Proudly sponsored by: Victoria’s Small Business Festival: Women In Business Week
In this podcast episode of In The Company, we chat with Sheree Rubenstein, a former corporate lawyer who made the leap to found One Roof, Australia’s Leading Co-working Space for women-led businesses.
Sheree is an expert in curating spaces, programs and communities that nurture and inspire female entrepreneurs to thrive. One Roof has established a presence in four cities across Australia and the USA and built a global community of over 10,000 women. In 2015 Sheree was nominated as one of Australia’s top young innovators by the Foundation for Young Australians and in 2016 she was awarded the Victorian Young Achievers Leadership Award.
In this episode we chat with Sheree about why small business is the new women’s movement.
This episode is bought to you by Victoria’s Small Business Festival, happening across the state from in August and early September 2017. Check out festival.business.vic.gov.au to access over 500 free and affordable events to elevate, support and inspire you and your business.
Kylie: You’re listening to In the Company, a podcast about humanising work and designing better working lives. Each episode is curated to provoke you to think more deeply about things that matter in your career and life and how to build your toolkit for how to thrive as a human in business today. We explore how we work from the inside out. I’m Kylie Lewis, and it’s great to be in your company. Welcome.
Today we’re in the company of Sheree Rubenstein, a former Pocket Lawyer who made the leap to found One Roof, Australia’s leading co-working space for women-led businesses. Sheree is an expert in curating spaces, programmes and communities that nurture and inspire female entrepreneurs to thrive. One Roof has established a presence in four cities across Australia and the US and built a global community of over 10,000 women.
In 2015, Sheree was nominated as one of Australia’s top young innovators by the Foundation for Young Australians, and in 2016, she was awarded the Victorian Young Achievers Leadership Award.
Sheree: Thanks, Kylie.
Kylie: We’re actually recording this podcast for the Women in Business week of the Victorian Small Business Festival in the amazing surrounds of One Roof, so thank you for literally having us in the company today.
Sheree: Absolute pleasure.
Kylie: Before we jump into chatting about One Roof and what you’ve achieved for Women in Business and also you as a female entrepreneur yourself, I’d really love to start with just understanding a little bit about who small Sheree was and maybe how some of the things that you loved doing as a really young person have contributed to what you do today.
Sheree: This is gonna sound really funny, but when I was growing up my parents ran their own business. My dad’s an electrician, they ran a big industrial and mechanical and electrical business and had a lot of staff and ran part of their business from home. Over the years … It was a very small house with three children. Over the years, it grew. It started with just my parents and then they had one secretary and then it grew to about seven secretaries. I was away for a week and when I came back, the living room had been turned into an office space. We had IT people coming in and out and we had lawyers and accountants and business advisors, and I’d come home and there were people in my bedroom.
It sounds totally crazy, but what I really loved was actually immersing myself in what my parents were doing. I didn’t realise it then, but I was learning so much about what it is to run a business and the challenges that they were facing and the people and the teams. They were, at one time, seven or eight women working in the house so I felt like I had seven or eight mothers every day.
It was something that I embraced. I love learning and I learned a lot. I would sit in the meetings with them even though I really didn’t know what was going on. I never saw myself as an entrepreneur or a business owner growing up, ever. I started my career as a corporate lawyer, but there was obviously something that I’d learned from a young age that really drew me to that, and it must have ignited a spark in me that I carried with me until I ended up starting my own business.
Kylie: Can you tell me about what some of the core beliefs that you now have as an entrepreneur?
Sheree: Sure. One of my core beliefs is that everybody feels fear. For a long time, I thought that successful people never felt afraid. One of the greatest realisations I had was everybody feels afraid. Of course they feel afraid. It’s just that they feel the fear but they push through that fear and they channel that fear to talk onstage even though they feel scared or whatever it is that they’re feeling fear about. Successful people feel fear is number one.
Number two, and Kylie, I actually got this from you, so it comes from Brené Brown, and she says that you can either be in … What is it? Be in comfort or courage but not both. I really live by that. I think that when you come from a place of courage over comfort, you learn so much. That’s really where the magic happens. The more you put yourself in places of courage, the more you learn and grow and become the best version of yourself.
The third belief, I would say, is that not to mistake kindness for weakness. I think that as a leader and an entrepreneur and someone who’s trying to drive change, kindness is so important. I carry that with me as well in everything that I do.
Kylie: I feel like being here under One Roof that it’s absolutely the embodiment of your core beliefs, and I see that. I’m really excited. Should we dig into talking about One Roof and what it is?
Sheree: Yes, definitely.
Kylie: Would you like to tell us about what the vision was for One Roof and how it exists today?
Sheree: When I started One Roof … I come from a corporate law background and when I was working as a lawyer, I had this realisation that as a woman, it can be more difficult to succeed. That was a very stark realisation for me. That led me on a journey of asking lots of questions, doing lots of research, running focus groups, talking to women and trying to understand what holds you back? What holds you back in business, in entrepreneurship? What do you need in order to succeed and in order to overcome those barriers?
What kept coming out of those conversations was women want a place where they can go to a safe place. They want a network that they can tap into. They want education and resources. From all of that came this idea that I called One Roof. One Roof embodies this notion that we provide everything a female entrepreneur needs to thrive under one roof.
To test the idea, because when you come up with an idea, you have to test a minimum viable product and see whether people will actually buy into that concept, I ran a one-week popup in Airbnb listed home in St. Kilda. It was a two-story mansion. We converted it into basically a co-working space for women for a week and literally turned the owner’s bedroom into a meeting room, and the living room in a hot-desking space, and the kitchen into a brainstorming room, and really designed every single day so that it was jam-packed with programmes, meditation, experts, events every night. Over that one week, 400 people came though the doors and engaged. We got spot-corporate sponsorship and so much hype around this one week. That was the validation that we needed to say, “Okay, this is something women want. Let’s do it.”
Since then, One Roof has become Australia’s leading co-working space dedicated to women-led businesses. At its core, it’s a shared office space for businesses to work from. We provide the offices, the Internet, the meeting rooms, all the facilities that you need, and we’ve designed it in a way that we’ve thought about women and what they want and what would be appealing to them. It’s not women-only, it’s female-centric, which I think is a big difference. Even more than just being an office space, it’s about the support that we provide. That’s everything from open office hours with experts to brainstorming sessions to networking events. It’s all about how we provide the tools, resources and support to women to really see them thrive in their businesses.
Kylie: In what ways, then, is it different from traditional co-working spaces?
Sheree: I would say that One Roof puts the support and the community at the core of everything that we do. I think traditionally, co-working spaces are about being a shared office space and in a cool environment where you’re sharing the office facilities and the resources that are there.
One Roof is about providing the tools and support. For us, it’s the community. We think about the people that we get in here. We really put a lot of effort into that. We have very strong values and ethos that underpins everything that we do here.
We put the coaching and the mentoring and the curating connections and all those things first. I think that has made One Roof what it is. So many of the women who have come through here say that … They’ll say to me, “Sheree, you call it a co-working space, but it really doesn’t do justice to what it is.” It’s a community, and it’s so much more than that, and they stay not really because it’s an office facility, as much as you need that, but because of the support that they get. They’re productive in this environment around other people who are working hard. They’re networking with interesting people. It’s positively affecting their mindset and it’s giving them the tools and the education that they need in order to significantly grow their businesses.
Kylie: Why do you think it’s important to focus on women-led businesses in particular?
Sheree: I guess it’s pretty indisputable that women are underrepresented at every stage of the entrepreneurial journey, whether that’s working from co-working spaces, attending accelerated programmes, acting as CEOs of ASX-listed companies, accessing funding, building large businesses, global businesses. You see the lack of female representation yet that goes across the board. There’s a great report called The GEDI, G-E-D-I, Gender Entrepreneurship Development Index Report, by Dell, that looks at 30 countries analysing the conditions that foster high-potential female entrepreneurship. Australia is actually the second-best place in the world to be a female entrepreneur according to this report, but it also finds that no country has achieved gender parity in entrepreneurship.
You see, this is a universal problem. There are a lot of factors as to why this is the case. It’s a social and economical need and that’s why we focus on supporting women-led businesses.
Kylie: Women will often be the ones that do start businesses in order to have some level of control over their careers as it fluctuates … person changes that go on in their life.
Sheree: Absolutely, and to add to that, what I find so interesting is the give economy and the idea that it’s becoming easier and easier for people to start a business, and you are seeing women … the opportunity for women to start businesses, particularly when they’re on maternity leave. It’s growing exponentially and this kind of freelancer, consulting, independent contractor economy is growing. That’s creating greater opportunities for women and people everywhere to start businesses.
I read a statistic recently that 45% of women who go on maternity leave don’t go back to their job, and also another statistic that 75% of women who go on maternity leave want to start a business. You’re seeing that trend, and I think that it’s really exciting.
Kylie: Supporting women to actually have the skills and knowledge, and the connections, as you said, with the community, to take it beyond just that small startup phase into something that’s more sustainable. Not necessarily bigger, but more sustainable and more purposeful and in line with the needs that they have.
Sheree: Absolutely. That can be as little as helping our members here to [inaudible 00:13:05] to get media coverage, or to connect them to a potential new client, or to corporate sponsorship. It’s not necessarily about building a massive startup. It’s about them having the tools and resources to build the kind of business that they want to build.
Kylie: And if they do want to build an empire?
Sheree: Then that too.
Kylie: Totally that then, too. What do you think are the biggest barriers to women starting their own business?
Sheree: There are so many barriers. I think one of the key issues is unconscious bias. I think that that is an issue that men and women, we all experience it. I am so conscious of it myself, and-
Kylie: Can you explain what that is, maybe for people who haven’t heard that term before?
Sheree: Unconscious bias is where you create a stereotype for a specific kind of … When we’re talking about gender, a specific kind of gendered role. You see, as examples, there’s a lot of research to show that girls, from a very young age, are taught to be perfect and princesses, to act like a lady. As that kind of manifests throughout their life, you see that when it comes to starting a business, you need to have courage and be brave. Women aren’t necessarily taught that, and that becomes this kind of unconscious bias and stereotype around women.
We then think women aren’t able to start businesses. They’re not able to be brave, they’re not able to take risks. These kinds of unconscious biases affect the decisions that we make. It also comes down to things like, we like people who are like ourselves. Again, and Sheryl Sandberg talked a lot about that in her book, she’s the CEO of Facebook, and she talked a lot about that in her book, Lean In. You see that when you have so many men in positions of leadership, you tend to find that men will choose and promote people like themselves. Again, it comes back to the unconscious bias around not … It creates the difficulty of us being able to encourage gender equality-
Kylie: Because you can’t see it.
Sheree: Yeah. Correct.
Kylie: You can’t see what you can’t … You can’t be it if you can’t see it.
Sheree: Correct. Unconscious bias affects us on a subconscious level. We don’t realise that we’re doing it. We don’t realise that we’re hiring someone because they’re like us and they look like us and we see ourselves in them. This is affecting the ability of us to create gender equality across business and entrepreneurship.
I’d say another factor is mindset and confidence. It probably does play into conditioning and unconscious bias that’s happened for us, for women, from a young age and throughout our lives. Confidence and mindset is pleasing to so much of everything that we do, and I find most women who walk through the One Roof doors, they are so capable of building good solid businesses, and the only thing getting in their way and the only thing that’s stopping them is how they see themselves and their mindset.
There’s many other factors, but I think they’re kind of two of the key ones. I think we’re having conversations about it, but we’re not doing enough. We’re not acting enough to create that change.
One more thing that you brought up is you can’t be what you can’t see. I think it’s also super important to be showcasing women, and the work that they’re doing, and them pushing through their own fears, and giving things a go, and taking risks, because that encourages other women to step up.
Kylie: That’s right, and as you said, going back to your core beliefs, every successful person also experiences fear, so when we can normalise that and understand that you don’t have to be this impenetrable superhero, courage pouring out of every pore kind of person to actually do it. Courage actually comes in the doing.
Sheree: Absolutely. One of the things I’ll add to that that I do often is I’m on panels and presenting in keynotes and public speaking. Public speaking has been a massive fear for me for a very long time. I’ve done so much of it that to this day, I still feel the fear. Immense fear, every single time, but I push through that, and when I stand up on stage and tell my story and talk about it, I do it because I want to encourage other women to feel that fear and do it anyway. Often I will even explain. I will actually call it for what it is, that this a fear of mine, and I keep hitting it head on time and time again to overcome that challenge. So many people say to me they wouldn’t in a million years think that I even felt scared, or they don’t notice it.
I try to practise what I preach and do a lot in my life that I do purely to encourage other women to do the same.
Kylie: One of the favourite quotes of mine, which actually became the name of this podcast, was taken from a woman who gave a fantastic spoken word piece at TEDxWomen in 2016. She actually talked about being in the company of courage and that’s actually how this podcast came to be. That’s such an important piece, to actually be around other women who are also striving to be more courageous in their life.
Sheree: It’s everything.
Kylie: It’s everything.
Sheree: I always say to people, “Be around people who tell you you can, and yes, think big, and yes, that’s a crazy idea but to do it,” and exactly, and being surrounded by people who also feel the fear but do it anyway. That completely shifts your mindset.
Kylie: What has been the most surprising lesson that you’ve learned in helping women in their own business?
Sheree: I think it goes back to the mindset piece. I think my greatest realisation is that almost every woman I meet is competent and capable and pretty much has whatever they need in order to build the business that they want, and the only thing that holds them back is their mindset. By the same token, I think it also surprises me how quickly you can shift a person’s mindset by encouraging them to step our of their comfort zone and doing your little bit to elevate them and give them some words of encouragement can create all the difference in a person’s life.
It’s how much your mindset can stop you from doing this, but then also how easy it is to actually help someone, give someone that tiny little bit of courage and confidence to push through that can create all the difference.
Kylie: That’s right. It can even be just a few words. A short conversation with somebody can absolutely turn their world around and shift their mindset permanently.
What might be the downsides for women being in business for themselves? How might we counter that?
Sheree: I meet a lot of women who I find have created almost an isolated … They can be quite isolated in their journey. I think that comes from if they are the primary carers, they’re spending a lot of time of their children, they’re spending a lot of time at home, they don’t have a lot of time to network. They don’t naturally have a network of people to tap into who can support them. I think there’s this tendency of women kind of create naturally and then subconsciously creating a bit of isolation around what they’re doing.
Sheree: Yes, exactly.
Kylie: I can do it all.
Sheree: Exactly. It’s also a perfectionism idea. You see that all the time. I see women saying … I’ll encourage them to take meetings or it’s time to go and pitch to an investor, and they’ll say to me, “No, I’m not ready. My LinkedIn profile isn’t good enough. No, I’m not ready, my pitch deck isn’t good enough.”
I think it’s the isolation and the perfectionism that women have this tendency towards. It’s finding ways to overcome that. When I created One Roof, that was one of the biggest things that I wanted to combat. You don’t have to be at One Roof every single day to eliminate that feeling of isolation, but if you ever attend an event at One Roof, if you ever come and hang out at One Roof just for the day, that shifts so much in your thinking. You can come to One Roof for one hour on a Tuesday at lunchtime and we run mastermind session. You bring a business challenge to the table. This might be a business challenge that you’re sitting at home mulling over. You don’t know how to solve it. You’ve Googled it a hundred times, but you haven’t asked anyone. It’s exactly that hyper-independence of, “I can do this myself.” In one hour, you come to a workshop and you share that challenge and you have 10, 15 other people in the room who can say, “Yes, I’ve been through that before, here’s what I did,” that can change everything.
It’s finding ways to overcome that isolation to get rid of perfectionism. The biggest thing I learned going from being a lawyer, where it’s all about you have to be perfect before you speak, you have to be perfect before you send an email, you have to be perfect before you think, to being an entrepreneur where you don’t have the time, money, resources. You are too tired. It is impossible to be perfect, and by the time you wait for it to be perfect, it’s too late. You have to get out there and test it, and try, and have meetings, and pitch something well before your website is perfect, your logo is perfect, before any of that. In fact, I often say to people, “Don’t even build the website. Just go out and talk to people and sell something before you even build that website.”
So many women won’t do anything. And it’s not just women. So many people won’t do anything until they have a business card and a website, and I try to completely shake that up and get people to think about doing that in the reverse and testing it and selling something before you go and create your perfect brand of who you are.
Kylie: I wish this was actually a video recording rather than just an audio recording so you can see me totally nodding like my head’s gonna fall off my neck in what you are saying, because that’s completely also what I do in supporting startups. There’s no point in waiting to get it perfect, because even what you think is the right thing is much, much more likely to pivot, or to change, or to be modified once you pressure test it against reality. Start your Instagram account now and start talking about what you’re going to be doing. Start putting out there what you’re doing so that when you actually do have the card and you do have everything, you’ve already got networks to then talk to and promote to and who are interested in what you have to say. Big head nod on this side of the table in the discussion today.
Sheree: Awesome, and I just want to add to that. It’s so vulnerable to do that. I talk to women again wondering about it all the time. In fact, a woman the other day said to me, she was like, “Am I crazy? Are entrepreneurs crazy, Sheree?” And I said, “I don’t know, maybe in a way we are. We’ve completely lost the concept of a stable financially secure job and we’re hustling every single day.” Sure, there is a lot of craziness in that, but you need to embrace that. Know it’s vulnerable. Know it is incredibly hard, but know that we’re all going through it, and it is the only way that you can succeed is by pushing through that. And know that you don’t need to know what you’re doing 100% percent of the time.
You learn by getting the feedback, and it’s okay to walk out of a meeting where somebody says, “You’re right, dear, you haven’t worked it out properly. Here are the things that you need to do.” I think women often feel the rejection of like, “Oh, I’m shit. I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s personal, it’s all my fault. I can’t be an entrepreneur.” Rather than that self-doubt … Mark Manson actually calls it the feedback loop from hell, which I loved, I thought that was such a great way of saying it. Rather than going into that, it’s just walking away from meeting like that and saying, “Great, I just got awesome feedback. I’m gonna go away and implement that feedback and do it again.”
Kylie: And I’m a stronger, more informed person because of it, and if I’d sat on the sidelines and waited for it to all work out, like you said, it’s too late. And you’re never gonna have it all worked out, because nobody does.
Sheree: And if you feel ready, you’ve waited too long.
Kylie: That’s a good one as well. You mentioned invulnerability and how it is such a vulnerable act, and embracing our vulnerability is essential if we’re going to do something brave and put ourself out in the world. Having a business card or a logo is not going to be enough of an armour to protect us from being out open and having our ideas out in the world that not everybody is gonna fall in love with and being okay with that.
Sheree: Because there will be some people that do. You’ve got to work on focusing and finding them.
Kylie: This episode of In the Company is brought to you by the 2017 Small Business Festival, which is run by the Victorian Government in Australia and is designed to help startups and small to medium businesses go from strength to strength. Check out the festival website to find free and affordable events all across Melbourne and regional Victoria throughout the months of August and early September. There’s over 500 events, including workshops, webinars, mentoring and podcasts just like this one. Visit festival.business.vic.gov.au to learn, grow and connect.
Can you talk to me about some of the business models you see as emerging for women in business?
Sheree: I think that coming back to the give economy and the concept of building online businesses, I think that is really interesting, and the ability to build a business from anywhere. I see women who run virtual assistant businesses or do consulting work at the same time as dabbling in other things or working in a corporate at the same time. Building [inaudible 00:28:33] businesses, marketplaces I think are really interesting and we’re seeing a lot more of that in Australia. Definitely, has a lot of that online marketplace type of business.
I really think that most of the women I meet, when they start a business, it comes so much from a place of passion and something that they have really … It’s been such a struggle or an issue for them, and they want to make a difference. I think it’s incredible when you meet people who come from these really strong place of passion. I think the concept of social entrepreneurship is also largely rapidly growing, and particularly in Melbourne, you definitely find that. Social enterprises are businesses that are for profit, but at the same time, as putting a lot of … They put equal emphasis on the economic return as on the social impact.
Great example is Straight, the coffee, or Thank You, or Who Gives A Crap, the toilet paper. They are really interesting, incredible, fast-growing businesses. I’m also seeing a lot of the B Corp certification. Again, that’s certification that marks your business as one that’s ethical, works by a certain standard, has a very clear core purpose, treats their staff well. It’s a very rigid, rigorous process that you’ve gotta go through, and that then means once you’re B Corp certified, other B Corp certified companies want to deal with you. I think that’s a great growing trend of that.
Kylie: We actually interviewed [Alicia Darvall 00:30:30] of B Corp as part of the series of podcasts for small business festivals. If people are interested in finding out more about B Corporation, they should keep an eye out on the episode that we’ve done with Alicia Darvall about that in particular. It was interesting, as you were talking and I was thinking about the idea of business models, it almost came to me that we almost have our personal version of a business model. When you were talking about juggling a side gig with a corporate gig or perhaps fame in having multiple revenue streams from multiple different sources, it’s almost like instead of actually going and saying, “I’m gonna create this kind of business that’s already well-known for its type,” we’ve created a sense of, “How do we create our own version of our own personal business model,” if you like.
Sheree: Absolutely. I think that’s an incredible growing trend that I find really interesting. There’s a statistic that says by 2020, 40% of the American workforce will be independent contractors, freelancers, consultants. Obviously, Australia is lower, but we do follow those trends.
Kylie: Well, we’re already sitting at around 30%.
Sheree: Are we? Okay, yeah. I just think that comes out of our … this desire to … It’s like lifestyle design. I want to design, I want to work around my life. There’s greater opportunity to do that today. It means that there are so many different ways we can start businesses. Where we can work from and how we work and what culture we create or the people we employ and where those people are. I think it’s very empowering that you can really think about what kind of life do you want to have? What values are important to you? And you build businesses around that?
Kylie: Before we come to talking about you specifically, then, about your choice to start One Roof, I just wanted to backtrack to when you were talking about B Corps and social impact. I understand that you’ve built that, also, for One Roof to have social impact. Can you just give us a quick run through of what that means for One Roof?
Sheree: Yeah. The core of One Roof is … The purpose of One Roof and why it was set up is to support women-led businesses and to give them the resources and the tools to thrive. Underpinning that is to level the playing field in terms of general equality in entrepreneurship. That drives everything that we do. How that plays out is that as a member of One Roof, you pay a membership to be here and that will vary depending on whether you’re in a private office or hot-desking or how often you want to be here. What we provide our members, without them having to pay extra, is all of that support. I’ve touched on a lot of it already, but it goes very deep. That support can be spending time with me one-on-one and offering business coaching and strategy. I do that at no extra cost and our One Roof team will do that. We understand, our entire team understands every single business that comes through here, what they need, who their client is, and how we can connect them to that.
We’ve had members who I’ve connected them to potential clients or helped them get corporate sponsorship. We connect them to investors. We really take the time and energy to find out what they need and find ways of supporting them. We also do a lot to ensure that we create opportunities for our members to speak and we’re constantly finding ways of getting our members in front of large audiences and speaking opportunities. Beyond that, we offer scholarships to women who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to be here for a certain period of time.
We have lots of social enterprises and not-for-profits who work out of One Roof and we offer scholarships and subsidies to them. We do a lot to support YGAP, and they run a programme called YHER, which is an accelerator based in Africa for women who run social enterprises, that support women and girls in the communities. We’ve donated a percentage of our profits to that programme. I went over there last year and volunteered as a facilitator helping to run that programme. We’re doing a fundraiser at One Roof in a couple of months.
That is one way that we give back. We’re constantly finding ways to give back. The other thing that we do is we’ll provide lots of coaching and mentoring, both to women and girls. That comes in lots of different ways. We have lots of work experience students working here, lots of interns who have come in and out. I provide one-on-one coaching regularly at no cost. It’s very much a part of everything we do. It kind of just filters into everything that we’re about. It drives One Roof and it drives me.
Kylie: As well as supporting all of those women and doing all of those things, you are yourself a woman in business. You’ve mentioned already about your leap from being a corporate lawyer to, I guess in many ways, a social entrepreneur. I think you would call yourself a social entrepreneur. What’s the top toughest moment you’ve had in your own business in getting One Roof off the ground, and how did you get through it?
Sheree: I would actually say … Two challenges. I think the first challenge was realising that I am an entrepreneur. That probably held me back in the early days. I tested the idea with a business partner. I didn’t know that I was gonna start a business, I didn’t know that she was gonna be my business partner, I didn’t know that … It took me a long time to even be able to say that I’m an entrepreneur, and I think that just held me back in my confidence and how I spoke about it. Once I owned that and I realised it, it opened up amazing doors for me, and-
Kylie: What did it take for you to own it?
Sheree: I think it’s just going to meet so many … going to lots of meetings and sitting there feeling the discomfort of saying that I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve started a business. You go through that discomfort and recognising it and then sitting back and going, “Why am I doing this? I’m running a business. I want to own it.” I think when we ran that one week popup and the success that we got out of that and the positive feedback really helped. I also did a pitching competition a couple of months later with the Foundation for Young Australians, and that was in front of 300 people. I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared in my life. You had two minutes to pitch your idea. I won that and I won the $10,000 grant. That was just a realisation, like, “I can’t not say I’m an entrepreneur and I’m running my own business,” by that point.
It’s realising your own fears and just understanding them, and then also it was the validation that I kept getting from people around me that helped me to just step into it and own it and realise I need to do that in order to move the business forward.
The other biggest challenge I’ve had since, in the last two and a bit years that I’ve run One Roof, which is not that long, actually, was I started with a business partner. [Giana 00:38:40], she’s American, she was living in Melbourne when we met, but then after we ran the popup and tested the idea and decided we were gonna do this together, she moved back to the US. We spent two years running the business from the other sides of the world. It was amazing to say One Roof is in Australia and in the US and we’re in four cities. It sounded great, but it was really challenging. The markets were different and they were directing us in different ways. That led us to actually separating and she started another business. That was definitely the most challenging thing that I’ve gone through. I started this business with a business partner and I think she gave me so much of the confidence to start it. But I’m so proud that, between the two of us, we’ve been able to maintain our relationship.
It’s been very challenging. A lot of tears, a lot of frustrations, a lot of misunderstanding, but the best thing is that Giana and I have communicated everything and have so much love and respect for each other. So many people have said to me, “How have you been able to maintain a relationship after going through that? That’s very rare.” I take a lot of pride in knowing that we’ve been able to hold onto that incredible love and respect for one another. She’s still in the space of supporting women, just with a different business model. We’re totally there to support each other.
Kylie: Kind of like a business conscious uncoupling kind of process?
Sheree: Yes, yeah, it really did feel like a divorce. But I wouldn’t take anything back. I think you don’t anticipate those things and this isn’t what I wanted, but you realise that it becomes the only logical, reasonable decision. When you start talking about equity and ownership and money and things, you have to bring it back to what’s important, and for Giana and I, we were able to get through it by realising the most important thing is maintaining our relationship.
Kylie: One other thing you mentioned just before was that you won a $10,000 grant. Often one of the things that I think holds women back is the idea of either giving up a reliable, stable salary to go into the uncertainty of the unknown. How did you fund the rest … assuming that it would have cost more than $10,000 and that as a corporate lawyer you were on a pretty good wicket for a while there, so having courage to walk away from that … Even with $10,000 in your pocket, that’s still … And wondering how did you secure more funding or investment, or how did you financially float it?
Sheree: I got a very small loan from my parents, very small, in addition to the grant that I received from that competition. From there, it was very much, “How can we do this in the most economical, smartest, efficient way?” I think a lot of people think that when you don’t have money and funding and resources, you can’t build a business, but actually, you build a better business because you have to be resourceful. Everything that Giana and I have done has been, “How can we do this in the simplest most economical way?” Running that one week popup … We’d come up with this idea of a co-working space for women. Some people could have said, “Okay, we need to get funding. We need to get a 10-year lease. This is what we’re gonna do.” How do you know whether the idea is gonna be successful or not?
Right from the beginning, it was always about doing it small, testing, we got corporate sponsorship, we got support from people in the community, we got friends and family to help, and that has carried us all the way through ever since in terms of having the space that we have now, which is over 1,000 square metres in an incredible location. That was because I had a conversation Central Equity, who are property developers and they own this building. We negotiated an incredible arrangement that meant that I’m not paying market rent on this building.
I never thought anyone would even be willing to do that. They’re doing it purely to support us. It’s really not much more than that. That was this incredible lesson that when you ask for things … I think there’s a fear around asking. I never thought that if I ask for this I could get anything like this, and now I run a space with over 70 businesses working out of here and they have often incredible sponsorship. That has given us a leg-up. If we didn’t get that support from Central Equity, we would never be in a place like this.
We’ve also been sponsored by Optus, so they’ve provided the Internet for free. Again, that was just asking. I never expected them to say yes, but again, a great lesson in asking. In terms of how we fitted out this space, again, it’s just been, “What is the easiest most economical way of doing it?” We have people who tell us every time there’s offices that are closing down and have furniture they want to get rid of. A lot of the furniture we’ve gotten here has almost been for free. The Foundation for Young Australians donated a lot of the desks that we have. All the artwork sits here on consignment and is for sale and rotates all the time. I built a lot of things myself with my partner and my dad. We built the stage, we built the bar in the event space. My dad’s an electrician so he’s done all the lighting. We painted the walls ourselves.
I’ve gotten a little bit of help in terms of financially, but most of the time it’s been through corporate in-kind support, corporate sponsorship and really just finding very economical ways of doing it ourselves.
Kylie: Just ask, ask, ask, and get your hands dirty. Make things start happening.
Sheree: Yes. Paint the walls yourself.
Kylie: Absolutely. Go paint them fresh. [inaudible 00:45:04] What are some of the practical aspects of running a business that women should get right from the outset?
Sheree: You need to be clear from the beginning, and this can change, but you need to be clear about what the financial model is. If you’re coming from a place of seeing a problem in the world that you want to solve and you’re passionate about solving that problem, that’s great. You have to have a financial model to support it. You’ve got to be super clear about what your revenue streams are, what you expect you can generate each month and what your expenses are gonna be. You need to be on top of that all the time. I think that’s just number one.
I think in the very early stages, you will also want to think about your business model. One great way of doing that is … There’s basically a business plan on a page and it’s called the Business Model Canvas. You can Google it and download it. We did that in the very beginning of when we started One Roof and that just gets you to think in a very simple way, concise way. We don’t do hundred page business plans anymore. It’s irrelevant, it’s not necessary, it’s a waste of time. Test your idea before you even write a business plan. But I think having a business plan on a page where it literally gets you to think about, “What is your value proposition in a sentence? Who is your customer segment? Who are your early inductors? What are your monthly costs? What is your monthly revenue?” That helps you to be really clear about what it is that you’re selling and how to articulate that.
It’s also really important to think about who your customer is. That can change, but it’s just important from the outset to say, “My customer is a woman between the age of 25 to 35, working in corporate. She tends to work in legal and consulting organisations.” Actually building that profile. And then you can be super clear about who you’re going out and selling to and other people can sell on your behalf. That changes. It always changes. These things change. We test it and we can often never anticipate where it’s gonna go. We have 12-month goals and 5-year goals and all of that changes in a day. But it’s important to have that idea around who you’re selling to, what you’re selling, and what the costs and revenue streams are associated with it.
Kylie: You mentioned the Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder, which is fantastic. People can download that for free. The other thing that you talked about was knowing who your customer is. You can also Google Empathy Map, which is a fantastic tool to actually get people to stand in the shoes of the people that they aim to serve and consider all of the things that that person is thinking and feeling and hearing and what their pain points are and that kind of thing. I find that to be a really effective tool and have done that with my clients as well. I’m so glad that you brought those up.
But get your finances right, get your revenue model right from the beginning. If it’s not right, tweak it. Don’t be afraid to say, “Okay, this isn’t working,” if it’s not, and to tweak it and pivot if you need to.
What are some of your favourite business tools?
Sheree: I use Trello and I love Trello. That is a great way for our team to … It’s a task management tool. It’s just a great way to keep on top of everything. It’s project management and task management. We have a couple of our team who work overseas, so it just really helps everybody to be able to see what’s going on and to follow the tasks. That has been one of the greatest tools that’s kept me on top of everything that’s going on.
I would say social media just generally has been really instrumental in building up our brand and being able to convey who we are online, specifically things like Facebook Live, the Instagram stories and LinkedIn has been hugely valuable in building not just the One Roof brand but also my own personal brand. I found that through these avenues, I’ve been asked to do so many speaking opportunities and interviews. All these things build up, not just myself as an expert and somebody who advocates for women in business, but it just really builds the brand of One Roof.
Kylie: What’s your vision for the future of women in business?
Sheree: I would love to not need to have these conversations, for there to be equal representation of women and men in all levels of entrepreneurship business leadership. Just pure gender equality across the board. We’re talking about business generally. I think that when women have the same kind of confidence, opportunities, rights, abilities as men do, then we’ve solved that problem and then I can move onto the next thing.
Kylie: So, Sheree, we’ve nearly finished our discussion today. We’re coming to running out of time, but what are three things that you would like listeners to take away from our discussion today?
Sheree: Number one is to feel the fear and do it anyway. I talk about this all the time. You’re going to feel fear and we’ve discussed it a lot. Feel it. Know it’s fear, and do it anyway.
Number two is put yourself out there and meet new people. I think the biggest opportunities that have come for me, particularly when I left my corporate legal career and I wasn’t really sure exactly what I was doing, I organising so many coffees. I put myself in front of so many people. It got me opportunities to pitch at competitions, to go to conferences, to go to [inaudible 00:51:48] programmes, to help support programmes in South Africa with YGAP. It was how I met my business partner, it was how I started One Roof. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and meet people. Pick their brains and ask them questions and absorb. It’s a very scary thing to do, but put yourself out there and ask for that help. I couldn’t encourage that more.
I guess the third thing is to surround yourself with people who elevate you and encourage you to think big and think differently. Places like One Roof and events, these are really great opportunities for you to get outside of your head, get outside of any kind of isolation you might be feeling, and surround yourself with people who get it.
Kylie: It’s feel the fear, and ask, and have company.
Sheree: Yeah, exactly.
Kylie: Fantastic. We’ve come to the last part of our conversation today, which is our ten-by-ten. I have 10 questions with 10 seconds to answer each of them. Are you up for the challenge?
Sheree: Of course.
Kylie: Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
Kylie: I’m gonna start off with number one.What I like about myself is …
Sheree: My passion, which helps me to overcome any sense of fear that I have.
Kylie: I beat procrastination by …
Sheree: Using Trello and writing lists. I find that when I wake up in the morning, if I write down a list of what I need to do for the day, then I’m very clear about what the day is and what I need to get done, and it feels so good ticking off a checklist of tasks.
Kylie: A song on my life soundtrack is …
Sheree: I love “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” by Whitney Houston. I just love that whole idea of dance like nobody’s watching. I think we should never take life too seriously. We should always find ways to have joy and the opportunity to dance.
Kylie: A book that has changed me is …
Sheree: Two books, one is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and I read that when I was really only just discovering that this whole concept of gender equality and my passion for supporting and empowering women. That was truly instrumental. Another book I read recently was by Cheryl Strayed and it’s called Tiny Beautiful Things. It’s just such a beautiful book about the challenges that we all go through in life and how to overcome them. She has such beautiful advice and it’s so well written. It’s seriously a life changing book.
Kylie: Something everyone must do is …
Sheree: Get out of your comfort zone regularly. The more you do it, the more you feel comfortable being in discomfort. And take risks.
Kylie: The world needs more …
Sheree: People who take risks and who know what they enjoy doing, and what they love, and what they care about and finding ways to bring that into what they do.
Kylie: Fear and I …
Sheree: Have come to find a beautiful relationship of me realising that fear doesn’t mean that I’m not capable, and not able, and not good enough, and not worthy enough. Fear is a natural reaction and it’s okay to feel fear. In fact, you can channel fear into incredibly positive energy.
Kylie: A phrase I live by is …
Sheree: Feel the fear and do it anyway I would say is a huge one. I think also we’ve got it splashed on the wall here at One Roof. “An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.” That was Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn, who said that. I think it just embodies that idea of you feel like you’re falling, it’s scary, it’s unknown, but we’re scrambling and we’re creating, and the creativity comes out of that unknown place.
Kylie: Something that always makes me feel good is …
Sheree: When I see women and girls feeling afraid but doing something anyway. Even though they feel afraid, they’re giving it a go. When I see women and girls give things a go.
Kylie: And the last one. My legacy will be …
Sheree: That I have continued to follow my passion, really supported women and made a difference in the space of bringing gender equality into entrepreneurship. I’ve empowered lots of women and people around me and I’ve stayed really true to my values and to what’s important to me.
Kylie: Sheree, I have to wrap it there. Thank you so much for allowing us to be in your company today. I’ve absolutely loved our discussion, and I can’t thank you enough. All the best to the future of One Roof.
Sheree: Thank you, Kylie.