Interview with Jessie, Co-Founder of Ellie’s Coworking + Childcare
Interview with Jessie, Co-Founder of
Ellie’s Coworking + Childcare
Interview by Terra Olsen
Tell me about yourself.
When I was 17 years old, I was featured in The Christian Science Monitor as a young entrepreneur attending Camp $tart-Up, a girls-empowerment and business camp. This is what I chose to do for two weeks during the summer when most of my friends were getting their licenses. I made handbags and kerchiefs out of clothing I bought at thrift stores, and sold them to girls at my high school. In college, I designed and sold anti-George W. Bush t-shirts. And still some how I didn’t ever imagine that I’d start my own business…I’ve mostly worked in non-profit fundraising and communications.
Tell me about your company.
You know when you go into a coffee shop and people with laptops occupy most of the tables? Many of these folks are freelancers or telecommuters. My business, Works Progress, is a “coworking space,” which provides a better solution for independent workers than Starbucks or working at home. We offer a shared office environment in which people can regularly work and get to know each other. Coworking spaces also offer meeting rooms, printers and coffee, but the real benefits are in the connections made between humans.
Works Progress opened on December 10!
Ellie’s Coworking + Childcare is the other (and far more challenging) half of the business that I co-own with Marnee Chua. We hope that in early 2013 we will offer drop-off licensed childcare for infants. Membership at Works Progress will be included with the childcare payment. Parents are thrilled about the possibility of dropping off their child and walking across the hall to focus on work for a few hours.
Where did the idea for Ellie’s Coworking + Childcare come from?
I heard about combining coworking and childcare at the Coworking Europe conference in November 2011 and realized how much sense it makes for Seattle. At that point, fewer than 10 spaces in the world had tried it, as far as I know.
What inspired you to start Ellie’s Coworking + Childcare?
Ellie’s is named in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt, who initiated the first government sponsored child care for women factory workers during WWII. Roosevelt’s father called her “Ellie” when she was a child. Ellie’s proudly continues her legacy of supporting parents as they earn their livelihoods and contribute to society.
Someone who believed in me and told me that 1) I had the right skill set to successfully run a coworking space, 2) I would be able to figure out how to start a business, and 3) I would be able to find the money to make it happen.
That special someone owns a coworking space and shared everything he knows with me. He’s not unique, though, in his preference for open collaboration over competition – that is the spirit of coworking. I spent eight months working full time at my non-profit job, and reaching out to as many people as I could. I joined the Seattle coworking meet-up group, and connected globally through the coworking listserv and wiki. I started my own listserv for people who own or want to own a coworking and childcare space. I made a simple, free website for my idea. And then started contacting parents to learn about their needs. I’m not a parent so I’ve had to learn a lot about what working parents want.
Then luck happened. The owners of an existing coworking space retired and I took over managing their space. I’ve since moved to another space, found an amazing business partner, and I’m still working on adding childcare.
What has been your biggest challenge (and/or sacrifice)?
Childcare licensing. It is almost impossible to open an infant or toddler childcare facility in Seattle. If it were legal, I would have started with parents working around a dining room table and hired a few nannies to watch the kids in another room. However, because childcare regulations are so strict, no one else has pulled it off yet here and that will make it all the more rewarding.
What top three skills do you think an entrepreneur needs to be successful?
A “skill” is something you learn to do to well. You can learn to think of yourself as a person who can start her own business. You start by tricking yourself into it, and you’ll get so busy actually starting the business, that you’ll forget to think about it, and next thing you know, you’ll meet new people and you’ll say “So, I have this small business…” And it’ll be true!
Not sure if this is a skill or not, but because I knew so little when I started, I’ve had to find a balance of asking for help, paying someone to figure something out or do something, and taking the time to learn it or do it myself. I don’t have the money to hire a painter, a bookkeeper, an architect and a childcare consultant.
And finally, if you have Googling skills – the ability to ask good questions – you can quickly learn the basics of how to start a business.
Across the hall into our dream childcare location, for starters. Someday we may help existing coworking spaces add childcare.
Find a business partner. I was overwhelmed when I started on my own and wasn’t able to think beyond the day-to-day tasks. For awhile, I was looking for an investor who could provide financial support, but allow me to maintain decision making authority – I wanted to maintain control of my dream. I’m so glad I found a true partner instead! Marnee and I are working now on our dream.Please be sure to visit Ellie’s Coworking + Childcare’s website and Facebook page. Have you or someone you know started a business that we should feature on HYN? If so, please contact Terra at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about them.