Atomic20 10

How one Boulder business is changing the marketing game.

Walking into Atomic20 in downtown Boulder, the zing of innovative productivity is palpable. The space lends a studio-feel with an open floor plan bathed in natural lighting and little touches of artistic detail, like a framed piece of calligraphy stating, “Sleep Will Come.” It’s a coworking space, but with a focus on creative talent or what CEO Trish Thomas likes to call, “subject matter experts.”

“THE GIGGING ECONOMY IS NOT GOING AWAY,” THOMAS SAYS.

“Nowadays, the world wants customization and quality. You’re not getting the best talent unless you’re tapping into contract and freelance workers,” she says.

Graphic designers, copywriters, illustrators, photographers, marketing strategists and various other skilled professionals fill the trendy desks of this building, on a part-time and full-time basis. When a project comes along, Atomic20 curates the perfect team of creatives to tackle it, and once the work is done, the workers can disband and continue concentrating on their other self-employed endeavors.

“We offer the ability to customize, and it’s hard to get that unless you can afford to pay a large advertising agency to build a whole team around you,” Thomas says. “We only pay the right people for the hours we need them.”

With around 40 people utilizing the shared office space in Boulder and a network of 250 freelances as a whole, Atomic20 has plenty of skilled talent to leverage, and the freelancers like that they can find work and get work done.

“I can’t work from home, I slack off. So working here is like peer pressure and inspiration,” says graphic designer Augustina De La Plaza of Freelo Design. “When it’s a project for Atomic20, it’s nice to have project managers keeping the client happy, and then I can just focus on the work.”

With so many freelancers having similar skill sets working in the same place, it may seem that competition could be a problem, but most workers have their own areas of interest. Graphic designer and branding identity specialist Zach Lee did the signage and graphics for Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park and has worked on various other projects in the outdoor industry. He says Atomic20 has “never felt like it’s too competitive, but more collaborative.” Not to mention, clients get teams that have a genuine interest and expertise in their specific industry.

Of course, there’s always a nerve-racking element to self-employment. “It’s scary as hell,” admits President and Co-Founder Jeff Donaldson. “Freelancers are incredibly brave to disconnect from the work world they’ve been told is the only way to make a living. They have to be good at their craft and also at running a business, networking, business development and other things.”

Atomic20’s framework offers the flexibility of freelance work, but operates as a more cohesive environment than your typical rent-a-desk coworking space, perhaps alleviating some of the scare factor.

When Donaldson and his good friend Toby Kraut teamed up as consultants six years ago, their idea was to recruit a network of talented freelancers for marketing and design.

“We opened the first coworking space downtown Boulder called ‘Scrib’ and changed the business completely. Freelancers had a place to meet, work, collaborate, build their own businesses and work on the projects we brought in.”

Scrib evolved into Atomic20 and Kraut has since started Boomtown, a startup accelerator that shares the same building.

Donaldson says that companies utilizing traditional business models could learn from the flexibility that Atomic20 has fostered. He estimates that at this rate, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be independent by 2020, and agencies like Atomic20 will welcome them with open arms.