Hustle hard. Work harder. Ditch that boring office cube and roll in your Herman Miller Aeron chair to a co-working space—a revolutionary way to meet entrepreneurs, grow your business, and become part of a badass community.
We sat down with Jason Saltzman, the Founder of Alley and an early adopter in many industry verticals, to see what differentiates the Alley space from the rest of the co-working spaces in New York City—and we were blown away by his insights and work ethic.
From a middle class Long Island family, Jason remembers childhood as a basic lifestyle without immense wealth. (Fun fact: Jason grew up with Seinfeld! What do they put in the water over there…) Divorced at the time, his mother was taking care of two children and, to survive, went back to school to become a kindergarten teacher. This was young Jason’s first glimpse at witnessing someone who had accomplished something in her own right.
The Hustle Is Real
Jason was an entrepreneur at birth. Well, almost. From selling little things that he collected from his pediatric dentist uncle to rationing candy in elementary school, Jason was generating revenue from a very early age. In his own words: “I liked having money. When the ice cream truck would come around, I was the only kid that could buy my own ice cream.”
Then, as a youngster on a mall outing, Jason met a man hustling people using the three-card Monte. “This guy hustled me for $20 but he felt bad seeing my reaction and decided to take me aside and teach me the trick.” The enterprising young man took this trick to his high school cafeteria, earning an audience and his lost $20 back several times over. In summation, Jason fell in love with hustling before he ever took a girl to the movies. And he wasn’t ever one to follow rules.
“Doing is much more educational to me than actually going to school…when you live it, it’s a lot different.”
Post high school, Jason didn’t know what to pursue as a career (show of hands, who’s been there?) He enrolled at Fashion Institute of Technology but soon quit to attend art school for graphic design. This was during the dot com bubble, when graphic design was in high demand.
Then his girlfriend’s brother asked him to join his business running call centers across the U.S. At that time in 2002, before the market crashed there was an urgency in debt consolidation. Instead of dealing with mortgage brokers directly, though, Jason started aggregating leads and acting as a lead broker. This online marketing business exploded and, by the age of 22, he was running both the call center and his online marketing business, waiting tables at a restaurant, studying graphic design, serving as the art school student body President and lastly, living in an incredible apartment with an expensive car.
Groovy, right? But he goes on to say, “I hated it. Money is great freedom, but if you’re working the amount of hours you are working and dealing with tough people, it tears apart your soul. I wanted to quit but I was stuck because I had all these high expenses. People look at you a certain way; it becomes a psychological rabbit hole, which literally kills people to keep up with the façade. I had a lot of anxiety and didn’t like myself and who I was, so I promised myself that the second I found something I really loved, I would quit everything if it ended up being a good opportunity.”
“I learned one fundamental thing throughout all these years: Even though I was making a lot of money, I hated it because it didn’t fill the void of a sense of purpose.”
Founding a co-working space was largely the outcome of the right relationships at the right time for Jason. While creating a tech company named Bizotto, now Seamless Docs, and looking for a place to pitch the business to prospective investors, he realized that there weren’t many spaces to rent in Midtown. In 2011, there were three co-working spaces in New York, all located in the downtown NY metro area.
One of his clients at the time was a real estate attorney with market connections. When Jason seriously considered opening a co-working space in Midtown, the attorney was instrumental in finding Alley’s first lease. Today, Alley proudly resides in the heart of Chelsea, a convenient neighborhood with robust entrepreneurial spirit. “Initially, creating a space for people to come together was the business, but then I figured out that the community was my business. I wanted to help people through all the business acumen I had acquired over the years.”
Purveyors of Culture + Creators of Community
First, the team attempted to introduce people to the space via a meetup, which didn’t go too well. So, Jason decided to go to the market instead—inviting 100 people on the website Loose Cubes, an Airbnb-type site for companies to share spaces. Amazingly, many early adopters and really cool entrepreneurs showed up. Since then, Alley has welcomed and witnessed several startup companies.
“We didn’t create the culture but catered to a culture that exists. Our first PR article focused on our “douchebag policy”: We leave the douchebag at the door. We have kicked people out, said: ‘no co-working for you,’ literally! Our whole playbook is built around that: how to deal with people and be real with people, and by acknowledging that they are going through the hardest times in their lives, how do we make it better?”
“The biggest thing in business is not creating a business plan, it’s dealing with people.”
Jason’s advice: “Don’t go to college. Just go wait tables and understand how to make customers feel wanted.” This philosophy has helped Alley become more than just an office space. Example: one Wednesday afternoon, Jason received a bottle of Jameson from a client. On the way to his office, a fellow client from a startup company said, “You’re going to drink? I’ll come.” Seconds later, ten more people joined the two in Jason’s office and spent the afternoon discussing their businesses and consoling each other over obstacles.
He tells us, “One day is the best day of your life followed by the worst day of your life, and it’s a roller coaster ride. It was an amazing thing to watch these people come together like that. My goal from that point on was to get as many awesome people as we could in our space; it empowered me. Then, Hurricane Sandy happened and no co-working space had power except us, so we sent out an email saying we could provide accommodation. In a short time, we had Vimeo, General Assembly, Fueled and other incredible companies on our doorstep. It’s devastating to talk about Sandy and a positive that came out of it, but that was the jump-off point for not only showcasing what we’re doing but also what it would feel like with that many people.”
Jason and his team recently re-configured their branding strategy and are constantly looking for ways to help their community members succeed professionally and personally through speaker events, parties, and networking opportunities with industry luminaries. Sign up for their newsletter to get updates on all-things-Alley and as their motto goes: Peace, Love and Hustle.