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ROC launches into Santa Monica's shared workspace scene

Former Google office is now ROC Santa Monica
Former Google office is now ROC Santa Monica
Real Office Centers

In a city that's increasingly being called Silicon Beach, business and tech news travels fast. So when a new tenant moved into the building on 6th and Arizona that had long hosted Google's Santa Monica branch, word spread.

What's even more newsworthy is what that new tenant is up to. The 44,260-square-foot, three-story Santa Monica office is the newest location among ROC's expanding shared workspaces – six total. Also called co-working spaces, the concept is growing in popularity as start-up and growing businesses seek collaborative environments and more flexible office lease terms.

ROC Santa Monica officially opened in October 2012, serving the lone entrepreneur all the way up to the midsize company with work tables, private offices, conference rooms and more. The second floor, which is currently under construction, will house exclusive workspaces and offices as well as an art studio, green room, postproduction lab, videoconference lounge and more. The third floor, the venue for ROC's private launch party tonight, will be equipped with a full commercial kitchen, cafeteria and additional workspaces. And the attached roof deck will offer members much-needed respite between meetings or simply a sunnier, more relaxing workspace. Currently housing 60 to 70 companies, ROC founder Ron McElroy anticipates capacity will double after the second and third floors are completed.

All about the relationships

When asked what he thinks about the relatively high number of shared workspaces around Santa Monica, many establishing in the area long before ROC showed up, McElroy says size is a key competitive factor. “We're all working for the same goal, but you can't house these types of companies and create these types of relationships in a 6,000-square-foot space.”

Relationships are the other key aspect that McElroy says sets ROC apart. “The only way we'll do things is through relationships, and we have really good ones,” he says, referencing sponsors like AT&T and Belvedere Vodka, education alliances with UCLA and USC and venture capital alliances with Tech Coast Angels and K5 Launch. “Relationships are the only way to make things happen. Competitors are trying to do what we do, saying they have all kinds of relationships and connections . . . If someone can really do it, then have at it.”

Every week, Karlin Ventures visits ROC Santa Monica for a series of 15-minute private sessions that allow member companies to talk with Karlin reps about, say, potential start-up ideas or problems they're currently facing. That is only one of the many relationships benefiting ROC members. Various accelerators and incubators have partnered up with ROC, Los Angeles' General Assembly (conveniently located on 2nd Street in Santa Monica) offers educational courses, and local law firm Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth (whose website emphasizes its parallel belief in “forming relationships) is actively involved.

From wetsuit to pressed suit

After years of professional surfing, McElroy retired his board and entered the real estate scene. In 1992 he started Real Estate Management Corp., eventually growing it to 14 locations that managed 1,000 companies. In that time, he saw “everything evolve except office spaces.” But why? That question is what inspired him to “stimulate real estate with something new.” McElroy sought to do this by focusing on more than just the physical nature of a commercial office space. “Yes, we made sure to work in vibrant colors and raw surfaces, but we also brought in social elements, a superior staff and hip companies,” he explains. “Together, it breeds an environment conducive to a social network in person.”

McElroy opened the first ROC location in 2011 at 23 Corporate Plaza in the bustling business district of Newport Beach. Its success helped the company expand to La Jolla next and then eventually to downtown San Diego, Santa Monica and Irvine. As part of the expansion plans, McElroy sought out Southern California's most affluent, dense markets. “We want to be in A properties in A markets,” he says matter-of-fact, “where we can be the preeminent provider of this type of work environment.”

A September 2012 CNN.com article dates the concept of co-working spaces back to 2005 in San Francisco. Driven by their components of building community and encouraging entrepreneurship – while offering tenants flexible, contract-free rental terms – shared workspaces are now widespread in the United States and Europe. Through shared workspaces, a small business has the flexibility “to expand or downsize on the spot,” McElroy explains. “And as the company flexes up or down, we can work other companies into the space.”

Although the serial entrepreneur is currently focused on finishing the Santa Monica office, he has his sights set on Hawaii, New York and Latin America. Potential locations in the more immediate term include Pasadena and Mexico City.

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