entrepreneurs, creatives and/or remote workers.
Perch, like Carrboro, is a little bit different from its neighbors in the Triangle. It’s more of a hodgepodge of remote workers, creative types and solo entrepreneurs. It's also representative of a new crop of coworking spaces that are more local or niche in focus. There are also two new co-working spaces in Durham—Invictus Office Center on Fayetteville Street focused on minority-owned startups and small businesses, and nido, a space on Broad Street that offers childcare for working parents. And there’s a space for maker-entrepreneurs opening this Fall in Raleigh.
Perch is the only space of its kind in Chapel Hill and Carrboro; places like 1789 Venture Lab and Launch Chapel Hill offer coworking space to startups, but only to those that are participating in their incubator and accelerator programs. There’s no room for freelancers, artists, remote workers or entrepreneurs who aren’t a good fit for those programs. Perch gives these people an affordable option in a great location.
Most of the people working in Perch have a story or two about life before coworking. Working at home was too distracting, coffee shops too noisy, expensive and fattening.
Yusef Napora, a developer for a software startup based in New York, works remotely from Perch. He previously worked from home while caring for his four-year old daughter and found himself unable to focus on work.
“It’s nice to have other people around that are focused on their own work. When you’re by yourself it’s a lot easier to get randomly distracted… having a context that’s just for work is really important for me, ” says Napora.
Daro, who has since returned to Carrboro and now works at Perch, credits coworking with changing her professional and personal life by making her more productive at her job and more attentive in her family life.
“It totally transformed my life in terms of creating that boundary between work and non-work… having a space to go where I do my work and then leave it behind was exactly what I needed,” Daro says.
Upon entering the space it’s easy to see why people would prefer Perch to working from home. The wide-open floor plan, beautiful hardwood floors, natural light and ample desks provide a tranquil yet focused and productive environment. On this particular Friday morning the space was filled with workers—some typing away at their computers, others chatting with their desk-mates, others milling about the break room. It looks like your typical modern office scene with one notable difference: none of these people work together. Yes, they share the same office space, but all are either self-employed or remote workers for another company.
Perch is not the first company to give coworking a shot in Carrboro. Carrboro Creative Coworking closed its doors in 2011
, leaving eventual Perch founder Daro without a workspace when she returned from her first post doc.
She believed in the concept and decided to open Perch Studios in 2013, despite being busy with her full-time job. Determined to make coworking in Carrboro a permanent reality as opposed to a fleeting pipedream, Daro says she had many conversations with Carrboro Creative’s founder and others to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid mistakes.
Daro started out small, offering very few amenities other than desks and Wi-Fi. "Bare bones" and "very simple" is how she describes it.
She believes allowing the community and offerings to grow gradually helped keep Perch sustainable in the early months. Daro and Elbogen feel that their theory has been validated— recent growth and physical expansion are proof.
While membership at coworking spaces often fluctuate, Perch saw steady increases in demand through the first few months, maintaining around 15 members.
Until recently, Perch was located in an 800-square-foot building that was slightly off the beaten path. But last month, Perch moved into a 21,000-square-foot building that houses Steel String Brewery
wine bar in the heart of downtown Carrboro. Membership has surpassed 30.
“That original space was sort of a test space to see if there were enough other people who could use it. There was always the hope that it would outgrow that space and there would be enough people to support something bigger and nicer,” says Daro.
The new space had allowed Perch Studios to offer more membership options and amenities. While the majority of the space is shared, there are private offices available for those who don’t mind paying a little extra, as well as quiet rooms and a conference room that members can use. They also have the occasional office hours with accountants and other consultants.
To build community, Perch hosts weekly happy hours every Friday at Steel String, one of the many perks of sharing a building with a brewery.
Elbogen says Perch’s presence is a boon to Carrboro’s economy. Perch members spend money at bars, restaurants, coffee shops and stores that they wouldn’t otherwise at home.
“Instead of being home, they are out here, so they are using all the resources in this area,” says Elbogen. “I think it’s vital”
Perch’s success over the last two years is representative of a growing coworking trend that is transforming the way Americans work. People who once enjoyed the freedom of working from home are now realizing the cost associated with mixing work and home life. As technology continues to revolutionize where and how work is done, workers will continue to seek physical spaces in which they can dedicate time to their jobs.