Getting Comfortable With The Uncomfortable, with Felena Hanson
Episode 157: Getting Comfortable With The Uncomfortable, with Felena Hanson
Coming from a large family of eight siblings, Felena Hanson, founder of Hera Hub, knew she wanted to be a first generation college graduate when the opportunity presented itself. Taking her college degree and tapping into entrepreneurship, Felena shares her journey that led her to founding Hera Hub, how getting a college degree might be a subjective decision, and how entrepreneurs can set themselves for success with the power of a network. She also talks about the role men can play as allies, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and how everyone can have something to bring to the table.
00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate podcast, this is your host, Kristy Wallace with my co-host Maricella Herrera.
00:20 Maricella Herrera: Hey Kristy, I really like your sweater.
00:23 KW: Thank you, this is Tory Burch by way of Rent the Runway because I'm a big Rent the Runway fan and user, we had Maureen Sullivan who's a CEO of Rent the Runway at our Ellevate Summit last summer, and talking about mentors and allies in the workplace, and I was just really inspired with her, and I've always been a big Rent the Runway fan, so I did a little fan-girling, it was exciting.
00:50 MH: It was exciting, I've never done Rent the Runway to be honest. I'm a huge The RealReal user. [chuckle]
01:00 KW: I know, you and Sally.
01:02 MH: Yeah, but not the same brands, I'm sure. But I've realized that I recently did a whole clean out of my apartment. Thank you, Netflix, thank you Marie Kondo. Not really, 'cause it was hell.
01:17 KW: I know.
01:18 MH: But now it's like I was looking at my dresser, I don't have anything, so I might have to give it a try. [chuckle]
01:26 KW: Also, so I'll tell you the things I like about it 'cause I do unlimited, this is a little plug for Rent the Runway, we should talk to them about sponsoring the podcast. But for me it actually has saved me money, because I'm actually not buying clothes, I buy some weekend stuff and t-shirts and whatnot, but I'm not buying clothes. It does definitely meet that shopping need bug. Two, confidence, when I'm out speaking and doing stuff, even not speaking, just wearing things that you feel good in, that you can size up or size down depending on where you are, is really good. And then three, I... Just as you were talking about the Marie Kondo thing, it causes me anxiety when I used to buy a bunch of stuff and then couldn't wear it or I was then donating or giving tons of stuff away.
02:20 MH: Yes.
02:20 KW: Just knowing what that whole apparel industry is like, I didn't wanna be fueling it so I wanted to move away from that to more sustainable personal habits on my own. So that said, I would recommend looking into it, it's pretty... It's fun, I like it, it's fun. It makes you feel good every day.
02:45 MH: I'll check it out. I'll check it out.
02:47 KW: Yeah, well...
02:47 MH: Anyway.
02:48 KW: Talking about... So what I like about Rent the Runway too, is the sort of personalization and the AI, and I love seeing tech innovations and particularly driven by women which is a great segue into our guest this week, Felena Hanson who's not only an Ellevate member but just a huge supporter of the Ellevate community. I met her in San Diego a while back, and just fell in love with her, her passion, her insights, she just has this great energy about her, but she has been at the forefront of creating co-working spaces and particularly those supporting women. It's not women only, but it's really focused on creating that inclusive environment that calming and productive environment that's really helping fuel not just women as entrepreneurs, but women as professionals, community members and supporters.
03:43 MH: Yeah, that's great, she is a huge supporter and I think that what she's doing and creating that space is extremely valuable, honestly.
03:52 KW: And it's tough when you think about what she's done in terms of starting multiple locations, she's traveling around the world, she's solving other niche problems within this space. She's really thinking about her role and what she's doing to fuel this in a powerful way and it was just great to chat with her and to hear her story and to hear what she's up to next.
04:19 MH: Yeah, I can't wait to hear.
04:21 KW: Well, let's get to it, and we'll see you here next week on the Ellevate Podcast.
04:39 KW: Felena, thank you so much for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast, I'm really excited to have you here.
04:46 Felena Hanson: My pleasure.
04:48 KW: You and I met a few... Probably almost about a year ago in San Diego, we had lunch and it was just really wonderful to meet you and to hear your story and some of the great things you were working on. So, I'm excited that we can share that with the Ellevate community and I wanted to get started just with a little bit about you and how you came to become the founder of Hera Hub.
05:11 FH: Absolutely, well, it goes back to childhood, frankly. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, my dad has never worked for anybody else in his entire life, my mom is also an entrepreneur, and an artpreneur, I'd like to say, she now has a jewelry making business but I grew up in a pretty sort of rebellious environment, if you will, not kind of the traditional go work for somebody, get a college degree, all of that was really kind of foreign to me growing up, it was pave your own way and figure it out, be scrappy and gritty if you will. So I definitely seek that into my career and into my current business. I was the only one in my family has eight brothers and sisters to go to college, none the less, get a master's degree, eventually. So again, just took some different paths in my career.
06:15 FH: I spent my 20s working for mostly technology startups, I had a business degree, worked primarily in sales and marketing, and by age 30 had the pleasure of being laid off three times. Two of the companies that I worked for sold to larger companies and one ran out of money and so at age 30, just reflecting back on my entrepreneurial roots, I said, "You know what, I have to control my own destiny. I can't put my earning and my fate in somebody else's hands at this point." So I started a small business, I started a marketing strategy consulting company that I had for eight years called perspective marketing. And it was through that experience of working for myself by myself, no full-time employees only contractors for some of the projects I was doing for small mid-sized companies that really gave me ultimately the idea for Hera Hub back in 2010. Just feeling kinda isolated working from home, as most people do when they start their business, 'cause it's cost effective and convenient.
07:28 FH: But really missed over the years, having a sense of community. I was also running several professional women's organizations at the time and just always struggling to find workshop space, and event space and things of that nature. And so those two things coming together, me seeking more connection in my business, more sense of community in my business, along with running some of these groups, brought me to this concept of co-working spaces. Again back when most people didn't know what it was back in 2010.
08:03 KW: Wow. So I just have to go back to being one of eight siblings which blows. I'm one of four and eight it just blows my mind. But I wanna ask just about being the first to go to college because I think obviously as we're growing up in our connection with education and particularly higher education is driven a lot by our family. And so what were some of the catalysts for you to go to school and be a trailblazer, you started off being a trailblazer, doing things differently just within your own family. So how did that decision get made for you?
08:44 FH: Yeah, so my dad, when I was a junior in high school, came to me and said, "Look I've saved some money. You have three choices, you can put a down payment on a house, you can start a business or you can go to college, you pick." It was just a very matter of fact, this is your choice. I'll help you and support you but you've got several piles to choose from. And probably who I surrounded myself with, my friends, if you will, in high school, I guess I got lucky and was friends with kids that were on that college track. Their parents did push them to do that. And so ultimately, since that's what they were doing, I thought, "Well maybe I might give this a shot." I will tell you of my eight brothers and sisters, it's a very blended family. I'm an only child of my parents, and then I have step and half and adopted and all kinds of very interesting relationship with my brothers and sisters. So that also taught me a lot, to get along and connect with new people throughout my life. I got dropped in my lap literally brothers and sisters after age nine.
10:04 FH: So like a lot of folks, those things you reflect on them and you say, "Well, that made me who I am, and made me adaptable. I moved a lot, I had to make new friends a lot," and I appreciate that experience now. And I'm glad I took the path I did, frankly. Ironically, Kristy, now when I talk to high school students about going to college, I tell them it depends on what it is you wanna do... In entrepreneurship to be honest, and this is somebody who, I taught college for eight years, just as an adjunct while I had my prior business, I taught entrepreneurship, and marketing. And I tell a lot of folks, you can learn anything you want, wherever you want, whenever you want. This idea of having a degree anymore, specifically, in business, obviously if you wanna be a brain surgeon you need to go get a degree, but in business and entrepreneurship specifically, I tell kids don't put so much pressure on yourself, you can go learn it. A lot of it is grit and tenacity, and just being willing to go seek out the information. So I'm very much a fan of education, but I also believe there are many ways we can learn things in this day and age.
11:29 KW: Well, and so much of it as you're saying too is just those life experiences and you grow up during a time whether there's change and there's evolution, you talked about being laid off three times. And so, there's so much about how do we learn to adapt to situations to respond to them and that's important about being an entrepreneur as well, which is that type of as you said, grit to keep going. What... Do you have advice on that? I mean it's... How do we prepare ourselves for some of these unexpected situations and what has worked for you in terms of responding to them.
12:06 FH: Yeah, I like to say as an entrepreneur, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And if somebody is not comfortable with being uncomfortable, they may wanna consider not going that path frankly. I hate to say it, I wish everybody could be entrepreneurs, but it's not the path for everyone. And so again I feel like I just... I got lucky frankly and so that I grew up in a bit of a rebellious sometimes uncomfortable environment, and that taught me a lot to be scrappy, frankly. As an entrepreneur, I mean yes, great, everybody wants to go raise hundred million dollars to build their business, but the reality of that is... [chuckle] It frankly is very hard to do. [chuckle] And it's very rare to do. And so, my focus in business, both with my last, and then Hera Hub, which I'm happy to explain a little bit more of what that is, has been, "You know what? I'm gonna build a profitable business that sustains itself, and then I grow slowly and organically, instead of, spending an entire year of my life trying to go raise money for something that I believe should be able to be organically profitable, frankly."
13:29 KW: Yes, tell us about Hera Hub.
13:31 FH: Sure. So, just going back to 2010, having this need for myself and a lot of folks that I connected with, which were primarily women and female entrepreneurs, I saw and actually visited a number of co-working spaces throughout the country, again, this was really early on. This is basically the same year WeWork launched, which obviously has had explosive growth, and they have gone and raised a ton of money, which is great. But what I saw at the time is actually, Kristy, primarily what I still see is, in co-working spaces, many of which target kind of a techy market, if you will, which is heavily male dominated, still sadly today. And so you go into these spaces, and they're super cool and hip, and concrete floors and ping pong tables and beer kegs. And, you know, they're awesome spaces, but if you're an accomplished woman who has progressed through her career path, you may not find that environment the right environment for you, right? Cool in a jiff, but you might be looking for something a little more sophisticated. And truly, what we've done is create a co-working space and business accelerator that is truly focused on community. We always say, "We're community first and space second."
15:03 FH: So they're beautiful spaces. We call them "spa inspired co-working spaces." Running water, candles, soft music, nice lighting, very professional. And really a strong sense of connection, a ton of programming, events, networking opportunities. And then bringing back into my background and education, and ultimately teaching college for eight years, I bring in a ton of content really helping both early stage and mid-stage entrepreneurs take their business to the next level. So we bring in those weekend boot camps to launch a business. Weekend programming to really help build strategic road maps for entrepreneurs and then a lot of connections in between there.
15:54 KW: I was at your space in Phoenix, and I loved it. So everything you're saying I'm like, "Yes. I remember all of that." It was just...
16:01 KW: So calming, but in an incredibly positive way. It really helps you to clear your mind and focus. Where else do you have locations?
16:12 FH: Yeah. So we started in San Diego. And I built three locations here in Southern California in the first two years of business, 'cause there was a demand, and I knew eventually I wanted to build something that was bigger than myself. And so the best way to do that is build it and break it and build it again a few times over, and we did that. And then about three years ago we started expanding outside of San Diego. And so, as you noted, we have a location in Central Phoenix, we have a location in Washington DC, we have our first international location, that launched almost two years ago, in Sweden, just outside of Stockholm. And that was an exciting opportunity to take the brand international. [chuckle] Exciting and challenging all at the same time. We're expanding through a licensing model, because I'm not the woman to do it in Uppsala, Sweden or Washington DC or Phoenix. And so we continue to grow.
17:14 FH: We have a licensee who's building a community in Atlanta, Georgia right now. We have new spaces also opening up here in Southern California, Irvine, California. And then a smaller area emerging market called Temecula, California, it's on South Riverside County, it's our SoCal wine region, which I'm super excited about. And we have continued market assessments happening in a number of other cities as we continue to grow and expand, including Lagos, Nigeria. I have a husband and wife team there that is going through the steps of analyzing if this would be a good fit for them in their city? So, I'm excited for our continued growth. And really along the lines of our mission, which is the support of over 20,000 women in the launch, and growth of their business by the end of 2020. And I'm excited to say we're well over half way there.
18:11 KW: I love it. It's so exciting.
18:14 FH: Yes.
18:15 KW: Congratulations. I know you put a lot of passion and a lot of heart into this, and it's great to just see businesses succeed like this.
18:27 FH: Thank you.
18:28 KW: I hear often times from women, "I don't have anything to offer." Who just don't see that in themselves or maybe lack the confidence. Do you have advice and thoughts on that on how we can really harness what makes us so unique and so valuable to our community?
18:44 FH: Oh yeah. That breaks my heart when I hear that. Because of course we all have so much that we can give. And I've certainly heard that from women from time to time, but we all have incredible talents and it's just a matter of getting yourself in the right community perhaps, where you can be around folks that can help you see that. So, yeah. Again, that breaks my heart when I hear somebody say that, and I would challenge them. We all have something to give. It's sometimes again, just a matter of being in the right environment that you feel comfortable and confident to really open up. I think that's a big part of it in some spaces and communities you might feel like, you don't fit in, so to speak. And I think women sometimes have been challenged with that over our career, if you will, is do we fit in, are we in the right culture where we can feel comfortable to step up and ask, sometimes questions that I hear this all the time from women, "I don't wanna ask a dumb question," I'm like, "Oh my gosh, there are no dumb questions." Entrepreneurship is so challenging and when you're doing it by yourself, it's almost impossible. So just stepping into that right community and that's where, Ellevate, I have been so blessed to connect with such an awesome community here in San Diego. We host quite a number of the events for Ellevate and it's just such a warm, welcoming community. It's been an important part of my growth.
20:24 KW: Thank you for saying that.
20:25 FH: Of course.
20:27 KW: I think so too, so I appreciate it.
20:28 FH: Yeah.
20:30 KW: Let's talk about men for a minute. Hera Hub it's a work space for women, but we do know that it takes a full village to create change and support and what role do men play in the ecosystem around community and women in entrepreneurship?
20:50 FH: Absolutely, I'd like to say, just because we are pro-women doesn't mean we are anti-male and we do have men in our community, we say we are female-focused, but do welcome men, who both enjoy the environment and also wanna be supportive of women. To your point, we need men to be part of the conversation. Excluding men entirely is not the answer. So my answer to this was create a space that is warm and welcoming and frankly feel safe for women, an environment where they can ask all the questions that they want, they can be up and invulnerable to say, "I don't know what I'm doing, I need help." And then, inviting men into that very open authentic environment to be part of that conversation. And the men that have stepped into that, love it. Frankly, they find it extremely refreshing. I've talked to men and they're like, "Wow, I wish men would operate this way and in supporting each other, this is incredible." So again, we have male members, our clients are men, our partners are men. We have men in the space on a daily basis, and kind of the connotation is let's build our own board room and invite them to be part of our community, so they can see a slightly different approach to business.
22:20 KW: I love that, that makes such and total sense. So I know this is kind of a random question, but something I think about all the time, I know you do travel. Many of us are traveling a bit for work and you also really appreciate finding those places where you can be, that are more calming, that are really soothing and good for the soul. So what are some of the tips you take advantage of when you're traveling, and is this, is Hera Hub some a place that women can tap into when they're traveling as well?
23:00 FH: Yes, absolutely, it's a place they can tap into. So definitely I guess on that, for me, personally, it's about balance and integration all at the same time. For me, integration is kind of the extension of balance. In other words, I do travel a lot. I was just in the Philippines, launching a new program for our members to connect them with virtual assistant support in the Philippines, for example. And for me, it's important to take my healthy habits with me. I'm a runner and so running wherever I go, luckily, just out my front door and exploring where I am and meeting new people and experiencing new cultures is important to me. So just bringing those habits that really have kept me sane in growing my business over the years, and running is a major part of that. And then also taking a little down time to pamper yourself once in a while. When I was in the Philippines, I went and got a facial and my hair blown out once or twice when I was there. So just that balance between that personal time and taking that time for yourself. I think my lucky, lucky, lucky secret sauce is, I sleep incredibly well. I'm a great sleeper and so I think that really affects obviously the rest of how we operate is if we have enough sleep.
24:37 KW: As someone who does not sleep very well, I'm incredibly jealous and I can, yes, I'm sure that that is a contributing factor too, to keeping the energy level up because it can be tough when you don't sleep well. So what's next for you, what's going on, what are you excited about?
24:58 FH: Yeah, I'm excited about this virtual assistant program we just launched connecting US female entrepreneurs with support in the Philippines specifically. I'm excited about our continued growth and to new cities and the international interest, frankly as well that we've received, as I mentioned before, we have a market assessment going in Lagos, Nigeria. I just had a call with a woman in Hong Kong last week. I have a woman in Karachi, Pakistan who is thinking about going through that market assessment program. So I'm just excited to connect with women not only here in the US, but also globally, and that's really what we're trying to do with Hera Hub is build bridges helping women connect city-to-city and country-to-country for new opportunity and growth in their business.
25:51 KW: Excellent, well, thanks so much Felena for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast, it was really great to hear your story and I'm truly inspired by all the work that you're doing.
26:00 FH: Thank you for the opportunity, Kristy.
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