Podcast

Marissa Feinberg

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I had the chance to meet Marissa Feinberg when I went to an event at Green Spaces NY last year. I remember her talking honestly about the struggles of becoming an entrepreneur and appreciated the fact that she not only was sharing her personal story with those in the audience, but also was going to the extent of supporting others’ entrepreneur endeavors by being one of the founders of Green Spaces NY. She graciously agreed to meet with me and tell me a bit about how she came to her Chapter Be of opening a coworking space in New York.

Ms. Feinberg majored in PR Marketing at Syracuse University and subsequently had jobs in partnership development, journalism and real estate (to name but a few). Her Chapter Be stories told me that she was an entrepreneur at heart, but the characteristic that stood out the most in meeting and talking to Marissa was how passionate she was about encouraging, enabling and enriching other Chapter Be stories. The co-working space was just the platform in which she could do this. Her entrepreneurial journey tapped into her past chapters, but was different from anything else she had done and this required a level of real bravery and gumption.

GreenSpaces_LogoJennie Nevin started Green Spaces in Brooklyn in May of 2008. Marissa came on board in September 2009 when the space moved to Tribeca in Manhattan. For four years Marissa worked, in some capacity, on Green Spaces NY, and Jennie eventually moved to Denver, CO to focus on the Green Spaces that opened there. After six years of serving New York’s social innovation community and seeing it grow exponentially, Green Spaces NY made the decision to merge with Impact Hub to create Impact Hub New York. Growing from 5,000 square feet to a 15,000 square-foot campus, there is only more space for informative events and collaborative work.ImpactHub_Logo

You can read more about Marissa’s own personal journey that lead her to decide that this was the right thing for the Green Spaces NY community. But to hear a bit more about her Chapter Be story, read on…

How did you come to design and operate a coworking space? What were you doing before you created the coworking space, Green Spaces?

I graduated in 2002 and my first job was public relations for the General Electric Foundation. I moved to New York, and then in 2006 I started at Felissimo Design House. I worked there for 3 years. It was my first introduction into the sustainability world, and I learned about design for social innovation, which we called, “social design.” I fell in love with the companies and entrepreneurs I met. I became involved with a group called Green Leaders. We convened for salon-style events. Collaborations started to happen. We wondered what would happen if we worked alongside one another every day.

What was that process as far as the A-Z to starting up a coworking space? How did you know what to do?

We (my co-founder and I) did this as a first-time entrepreneurial venture. We issued a press release, announcing we were opening Green Spaces (even though we didn’t have a space) in Brooklyn or Manhattan and we started to get calls from people who were looking. We started taking information and promising to follow up. Then we knew we had to make one!

That was right around the cusp of when coworking spaces were starting to be developed. Now it is definitely a trend and there are a lot of different coworking spaces. How have you found the co-working community? Are people collaborative as far as working together or do you find it competitive?

ImpactHubNYIt is really good with camaraderie. There is a really fun organization called The League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces (LEXC) and that has been uniting industry leaders. We have retreats and share best practices. We are definitely part of the new sharing and planning cooperative within the space. That requires a certain type of person and attitude with the ability to respect others and share resources.

What have some of your successes been in opening the space?

We have been successful in marketing and getting the word out. We have joined media conversations about coworking as it has been a hot, new trend that is fun and collaborative. We have been on everyone’s radar, serving as a resource for people who want to know more.

Do you feel like it fulfills you in all of the things you need or are you looking to start other companies to diversity your professional needs?

I’ve always been happy doing meaningful marketing, whether it was Felissimo Design House or attracting new members to our coworking space, or championing the good people in my network. I do occasional PR and marketing consulting and it’s always in the environmental and social impact space. I’m a happy marketeer!

I contributed a chapter for the Social Good Guides, called “PR for Change Makers,” coming out soon. I intend to expand upon that as a PR for Change Makers eBook.

What has your main role in the space been up to this point?

I’ve mainly been marketing and storytelling, making sure people understand who we are and what we do. It’s important that our message gets across whether you are walking in the space or found our website. It’s about the experience someone has when they visit. Every space has its own community and culture that defines them.

bowling in coworking_ChapterBe_ImpactHubAre you able to make your living off of running the space? Were you able to from the get-go?

I am now, but definitely not from the get go. It took time. I took some time to really develop this, and I also did consulting while building it.

That is something people talk about when changing careers – that it is very daunting or they think they are just going to go do it.

The toughest part is taking the leap from your full-time job to your passion career. You have to make it happen – but, how can you make it happen if you’re working 24/7? It’s a chicken and egg situation.

Exactly. Especially in New York, which is an expensive city to live in. How do you live your life and pay your bills while trying to start something new? Do you think there is space for more coworking spaces in New York or do you think it has become too saturated?

There are going to be many more spaces! We got an inquiry today from a big client. They have many mobile workers. It is not cost effective for them to create an office. It is smart to put them in coworking spaces. As other big companies catch on, we are going to welcome mobile workers more and more. It’s innovative to have people surrounded by outside organizations and companies. Proximity breeds collaboration.

Can you talk about some of the collaborations that you have seen happen in your space since being here?

We’ve seen many forms. We have a company here called carpooling.com that is based out of Europe. They sent Odile Beniflah here to bring the company to the U.S. I teach a DIY PR for Startups Workshop that she took, and coached her. She started attending our events, and met journalists there. She also met board members, and then Robin Chase from Zipcar mentioned them in her Ted Talk. She got better advisory board members through the networking here. She then leveraged that momentum and raised $10 million! That is an example of how our community supports growth.

 

Do you think that people who are using coworking spaces are going to be of that mindset because they clearly gravitate toward this kind of collaboration? Do you ever have people who come in and just want to work in their little corner?

There are always some people who are more independent, and that is fine. It is nice when members are more collaborative or develop good friends and relationships. Many people turn to their neighbors to bounce ideas off one another or have a coffee-break friend. If you were renting your own office, these type of relationships may not be something that you have down the hall.

I know the space holds a lot of events. Did you start off doing events or is that something that you kind of progressed into doing?

We always hosted events, which can be a challenge in a shared space. We stopped hosting for a short time because it became disruptive to members doing work after hours. However, then members came forward saying they missed the events. Interesting content makes a lively place, convening leaders and industry.

Most organizations come to us with programming ideas, speakers and subject matter. Sometimes, we produce our own event and content. The nice thing is that we always use the same venue, we curate and invite our email list and our email list is great. We have a following of nearly 20,000 socially conscious people in New York, between our email list and social media channels.

Sometimes New York can be a very isolating city but creating these spaces gives people a place and opportunity to connect. I think people want to connect with one another but don’t necessarily know how to all of the time. I think spaces like this allow people to start creating that community that can be lacking in other places.

I used to be a journalist, which can be isolating as most time is spent writing and editing. I might not have changed careers if I’d had a coworking space.

With many people traveling through New York City, people want spaces that bring them together. At a coworking space, there is always someone new to meet. Sharing a common grounds for work, it runs warm and inviting. I’ve made so many new friends here.

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Notes of Reflection:

  1. Marissa’s story reminds us that your Chapter Be does not need to revolve around a product, but can also be a service that you provide to others. In Marissa’s case, it was using her passion and skills to develop a space that encouraged and supported others’ entrepreneurial dreams and Chapter Be endeavors. When you are exploring your desire to create a Chapter Be in your life, make sure you take the time to really think about what drives you and what you get the most satisfaction from doing. It might be creating something that you can share with others, but remember that creativity comes in many different forms and yours might be how you support and encourage others. What service can you create around that skill?
  2. It doesn’t have to be perfect to start. I loved the fact that Marissa and Jennie put the word out there about Green Spaces before they even had the physical space. By doing this, they were able to get real information about the interest level. This ensured that they were not building something blindly (very Lean Startup of them), but had solid information and data that people would come if they built it.
  3. Always remain open. Open to new relationships. Open to new ideas. And open to change. Marissa did not take the decision to merge with Impact Hub lightly. She wanted to be sure that the decision wasn’t just something that was good for her, but for the Green Spaces community that had been created over many years. She recognized that the merger did not mean the loss of what was created with Green Spaces, but a continuation and chance to build and enhance what was already there. It increased the reach and the ability to support and build even more businesses. Don’t get too glued to your idea and business that you are too closed off to see a good opportunity when it knocks on your door.
  4. Continue to grow. At the time Marissa and I met she was also exploring a side business that developed out of her work at Green Spaces. Just because we start one thing, doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to think about how all of our various interests can be met and satiated. Opening a business takes a lot of work and time, but as it grows there might be additional opportunities to create and collaborate. Allow yourself the room to continue to grow as a person and entrepreneur.

READING LIST:

  1. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  2. Liberating the Adult Within by Helen Kramer – I think that some people just have a really good emotional outlook on how to be in business and sometimes when we are entrepreneurs it is like our baby and we get attached to the emotional when it’s not really relevant. We have to calm ourselves down because we act like children when we care about something so much. I am constantly doing something with inner work and that is something that I would recommend people do, especially when you are in customer service because you have to be the best possible person and not take things personally.
  3. The Big Enough Company by Adelaide Lancaster – It’s about defining success by satisfaction and not size. Philip MacKenzie, who runs a conference called Influencercon, hosts a session for people like this because when we start our own business it is more artisanal and less about scale. Scale comes sometimes at the sacrifice of quality and personal touch which are things that make that a good experience for someone. It is about people doing really good work and not necessarily designing for scale.
  4. “The Resume is Dead the Bio is King”by Michael Margolis 

*Images by Chapter Be, Marissa Feinberg, Impact Hub NYC and Shawn Berry

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