During my Melbourne coworking tour I was thrilled to see One Roof Women, a coworking space dedicated to empowering female entrepreneurs and women-led businesses.
One Roof Women is a vibrant, fresh hub with a great reputation in the Melbourne coworking scene and beyond. It’s one of those absolutely beautifully focussed, specialized spaces. And in the case of One Roof, the focus is on supporting and empowering female entrepreneurs and female-led businesses with an elegantly designed workspace, a packed event schedule and plenty of wellness activities.
Though they only opened eight months ago, One Roof have grown impressively. “After 4 months of being here, we found we had expanded to provide extra space for the bigger teams as well as creating a bigger event space for up to 250 people. It’s a coworking dream to have the event space separate from the coworking area. We’ll also be expanding our coworking area soon too“. This is due in no small part to the vision and ambitions of inspirational co-founder Sheree Rubinstein, who developed a feminist understanding of the world after coming up against the limits of opportunity working as a corporate lawyer at a conservative law firm.
Another significant part of this growth is connected to the community-before-space approach that defines the evolution of One Roof. After starting a women’s networking group and working at a not-for-profit for disadvantaged women, Sheree realized that her mission and passion was supporting female entrepreneurship. When she met her LA-based future One Roof Women co-founder Gianna Wurzl, the idea of One Roof was germinated.
They tested the idea by renting a mansion on Airbnb and curated a week-long schedule of talks, brainstorming sessions, meditation classes and events. This was wildly successful, with more than 400 attending and paying to be there. “So many people said ‘we loved it. When are you going to do that again?’. And that’s where it all started. We called it One Roof to symbolize that we provide all of the things a female entrepreneur needs to thrive all under one roof” says Sheree.
But let’s return to looking at One Roof’s fantastic growth. The fact that they needed to expand after just four months and still have plans to expand again might lead you to think that One Roof is following the raise-money-scale-impossibly-fast model we’re seeing with so many coworking brands these days. However, it’s actually quite the opposite. One Roof maintains an at-home vibe and is growing with demand, not to impress a panel of investors.
The fact that the lease on their building is quite short also rules out that WeWork style model. “We have until March 2018. And after then, who knows? We’ll see. The challenge with our model is that we know it’s not forever."
This is a unique model indeed in an industry where a common lease is five to ten years. The downside is the constant uncertainty of whether another space will be found and, even if it is, whether or not the community will survive a potential move. But the upside is that the team can commit to their mission without feeling locked into a business model or weathering fluctuations in the real estate market.
“Not having longevity is difficult but at the same is difficult but at the same time, there are opportunities there to think about things differently. I'm really open to assessing whether coworking is where I want to be and what I want to be doing. I’m trying to answer the question of what do women need, and I'm looking at the options out there. I’ve built a great place with a great brand so people get who we are and what we do. And we’re leading [the industry] for supporting women as there aren’t too many coworking spaces doing this”.
Sheree already has some intriguing concepts about what a future evolution of One Roof Women might look like if they do need to move. We’re talking micro, super-localised coworking spot, digital communities and more. But for now, it’s all about building an inspiring community in a fantastic space. “It’s a lot of fun, and we have a beautiful community here who support each other."
This ability to spin multiple plates in the present while thinking about the future is characteristic of Sheree’s dynamism. “I’m all about just trying things. I want to lead a delegation of female to Israel this year. I also want to put on more events that lead businesses and organizations into the ecosystem we’re creating here.” And the fact that she only has a team of 3 including herself and a virtual PA to manage a busy coworking hub plus the rest really exemplifies this.
The design of the space is also an indication of One Roof’s quality and commitment to their mission. Despite only having a short-term lease, the space is beautifully designed and filled with lovely details throughout. We’re talking immaculate meeting rooms named after influential post-punk feminists, plant-filled open plan collaborative workspaces, a wall of affirmation where members leave positive messages for one another, brilliant micro-offices and breakout areas and a great kitchen. “It was really important for us to design a space that speaks to women - not women only - but it has that emphasis”.
One Roof isn’t only for women, but the focus on women business owners is particularly important to Sheree because women face specific challenges in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. One Roof provides a place for conversations about those challenges to be held.
One Roof has a holistic approach to supporting female entrepreneurship that starts out with open plan collaborative workspace, and culminates with popular events such as ‘Fuck Up Nights’ and ‘Ditch the Daily Grind and Leap Into a Career You Love’. In fact, one of the most noticeable features of One Roof is the unrelenting energy that Sheree has for hosting an impressive and demanding array of curated and participatory events. The success of these events is connected to One Roof’s community-first approach. As Sheree says, “we’re constantly asking our members what they need or want and we design programs and events around that“.
“I think it’s interesting for us that we never intended to be a coworking space. When we set out to do this, our idea was simply coworking for women but not ‘coworking’ in the sense that we want to be like WeWork".
It’s clear that with so much romanticizing about coworking these days, the One Roof team stand out with their understanding that coworking is just a vehicle for your mission. They also know it’s a tough business with a lot of administrative challenges.
“It’s hard to make money in coworking. Financial stability is in the memberships and having great anchor tenants is so important for this. For us, having HealthKit here has been amazing, they’ve got 15 members, they’ve been with us from early on, and they don't need me unless the internet drops out or something like that. On the other hand, it's challenging supporting very early stage ventures who don't have a lot of money. I have lots of people here who want to be here, who love it, but who can't pay much, so we work out an arrangement that works. And then they need a lot of support“.
“It’s problematic when someone's, say in a private office and they then decide that they can't afford that so they change to the open coworking area and only want to be in 2 days a week, then it changes to full time because they want the discount on the event space. It’s constant change on the memberships. I don't know if other coworking spaces get this, but I find a lot of that here. And there’s a lot of admin around those changes. And then we offer this 10-day pass package so they then need to be monitored too.But that said, we have really great member retention”.
Even with all the challenges that come with running a coworking space, it’s clear that One Roof Women are onto something magnificent. Particularly if we measure that by the commitment of their members, and the many wonderful success stories that are a result of One Roof’s support. This is due in no small part to the fact that Sheree’s energy and principles flow through to One Roof Women. I for one, am excited to see where their mission to serve women in entrepreneurship will lead them next.
Co-founder at Habu, designer, reader, philosopher & plant whisperer. He plays dad, husband & attacking midfield.