Morris Levy, co-founder and CEO, The YardThe co-working trailblazer believes hospitality is the heart of the business
Morris Levy grew up in the fashion industry, but after 15 years in the business he decided real estate held more of his interest. Now he runs The Yard, the co-working company that started in Brooklyn and now has 14 locations in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. We sat down with him to learn more about his successful and transformation-filled career.
“My family is in the fashion business, manufacturing clothing,” he told us of his early work. He joined the family business right after high school, working primarily in the manufacturing of women’s and children’s garments. “I was traveling overseas for the first four years, spending most of my time in China and building product lines, which gave me a great foundation to take something and make it better,” he said in our podcast.
That knack for improvement led Levy to wonder about other careers where his transformative spirit could be utilized. “I started going to school at night to learn a little bit more about real estate because I just had an interest. When you’re manufacturing something and you’re improving something, essentially you’re just adding value. So adding value to a property and to a building is not that much different if you can see what something’s potential is.”
Levy took on leading roles in real-estate development after that, but in 2011 he got together with company co-founder Richard Beyda to focus on a new idea: a shared space that focused on entrepreneurship and day jobs instead of residential development. Although it still involved improving spaces, this was the next big shift in Levy’s career.
The two founders realized there were almost no options for flexible workspaces that didn’t require expensive, long term leases. “It’s about commitment. People don’t want to be locked in,” Levy said. “We had a lot of large spaces and they were always hard to move. But when I cut them up into smaller spaces, they went very quickly. And I had to also be flexible, instead of taking a 10- year deal, I’d take a three-year deal.”
The first location of The Yard was a transformed warehouse on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which became a destination for entrepreneurs to collaborate, share their experiences, and foster new ideas. Original members of The Yard included companies like Uber, Blue Apron, Wanderfly, and the writing team behind Birdman, the Academy Award-winning film.
While The Yard was a pioneer in the emerging co-working industry, plenty of competition rose up at around the same time, including WeWork and Brooklyn-based Industrious. How does The Yard differentiate itself? “There are a lot of competitors that are larger than us. Every Yard member has heard of some of those competitors, yet they choose to be with us,” Levy said. “It’s not only about price, because we’re not the cheapest option out there. People stay with us for the service, for our team, for the support we offer.” At some point in the company’s evolution, Levy said he realized that he’s really in the hospitality business, more so than real estate.
While the Brooklyn native remains firmly rooted in the borough—he lives in Midwood with his family—his company has ambitious expansion plans. “I think it’s time to go to the West Coast,” said Levy, who has been scouting locations in San Francisco. “We have so many members that are traveling coast to coast, and they ask us, ‘When are you opening?'”—By Kora Feder