Eight years ago to this day (yes, leap day in 2008 specifically) I signed a five year lease for our 246 Queen Street location with BIG dreams, no customers signed up and an all-in attitude. The only way was forward. It honestly feels like a lifetime ago and a day at the same time, as much has changed since then and even more will change going forward. This post will be dedicated to looking back at the journey of building TheCodeFactory and more importantly, thanking the people and groups that have supported us for eight years.
Coffee Shop Beginnings
In early 2007 (TheCodeFactory light bulb moment) if you wanted to have a business meeting or attend a meetup for a tech or entrepreneurial group or find other entrepreneurs and have a business discussion the options were fairly limited. You had business meetings at your home, or the local coffee shop. Neither was ideal for doing business because of the lack of professionalism and/or privacy, respectively. This was half of the idea for TheCodeFactory.
The other half of the idea for starting TheCodeFactory was DemoCamp. The first DemoCamp was held at The Clock Tower on Bank Street, October 23, 2006. I remember the planning meetings for DemoCamp at Axionic and Real Decoy’s office just down the street from The Clock Tower. From DemoCamp 1 to DemoCamp 11 in December 2008 I was actively involved in organizing DemoCamp and really enjoyed the experience. IMHO DemoCamp was a key rallying point for the emerging Ottawa web and mobile ecosystem and it was a lot of fun to have been involved with.
The energy and enthusiasm of DemoCamp created a great vibe. Somewhere between the coffee shop vibe and DemoCamp the idea for TheCodeFactory was born.
246 Queen Street
For those of you who had been to the old location you’ll remember it as the second and fourth floors at 246 Queen Street, right above the Green Papaya. The second floor was a shared space where people could work for the day and meetups could be held during the evening. The fourth floor was dedicated, private office space for small businesses. We’re really proud to say that TheCodeFactory was the first shared workspace in Ottawa, one of the first in Canada and certainly an early adopter worldwide.
The original intent behind TheCodeFactory was to build a “community of shared interest” around open source software in downtown Ottawa. Opening night was May 26, 2008 and I distinctly remember our three speakers at the event: Scott Lake, Mike Milinkovich and Denzil Doyle. Opening night is one of my favorite memoires looking back at how the business has evolved.
Open Source Software “Community of Shared Interest”
A somewhat serendipitous consequence of being the first coworking space in Ottawa was also becoming a gathering place for user groups looking for a place to host their meetings. From 2008 to 2012 we hosted over 1,000 events at TheCodeFactory and instigated or facilitated the growth 20 to 30 open source software and entrepreneurial user groups, many of which continue to thrive today. Attending user group meetings and getting to meet with the organizers was a great learning experience. A special thank you to the organizers of Team Camp, CapCHI, Cocoaheads and many others for their dedication to sharing knowledge and insights with event attendees.
The Tough Times
I distinctly remember on opening night of TheCodeFactory being pulled aside by one of our early supporters and him saying to me: “Ian, when you start a business there are two years of darkness”. Basking in the glow of our opening night and being early in the honeymoon phase of starting the business, the words didn’t carry the same impact that they do today. After navigating the many peaks and valleys of getting going it seems to me that the first bump in the road is the most difficult. The first major bump in the road was the double dip of recession and the Ottawa bus strike in late 2008.
The 2008 recession was a pretty catastrophic blow to the economy. The Financial Crisis in the US and belief in the markets faltered, leading to a drastic crash. As many around Ottawa know, layoffs were common place. While this may have pushed people to consider entrepreneurship in the long term, in the short term most belts were tightened and money was harder to come by. It was tough on every service-based business, including TheCodeFactory.
The Bus Strike
A recession is bad. A recession coupled with a crippling bus strike is far worse. If you didn’t absolutely have to be downtown during the bus strike, chances were you’d avoid it like the plague. Commute times were absolutely ridiculous as cars packed the highway, and when you actually reached the core parking would be nonexistent. Things were pretty grim for a short while, but the bus strike and recession would eventually pass with time.
There have been many other bumps in the road since then; however, the more adversity you deal with the better you become at solving problems. I am a big believer in this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “That what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. “ It is during the tough times that you find out who your friends are. A big thank you to the customers that stuck with us and sincere gratitude for those advisors and other supporters that helped out during the difficult times.
Change and Adapt
Change is a very difficult thing. The fundamental driver of our change of location was to shift focus from being a “community of shared interest” built around open source software to being a great customer service organization and supporting a broader range of Ottawa area small businesses, startups and entrepreneurial organizations. A major milestone for us was moving to our new location at 100 Gloucester Street in April 2013. The move was a significant undertaking and perhaps the accomplishment I am most proud of is that most of our customers voluntarily made the move with us.
The Most Important Thing
PS, next post in this series: Leap Day looking forward …