Marin County coworking hub Mind Tank expands; Sonoma County's coLAB preps to open

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Coworking facilities in this article

Mind Tank Work Club

23 Ross Common, Suite 5, Ross, CA 94957



427 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95401

Office Evolution Mill Valley

100 Shoreline Highway, Building B, Suite 100, Mill Valley, CA 94941



1 Belvedere Drive, Mill Valley, CA 94941


One of the members working at the Mind Tank Ross coworking center near San Rafael on a Monday morning was Michael Roberts, senior executive editor of Outside magazine.

He’s one of a growing number of remotely working professionals in the North Bay and elsewhere who are opting to do their business from shared office space, rather than home or a coffee shop. A 2018 Global Coworking Survey estimates that 1.7 million people will be coworking in about 19,000 spaces worldwide. Less than one-third are a year old, and one-quarter has 150 or more members.

A major player in coworking, WeWork, is set to open the North Bay’s largest such center, 30,000 square feet, in Mill Valley late this year. Meanwhile, existing players such as Mind Tank are expanding and homegrown newcomers such as coLAB in Santa Rosa are opening.

Roberts had been working from home until his children had grown to an age where he needed a workspace elsewhere. He started out renting space in friends’ offices in Sausalito, until their new office needs parted ways with his. Then he read about the recent opening of Mind Tank, located near his San Anselmo home.

“I feel like I fit neatly in a growing category of people who are empowered, through whatever their professional situations are, to work at home but can’t, because the kids find you,” Roberts said.

He still works from home, usually after his children are asleep, but the need to focus takes him to Mind Tank three to five days a week.

Two years after launching in the San Rafael suburb of Ross, Mind Tank Work Club ( has opened a second location, spurred by a member that needed more space and ferry access to San Francisco, according to founder and operator Sally Newson.

“Though the coworking space itself is quite small, the building itself offers a lot,” Newson said.

Mind Tank leased about 400 square feet in an office building at 100 Larkspur Landing Circle, across Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Golden Gate Ferry’s Larkspur terminal. It opened July 1, driven by the need of Ross member Nick Narodny to expand his startup off-market residential real estate exchange, Aalto, to have room for a half-dozen employees near the ferry terminal to accommodate hires from San Francsico, according to Newson.

Newson designed the interiors of the club spaces in Ross and Larkspur, going for a rustic and vintage look in some areas by sourcing some features like a lamp and 1920s tavern bar from architectural salvage yards and donated furniture from a club member.

The Ross club has two dedicated desks for rent, with some others potentially available. The rest of the table and bar spaces are open for coworking members to alight with their laptops for the day.

Newson operates her own marketing agency, Nunn & Associates, and a nonprofit startup, so she is working from the Ross site three to four days a week. So while the club doesn’t have an official space-reservation system to make sure there’s enough desks for all the members who want to work on a given day and at a given time, that’s not been a problem so far, Newson said.

“It’s not cubicles and stark white,” Newson said. “I call it an industrial chic look that’s conducive to working. You don’t have fluorescent lights.”

Coworking facilities in this article

Mind Tank Work Club

23 Ross Common, Suite 5, Ross, CA 94957



427 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95401

Office Evolution Mill Valley

100 Shoreline Highway, Building B, Suite 100, Mill Valley, CA 94941



1 Belvedere Drive, Mill Valley, CA 94941


And keeping with the flexible work environment common to cowork locations, Mind Tank has access to the building’s 2,500-square-foot interior courtyard, which Newson furnished with a leather sofa, coffee table, café table and accompanying chairs. She also decked out the 250-square-foot garden just outside the building and had another WiFi router installed to allow members to work there or have lunch meetings.

Newson started Mind Tank when she had been living in the town for 15 years and operating her marketing agency from a home office a lot of that time.

“I wanted to be around people — have some community and human interaction,” Newson said.

She read about coworking and liked the concept.

“Where coworking is really needed is small downtowns,” Newson said. “Here you can drop your kids off at Ross School and walk across the street and work — or ride your bike here.”

Set up at a Mind Tank hot desk with a Bluetooth keyboard and his laptop on a stand to bring the screen to eye level, Brett Nowak is where he is from 7:15 in the morning to 5 in the evening seven days a week. He’s the founder of Liquid and Grit, a 2.5-year-old venture that with the help of seven contractors across the country produces mostly monthly market research for large gaming companies.

He worked from home for a year after he launched the company and continued to work full time at another job. But his wife also works from home, and the household has other distractions. That’s why Mind Tank sounded appealing when he heard about it.

He had checked into booking time at the Regus business center in San Rafael, one of nearly 3,000 the Luxembourg-based company operates in about 900 cities in 120 countries. But he was looking for an office environment that didn’t feel like a corporate office.

He also looked into leasing a single office space, but the cost would be a lot more.

“I used to work in coffee shops,” Nowak said. “But it was kind of a pain, because the internet is spotty, they want to buy something every 10 minutes, or there are distractions.”

Paying for a place to work wouldn’t be a problem if the quality of the networking were worth it, he said.

“My work is deep-thought work,” Nowak said. “But it’s a balancing act. In my company, we don’t talk to each other much. That’s sort of how I want it. But some human interaction is kind of good.”

Once every two months he chats over video with his team, but he’s also hired two contractors who he has never even talked to so far.

“You don’t make money from having conferences,” Nowak said. “We just get after it then go home.”

Part of what Nowak said makes his mobile company work is going completely paperless, limiting what he needs to run it to the contents of his brown leather satchel. Doing that allows him to work from Lake Tahoe or a Florida beach.

Working across from Nowak at Mind Tank was Richard Hanbury, CEO and founder of Sana. He’s been developing a smart sleep mask for the past six years, and it is about to be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval. The device sends light pulses to the eyes and audio to the ears, and with feedback from a forehead heart-rate monitor, is designed to help the user sleep better.

Hanbury launched Sana two years ago, and now seven people work for it. Coworking made sense because key officers are spread out around the Bay Area and in the United Kingdom. The company had been considering a Berkeley office, but Hanbury lives in San Anselmo and the chief operating officer in Castro Valley.

“So we were going to waste two hours a day each driving,” Hanbury said. “Why would we do that? Why not work in our own areas then meet up when we need to.”

Now, they’re meeting a couple of times a week when Hanbury travels to contacts in Silicon Valley. As it is, his trip takes up to two hours each way during noncommute hours.

Because he wants to be present with his wife and child when he’s at home, working there isn’t a good option. And coffee shops he found filled with too much bustle and noise. And some local shops he visited have removed wall power outlets to discourage people from spending long periods there.

On top of that, often he works late into the evening, so that would require leaving the coffee shop after it closes and relocating to a restaurant.

“It’s at least doubling of productivity by doing this versus a coffee shop — maybe 3 times,” Hanbury said, estimating it could add up to 20 more hours of work done monthly. “If you only need to work a couple of times a week, coffee shops are great. But if you need to work a proper full-time job, forget it. It’s not worth it.”

The Mind Tank location in Ross made sense, because it’s on his way to meet prospects or clients in San Francisco, Silicon Valley or the East Bay, he said. And existing coworking options in San Rafael would involve about a half-hour of travel time during heavy traffic.

“As a startup, your biggest cost is still your time,” Hanbury said. “Wasting time, because you’re not being productive actually costs you time and money. If you get less done in a month, that’s another month you have to pay rent for, regardless of how much you’ve achieved. When you have employees, that adds up, because you’re being slow.”

In downtown Santa Rosa, construction crews are putting the final finishes on the 10,000-square-foot coLAB coworking space ( It’s a project by Cornerstone Properties, which owns dozens of buildings in Sonoma County, including The Press Democrat building at 427 Mendocino Ave., where the coworking space will occupy the first floor starting late this month.

The community manager for coLAB is Jessie Villa. Formerly working in the outside-developer program for Samsung in Silicon Valley, Villa comes to Cornerstone Properties with a background in event planning, something the new coworking center is set to put into place to help members solve problems.

While the center didn’t have members signed up as of early July, a number are interested, Villa said. The website subscription system is set to be operational by mid-July.

“We’re trying to figure out who the members are as entrepreneurs and what they want,” she said.

Membership in coLAB includes access to the 100–120 shared bench-seating workspaces and member-only events. It starts at $30 for one day a month and $20 for additional days. For those planning on working there more than two days a week, that membership starts at $175 a month and includes five hours of rental for the meeting rooms.

For one of the lockable 15 private offices with capacity for up to three people, membership starts at $750 a month, with a three-month minimum.

Membership amenities also include high-speed WiFi, mail service, lockers to store items between visits, a private room for nursing mothers, kitchen, lounges and snacks.

Reservations are being taken on the website for the coLAB launch party July 26, 5–7 p.m. Tours are set to start a week before, Villa said. Center hours initially will be weekdays 8 a.m.–6 p.m.

In between Mind Tank and coLAB in size is Evolution Office's 4,800-square-foot Mill Valley location. Franchise owner Cully Fredrickson opened it four years ago this month. Denver-based Evolution Office was ranked as the No. 4 franchise in the U.S. last year by Entrepreneur magazine. In the greater San Francisco Bay Area, locations are in the works for Roseville, Walnut Creek, Pleasanton and Los Gatos.

Sixteen of the 17 private Mill Valley offices are rented full time, and the site has another 61 virtual tenants for the 12-seat coworking space.

"We get mediators and small businesses like attorneys and financial planners who don't need a full-time locked door but want the amenities," Fredrickson said. He got the idea for the coworking location from his brother-in-law, Evolution Office founder and CEO Mark Hemmeter.

Many of the part-time tenants signed up for memberships for discounts on rental of the two 10-person conference rooms, he said. Other amenities are mail and phone service.

One recent graduate of the space, sugar-buster beverage developer Good Idea, grew to four employees over two years and had to rent a conference roof often because the two-person office wouldn't accommodate the workforce. Evolution Office will continue to handle the phone and mail service for a while.

Community is part of what makes coworking spaces attractive, and Fredrickson has seen that. Members lunches offer a chance to meet people from different businesses, and some end up doing business together, he said.

One upgrade Fredrickson is considering for the space are phone booths, which are soundproof pods that allow someone in an open or shared office to take a private call or avoid disturbing others. They cost $3,000-$5,000 each.

"The coworking space is considered a quiet zone, so that's not really the space to collaborate," Fredrickson said.

Contact Jeff Quackenbush at or 707-521-4256.

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