Dusty Reagan on Austin Jelly

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Mon, 05/19/2008 - 11:00pm

I believe I first heard about Austin Jelly last November. Since then, it's grown to become the main topic in the local Friday twittersphere. There has been a lot of press recently about Jelly as a national phenomena, and although Austin was one of the first Jelly cities, there hasn't been much coverage on how it emerged locally. I asked Dusty Reagan, the chief instigator behind Jelly in Austin, to give me a bit of the history and background.

Lynn Bender: In the mid 90s mojosdailygrind had ethernet jacks in the walls. It was the first wired coffee house in town. Because I found myself spending more and more time in front of a computer, and didn't want to sit at home, I spent a great deal of time at mojos. I wasn't the only one. The place was full of laptops -- at the time, this was something unique. I'd see more or less the same geeks every night. Many became good friends, several I hired, and a few others I helped to find a new gig. This seems commonplace now though. On any day, go to Medici, Epoch, Café Caffeine, and you'll see a room full of laptops. Hang out more than a few times, and you see that each has a community of sorts. What is it that distinguishes Jelly from the ad-hoc communities of tech workers that form in many of the coffee houses in town?

Dusty Reagan: I believe what distinguishes Jelly from ad-hoc coffee shop working communities is Jelly attendees are deliberately gathering and seeking a social outlet. The ad-hoc coffee shop communities you're describing typically grow organically over an extended period of time. Jelly is kind of a community-building catalyst / ice breaker. When you come to Jelly you're encouraged to introduce yourself to other workers. I've found that in the typical coffee shop working culture people generally work in silos. Jelly is an excuse to break out of your silo.

I should also mention that Jelly can be held at someone's home, apartment, or office. It's really all about making connections.

Bender: What was it that motivated you to launch Jelly in Austin? When did you launch it?

Reagan: I learned about coworking in general back in September 2007 after reading this article on Independents Hall on FreelanceSwitch.com. The concept of "coworking" hit such a strong chord with me that I wanted to see it happen in Austin immediately. I figured the best way to make coworking happen right away was to start Jelly meet-ups. I took one month to promote and generate buzz around our first meet-up. Then we met for the first time at Genuine Joe's on Nov 2nd.

My motivation around Jelly and coworking comes from my deep-seated belief that work as we know it is evolving and it's up to us to help change it for the better. Jelly fits in with my vision of how people should work. I'm passionate about sharing that vision.

Bender: There are a lot of great independent coffee houses in town. What factors led you to choose Café Caffeine? What sort of things does a venue need to make it suitable for a Jelly?

Reagan: Café Caffeine is a great place for Jelly because they have Wi-Fi, plenty of outlets, an open space, good food, great coffee, and they let us rearrange the furniture. But the number one reason Café Caffeine is great for Jelly is Ruth Glendinning, co-owner of Café Caffeine. She really understands and embraces Jelly and casual coworking. If you're looking to host a Jelly meet-up at a coffee shop, get the support of the owner and/or manager. It has made a huge difference for us. Thanks Ruth! And thanks to Maggie Duval for introducing Austin Jelly to Café Caffeine and Ruth!

Bender: With Jelly, Michael Agustin's Indie Austin group, 501 club, and the Austin Social Media Club all meeting simultaneously at Café Caffeine, are you encountering space issues?

Reagan: To date we haven't encountered space issues at Café Caffeine, though we're certainly starting to push the limit.

I'm extremely excited about the cross-pollination of Austin organizations because I think it strengthens our city-wide community. It turns people on to organizations that they may not have known about and widens our social circles. I think Jelly is a great community melting pot because the concept of Jelly is so universal: people gathering to work on separate things together. That concept is appealing to a lot of groups and individuals and makes for a neutral meeting ground to collaborate and mix it up.

I'm looking forward to our future space problems. I think the solution will simply be to expand Jelly to additional venues and/or increase meeting frequency.

Bender: I heard there are plans for a Jelly North Austin. Tell me about that.

Reagan: You bet there are! Jelly used to alternate between Genuine Joe's (North Austin) and Café Caffeine (South Austin) on alternating Thursdays and Fridays. I did this to try and accommodate the largest possible number of Austinites. Unfortunately it turned out that the irregularity of the meet-ups really hurt attendance. I've learned that consistency is the key to gaining momentum in the Jelly community. We now hold Jelly every single Friday at Café Caffeine without fail. Now that the South Austin Jelly meet-up time and location has become established, I think we're ready to start something consistent up North.

Jelly meet-ups can be hosted by anyone, anytime, anywhere. I encourage folks to host their own Jelly meet-ups if they get the urge. I consider these regularly scheduled meet-ups as a kind of "corner stone" of the community, but I'd love to see some ad-hoc Jelly meet-ups spring up. We've even had a few already hosted by Stephen Gutknecht at Uncle Billy's Brewpub.

Bender: For folks who have never been to Jelly, how would you describe the experience?

When you work at Jelly, it's like you're working with a bunch of friends. Expect to do some socializing and meet some people outside of your professional circle. Lots of people come to cowork at Jelly, not just geeks. We've had lawyers, professors, librarians, real estate agents, artists, and numerous other non-geek professions represented. It's really casual; some people only come for a few hours, some people prefer to keep to themselves, other people want to meet everyone there.

Occasionally other Austin organizations will meet at Jelly. If you'd like to participate in their meetings, just pull up a chair. If you'd rather not, pop in your earphones.

Bender: Any future plans for Jelly that you can share with us?

Reagan: There are some interesting things brewing on a global landscape. Nothing I can really speak of yet, but I don't mind teasing. Watch www.workatjelly.com or chat me up at the next Jelly.