City Life

A vision takes shape: columnist looks to become an entrepreneur like the ones she's written about

Brennan Nardi looks to create a coworking space

Editor's Note: This is the fifth and final column in a series about UpStart, a free entrepreneurship program for women and people of color supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF.

The idea of being my own boss has always appealed to me. Don't get me wrong — I've had my share of inspiring bosses who've mentored and molded me into a better person and professional. For that I'm grateful. But hanging around with entrepreneurs for the last few years while writing this column has influenced my thinking about risks and rewards. 

I've seen startups rocket to the top of their sector while others took to the skies and then quickly lost momentum. There have been a lot of pivots, too — those that shoot for the stars, realize their true destination and land on solid, fertile ground that will sustain and fulfill them for decades to come.

Joining the UpStart entrepreneurial training program for women and people of color was a way to put my own fascination with risk and reward to the test. Purely out of fear of failure, risk-averse Brennan decided not to pursue her rocketship idea and opted for a lifestyle startup that would allow her to be her own boss without losing her mind — and maybe all her money.

After 10 weeks of workshopping the idea — a dog-friendly coworking space where I can run a freelance writing and editing business — it was time to circle back to UpStart curriculum designer and director of the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center Michelle Somes-Booher for a reality check. She owned a paint-your-own-pottery business way back when, which gives her real-world experience to draw on, too.

Somes-Booher says UpStart's core strengths are in meeting people where they are, helping them think through what they need and providing them with the resources to continue the momentum after they graduate. Somes-Booher says I need to do more research on customer relationships, one of the nine building blocks of the Business Model Canvas. 

The canvas is a one-page roadmap that visually explains your business model so that you can quickly identify the resources you'll need to provide value to your customers. Or, in her words, "Get out there and start making things."

More specifically, Somes-Booher encouraged me to focus on the market saturation rate and the kind of value coworkers might place on being able to take their dog to work. 

Depending on my findings, I may or may not need to write a full-on business plan.

Her final piece of advice: "Pick something and start working on it. If the first step isn't blatantly obvious, there are probably three things you should be working on, so just pick one and go for it. It's better than just thinking about it."

Since I wrote an article on coworking last year, I decided to call Tiffanie Mark, who owns Matrix Coworking as well as a coworking consulting firm that operates internationally. (Yes, she is a badass.) 

"It's growing ridiculously," Mark says. "This industry is literally changing almost by the day."

Not exactly sure if this was good news or bad, I asked Mark about the value my dog-friendly business model might bring to the coworking customer. "There's still a lot of room for new concepts," she says. "Chairs, desks and Wi-Fi aren't enough anymore."

She encouraged me to consider partnerships with other businesses, such as pet groomers and veterinarian clinics. She said I should connect with those people first and build my vision around their expertise. 

"One of the problems with coworking is that it's so easy to have a big vision and pull together the bottom version of that," she says. "In your case it would be about focusing on the intentional design and making sure that niche portion of it is built outright from the start. That's part of your opening strategy."

Mark also mentioned a Coworking Academy for people like me that she's helping launch in Poland this fall. 

"Hey, Siri," I ask. "How much is a flight to Warsaw?"

Brennan Nardi, a former editor of Madison Magazine, is transitioning from startup columnist to startup creator. This is her last Startup City column, which launched nearly four years ago in January 2016. 


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