A new co-working company just opened in Seattle, and its founder wants to rewrite the rules of a concept that is growing like crazy, but primarily targets only a few industries.
Traditionally, co-working is thought of as a trend reserved primarily for the technology industry, a series of small flexible office spaces for startups getting their feet under them. Atlas Workbase is a co-working company that is aimed at everyone, from technology startups to more traditional businesses, to traveling workers who just need an office for a couple days.
Atlas this month opened its first location, a 20,000-square-foot space with a variety of office and desk setups at 500 Mercer, just a few blocks west of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.
Though it is starting small, the company headed by Bill Sechter has big ambitions. It is seeking to unseat WeWork as the company everyone thinks of when it comes to co-working. He referred to WeWork as the McDonalds of co-working, in the positive sense that it is the name synonymous with the industry. But he pitches his co-working hub as a more professional space that is designed for a greater variety of industries with more services for members.
“I picture a day when the typical business person will book an airline ticket, a hotel, a car, and their office,” Sechter said. “And the first thing they are going be thinking about for their office is Atlas Workbase.”
That’s an audacious goal, and Atlas boasts some big-name partners to help make it happen. Its space is designed by Gensler, which has worked on offices for Microsoft and Tableau locally and designed big towers all over the world. Atlas has Philips Lighting providing controllable LED lighting throughout the building. And on-site will be a FedEx Office location that members can use for printing, shipping and many other needs. Sechter himself was once an executive at FedEx.
Much of the furniture comes from Steelcase. Sechter said one of his big selling points is the place you spend the most time at work — your chair or desk — will be nicer at Atlas than any other co-working space.
“I have personally sat on every single chair and picked out every single chair over the last year and a half to make sure they were comfortable, looked good and provided the wellness that people expect,” Sechter said.
Though right now Atlas has just the one location, its goal is to have five in Seattle within the next two years and expand to Portland soon. Sechter and his business partner Alan Winningham are looking at possible Seattle locations on Capitol Hill and in Pioneer Square/Sodo. Sechter has global ambitions for the company, but first he wants to make sure he has the model right.
“We want to grow smart, but we’re going to grow rapidly,” Sechter said. “As people come in the space and see what we are doing here, and I open up the market to people outside of the traditional co-working space, I am highly convinced that I’ve got the next Pet Rock, it’s just a matter of how we implement it.”
Co-working suits companies demanding flexibility, but Sechter said Atlas is taking that to a new level. Atlas offers a variety of workspaces throughout the building, including individual desks, small and large conference rooms with soundproofing and customizable lighting, areas where someone can get privacy to work on a complex document and collaborative spaces as well. Atlas also offers different usage plans. A member can rent a space for full-time use, or about 40 hours a week, as well as part time deals that equate to about 20- and 10-hour per week usage.
Atlas says it is priced competitively with other co-working companies like WeWork. Private desks at three WeWork locations in Seattle have starting prices ranging from $375 to $450 a month.
At Atlas, full-time private desktop workstations start at just below $900 per month. Spots at shared tabletops start at $229 per month for quarter-time membership more private office spaces start at $379 per month for quarter-time use.
In The Lounge, an area that aims to combine the look and feel of a business lounge with service of a high end club, prices start at $199 for quarter time use, and day passes are available for this area as well.
Sechter’s vibe is that of a salesman through and through. He did that for years before going back to school and earning an MBA at Seattle University. He compared himself to George Clooney’s frequent-flying character in Up in the Air and said he has logged more than 9 million flying miles. That means he’s also stayed in a lot of hotels. He used those experiences to conceive the ideas of a concierge service and an in-house IT group that helps people integrate their technology with Atlas’.
Co-working is certainly a trendy concept, but the market has gotten rather crowded lately. Right now, WeWork is the big dog, with a reported valuation of $16 billion and 128 locations in 39 cities around the world. But there are plenty of other companies in the space as well. Desk Mag projects there will be more than 10,000 co-working spaces worldwide by the end of the year.
In the Seattle area, approximately 50 co-working companies occupy close to 1 million square feet, and that’s without counting a couple of new spaces for WeWork. The co-working giant is bringing its WeLive concept to Seattle, where it will occupy 200,000 square feet of office space in Martin Selig’s 36-story Third & Lenora tower, and 384 apartments above will be WeLive units. WeWork is also adding locations in Bellevue, Wash. and the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.
Sechter thinks the co-working trend is here to stay. He called it a natural extension of the technological improvements that have made it possible to work from anywhere.
Sechter said he is glad WeWork is growing locally because it shows that the concept works. He compared it to Starbucks opening in small towns, wetting the appetites of residents by providing higher quality coffee than the typical diner. Now that they have gotten a taste, Sechter thinks people of all occupations, not just tech employees, will clamor for co-working opportunities.
“That’s where I felt there was a blue ocean opportunity to create a space that would attract not only the bro coders and the people who are focused on technology and entrepreneurs, but your everyday American, your everyday person, who needs to work and conduct business,” he said.