Avesta Rasouli grew up in Sweden not far from a second-hand shop. When old artwork, toys and decor that failed to sell was discarded as junk, a young Rasouli and his friends would salvage anything they thought could still make a buck and sell it on the streets, turning a small profit to buy candy.
Rasouli, 30, isn't scavenging as an adult, but he's still showing initiative—the reward for which is sweeter than confections. On Jan. 26, he'll be presented one of three honors—the Innovation Award for his new business, Coloft—at the 2012 State of the City.
“I didn’t even know there was an innovation award but it’s always good to be recognized for something you have worked so hard to build,” Rasouli said.
Founded with his wife, Cameron Rasouli, Coloft is the only rentable co-workspace in Santa Monica at 920 Santa Monica Blvd. The real value of the business, Rasouli said, is in the community of “colofters,” primarily technology entrepreneurs who contribute to what many are now calling “Silicon Beach.”
“We didn’t want to get in the business of work space, we wanted to get into the business of building the entrepreneurial community where the value is the people, not the desks and the chairs,” Rasouli said. “You want to come here because you want to be around these kinds of people.”
Colofters enjoy the benefits of a startup office environment with many of the standard amenities like high-speed WiFi, printers, meeting rooms and whiteboards.
Members can choose between a number of plans including a part-time membership which allows them to use the space three days a week or 12 days a month for $279 or go full time for $399. Members can also choose to purchase day passes for $35 or an after hour plan that allows them access to Coloft from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and weekends for $199.
Coloft also has its own job board NoodleYard.com.
Building a Community
To become a member of Coloft, an applicant must past a screening test for the Rasoulis to determine what benefit it might bring to the community.
While an attorney working in the tech industry might be welcomed because of the knowledge he could contribute, someone selling life insurance and who spends the whole day making cold calls might not.
Mike Townsend, co-founder of AirPair, a service helps connect travelers taking the same trips to make the experience more fun, and Zing Checkout, a web-based point-of-sale service for small businesses, began coming in to Coloft shortly after the company opened in February 2010.
For over a year, after working his day job at an engineering company, he went to the Coloft “on nights and weekends just to meet people,” he said.
At L.A. Startup Weekend hosted at Coloft last year, an event that brings entrepreneurs, developers and other designers together to build out projects, actor and venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher was a celebrity judge.
This year, the L.A. Startup Weekend Feb. 24-26 sold out in less than 10 minutes.
“This place changed my life,” said Joe Winke, founder of Healthy Surprise, a subscription service that sends subscribers a monthly box of vegan, gluten free and natural snacks. Winke’s company came out of a startup weekend in August 2011, where after less than 24-hours the company had its first customer.
Winke continues to use Coloft as Healthy Surprise’s home-base as the company adds subscription holders.
A Lean Start Up
Before launching Coloft Rasouli founded two other startups. He admitted that the first, a medical document delivery portal failed miserably.
"I had put all of my own money in it, and it literally just got blown away," Rasouli says. "You gotta fail to learn."
Following the failure of his first startup, he launched appshows.com, a based company that creates preview trailers for apps, which he still currently runs.
But because of his initial failure, and loss of money, Rasouli began Coloft in a very lean startup way, initially gauging interest in a co-workspace environment by creating a landing page announcing the opening of Coloft in March 2010 and asking for email addresses—before they had even found the space to use.
“We weren’t even 100 percent positive we were going to open,” Rasouli said.
As the hits to the website increased Rasouli added a survey asking potential users what things are important to them in an office environment, and asked if Coloft was open then whether they would join today? The numbers looked good and Rasouli was confident they would sign up 40 members right away, 30 in a worst case scenario.
Coloft opened in February 2010, a month early, and had six members after the first month. The second month went as high as 10. In the third month of operation, it lost members.
“That was very nerve racking,” Rasouli says. But Coloft kept holding meetups and offering space for free events and counted on the idea that if it supported the startup community, eventually the community would support Coloft.
In the company’s fourth month it gained 30 new members and broke even on its monthly expenses. Coloft now has more than 100 members and recently expanded to provide more space and private desks for its members.
Rasouli said has been approached by several people who would like to open franchise Colofts around the country, but for now he plans to just stay in Santa Monica.
Coloft will receive the Innovation Award Jan. 26. at the State of the City at the SGI-USA at 606 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica College will receive the Economic Excellence Award and Brad Cox, senior managing director of Trammell Crow Company will receive the leadership award.
The breakfast event will also feature a State of the City address from Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and Jason Nazar, CEO of DocStoc and host of Startups Uncensored will moderate a discussion on the use of technology and best new business practices in “Silicon Beach”. Panel members will include Dr. Chui Tsang, Superintendent/President of Santa Monica College; David Travers, partner at Rustic Canyon Partners; Keith Klein, partner at Bryan Cave, LLP and Paige Craig, CEO of BetterWorks.