The FORT Podcast: Nick Clark – President & Founder of Common Desk – The Future of Co-Working & Flexible Office Space

Nick Clark founded Common Desk in 2012 after leaving a career in office leasing and management. Common Desk has since become a coworking industry leader in design, hospitality, and asset-light deal structures with office landlords. After scaling the brand to 23 locations throughout Texas and North Carolina, WeWork acquired Common Desk at the beginning of 2022. Common Desk as a brand will remain and Nick is still at the helm of the company’s continued growth plan.

On this episode, Nick shares why they sold to WeWork and what the future of the company will look like, and why Common Desk chooses management agreements with landlords. He deep dives into why the return to office will come back in a major way, what has changed and how flexible office space going from 2% to 25% of the office market. Enjoy!

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(03:12) – What are you seeing now in the world as we emerge from Covid?

(05:20) – How are banks and capital markets reacting to the new trend of shorter-term leases? 

(07:57) – The Management Agreement Model

(10:07) – Do the rest of the building tenants benefit from the flex-office operation or is it only common desk customers?

(12:05) – Do you perform better being located on the first or second floor of a building?

(12:36) – Is there data that shows a building performs better when all tenants can participate in common desk amenities?

(14:15) – Do you only operate off the management agreement model?

(19:35) – What services does Common Desk provide within the space?

(20:49) – Are you seeing larger companies coming into Common Desk who really want you to take care of the amenity side of work?

(24:53) – What are the key things that make a successful Common Desk location?

(29:42) – The Process of Selling Common Desk to WeWork

(37:30) – How long does it take to open one location?

(38:26) – Do you think the changes in the way we work over the past two years are permanent?

(42:18) – Is there anything interesting WeWork is doing behind the scenes they’re really focused on?

(44:39) – Does Common Desk only work in an office setting or have you thought about occupying other asset classes?

(45:55) – Did you learn anything about business or life grinding through Covid as a leader of a company?

(48:47) – Nick’s Belief That Lawns Shouldn’t Exist

(51:24) – Nick’s Desire To Buy a Waffle House

Episode Summary

Nick Clark, esteemed for his depth of experience and knowledge in the co-working industry, was the distinguished guest on Chris Powers’ podcast. Having established a name with Common Desk, a brand synonymous with co-working excellence, Clark elucidates the evolving dynamics of the co-working space over the past decade.

The co-working industry, once a fragmented market with thousands of brands, is poised for consolidation. As Clark insightfully points out, there’s no room for such vast numbers in the long run. Common Desk, despite being a beacon in this sector, wasn’t immune to challenges. Entering 2020, the brand was on the cusp of significant investment, only to have it halted by the unforeseen advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ensuing months were nothing short of tumultuous. The pandemic’s initial phases saw a massive exodus of month-to-month businesses, severely straining Common Desk’s financials. However, resilience and adaptability defined their approach. Cost optimization, lease renegotiations, and nurturing strong landlord relationships were instrumental strategies employed to navigate these choppy waters.

As the conversation delved deeper, the strategic acquisition of Common Desk by the co-working behemoth, WeWork, took center stage. This acquisition, as Clark posits, was a harmonious alignment of visions rather than just a business transaction. With WeWork’s expansive reach and Common Desk’s strong localized brand identity, the synergy aims to redefine the co-working space. While both brands have distinct market positions, their collaboration is geared towards leveraging each other’s strengths. Common Desk, known for its focus on spaces ranging from 20 to 40 thousand square feet, complements WeWork’s emphasis on larger, enterprise-focused installations.

But what does the future hold for co-working spaces? The post-pandemic world has ushered in a paradigm shift in workplace dynamics. With businesses increasingly favoring flexibility, the co-working industry stands at a pivotal juncture. Innovations, technological integrations, and changing business preferences are set to be the drivers of this sector’s future. As Clark underscores, staying ahead of the curve and evolving with market demands is paramount.

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