KouWork in Kakaʽako. Photo Courtesy: Kouwork

New KouWork space in Kaka‘ako offers a headquarters for independents

There’s talk that around 70 percent of the workforce will be independent contractors, or location independent, by the year 2020. Right now if you’re among the freelance workforce in Honolulu, you probably toil away in the comfort of home, or bounce around to coffee shops with Wi-Fi, looking for the right environment to get you in the zone. While work-from-home life has some definite perks, it can get monotonous and become the opposite of motivating. Luke Williams and his wife set out to answer the question: Where can independents go to thrive?

A Kamehameha Schools graduate, Williams was always looking for ways to fit Native Hawaiian wisdom and values into his life and work. For his doctorate thesis in architecture at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, he studied the way the mind behaves while reciting the entrance chant Kūnihi Ka Mauna, and built a physical structure from plywood that mimicked the process. After school, he worked under Dr. Lilikalā K. Kameʻeleihiwa doing land grant studies, trained with the Polynesian Voyaging Society in his spare time, and went onto work in a few local architectural firms.

After the birth of their son, he and his wife Lauren, a kumu hula with a degree in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, had an important realization about their future: “We reached a fork in the road, where we knew that if she went back to teaching and I continued on the architecture path, we’d blink our eyes and 30 years would go by,” he says. “We shared this entrepreneurial desire, or ‘illness’ as some people would say.” They listed out their strengths and looked for the overlap, cut their teeth on small business ownership and eventually landed on co-working.

The couple set out to build a collaboration hub from the ground up, where people could work smarter and have a good time doing it. They partnered with Matt Heim, owner of Brué Bar Café, to include a coffee shop in their design. A second partner came into the picture when Philip Hasha, co-founder of the design/build company Redmont Group, offered to let them take over his office’s ground floor in Kakaʻako.

Luke and Lauren Williams. Photo Courtesy: KouWork

Though the Williams are both part-Native Hawaiian, it was actually their partners who suggested infusing a place-based concept into the co-working space’s name. They settled on the Hawaiian word “kou” — once an alternate name for Honolulu, a shady tree used for canoe making and a word that signifies ownership or belonging — and “KouWork” was born. Williams designed every detail of KouWork and serves as frontman/ambassador of aloha along with his mascot Primo the yellow lab, and Lauren handles marketing.

Photo: People meeting at KouWork
KouWork in Kakaʻako. Photo Courtesy: Kouwork

Opened this past August, KouWork offers a cool and comfortable home base for freelancers, entrepreneurs and start-up founders where they can focus, network and even play (think pau hana parties and a ping-pong table). KouWork is built to be flexible and modular, with high-speed Wi-Fi, semi-private booths, Zoom Rooms with software-based video conferencing and a Fireside Collaboration Space with pillow seats and write-on walls. “By nature co- working is very collaborative, so we wanted to cover all the modalities of how people like to work,” says Williams. “As people move through their day, the space is super flexible so they can adjust as needed.”

World travelers Carmela Resuma and her husband Raymund Maravilla flew to Oʻahu to experience KouWork after they won an online contest for a three-month membership. She’s a non-profit/NGO consultant, and Maravilla is a photo retoucher and artist, and together they run the travel blog NoWrongTurns.com. “It’s definitely easier to roll out of bed, open my laptop, and get to work right away,” says Resuma. “But working out of KouWork was infinitely better for my career and productivity because of the community. This goes farther than just net-working… The place practically oozes with inspiration when all our “Kou-workers” are there for the day.”

Williams and partners have high hopes for KouWork as a proof of concept, with their sights set on creating several locations throughout Oʻahu. “The life of an entrepreneur or freelancer can be lonely at times,” says Williams. “Creating a physical space that allows you to be with like-minded people is the ‘why’ behind KouWork. As Hawaiʻi shifts to be more supportive of this lifestyle, we want KouWork to be the place that comes to mind when people think of co-working.”

814 Ilaniwai St.