On a muggy evening earlier this week, Betabeat made the short, sweaty walk down to AlleyNYC, a new 16,000 square foot coworking space at 500 Seventh Avenue and 37th Street. We had some inkling we might be onto the next big coworking hub when an entrepreneur on the elevator ride up to the 17th floor said he felt obligated to drop by because he heard about the space twice in one week.
Even after hours, the place was still humming with activity. The mats in the yoga room were unoccupied, but members milled about the lounge, worked heads down in one of the spacious main rooms or huddled with cofounders in the 24 private offices, which are already at capacity even though the space just opened in August. A new platform for entrepreneurs called SocialChange.is was setting up a demo and with bowls of pretzels and other snacks laid out for the event.
The vibe was remarkably congenial; high-fives, daps, and backslaps abounded.
AlleyNYC was cofounded by Jason Saltzman and Jonathan Ende, the entrepreneurs behind Bizodo, a paperwork automation startup currently being incubated at Entrepreneurs Roundtable, a stone’s throw away. AlleyNYC just signed a seven-year lease on the office space, financed primarily by investor David Galanter, a real estate lawyer who also backs Bizodo.
For the next couple months or so, AlleyNYC is partnering with the popular global workshop series Lean Startup Machine, one of the hub’s anchor tenants, to offer $1 million in free coworking space and Lean Startup classes through a partnership called M-RGE. Betabeat was a little dubious of $1 million claim, but Lean Startup guru Trevor Owens sent us the calculations, based on a market rate of $500/month for a shared desk–AlleyNYC only charges $300/desk and $1,500/private office, no equity required–and the math checks out.
The offer, which extends through September or longer (depending on AlleyNYC’s ability to secure a sponsor) should cover about 500 to hackers, designers, and other startup types, who have to go through a quick vetting process to make sure their idea is a good fit and that the applicants are actually working on a real project.
AlleyNYC has already hosted a number of events and hackathons, like last weekend’s Ecommerce Hack Day, sponsored by Etsy and Dwolla. It’s home to startups like Brainscape and Socratic Labs. Founder Collective’s Micah Rosenbloom has an office there and Mr. Saltzman is in talks with DFJ Gotham to hold office hours. AlleyNYC was formerly associated with the Hatchery, which has since moved out due to a difference in ethos.
When we arrived at AlleyNYC, Mr. Saltzman’s palpable enthusiasm was infectious. He greeted us in a black fitted Yankees cap and an endearing Long Island accent. He got the idea for AlleyNYC when he went to pitch events at some of the other coworking spaces in New York and found the vibe clubby and pretentious. Mr. Saltzman, who used to be in real estate, had just returned to his native New York after heading down to Miami after the crash. The serial entrepreneur was “sick of dating aspiring cocktail waitresses,” had experience and tried to find a place in burgeoning tech scene.
“I feel like it was very cliquey,” he told Betabeat as we sat down in his office. The heating pole was covered with pink Post-Its listing points he wanted to emphasize, like how much building a community around this space has given him a sense of purpose. “I feel like I’m a very approachable person, but I felt like I had to already be successful to be talking to these entrepreneurs. I’ve had many businesses that made money, it’s just that my name wasn’t in TechCrunch or Mashable, so ‘Who am I?’ You know what I mean?” We did.
He wanted to offer something different, working with Mr. Owens, using the Lean Startup method, naturally, to hone the idea behind M-RGE. “We’re trying to create a really good friendship vibe,” Mr. Owens told Betabeat. “Authenticity around people not caring who your investors are, but who you are.”
Mr. Saltzman, not one to put on airs, categorized it more bluntly. “Jason Saltzman’s phrase in the AlleyNYC is, ‘Leave the douchebag at the door,’” he said, referring to himself in the third person with a laugh.
Through Lean Startup’s VP of design, Grace Ng, M-RGE is also trying to target some of the designers from nearby advertising agencies. Ms. Ng comes from an agency background. “I still know a lot of designers locked up in agencies where they’re not too happy with what they’re doing,” she told Betabeat. Coming to AlleyNYC might help them collaborate with programmers. “They have beautiful design aesthetics, but they can only mock up web design, they don’t understand any front end of any programming languages.”
The centrally-located Midtown location is part of cultivating an environment of inclusiveness, with its proximity to Penn Station and Grand Central.
“Bridge and tunnel has a negative connotation,” Mr. Saltzman explained. “But there are amazing people from Long Island and New Jersey and we want all of them to come here. They’re frowned upon by the poshy New York City tech community. And we’re not that, and we’re still fucking awesome,” adding, “And you can write ‘fucking.’”