In honor of Women's History Month 2021, we are profiling women leaders in coworking. Mara Hauser was early in bringing coworking to the suburbs and has since become an industry leader.
You started out as an interior designer. How did you make the leap into coworking?
Actually, coworking leapt into my interior design practice. My firm had been designing collaborative workspaces and coworking models for enterprise organizations across North America before coworking even had a name.
So much about the success of a coworking brand is around leadership of the brand, the staff, and developing the model for who we serve: who is the community we build for, where is the right location, what product mix should we offer, and how will the design cater to that? Ultimately, we always keep in mind that our brand is about suburban coworking – creating the best working environment where people live.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome out of the gates? ,
Partner/building owner issues for space 1. We relocated the entire operation in our first year of opening our doors at our first location because the building owner attempted to absorb our business. We had to get out to survive.
Who served as a mentor for you as you grew your business?
My LEXC owner friends are my mentors and are a trusted peer leadership group. We are a group of 30 coworking owners/founders throughout the world who at some point in time have or are going through the same issues, concerns, growth, partnerships, staffing - and we all help each other.
How has your business matured?
The depth of our amazing team - I do not, nor can I make all the decisions. We have a solid executive and now corporate team who lead with integrity, passion and commitment to our culture and brand. Our growth has been mostly from within and we are set for portfolio expansion.
Looking back, what do you wish you would have known when you started?
A few things.
- What little suburban folks knew about coworking in general. When we first opened our doors in a great building on the main street of town with fabulous retail windows, passers by could not figure out what we were by our name on the door - they thought we were a furniture store or some very modern something. We wound up installing “messaging” words on the windows that literally spelled out what we did. “Meeting Rooms by the hour,” “Private offices,” “Workspace by the day,” etc. We actually had to start by educating the consumers what the definition of coworking is.
- The local landlords viewed us as competition, even for the single office sale.
What do you think your contribution has been to the "industry"?
Perspective of a workplace strategist: how people truly get their best work done (what tools they need, what equipment and types of spaces support them) at a given moment and throughout their workday. This includes things like ergonomics, acoustics, scent (all the five senses really) and understanding the concept that the interior of a space should be designed around not just your brand but the Members you serve. For the industry, I not only have impacted the coworking space at 25N, but through Workplace Studio, our interior design firm, where we have helped develop brands from the ground up, refreshed existing tired office suites and created corporate coworking spaces for enterprise clients. Our portfolio consists of over 50 coworking or flex-office workspaces across the country.
How do you think women have helped shape the coworking movement?
Women bring powerful insights into the concept of a holistic and flexible workday because we have been continuously shaking up the antiquated notion that “career” refers to the male head of household working a 9-to-5 at an office building while his wife takes charge of all domestic duties and the children. Today, women are leading the evolution from that model to one where both partners exist in “grey areas” of the household and gender roles can be partially or completely reversed. Women are just more in tune with that because they are driving that domestic innovation. Coworking is all about flexibility, and women have been existing in that role of complete flexibility for a very long time.
Where do you think you're headed next?
25N Coworking is in a growth trajectory. We are well situated for portfolio expansion in our core hubs and the continuous development of coworking locations close to where people live and play. Landlord partnerships are key to these goals, and we’re open-minded about meeting new building owners and discovering new opportunities.
We focus on location, but we place equal emphasis on the quality of our landlord partnerships and whether it will be a “good fit” for the long haul — business models, future goals, perspectives, and personalities matter. We hope to continue to innovate in these kinds of partnerships to yield even more profitable agreements that are a win-win for our company and our partners.
We’re not always looking forward, either. Our goal has always been to re-invest in our existing members and spaces to get better, not just further. We’ll take methodical evolution over explosive (or careless) growth to make sure we’re taking the right steps in the right direction for the right reasons.