Almanac

Community - July 23, 2008

In Business: Taking the kids to work

Cubes & Crayons mixes 'coworking' with child care

by Selena Simmons-Duffin

The challenge is eating the cake and still having it.

In this case, the cake is a red velvet career with a corner office and fulfilling work, all mixed up with angel food family life with children, a minivan, and violin recitals.

For many professional women, this confection seems like an impossibility. Cubes & Crayons has come to downtown Menlo Park to change that, says founder M. Felicity Chapman, who launched the business in January.

The company, on Crane Street off of Santa Cruz Avenue, is the intersection of two trends: flexible child care and "coworking."

The coworking movement, in which independent professionals gather to work in a communal office, has grown in global popularity popping up everywhere from Madrid to Melbourne.

The difficulty of being a parent while maintaining and advancing a career has led a number of companies on the Peninsula, such as Google and Cisco, to offer on-site child care for employees. Cubes & Crayons uses the coworking model to give freelancers and people who work at home a professional office, and adds to it child care just down the hall.

Ms. Chapman says the idea came to her after her first daughter, Kaia, was born and she faced the problem of being a mother and continuing to work.

Three years after the idea was hatched, Cubes & Crayons opened its doors with seed money from Ms. Chapman and her husband. It has yet to break even, but Ms. Chapman expects it will be profitable by August.

'Office space, kids' space'

Walking up the stairs to Cubes & Crayons, you will find a few classic features of the office environment: bare rooms with simple tables and chairs, a kitchenette, a bulletin board, a printer and copier, sound-proof ceiling tiles, and fluorescent lighting. There are three coworking offices, and two conference rooms that can double as coworking space when they're empty. A lounge area houses workshops and events.

You'll also find some hints that Ms. Chapman used to have an interior design firm: the same tiffany blue and teal color combination is on everything from the walls to the informational brochures and the labels on the bulletin board. She also has her favorite inspirational quotes printed on the walls, such as: "Nothing happens until we first dream."

Go past the child-safe gate, and you'll find two nap rooms and a big child care area with trains and wooden toys, books, and wholesome music playing from the stereo. The color scheme is broken in this room, which has purple walls. "Purple fosters creativity," Ms. Chapman says.

There are also some things you won't find when you visit Cubes & Crayons. Despite the name, you won't find cubicles, only office rooms.

You also won't find a television or any electronic toys because Ms. Chapman, who has a master's degree in education, believes that children need to be engaged in order to develop. "I would like us to be thought of as one of the best places for your child to get care, and I think we are."

Another striking absence is Ms. Chapman herself. Although she and her kids stop in about once a week for meetings, generally she's found that clients want to stop and chat, so she doesn't get any work done. Ironically, Ms. Chapman says she may eventually need to hire a part-time nanny.

Looking forward

So far, the company has about 60 regular members, although Ms. Chapman says members have been a bit slow to come in. At $22.50 an hour for non-members, using the space and the child care is not cheap.

Members pay $149 annually for access to the online reservation system and discounted rates as low as $13 an hour depending on the age of the child and the number of hours each month.

Palo Alto resident Victoria Coniglio-McKinney, for one, likes the set-up so much she's made Cubes & Crayons her full-time office, and even printed business cards with the company's address. "I've found a way to go to an office every day, be with my child all day, and keep my career intact," she explains. She speaks highly of the office amenities and the child care for her 9-month-old, Isabella McKinney.

She also loves that the location allows her to take walks and do errands during lunch, although with the office in downtown Menlo Park, she says, "parking is a bit of a problem."

The social networking aspect of the shared office space hasn't been exactly what Ms. Chapman expected, but sometimes people chat in the kitchenette. The socializing, she believes, will come the longer the company stays in the area.

Three more of her Cubes & Crayons branches are in the works in the Bay Area: in San Francisco, Marin, and the South Bay. "I've always thought of this as a national company," she says, "because I think everybody should have this."

However, Ms. Chapman acknowledged that Silicon Valley is a particularly appropriate place to pilot the company, both because local people are willing to try out new ideas, and because blogging and telecommunication, both activities that Cubes & Crayons accommodates and encourages, are already practiced widely in the community.

Ms. Chapman says she has a big folder of ideas for startup companies, and plans to take Cubes & Crayons to a certain stage of development and then hand it off to be maintained and built by someone else.

In the meantime, the Menlo Park office seems to be doing well. "It just shouldn't be so difficult to have a family and live your life," Ms. Coniglio-Kinney says. "For some reason this problem just hasn't been solved; maybe this is finally the turning point for solving it."

If Cubes & Crayons expands and membership grows, the model it pioneers will be tested on a larger scale.

INFORMATION

Cubes & Crayons is at 1122 Crane St. in Menlo Park. For information, go to http://cubesandcrayons.com or call 323-2551 or send an e-mail to: contactmp@cubesandcrayons.com. The company blog is at http://cubes.typepad.com/blog .

Comments

Posted by Great Story!, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 24, 2008 at 4:17 pm

It's about time a business like this opened. How come the city of MP isn't taking more notice? This place is a rarity - and there needs to be more.


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