When Kevin Lawrie moved to Staten Island in 2012, he started searching for office space for his small software business.
“Since I was living on Staten Island, I thought it was only logical to find office space here and not commute,” Lawrie said. “But there was nothing that fit the environment and vibe I was looking for. Most buildings in the borough are predominantly devoted to retail, and outside of the Nicotra block there is not too much in the realm of class A or B office space.”
And any space Lawrie did find was costly and offered very small square footage.
“I was still faced with the realities of New York City real estate: Extended leases, utility arrangements, personal guarantee,” Lawrie said. “And when you’re a small business owner — especially a startup business owner — those are difficult hurdles to overcome. You want to concentrate on building your business, but that’s difficult to do when there’s burden involved in just finding your business’ home.”
That’s how Lawrie ended up doing exactly what he didn’t want to do — renting an office in Manhattan and enduring a lengthy commute.
“I commuted for a year, renting a shared workspace from WeWork, which provides collaborative offices for small startups, freelancers and other entrepreneurs,” Lawrie said. “It was the perfect solution for my business. I couldn’t believe that someone hadn’t developed this kind of concept on Staten Island.”
So when Lawrie’s primary software venture grew large enough for him to inhabit an entire office suite in St. George, the software engineer talked to his landlord about hosting a similar shared office concept.
“I thought if we could build an office space that appealed to tech companies right here in St. George with direct access to the ferry it would be a success,” Lawrie said. “This is exactly what I was looking for several years ago, so I was sure other business owners would still be seeking this type of service too.”
Lawrie took a portion of his digs at 60 Bay Street and turned it open concept. He named the communal workspace LaunchPads.
“The idea was to start lean and see what the Staten Island market was looking for,” Lawrie said. “We had shared desk space, a couple of chairs and a communal spot for coffee. In my experience with co-working models I knew some companies wanted desks and dedicated conference rooms while others liked to huddle together around bean bag chairs. We started with an open model to simply test the waters.”
From the start, Lawrie said clients started asking for more private space: “They wanted doors to close and filing cabinets to store their stuff.” So after six months he opened an extension of his business and called it LaunchPods.
“We quickly developed a waiting list for private space,” Lawrie said. “Our initial six pods were filled within 45 days.”
Lawrie has since doubled his initial 2,500 square feet and has operated at 90 to 95 percent occupancy for the past four years. While the bulk of his clients are from Staten Island, he also has a strong client base from New Jersey and Long Island. Several international businesses employ his services as well.
“Rent is strictly month to month, there are no long-term lease agreements and renters stay with us on average about 18 months,” Lawrie said. “For startups and small businesses who find it hard to plan week-to-week, it truly is the perfect scenario.”
Lawrie says operating LaunchPads has not been without its challenges — “I don’t come from a real estate background so managing a co-working environment took some getting used to” — but he’s still glad he took the opportunity.
“I think we’ve proven that the model works and there is a demand for it here on Staten Island,” he said.
He’s also proud of the small economic impact he’s had on the borough and is hopeful about the ongoing North Shore renaissance.
“When we started this venture four years ago there was some talk of the Wheel and Lighthouse Point Development and obviously the Outlets,” he concluded. “We’re happy to be here in the midst of all of that and welcome any business who needs some space to work.”