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Coloft, a shared work-space firm, fosters a sense of community

Coloft in Santa Monica offers tech start-ups more than desks and office equipment: a chance to meet like-minded entrepreneurs who offer each other advice and sometimes collaborate on projects.

April 12, 2011|By Nathan Olivarez-Giles, Los Angeles Times

You're a tech start-up with no money but you need an office. Coloft in Santa Monica is emerging as a solution, offering shared work spaces, office equipment — and valuable intangibles.

"It's sort of like a real-life social network," said Coloft co-founder Cameron Kashani. "We've got the printer, scanner, fax, Wi-Fi, fridge, microwave, coffee. But that's not the reason people come here. People come here because of the community, because of the other people that are here."

And, on any given weekday, a walk into Coloft offers up a taste of the L.A.-area's start-up scene, with entrepreneurs working side by side, sometimes offering each other advice and occasionally even collaborating on projects.

Many of the "Colofters," as many paying-members like to call themselves, proudly wear T-shirts displaying their company names. Memberships run from $35 for one day to $550 per month for one of eight permanent desks.

Vasily Myazin works most days at Coloft for Mingly, a Santa Monica start-up that builds an online tool that brings together a user's Google Contacts, Google Calendar and Gmail activity.

"If it wasn't for Coloft, I wouldn't have this job," Myazin said. "I was coming here after work at my old job, to work on some personal projects — doing that from home was sort of distracting. And Tyler [Koblasa, Mingly's founder and chief executive] walked by and asked what I was working on and after a while, I started helping him out with his company and now I work for Mingly."

While some unemployed folks have found jobs at Coloft, Myazin said he wasn't looking at the time.

"I worked a corporate job at Sony, and it was a very good job, but I wanted to be a part of something where I can get direct feedback from users on what I'm working on. I wanted to be a part of a start-up rather than just be a cog in a big, bureaucratic machine. If I want to go back to the corporate world, there's still time for that later. But this is exciting."

Koblasa said it was the energy of those around him at Coloft that got him to sign up as a paying member to utilize the work space.

"We have a couple of full-time people, but we're not big enough to warrant leasing an office, and working at my house up the street isn't always a good solution," Koblasa said. "And being around like-minded people is a really unique thing. I haven't found anything else in L.A. like Coloft."

And that's the point, said Kashani, who founded Coloft with her husband, Avesta Rasouli. The couple already had a tech start-up of their own, AppShows.com, which produces video trailers for smartphone apps.

"We were visiting a client up in San Francisco, and we told them how we didn't like our office, so we started working at home, but that wasn't ideal either," Rasouli said. "They said, 'Why don't you go and work out of this co-working space?' So we tried it."

The couple decided a shared work space was the environment for them, but on returning home to Los Angeles, they couldn't find anything that matched what they had experienced in San Francisco.

"We saw places that rented desks and chairs, but nothing where people actually interacted and worked alongside one another in the way we wanted," Rasouli said. "Being entrepreneurs, we thought, well, let's build a space ourselves."

After finding a 3,200-square-foot space in Santa Monica and spending about $60,000 of their own money to remodel it with two conference rooms, a phone booth for privacy and more than 40 workstations, Rasouli and Kashani opened Coloft in February 2010.

It started off slow, until Rasouli began tapping so-called meet-ups.

"These guys didn't have a place to go. It was like 20 dudes going to Panera Bread or Coffee Bean, so we sought groups like that out, and we said, 'Look, we want you guys to come to Coloft. You're a meet-up, so we're not going to charge you. Just help us build this community with the space. Let's work together.'"

The meet-ups went from 20 people to 30, to 40, and some events bring in more than 100 people, Kashani said. As events have increased, so too has membership, she said.

"We have about 90 members now," Kashani said. "We're getting more and more out there, and we've become known in the L.A. tech community, and we want to make sure we maintain the energy that is here."

In an effort to do that, Coloft no longer allows people to walk in and buy a membership — an application is now required.

"We haven't turned anybody down so far," Kashani said. "Everyone is pretty much a friend of a friend or something like that, and that's the way we want to grow."

nathan.olivarezgiles@latimes.com

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