Most startup founders build their business around their passion. While that may fuel you to start your own venture, it takes a bit more to sustain your business and keep it going.
Vanessa Vanderhaven is an illustrator who launched her own business a year ago and says don’t be afraid to put yourself out there — you might just like the results.
Sheree Rubinstein co-founded the women-led co-working space One Roof and recommends building a board of advisors around you — even if they don’t realise that they’re your advisors!
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
Serpil Senelmis: Hi there. Are you here because you’d like to turn your passion into a business?
Interviewing Public: I have a few passions and one of my main passion right now in my focus is travel and wine. And I am looking to combine those two into an opportunity.
Serpil Senelmis: I love your passions.
Interviewing Public: So recently, I’ve got an interest in crafts, I do origami and glass bubbles and I guess I’m studying at markets and I just want to see how I can try to market myself.
Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded and it’s not long since I turned my passion for writing and making podcasts into a business. So I can say with feelings, it’s not easy, but it’s very rewarding. I think the trick is to prepare yourself for the challenges that threaten to put your passion back in its box. Sheree Rubinstein is co-founder of One Roof, a co-working space that helps women start and succeed in business. The former lawyer is passionate about supporting the sisterhood. And says you should surround yourself with people who will elevate you.
Sheree Rubinstein: Surrounding yourself with people who will elevate you and who are in a similar boat. This is why co-working spaces are really valuable is hugely important. And having almost a personal board of advisors that you can call on so people who you trust, who you can reach out to is key. And I know when I’m in situations where I have no idea what I’m doing or feel completely lost or feel completely overwhelmed. It’s the people around me who I trust who are incredibly supportive and helpful.
Serpil Senelmis: We’ll hear from Sheree soon, but first someone who turned their own passion into a business. Vanessa Vanderhaven is an illustrator and graphic designer who spends most of her days drawing faces and flowers and drinking peppermint tea. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? She grew up free-range in a small business household. And after launching herself into the world of fashion, and failing miserably at it, she found her feet in illustration.
Vanessa Vanderhaven: So I want to start off with a story about my dad. My dad growing up was my best friend. We used to go bushwalking every single weekend and we’d go for hours and we would talk about all the ideas ever so my dad was a big ideas man, he’d always kind of fantasize about what we could do. And what if this what if that, you know, he was a big project man, so I’d run through all my ideas with my dad and he was kind of like my soundboard. And I don’t know if dad realized he was doing this at the time, but he was kind of giving me permission to think in a fantastical kind of way. So I guess that kind of really came through my whole upbringing. I always have these grandiose ideas and my mum was the same. She was very flamboyant Polish lady. She was a fashion designer say she used to make custom made wedding gowns. So my sense of creativity really came from my mum. And my dad was a good source of ideas, I guess. So both my parents were, you know, small business owners. My dad is a electronics engineer so he repairs will check controllers, not that kind of exciting I guess to me, but it was really good business for him. He really supported our family and he did really well and he did it all by himself. And then my mom, fashion designer, you know, dad really helped her out and those always fashion shows and no joke, like I grew up going to fabric stores and playing with the little rubber bands on the floor and you know, hiding behind the fabric rolls. So I had a really kind of unique upbringing. In that sense, where dad was always home and working in the backyard, we had like a granny flat. And mum was always, like, really chill about me not going to school and just going to fabric stores instead because she was just like, you know, I had there were no rules at home, it was very kind of whatever. So I guess I got my entrepreneurial streak from my parents, I didn’t have any sense of going to work or like having a boss or I never heard this stuff from my parents, they both work for themselves. So this is kind of embarrassing, but this is my first foray into entrepreneurship and I thought it was top dog. This is my first business when I was about 15. It’s called pink fork and I I got into screen printing. I wanted to actually be fashion design. I did mention that my mum was a huge influence in that way. And you know, she was a woman doing fashion so I guess I was just like, yeah, that’s me too. So this is my first brand. I probably sold like $500 with one of the popular girls at school bought one of them and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. Kind of like an influencer like reposting something that you’ve done. It was the same thing. So I was really into this and I thought I’m going to be fashion designer. This is it. So I applied fashion school I got in, it was really selective humblebrag it just had to add that in. And what I didn’t predict was the technicalities and kind of the full scope of being a designer. My mum you know, she’s very flamboyant and I think she just made it seem like oh, it’s fine, you can do anything and I was like, sweet okay, like this is I had no plan base. I was I’m a plan a person and it was I’ve never been taught to have a plan base. So fashion it was and I realized really quickly that maybe it wasn’t for me.
Vanessa Vanderhaven: Oh my god, it was so bad. It was awful. If you don’t know how to patent make, forget it. If you don’t like reading about textile fabrics, forget it. If you don’t like studying or like going to school, forget it. So I didn’t like any of those things. I basically just wanted to scrapbooking collage and imagine the dresses, you know, I had no draw. I didn’t draw it all before this, I was just like cutting fabric making little skirts and whatever like that was my background. So one of our subjects was fashion illustration. And this was the only subject I got any positivity from. Even I didn’t draw it all before. It was just my first like, try at drawing one of our teachers who’s notoriously evil, what pass and was like, that’s not bad. And I was like, oh my God. And I was drawing the shoe actually, remember the moment like this literally just changed my whole mind about life. I was like, okay, maybe I’m not awful. And I really enjoyed it. I love working with pencil. So I left fashion school and you know, I didn’t know illustration was a job. So this is just like this cool thing I could do. And I went traveling to go discover myself for like five months. It was crap. I hated every minute of it. I was so I basically broke up with fashion, like you’d break up with a boyfriend and I went traveling to just be sad about it. So I was so depressed. I was like, Who am I? My whole identity was wrapped around being this fashion designer. You know, I was told by my parents. Oh, yeah, go do it. It’ll be great. My mum’s all like, you know, what a great idea. My dad’s all like, what a great idea. So, my whole life was Vanessa as a fashion designer. So, you know, fast forward, you know, I had a lot of jobs, I got fired or managed out for a lot of jobs because I couldn’t fake enthusiasm. I was very black and white. If I don’t love it, I’m not gonna do it. I just can’t, like, fall asleep at my desk, can’t do it. And I guess I worked as a really good filter for my career because I couldn’t fake a job I didn’t love. And it was very painful and very challenging. And getting fired from every job is not a good time. Actually, I got into graphic design, because I was like, it was the most obvious option. I did that for a little bit. And that was really handy. I learned a lot. And from my graphic design-ish jobs. I mean, there was like reception kind of graphic designer. I’d like to get a receptionist job and be like, some graphic designer, right? And they’re like, sure, you can do some you know I just, I just put it on every resume that I did all this graphic design stuff and answer telephones. I mean, I just completely, like fudged, my whole resume doesn’t matter. Graphic design was great, but I was like, you know, I really want to be an illustrator, I’m getting better at it. I’m getting more attention from people, people wanting to pay me for this. And I was doing a lot of commissioned jobs on the side for my friends. And I thought, okay, this is another filter. This is another me giving up on another thing, and I’m like, this is the end. I mean, if illustration does not work. I don’t know what will because it’s the only thing that I feel naturally like I want to do. So we moved to Melbourne and I decided to go full time with my career with my illustration career. It’s been a year full time and it’s going alright. As soon as I got here, actually, I started working in spy nine and I won a mural competition. So that was a really good result. I mean, I was kind of like, hit the road running and I was like, I emailed every single person on the planet, anybody. I would be like, I’m an illustrator. Do you know anyone and it actually worked. I think of All the things that I’ve ever done, emailing every single person without feeling stupid was the best thing I’ve ever done. You know, you just got to drop ego, you just got to drop feeling stupid. So yeah, I won this competition. So that was awesome. And actually the guy that ran this competition, he owns colourspace. And now he’s my client. So I guess that was a really cool way to get a job, you know, clients. So I wanted to delve away from portrait stuff, I wanted to kind of become a bit more commercial, so I can get a larger variety of clients. So portrait works really hard to get work for but what’s really easy to get work for all these flowers. So it was kind of a strategic move, but also I really enjoyed it. So out of that. I also did a collaboration. So for me just posting about flowers, she contact me to do work for her. And then we also did a collaboration on top of that. So that was a really cool result. Another one is Heidi so I was actually on like-minded bitches drinking wine. Does anyone in that Facebook group? Yeah, I’m sure a lot of you are. So some late In there said something like, oh, you know, big win. And now the editor of women’s weekly or something. And like, I don’t know who this person is, I just sent her a message and I’m like, Oh my god, yay. Like congratulations. Like, if you need an illustrator like, sir, not relevant. It turns out that one of our clients is Heidi. And she’s actually one of my clients would loves your drawings and would love to do a collaboration. I was like, what and then I looked her up, and I’m like, big following. And then we ended up doing a collaboration, which is really fun. If I never reached out and just put myself out there, then this would never have happened. And then now she’s my client for some other stuff. So she’s got a really big project coming up. It’s been hush hush and a lot of thing, which is really cool. It was a collaboration which was free, but then I got her as a client afterwards. So it’s kind of like building a rapport with people. And now out of all this, I’ve done this really crazy thing in my mind where I’m like, Who am I like imposter syndrome. So now I’m teaching illustration, which is totally crazy to my 15-year-old self where I was like failing, failing, failing. It’s crazy to think that I’m now teaching people this thing that I stumbled upon. So this is where I’m at now, I’ve actually taught this upstairs. I’m doing an online course as well. That’s something I’m really proud of at the moment. So that is the end.
Serpil Senelmis: Do you find it hard to fake enthusiasm like Vanessa did? Remember to fluff yourself up and strap yourself in the entrepreneurial ride can get bumpy. In a moment, we’ll meet Sheree Rubinstein, her passion for helping women to have a meaningful career became a co-working space, an incubator for female entrepreneurs.
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Serpil Senelmis: Sheree Rubinstein’s mission is turning your passion into your business. The free-spirited former lawyer tend to challenge old ways of thinking when she co-founded the co-working space, One Roof in an Airbnb mansion. It’s now home to over 80 startups and spread across 1000 square meters of the modern office building. Sheree’s aim is to put Australia on the map as the home of female entrepreneurs.
Sheree Rubinstein: All right. I want to share with you a little story about nearly five years ago, right here in Melbourne, there was a very important business meeting taking place. There were three men and myself and I was getting ready to pitch to a potential client. I was an ambitious corporate lawyer who worked ridiculously long hours and took these meeting incredibly seriously, as all lawyers do, take everything incredibly seriously. And as I sat down to the table, one of the men turned to me and he said in front of everyone. So Sheree, are you here to take notes? Exactly. And so I wasn’t there just to take notes. But in that moment, he really succeeded in making me feel incredibly small. Didn’t matter how ambitious I was, how hard I worked, whether I was successful or not. In that moment, I felt completely diminished, simply because I was the woman in the room. So as you can imagine, it was a bit of a turning point moment in my life. I walked out of that mania, and I wondered, what does success look like for me as a woman in business, I felt frustrated. I had this like fire in my belly and this passion and determination to make a difference and to ensure that no woman ever felt diminished simply because she was the woman in the room. So I mustered up a lot of courage and with incredible amount of naivety, I quit my corporate stable, well-paid job. And I dived headfirst into the crazy world of entrepreneurship and wanted to pursue this passion that I’d found for supporting women to really succeed in business. But I had no idea how to actually do that. So I started going to lots of events like this. I started meeting lots of people having lots of coffees, I just wanted to be surrounded by really inspiring interesting people. And I just wanted to learn and absorb a lot of information. And I started running networking events for women. So I was creating these platforms, bringing women together to learn, connect, and feel inspired. And then I started leveraging from those networking events to run focus groups and to garner insight from women around what they feel, hold them back in business and what they feel they need in order to succeed. Through the research and the insights that I uncovered. I came up with a concept called One Roof. The idea was I’m going to create this physical hub provides everything that women need to succeed all under one roof. I had no idea whether this was the best idea in the world or the most stupid idea in the world. I had no idea whether anyone would buy into it and I had no funding to make it happen. So I decided to test the concept. And what I did was I took over an Airbnb home. So imagine a beautiful two storey mansion on Grey Street in St Kilda, and for one week, I turned it into a pop up co-working space. So I converted the woman’s bedroom into a meeting room, the kitchen into a workshop space, the living room into a hot-desking space, and use the outdoor area for events and gatherings. I partnered with organizations like y‑gap and Accenture and I so bind one giant mind and I got sponsorship from corporates like NAB and partners. And it wasn’t just about bringing people into the house and working from the space. I also curated and design the entire week. So every morning there was meditation sessions. Every afternoon, there was a workshop with a different expert. And every evening there was a different event whether it was a conversation with investors or different kinds of networking events. In one week, 400 people came through the doors and engaged with the offering. The landlord has absolutely no idea then or now how many people came through her house. And so I knew that I was onto something I it was deemed a success and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I then continue testing the idea. I had a business partner at the time, she was based in the US and so I tested this concept in Melbourne, Sydney, LA and New York over a year and a half, which yes was totally crazy. And we would find unique underutilized spaces and take short term leases. So we got really good deals and discounts on rent and activate those spaces and turn them into hubs of activity and co-working and events. I then just over two years ago landed the current space that we’re in in Southbank. And so my business partner and I split up and we left all the different markets that we’ve been testing and I focused on Melbourne. In two years, we’ve become the leading co working space dedicated to women-led businesses. So we’ve got about 1200 square meters of space, and we are home to about 85 women led businesses. The space is light, it’s bright, it’s really welcoming. It’s got a mix of private offices, hot-desking and event space meeting rooms. So we have a really large event space we host four or so events a week and our clients range from corporates to startups to universities government, so on. So in terms of the members that we have in the space, as I said, there’s about 85 businesses, they are all either women lead with a female founder, co-founder or CEO or the businesses subscribe to the mission and vision of what we’re all about. I think it’s important to note we are not a female-only space. We are gender-inclusive and have lots of different types of businesses. So they range from small business, high growth startups across social enterprises, not for profits, and across all different kinds of industries, whether that’s fintech, like Finch, you know, they’ve been voted top 10 startups in Australia to watch in 2018. We’ve got businesses like Sheba, which is the all-female rideshare service, block grain blockchain technology in agriculture, and even know what they do. We have recruitment agencies health care, which is a health tech startup, so real variety of businesses and members working in the space. But the most important thing about One Roof that it was born out of a problem. And the problem is that there’s a persisting gap in entrepreneurship and persisting gender gap in entrepreneurship and wonder if exists to close that gap. And obviously, it was born out of a very strong passion of mine to say more women start and grow successful businesses. So we are much more than a co-working space. We do everything that we can to ensure that the businesses that come through our co-working space have the greatest chances of success. So how do we do that? We run a pilot incubator program, we sit down with every single member we understand their needs, their challenges, what industry they’re in, are they looking for funding? How can we help them? Who can we connect them to? So we regularly touch base with them and make those connections and design workshops and programs around their needs. We run a whole range of community engagement events so every single week we do this coffee on us, where we buy all our member’s coffee. Yes, because everybody will get up off their desk if you buy them a coffee and we’ll come and network.
Sheree Rubinstein: And so we constantly create these opportunities for people to get together network. And we’re always thinking about who can we introduce our members to how can we best support them. We do wine down every Friday. So that’s wine and cheese and a great opportunity for our members to chat. We like to shake it up. So a couple of weeks ago, we did a one woof wine down where all our members brought their dogs along and I don’t know who was more excited out of the members in the dogs but you know, we’re always again, thinking of opportunities to bring members together to network doesn’t always have to be about business just an a great opportunity to chat. We make meaningful introductions for our members, to experts, to mentors to investors, we help them get more clients were really conscious about helping them overcome key challenges that they might have in their business and supporting them to grow and we’re always tracking that. We introduce them to professional services and subject matter experts. So we have lawyers, accountants, social media experts, marketing investors, and so on. We run networking events and partner with organizations like Startup Victoria and Business Chicks and the League of Extraordinary women. We do a dinner series where we connect founders to each other, we connect founders to investors. And we bring in experts to talk on topics that our members have said they want to learn about whether that’s startup growth, capital raising, or pitching or so on. Where to in the next five years? So the vision is to create One Roof hubs in every major city around Australia and just a small vision, and to put Australia on the map as the number one destination in the world to be a female entrepreneur. I want to go through just three key takeaways that I think have been really important for me in my journey and that I’ve seen a really important to many of the startup founders and small business founders in our community. So the first one is networks. And Vanessa said it so well before where she said, she just emailed people and put herself out there, ask for what she needed. That’s huge. And building a network is the most powerful thing that you can do. I would say, think about building your networks as long term investments. So it’s not about going up to somebody at a networking event and pitching your idea to them before you’ve probably met them. It’s about building a relationship, nurturing that relationship building rapport, and over time, opportunities and doors open. By the same token, know what you want and have a clear ask. So if somebody says, how can I help you have a clear answer of how that person can help you in terms of how I found that with One Roof, so we got a great deal on the space that we’re in at the moment. Central Equity are our landlords and their property developers and they gave us a discount on the rent. And I never thought in a million years, a massive property developer would give a shit about One Roof and what we’re doing. But, you know, I asked, and I think it really counts for a lot. So surrounding yourself with people who will elevate you and who were in a similar boat. This is why co-working spaces are really valuable is hugely important. And having almost a personal board of advisors that you can call on so people who you trust, who you can reach out to, to ask them different questions, and they might have different levels of expertise. They might not even know that they’re an advisor to you. But I think that that is key. And I know when I’m in situations where I have no idea what I’m doing or feel completely lost or feel completely overwhelmed. It’s the people around me who I trust who are incredibly supportive and helpful. Test and learn. If you have an idea, think of the cheapest, quickest, easiest, most economical way to test that concept. Exactly as I’ve told you with one roof, I didn’t have funding and I couldn’t go out and sign a lease a long-term lease and put down a security deposit. I just couldn’t do it. And so I found other ways of making it work. Even in the space that we’re in now, I’ve painted many of the walls myself with friends. We got desks donated, the artwork kind of sits on consignment and gets rotated, you can find ways of making it work. So constantly test and learn. constantly talk to who you think your customers are, and ask them questions, get feedback from them continually all the time. It’s really important. The final thing I would say is never lose sight of your passion and your why. Entrepreneurship and building a business is really hard and it’s a lot harder than anyone even says it is. I know it and of all the founders and people that I talk to I see it over and over again, the struggles that they face the fear, the feeling of you know, I might run out of funding in three months time and what am I gonna tell my staff, I’m going into an investor meeting, and I’m freaking out, it is so hard. And if you don’t maintain that passion, and if you don’t know why you’re getting out of bed every day to build that business, you’re going to struggle in the hard times, and there’ll be plenty of them, so really stick to that. That idea of winging it again, you also do on imposter syndrome, we can often have a lot of self-doubt, we can often feel like we’re not good enough. And so talking yourself up a little bit more. It’s important when you build your business. And the last thing I have there is you will fuck up, and it’s not even necessarily that you make these massive mistakes. It’s just there will be a lot of learnings along the way. I’ve had some massive ones. I had a business partner, we had to buy around. I had co-working spaces in Sydney, LA, New York, I don’t have that anymore. I’m going through quite an interesting phase right now with One Roof where it’s kind of feels like a bit of a make or break and I’ve really kind of got to take it to the next level and it’s scary and it’s full-on. And so it’s all part of the journey. And it’s all part of the learning and you know, goes back to that kind of test and learn and fail fast concept with the lean methodology. So just know it’s all part of the journey. Thank you.
Serpil Senelmis: And what a journey Sheree’s taken us on. From feeling diminished to growing a successful business, she’s gone through all the growing pains. But as she says, never lose sight of your passion, and your why. So what are you waiting for? Is it time you turned your passion into your business? Sheree and Vanessa had some great advice to get you started. Next week, we’ll tell you how to handle what comes next in navigating your startups in critical years. Will things go to plan? Do you scale up? Until then, I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
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