Hera Hub is a shared work and meeting space geared toward professional women. Felena Hanson, founder of Hera Hub, recently spoke with PayScale about these “female-focused” coworking spaces and how they’re changing the way women create a sense of community and build their businesses.
PayScale: Can you tell me a little about your background and experience? What led you to create Hera Hub?
Felena Hanson: My background is in marketing. I spent the first part of my career working for startups and went through three layoffs by the age of 30. Two companies sold and one ran out of money.
And so, my entrepreneurial path started at age 30 when I said, “Gosh darn it. I need to control my own destiny.” I had marketing strategy consulting business for eight years and worked out of my home. It was convenient and cost-effective. But, I always missed having a sense of community with coworkers. Also, I was running a couple professional women’s organizations at the time and needing space for events and workshops.
It all came together in 2010 when I sort of stumbled across the concept of coworking spaces, which were obviously very different than old-school executive spaces. I checked out a few spaces and found them to be really cool, but kind of targeted toward 22-year-old men, with the beer keg and the ping pong table. The bro-grammer culture kind of dominated. So, long story short, I sought out to see if I could find a space for my tribe, which was professional women, female entrepreneurs. And, I couldn’t find anything, so I went and built it myself.
Felena Hanson couldn't find a coworking space that worked for her. So she made one herself.
PayScale: How is Hera Hub different than other coworking environments? What does it mean to be a female-focused space?
Felena Hanson: First off, from a physical perspective, we call it a spa-inspired space. So, there’s running water, and candles, and nice lighting, and soft music. It’s clean. It smells good. The elements of a spa are brought into a working space. So, it’s very Zen. But, it’s also very productive. Our members say they get, on average, 60 percent more done when they work there than when they work from home. So, the space is different, all spaces are fung-shui-ed, and just have all of the things someone needs to feel comfortable.
Also though, we have put a huge focus on education and business development. We have events happening almost on a daily basis in each of the spaces for members to connect with one another, find resources, and share their expertise back into the community. We have everything from one-on-one free mentoring to full-fledged 12-week business accelerator programs.
PayScale: Do you feel that female entrepreneurs face different challenges? How is the process of starting a business, or taking one’s career to the next level, different for women? Should these factors change the way women push on their goals? Do they alter the kinds of supports they need?
Felena Hanson: Women are, often times, juggling a lot more than men are, frankly. I just had a conversation with a women yesterday and she is working a full-time job, building a business on the side, and managing three children. And her husband, who’s put some money into the side venture that she’s building, keeps kind of harping on her for not growing fast enough because he’s built a successful business himself.
I told [her], “Well, why don’t you remind him that he built his business full-time. That’s the only thing he was focused on, not 10 other things at the same time. Of course [he’s] going to get further faster.”
So, just being able to be in an environment where women can connect with each other and be open and vulnerable. They can say, “Hey, this is difficult and I need help.” We tend to not be that open in environments where we think, “I should know this. I have a business degree.” So, just being able to break down those barriers and think differently.
The mantra when somebody comes in is: you’re here to learn, you’re here to give back, you’re here to grow and be very open. This is not the place where you walk around and say, “Everything is great and I know exactly what I’m doing.” It creates a different environment.
We are female-focused, but we’re not exclusive to women. We’ll be six years old in August, which kind of makes us a veteran of the industry. We do have a handful of male members. It’s about 1 percent of our membership, which is a very small percentage. We just had a guy join two days ago in our Carlsbad location. They typically will join but not really get as involved in the business development stuff as much. It’s just not their thing in the same way. So, we want to bring men into the conversation and see what we do and be supportive of that.
PayScale: It’s interesting to think about the ways in which women do business a little differently. It sounds like there’s something about the learning, and the vulnerability, and the honesty, that you’re able to tap into at Hera Hub that maybe in a male-centric or male-driven environment there’s sort of a different kind of posturing. Have you found that?
Felena Hanson: Yes, definitely. One-hundred percent. You know, a lot of men are just inherently more competitive. It’s how they grew up. Whereas women are slightly more naturally community-oriented, and builders of community. And so, when you step into that environment where it is mostly women, the vibe is really hard to describe. But, people walk in and they say, “Wow, this feels really different. This feels great.” Even men walk in and say, “Wow. It feels so good in here.”
PayScale: What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs? What habits, mindsets, practices, and tools are the most essential for success?
Felena Hanson: This won’t come as a shock: Find community. Don’t do it alone. It just seems obvious, of course. But, I see so many women toiling away in their spare bedroom trying to get a business off the ground and they’re not reaching out to community. Your local coworking space can be a huge help. Don’t do it alone. Surround yourself with people. Ask a lot of questions. Be open and vulnerable. I myself have an MBA, what I learned in my master’s degree program for business, I use zero of it. Nada. It’s not like you go to school and you come out an entrepreneur. So, embrace that vulnerability and ask a lot of questions.
We’re looking to expand our reach into other cities to support women all over the world. I think women, because we are more natural collaborators, are going to be able to change the conversation in business and the approach in business from more of a competitive landscape to more of a cooperative landscape. My hope is that as more women launch and grow their businesses, and hire more women, that the more collaborative approach will ripple into corporate America and will trickle into politics and beyond. It can change the conversation and the approach.
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All photos courtesy of Hera Hub