Common Desk Founder combines fun, fast and flexible coworking with coffee
The past year has brought growth for Common Desk founder Nick Clark. The SMU graduate, who started his career in commercial real estate before transferring his community building and marketing skills to launching Common Desk coworking in 2012, opened his largest community to date and acquired the Method Coffee brand and its two cafes.
On the day before its Jan. 20 grand opening, Clark sat down with Launch DFW at the bustling and newly-rebranded Fiction Coffee shop to talk about the threads that connect his businesses and the motto behind the latest acquisition.
In the four years post-graduation that Clark spent at Pillar Commercial Real Estate, he saw a shift in space needs due to the recession and evolving workplace culture that placed the CEO among the employees instead of the corner office.
“A lot of the creatives at these tech companies were being laid off and they were embarking upon a freelancer career and working out of Starbucks or a local coffee shop. That’s when you started to see laptops pop up everywhere at the coffee shops,” he said.
“At the same time we were having a lot of Millennial-led companies who were interested in leasing space, but they were not going to sign up for a 5-year lease. Five years seem like an eternity to them because of how fast business was moving.”
While working with Foundry, previously Creative Consortium Group, Clark found inspiration in the industrial chic vibe of their second location in downtown Dallas: concrete floors, cool furniture and a friendly, helpful staff. After research and consideration, Clark decided to move into the coworking industry.
“I wish I could say that I had the crystal ball, and I knew it was going to become some gigantic thing but I didn’t,” he explained, chuckling at the idea. “I actually just love that it was solving some immediate issues, and I love the community aspect of it, the design aspect of it and it’s just one of the only things in my life where it was like love at first sight.”
Clark then launched the first Common Desk in October 2012 in Deep Ellum, which he described as the “perfect neighborhood”. “We went into a very quiet block of Deep Ellum… I really did think that the neighborhood was going to rebound heavily over the course of the next three to five years, which thankfully it did.”
Almost six years and an additional three locations later – Fort Worth, Granite Park in Plano and Oak Cliff – Clark described the Common Desk differentiator as “southern hospitality.”
“We want you to have a consistent experience across all of our locations… [and] also experience a different taste at every location. So same experience, different taste.”
At the Oak Cliff location, 90 percent of the near 100 members are based in the neighborhood, and the vibe feels like a central hub for freelancers and creatives. Due north at the Plano location, situated at the crossing of Dallas North Tollway and State Highway 121, attracts more enterprise clientele that make use of large-team suites on site.
As Dallas grows and attracts more high-profile businesss, Clark sees an opportunity for Common Desk and other coworking communities.
“A lot of companies these days are looking for fun, fast, flexible. A brand like Common Desk is checking off three of those boxes,” said Clark. “Coworking allows…corporations to drop-in quickly, pop up 20 employees in the market, and have that up and running within days as opposed to traditional real estate, which would take a year. We’re able to help these companies stay nimble and move very quickly, which is matching the speed of business.”
“We’re able to help these companies stay nimble and move very quickly, which is matching the speed of business.”
Combining Coworking with Coffee
Acquiring Fiction Coffee and its coffee industry knowledge is another way that Common Desk differentiates itself as a shared working space community.
After seeing how engrossed landlord partners were becoming with having local coffee offerings in their buildings, Clark and his team considered buying, building or partnering with a coffee brand. The Common Desk team had already established relationships in the Dallas coffee shop scene in Dallas through advertising partnerships.
“We try to find ways to move quickly. If we are going to build a brand from scratch, we’ve gone through that before and we know that takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money,” Clark said.
“The acquisition was strategic in the fact that now some of our newer buildings…and possibly a few of our older locations, we want to have a full service third-wave coffee offering at those locations. So we’re not only just offering our members free drip coffee; you can now come get one of our signature lavender lattes.”
The shop’s name, Fiction, came from a motto that the team at Common Desk has been saying quite a bit lately:
Things we are working on go against what is status quo and it feels like we’re having to innovate all of the time.
Nick expanded further. “We’re trying to make things up and one way we comfort the staff and reassure ourselves is this idea that it’s all fiction. Somebody made up what is accepted as truth today, you know? So we’re making up what is going to be accepted as truth a couple years from now. And so it’s almost comforting knowing it’s fiction. So don’t stress out too much about it. Just keep working. It’s playful, it’s fun. We thought it would be kind of fun to incorporate that as the coffee shop brand. As a brand we are focused on being the friendliest coffee shop in town. It’s pretty simple.”
With such a large-scale acquisition and rebrand under his belt in the first month of the year, Clark says amenities, new locations outside of North Texas and a still-secret downtown Dallas location are next on his list.
“[In] 2018 we’re looking at moving even deeper into the amenities business of an office building. You’ll see us providing more amenities in our newest locations. We are announcing soon a downtown location. The downtown location is hyper-focused on being an offering for teams from 15 to about a hundred people. A little hint toward that location: it will have a full-service whiskey bar in the middle of it.
“And then we’re going to be doubling down on Dallas. Opening more locations in Dallas and we’re going into two new markets this year that will be out of state.”