Shared Wisdom: Co-Founders Have Knack For Coworking
“We realized success doesn’t matter if it’s not shared.”
If that doesn’t belong embroidered on a pillow, emblazoned on a t-shirt or the side of a building, what does?
Catherine Bye, co-founder of Knack Coworking, a Seattle company launching workspaces for women, LGBTQ entrepreneurs and other underrepresented groups, proclaimed that mission recently in a conversation with her co-founder Mariah Lincoln and Take The Lead.
While both Bye and Lincoln started out at different times and places, they converged at a marketing agency, went off to cofound their own, Knack Collective, and now are putting Knack Coworking on the map.
A Southern California native, Bye graduated from University of California-Berkeley in 1995, and went to work for Ernst & Young where she stayed until 1998, working on teams managing accounts of $100 million and more.
Her next move was to The Industry Standard, a publishing startup where she worked until 2002 before heading to Microsoft Direct Network, a nonprofit for tech education, where she worked until 2010.
It was after she had her daughter that Bye realized the pace was not compatible with parenting. “How will I work 60 hours a week, travel two weeks a month? I decided I would start my own consulting business to have flexibility.”
After two years, she took the plunge, Bye says, to the agency side, and it was there she met Lincoln in 2015.
Lincoln was born and raised in Seattle and went to the University of Oregon, studying journalism and public relations, graduating in 2010. After working at a nonprofit for a y ear, Lincoln began working as a contractor for Microsoft, and in 2012 joined the Seattle marketing agency where she met Bye in 2015.
Both frustrated at the agency where they worked, they launched their own agency in 2018, Knack. “We had been dreaming about how we would do things differently,” Lincoln says.
“We have similar strategic approaches,” Lincoln says, “and how we view team support.”
Knack is a B2B agency with 17 full-time employees and 35 flex workers, Bye says, working primarily in tech, but also serving clients in manufacturing healthcare, consumer package goods and financial services. The 2018 revenue was $3.5 million and they expect to double that in 2019.
The two cofounders started creating Coworking because within the first month of Knack’s existence they had difficulties in the space they were leasing.
“There was no on-site support for our tech needs and when we looked at open spaces, they were lacking,” Bye says.
They started working on Coworking in May 2018, and it is launching a year later with 150 people in the building for seven private office suites, and flexible work spaces for 50 people. Knack will reside there.
“It was important for us to have a female architect,” Bye says. “The space is balanced, not feminine or masculine. It has all gender restrooms, a breastfeeding/new mother’s room, meditations room, phone rooms, conference rooms, podcast room” and large meeting spaces.
There is specifically no bro vibe, like so many workspaces in the Northwest. There are no ping pong tables, or kegs in the kitchen. The vendors and suppliers to Coworking are 85 percent women, persons of color and LGBTQ.
Deborah Sweeney writes in Forbes, “From coast to coast, the successful rise of these coworking spaces can be summed up in one word: community. Creating brick-and-mortar spaces that welcome women from all walks of life allows them to build a community with other fellow female professionals. They can network with like-minded individuals, offer support, and even dress however they feel without the added pressure that comes with being in a environment full of men.”
Bye and Lincoln say they imagined Coworking to include business-critical resources and advisors in legal, finance, recruiting, IT and marketing in a like-minded supportive community.
While Coworking is female-focused, other coworking spaces around the country are female-only.
The Wing started in New York and recently opened spaces in the Los Angeles are. “The Wing created a space where women can not only work but also thrive,” according to Archinect, “The location offers a space for women to feel empowered, safe, and free to ‘create, connect, and generate opportunities.’”
According to Vox, in January The Wing raised $75 million in a series C funding round led by Sequoia Capital and Upfront Ventures — venture capital firms that invested in giants like Airbnb, Instagram, Ulta, and Bird. The timing feels right for The Wing’s expansion, too, given that the sharing economy continues to grow.” This puts The Wing, “started in October 2016, at the center of some of today’s biggest debates about gender, power, and corporate feminism. As it grows, with $117.5 million in total funding raised, The Wing will only become more central to these debates — all of which are poised to become even more pressing in 2019 and beyond.”
In Dallas, Cassi Oesterling and Tiffany Zamora in February “launched Her HQ, a pop-up for one of the first female-focused coworking spaces in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. If all goes well — and so far the signs have been encouraging — the hope is for Her HQ to evolve into a permanent fixture in Dallas,” according to the Dallas Observer.
Hera Hub is expanding in California. According to the OC Register, “According to its website, Hera Hub Irvine offers ‘a shared, flexible work and meeting space where entrepreneurial women can create and collaborate in a professional, productive, spa-like environment.’ It was founded by Felena Hanson in 2015 in San Diego and has a handful of locations in Southern California.”
Also in the Seattle area is The Riveter. According to Forbes, the company “recently closed a $15 million Series A funding round, and currently has five locations across Seattle and Los Angeles and is described as ‘a membership network built by women, for everyone.’”
Erin Spencer writes, “ It’s female-founded and the workspaces are female-focused by design but they welcome not only women but also men and gender fluid individuals. In fact, today they boast quite a few members that don’t identify as female – 25% to be exact.”
What advice do the Coworking co-founders of two startup endeavors have for other entrepreneurs?
Lean into your values and don’t lose sight of the mission. “We focused on entrepreneurs who are women and LGBTQ, because we wanted to provide real opportunities,” Bye says. Men are allowed to lease space, “because we do realize we need allies.”
Do not be afraid to ask. “If you don’t know something, ask. We don’t have ego around things we don’t know,” says Lincoln.
Constantly look for opportunities. “We want to be the one stop shop and offer everything you need to take your business to the next level,” Bye says.
Bye and Lincoln have also developed an advisory board for Coworking and plan to possibly expand into other communities outside of Seattle. And just as she says, Bye says, it matters because they each share in the success.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com