Now, a Hub for Digital Nomads
The Spur, a recently opened co-working and entrepreneurial space in Southampton, is a sort of a microenvironment that for a monthly fee offers an attractive work-life balance to a cohort of ambitious remote workers suffering from cabin fever.
In Brooklyn and Manhattan, the collaborative workspace phenomenon is almost at saturation point. WeWork, the most ubiquitous of them, has been likened to the Starbucks of co-workspaces, with 90 locations worldwide.
But here on the South Fork, Starbucks is the WeWork of virtual offices for freelancers and entrepreneurs, other than a home desk or sometimes the library.
Ashley Heather, a British transplant who lived with his wife in Manhattan and moved to Water Mill three years ago with their three children, decided this area needed an inspiring co-working space, having done his time as a digital nomad, working from home or in Starbucks.
To be perfectly clear, Mr. Heather is not exactly your average start-up guy toiling away in a coffee shop. He said he’s been an entrepreneur as far back as he can remember, and as such, a problem solver. He solved some of life’s irksome little problems in the early 2000s, like how to identify a song you might hear at the gym or in a taxi, developing what became the Shazam app, which can identify music, movies, advertising, and television shows based on a short sample. Later he launched a lesser-known fashion app that could identify clothing and accessories worn by television stars and offer a link to websites where the outfits could be bought.
He is also the founder of a bricks-and-mortar concern in Chelsea, the White Space Group, which, according to its website, works with “new and established brands who are looking to accelerate growth of their business, primarily in the digital domain.”
After moving to Water Mill, Mr. Heather founded iHamptons, a nonprofit organization that bills itself as “the hub of entrepreneurs in the Hamptons . . . bringing together all the resources needed to launch and build an innovative company.” The organization produces an annual event called “Riptide: $ink or $wim,” the Hamptons’ first start-up pitch competition open to entrepreneurs or innovators who pitch their start-up ideas to a group of judges for a chance to win up to $25,000. The company’s tagline is “Innovation’s a beach.”
Innovation is also a buzzword at the Spur, which Mr. Heather launched in January. A neon sign greets visitors: “By innovation only” — a wordplay that captures both the club’s membership-only essence as well as the requisite esprit of those clamoring to get in.
“We’ve turned down many applicants,” Mr. Heather said over lunch, which is complimentary, at the Spur this week. “They’ve got to be a core fit,” he said, meaning that the initial 150 members they hope to sign up should represent freelance techie-types from industries such as media, technology, food and hospitality, and fashion and beauty. No one looking to simply network in the hopes of expanding his or her contact list will be allowed, he said.
For the moment, the Spur is housed in an 1884 former potato and grain barn and weigh station that sits on a tiny parcel adjacent to the Southampton train station. Billy Joel once stored his pianos there. When a train rumbles past and the building shakes, one can almost imagine it’s Williamsburg, with the rattling subway below.
The Brooklyn hipster vibe is reflected in the effortlessly eclectic furniture, the majority of which Mr. Heather said he found in local estate sales. The exposed brick walls, hand-hewn pine floors and beams, and a monthly rotation of featured artists make for a rather more attractive and inspirational alternative to Starbucks or the clutter of a kitchen table. The building’s original antique freight elevator is still operational and will soon transport members to the basement, where Lymbr, a health and wellness company that promotes a healthier quality of life through guided stretching, will operate.
In return for this, as well as free-flowing fruit-infused water, herbal teas, breakfast, lunch, a conference table that doubles as a Ping-Pong surface, and fun networking events, members pay a sliding monthly subscription, ranging from about $200 to $500 for year-round residents, depending on their needs for fixed desks or flex desks. There are also summer-only packages. As a bonus, two Tesla cars are available for pickups and drop-offs.
On Tuesday, a handful of members occupied communal tables and private booth spaces designed for the Spur by California Closets.
Casey Powers, an East Hampton mother of two young children, who once worked at Goldman Sachs, joined the Spur two weeks ago to get away from her home office and the Starbucks environment. She is developing two mother-and-baby-centric product lines and hopes to be more productive in the four to five hours a day she aims to spend working at one of the Spur’s tables.
Isolation is a major problem for the self-employed, and Ms. Powers echoed this. “A little socialization among like-minded entrepreneurial people is a good thing,” she said.
Mickey Beyer-Clausen is the founder of an app called Mental Workout, which promises to increase performance through mental health. Mr. Beyer-Clausen, who is Danish but has lived in Southampton for 10 years, has introduced a number of successful apps, including one with Virgin Atlantic to help with the fear of flying. He opted for a private, designated desk at the Spur, where he is now designing an app that focuses on improving the well-being of the corporate work force.
Also busy at work was Scott Lewis, a financial-tech entrepreneur at present creating a crypto wallet in conjunction with the Shinnecock Indian Nation. He hopes to unveil it on June 14 at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Shinnecock Hills.
The Spur’s utopian ambition will be fully realized when the company moves this fall to a permanent 10,000-square-foot space in a defunct car dealership at the corner of Montauk Highway and Flying Point Road in Southampton.
Membership capacity will increase to 500, and there will be multiple conference rooms, a restaurant, and a bar. The social events calendar will expand, as will the currently offered tech-focused program for young kids designed by Greg Wilson, the director of the Ross School’s Innovation Lab initiative. The Lymbr fitness facility will follow, as will the Teslas.
Given the growing phenomenon of co-working spaces and the changing nature of today’s work force, Mr. Heather, together with Gary Bierfriend, who three months ago became the president of the company, plans to open hubs in Montauk, East Hampton, and Greenport. They will be modeled to resemble a hybrid of the WeWork archetype and the exclusive Soho House members’ club for people in the creative industries. The goal is for the company to open 20 such clubs in premium resort areas like the Hamptons in the next three years.
“I’m a serial connector,” Mr. Heather said with a smile. Surely then, following in WeWork’s footsteps, the next big lure promises to be co-living.