A stone’s throw from the Liberty Bell in the Old City section of Philadelphia sits an unassuming door that opens into the expansive, mural adorned, two story hub of creativity that is the coworking space Indy Hall. Its decor boasts a Farmer’s Market vending machine, a full sized indoor bike rack, and dozens of paper lanterns hanging from its high ceilings. Glass walled conference rooms are painted intricate patterns, and on the second floor there sits an entire row of high school lockers.
Open floor plan desks make up the space in between all of the thought provoking murals and revolving book trees. All of the interesting art and community displays were put there by members themselves, in the true spirit of collaborative coworking.
Despite the presence of various types of workers in countless industries, there is a feeling that everyone there is working together towards something bigger than the space itself. In the center of it all is Alex Hillman, a friendly guy who speaks like he has had media training and cannot go anywhere in Philadelphia without being stopped by people he knows. He is the driving force behind Indy Hall, but he is quick to tell you that his role in this community is to help people help each other.
Photo credit CJ Dawson
“I started Indy Hall as a software developer,” Alex explains, “but there was a period of time where I stopped getting good at software development because I was getting good at community development.” Over the last 8 years, Indy Hall has expanded from an ad hoc group convening at whichever bar or cafe would welcome them to spend the day, to their own 10,000 sq ft compound of creativity and collaboration.
Alex and the rest of his team’s entire aim is to make it easy for people who wouldn’t otherwise meet to find each other and start building relationships, even when they’re not working in the coworking space. “Something that a lot of people that run coworking spaces forget is that in many cases a good number of the members are not physically there all the time.” In fact, Alex encourages members to be outside of Indy Hall as much as possible, “Because it disconnects the need for space from the need for community, and it gives you a way to get value from the community regardless of whether people are in the room.”
Alex and his tiny team need to focus the time and energy it takes to run their 300+ person community, so they’ve devised a clever system for letting technology do what it does best: automate the logistics. More and more, Indy Hall’s ops team relies on Trello boards, and Alex is using Zapier integrations to connect Trello to his online forms, credit card processor, and even to connect Trello to itself.
When people go to Indy Hall’s website and fill out a form to schedule a tour, Alex uses Zapier to “zap” that information straight to a Trello card with their name on it, on a list titled “Wants Tour.” On the back of the automatically created card is additional information about the potential member, such as their contact information and how they found out about Indy Hall.
And bonus, the day and time of their tour are automatically added as due dates on their prospective members’ Trello cards AND those due dates are synced via iCal to the entire teams’ calendars.
From there the team will move the card through the lists “Signed up for a drop-in day,” “Rescheduled,” “Took a Tour,” “Visited for a Day,” and “Sent Thank You Email.” Alex says this Trello CRM system helps his team stay on top of who is coming to check out Indy Hall, and ensures that they follow up with everyone who walks through the door.
The same process happens when someone fills out a form on the website to actually request membership to Indy Hall. A card is created on the “Wants Membership” board, and the team then filters it through the funnel of “Filled Out Form,” “Sent Link To Join,” and “Joined.”
This is where it gets crazy. When a card is dragged to the “Join” list, Alex set up a Zapier “zap” to automatically open up a card for that person in the “New Member Onboarding” Trello board. So he essentially connected Trello to itself, and automated the process of a card moving from one board to another.
A second zap automatically creates a checklist with all of the things Alex’s team needs to make sure the new member accomplishes, like an invite to the Slack channel, getting their picture taken, receiving a set of keys, and so on. Every member goes through the same process, thus automating the same checklist to load on every card means nothing falls through the cracks.
Removing human error from the CRM and onboarding processes isn’t just about new members receiving all the key information. It’s also an intentional way for the Indy Hall team to focus on what’s really important: spending time with their community.
To put it plainly, “My team was doing robot work. So we gave the work to the robots so my team could do the human work.”
“The best KPI we have come up with is whether someone has made a friend,” Alex explains. He emphasizes the necessity of creating a genuinely curious and friendly environment where everyone feels comfortable introducing themselves and bonding on a level that goes beyond work.
This is what sets Indy Hall apart. The community does this by planning events (99% of the events that happen at Indy Hall are member’s ideas and execution), organizing trips, and cultivating art exhibits at Indy Hall. All of this is done easier if his team isn’t worried about forgetting to send New Member Nancy a Slack invitation.
Alex and his team are hoping to analyze retention rates from this year compared to last, with the idea that automating the menial work in Trello and Zapier will let the team spend more time on studying and improving the experience at Indy Hall. The team can now focus on making sure members are making those human connections needed to foster the best possible community at Indy Hall.
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