Guest Blog by Stephanie Hawken, LoA's Los Angeles and Silicon Valley Reporter
There is a real global buzz about co-working spaces providing a great launchpad for young entrepreneurs who want to hit the ground running, stay lean and fast, and keep operational costs to a minimum. So, will the creation of dynamic new women co-working spaces in Africa help to drive a new and empowering era for women entrepreneurs on the continent? This month, Lionesses of Africa speaks to two young pioneering women entrepreneurs from the US and Australia who are globally rolling out these women co-working spaces, and who are looking at Africa as a possible next destination.
LoA's contributing writer on the ground covering Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, Stephanie Hawken, recently met up with the two pioneering women founders of One Roof Co-Working, an entrepreneurial venture creating dynamic and innovative women co-working spaces around the world to find out more. Here's her report and interview, recorded on-site at the newly launched One Roof Co-Working space in must-visit Venice Beach, California:
Make your way past trendy Abbot Kinney and you'll find something refreshingly different in Venice, California - female entrepreneurs staking their claim in the rapidly expanding "Silicon Beach.” One Roof Co-Working, the brainchild of entrepreneurial founders, Gianna Wurzi and Sheree Rubinstein, is making a bold statement to women trying to stand out in a crowded space: you're not alone. By inviting the best female minds in L.A. into the same location, they are fostering a shared environment for women to empower each other with ideas, feedback, and smart execution.
It is rare to come across a single environment that is as dynamic and spirited as this shared working space. Upon first inspection, it is easy to attribute the nature of One Roof Co-Working to its proximity to Silicon Beach and the 500+ startup companies it houses. A wave of startup innovation has reached Los Angeles shores, but brought with it the same monotonous current that plagued its counterpart up North. Scratch the surface of this new industry, despite all its supposed distinction, and you’ll find the same types of people running the same types of startups, with very similar outcomes. A distinct trend has formed in the startup world, but what makes One Roof different and what gives it its signature prowess, is that it has acknowledged this progression and chosen to do things differently.
One Roof goes out of its way to do more than provide women with affordable working spaces and internet connectivity. It breaks down the sometimes intimidating, overly-competitive and patriarchal startup world
One Roof goes out of its way to do more than provide women with affordable working spaces and internet connectivity. It breaks down the sometimes intimidating, overly-competitive and patriarchal startup world; not by debunking its virtues but enhancing them with a supportive network, access to people who can answer questions you might normally feel embarrassed to ask, and a light-hearted approach yet intense drive that, in combination, make for the most successful businesses.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheree and Gianna to learn more about One Roof and where they thought the future of co-working space is headed. Here’s what they had to say:
Where did the inspiration for founding One Roof Co-Working come from?
Sheree and I met through a mutual friend in Melbourne about two years ago and for a year we were just friends who would meet for coffee to chat about what we were doing. She’s an ex-attorney and I was working in strategy at an advertising agency but I secretly always wanted to do something with her. As a side project, a passion project, she was running a company called Think Big which curated large scale events for women with celebrity panelists. I was curating unique and intimate dining experiences for women every month as my own passion project. So yeah, an opportunity arose and we just started talking about it — about our interest with physical space and women, on the affect physical space has on the way that we interact, which is something I had noticed while organizing those dining experiences. I was like, look, you just put a meal in front of somebody and the metaphor of ‘breaking bread’ comes to life; since the beginning of time that has signified friendship and trust. Bringing people into those kinds of environments as opposed to a big concert hall to do a networking event is just completely different. So we started talking about physical space and at that point Sheree lit-up and I was like, okay lets do this.
It was just interesting that we were introduced to each other because we both already had this passion for empowering women, and women in business, and we were already doing things related to that. So naturally when we came together we wanted to figure out what the evolution of that would be. I wanted to take this passion project to the next level and I was like these events aren’t achieving what I want them to. That’s when we started discussing this concept (One Roof) and decided to try it together.
What can a startup entrepreneur expect from One Roof Co-Working?
Firstly it’s the space, you get this completely unique space. Then you get all the benefits you’d get from a co-working space: your wifi, desks, meeting rooms, coffee and tea, your nibbles. Anything a co-working space would generally give you. Then there’s this educational element to it; we offer coaching, we do brainstorming, meditation and we like to bring in experts in various fields to come in and share their stories and give advice. Then there’s the inspiration element, like the opportunity to make meaningful connections through different events.
"The idea is for us to have ‘One Roofs’ everywhere, but run by women in Africa who share our vision."
Through your experiences at One Roof, what are some of the biggest challenges facing women entrepreneurs, and how have you practically found solutions to these challenges?
I think for me, two of the biggest challenges are keeping the belief and access to good advice. For example, last week, Monday was great and really busy but Tuesday was really quiet and I was like oh my goodness, this was a terrible idea, this isn’t going to work, no-one is ever going to come here. And I think a lot of women do that, we’re perfectionists. So keeping the belief is very difficult. Getting good advice is also a tough one for women in this industry, you can have a really great idea but know nothing about accounting, finance or the legal side of starting a business. It can be hard to have those questions answered if you don’t know where to go or you’re not comfortable enough to approach those issues. We have partners at various accounting, advertising and legal companies that we use to connect women to bridge this disconnect. It’s helped. We want them to feel comfortable and have that support network.
You have launched a One Roof co-working space in both Melbourne and Los Angeles. How different have those experiences been and what lessons have you learned that could be applied to future business ventures in the U.S., and possibly globally?
I’ve learnt that you can’t assume that they’ll be the same. Melbourne, LA, wherever you’re based, the people and industry are always different. That said, I don’t think LA and Melbourne are that different, in that they both speak english for example. There are some things that we’ve noticed in LA, compared to Melbourne - we’re competing with coffee shops. Most cafes in LA provide free wifi with purchases and that’s not the case in Melbourne. It seems that in LA people really expect things for free, so we feel like we’re doing a lot more for free than we usually would. More importantly I think, is that Gianna has come back after four years and I’ve been here for only a week and half, so we don’t really have the same contacts or network that we had in Melbourne. It’s all very new to us and we’re really trying to focus on building those relationships in Venice beach. You just have to be open to that reality, that it’s all different but that you have to adapt and re-establish contacts that’ll help you or secure your place in this new market.
"I just think co-working, as a concept, has to be the future. We’re redefining the workplace, which is outdated and in many ways established and defined by men years ago."
Where do you see shared working spaces going to in the future from a global perspective?
I’ve said this a few times, I think co-working spaces are going to become the norm. It’s happening in Australia and it’s happening here, where large corporations are sending their employees to these shared spaces and looking for the changes in dynamics that help stimulate good work. There are statistics showing that there has been a serious increase in freelancers, it’s just a world or freelancers. What’s interesting is that in LA particularly, even if most people work for larger companies, they all have passion projects or businesses on the side and choose to spend their time working with other like-minded people in diverse environments. I just think co-working, as a concept, has to be the future. We’re redefining the workplace, which is outdated and in many ways established and defined by men years ago.
You are potentially moving your concept to South Africa. Tell us your thoughts on why you think the timing is right for this next country launch, and what your plans are moving forward? What do you think about the environment women co-working spaces in Africa and why branch out there?
It’s just such an interesting place to be. Melbourne and LA were the obvious places to start because we’re from there, but now having been in touch with women in South Africa, and donating a portion of our profits to them, we have found that it just appears to be such a rich territory. That, and in many ways the ventures seem more socially orientated than anything else I have seen. So I think it’s been inspiring talking to these women and being a part of an impactful movement. The idea is for us to have ‘One Roofs’ everywhere, but run by women in Africa who share our vision.
Stephanie Hawken is an undergraduate student studying in Los Angeles, California. She's is currently pursing a degree in interaction design, while taking on a number of passion projects outside of college to explore her interests in tech, environmentalism, entrepreneurship and startup trends. With her South African background and American education, she hopes to bridge the two continents through powerful writing, stimulating good business networking and opportunities, and forming meaningful relationships with the world’s up and coming women entrepreneurs.