Felena Hanson: Growing A Community of Female Entrepreneurs Through Coworking Spaces

In the wake of a devastating pandemic that hit in 2020, many coworking spaces around the world were forced to close their doors. However, Hera Hub founder Felena Hanson powered through.

This San Diego entrepreneur has made it her mission to help thousands of women start and grow their businesses.

Hera Hub, launched in 2011, is a shared workplace and business accelerator for female entrepreneurs with a spa-inspired design. For entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their business in an alternative setting away from the office and in a more productive environment, this flexible work and meeting space can help make it happen. The hub provides them the support they need in order to be prosperous, all while connecting like-minded business owners.

She has established three successful locations and is now using a licensing model to expand across the United States. Felena and Hera Hub have been featured in publications like Inc Magazine, Forbes, the New York Times, and the BBC News.

Prior to starting her own business

Felena is a seasoned businesswoman and marketing expert. She spent her twenties working for both digital marketing companies and technology start-ups and has worked with clients like DirecTV, Epson, CNN, and Union Bank.

Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, she knew she always wanted to become an entrepreneur. But before founding her own business, she was the Director of Marketing for a technology company until it was acquired by America Online in 2003.

“That’s when I said, ‘You know what? I need to control my own destiny.’ And so I launched a marketing consulting business and marketing strategy consulting business.”

A common route for entrepreneurs would be taking a skillset they learned in corporate and using that same talent in creating a service-based business. “It’s cheap, easy to get started, no employees. I had contractors over the course of eight years, but no full-time employees.”

Running a business on your own is cost-effective because it doesn’t require much overhead. You get to set the hours, and decide who you work with and where. But on the downside, Felena mentioned that working alone could feel isolating sometimes.

It turns out that this was something many entrepreneurs had felt too. That’s when she decided to look into coworking spaces.

Creating Hera Hub

After eight years of operating a marketing strategy company from her home, Felena knew she needed to find a flexible, affordable location where she could get away from the isolation and everyday interruptions.

She was delighted to discover the idea of coworking and shared office space, but discovered that the majority of the current venues were created for different audiences– primarily tech startups or young men.

“I was leading a couple [of] professional women’s organizations at the time and decided that there needed to be a space for women by women,” Felena said. “When women get into environments where they feel safe, they feel comfortable, they feel like it’s okay to be vulnerable and say, ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I need help.’”

As a female entrepreneur, I’ve also found out that it’s important for me to feel safe in both my professional and personal life. For this reason alone, when women need environments where they are free from judgment or ridicule, it allows them to open up more readily about their struggles. 

That has been the focus of Hera Hub – creating something which would encourage these feelings. “Safe, supportive setting for women to launch, to learn, to grow, to support each other.”

Uniqueness in their spaces

The Hera Hub spaces are known to have a spa-inspired atmosphere and collaborative setting. Unlike other coworking spaces that tend to concentrate on replicating typical office spaces, Hera Hub’s locations were designed to benefit the five senses and create a zen environment.

“The atmosphere is different,” Felena said. “It’s warm, it’s welcoming. You almost feel like you’re in somebody’s home to some extent.”

She mentioned that a lot of their members are working in the caregiving industry, like marriage and family therapists and hospice care companies. “The idea is to come and have this quiet, beautiful, productive workspace.” By and large, their members also consist of solopreneurs, attorneys, CPAs, people in marketing, and nonprofit organizations.

What also makes Hera Hub unique from other coworking spaces that consist mostly of either private space or open space is that it offers private meeting rooms that can be rented by the hour. Membership costs $200 for a month, but it’s flexible.

“They’re not here all day. They want to work from home. There’s a day they want to work from a coffee shop. There’s a day they’re on-site or whatever it might be. So having to commit to full-time space is not a fit for most of our members.”

Licensing model

Since Hera Hub’s establishment in 2011, it has launched three locations in San Diego and California and has recently started expanding internationally through a collaborative licensing model. Additionally, it has licensed communities in DC, Irvine, and Temecula, with more cities expected to launch soon.

“We chose licensing because I’m not the woman to launch this in San Francisco or Washington DC. It is very much the leader of that community,” she stated. They value the fact that the host is also a business owner who can understand and relate to the needs of her members.

An entire package is provided to a licensee through the Hera Hub Collective Model. This includes finding the right real estate, negotiating a lease, setting up the fixtures and equipment, pre-launch marketing, and more.

“Everything gets set up for them and is maintained for them so they can truly focus on community building and really connecting with the women in their city, versus having to worry about software integrations, breaking and software updates, and new processes that are being implemented.”

Felena sees this as an opportunity for women in every city to connect with one another. Now her goal is to continue expanding that platform for women to connect from country to country.

If you want to hear more of our in-depth discussion about Hera Hub’s unique licensing model and her growth strategy for the company, tune in to her episode on the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast.

Transcript from Podcast

[00:00:00] Felena Hanson: And again, those smaller businesses where a lot of other coworking spaces, especially we work, that’s not their market. They want the tech teams, they want the larger organizations and that’s great, but we’re helping that part of the market that’s being ignored by most other coworking spaces.

[00:00:18] Natasha Miller: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

If you’d like to know how to scale and grow your business and make more profits. Sign up on my website, natashamiller.co to get on the wait list for my entrepreneurial master’s course.

Today, we’ll hear from Felena Hanson, the founder of Hera Hub, the first international female focused coworking space and business accelerator. Now let’s get right into it.

[00:01:10] Felena Hanson: I founded Hub Hub because I saw a gap in the market and a need in the market. So my background is in sales and marketing. I spent my twenties working for primarily tech startups and had the good privilege to get laid off three times by the age of 30.

And I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and I feel like at that point, my dad was, “You need to go out on your own.” So I started my first business at age 30 and a lot of folks do and women specifically. I started a business that took my skillsets, which at the time was marketing. My last position was director of marketing for a technology company.

And the reason why I lost that position is the company sold to, you may remember this and certainly dating myself, America Online bought the company. This is back in 2003. And so that’s when I said, “You know what? I need to control my own destiny.” And so I launched a marketing consulting business and marketing strategy consulting business.

And again, a lot of entrepreneurs will take a skillset they learned in corporate and parlay that into a service-based business. It’s cheap, easy to get started. No employees. I had contractors over the course of eight years, but no full-time employees. And I worked out of my house, which as we record this, of course, everybody works out of their house.

But at that point, so a lot of small business owners did as well, no need to have the overhead and it’s convenient, cost-effective, but it’s isolating. And for folks over the last 16 months or wherever we’re at here, I’m sure they can relate to that. And so I started to look into this world of coworking spaces back in 2010 for my business, the trend grew out of San Francisco, as many would argue and everything I saw was mostly dudes and hooded sweatshirts and headphones and super hip and cool, and a beer keg and a ping pong table.

But at that point in my life, I was not cool, frankly. I just started to look at again, this coworking movement. I was leading a couple professional women’s organizations at the time and decided that there needed to be a space for women by women. Ultimately, before we launched, we went with the female focus model, not exclusive to women because creating a space for women isn’t about excluding men.

It’s not anti-male in any way, shape or form. It’s just pro women. And when women get into environments where they feel safe, they feel comfortable, they feel like it’s okay to be vulnerable and say, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I need help.”

This is hard sometimes. But some of us aren’t as willing to do that in a co-ed environment. And so that has been the focus of the brand. Safe, supportive setting for women to launch, to learn, to grow, to support each other. So we launched our first location 10 years ago. Over 10 years ago.

Now we were the first female focus space in the us to expand nationally. So we’ve been doing this for a long time in the coworking sort of ecosystem. If you will, we have six locations currently I’m looking to grow. We’re poised to grow in 2021 and beyond. So far in the last 10 years, we’ve helped over 13,000 women, either in the launch or the growth of their business through Hera Hub and some of the other projects and programs I’ve done.

Like my book, The Flight Club book, and a e-course that I developed called Steps to Start Up Walking Entrepreneurs, the 17 foundational steps to get their business off the ground.

[00:04:59] Natasha Miller: Okay. That’s a lot and I love it. I love it all. The first question that comes to mind was I was one of the first members of the WeWork in San Francisco that you spoke of.

And I’m wondering, did WeWork and Rosie the Riveter, were they bolstering your business or hindering it at any point. Was that a help?

[00:05:21] Felena Hanson: Yeah. So two different equations there. You’re speaking about the Riveter or the female? Yeah. So the Riveter came along much later, both The Wing and The Riveter launched in 2016, right around when Mr. Trump came into office, it was very timely to say F you to men a little bit at that point. But the short answer is they were great for business, especially WeWork cause we were expecting. Now we know like billions seemingly on marketing and getting their name out there.

Because when I started, we launched our first location, we did a pop-up space, April, 2011. People didn’t know what coworking was, I had to educate them and that’s hard. So thank God for WeWork, cause they spent a ton of money on it.

[00:06:10] Natasha Miller: Yeah, absolutely. It’s like they were advertising for you.

[00:06:14] Felena Hanson: Exactly. And people would go to WeWork and then they would come to me and be like, oh, I had a woman joined today. She was in WeWork in San Francisco. She’s in public policy. She’s doing her master’s degree at Harvard right now. She’s this rockstar woman. She walked in, she was like, “I was at WeWork oh my gosh. I see, like in two seconds, the difference. It’s an entirely different environment.”

[00:06:37] Natasha Miller: Your environment, you and the people that go there relate it to a spa-like environment. I’m thinking. You better get yourself open up here in San Francisco. Or I see there’s licensing opportunities. So what is the difference?

What’s the atmosphere beside, I’m assuming you don’t have a tapped keg, which WeWork doesn’t have anymore.

[00:07:02] Felena Hanson: Yes, I understand. So yes, the atmosphere is different. It’s warm, it’s welcoming. You almost feel like you’re in somebody’s home to some extent. And in regards to just the furnishings and things of that nature.

People walk in and they’re like, “Wow. I feel like I’m in a spa.” And that’s the idea is to come and have this quiet, beautiful, productive workspace. And a lot of our members are helping other people. They’re marriage and family therapists, they’re hospice care companies. Lots of folks that are in that caregiving industry.

And one of my favorite testimonials from one of my members who helps folks in senior care management, she said, “My client walked in and I could tell their blood pressure just dropped by whatever number of notches, because they’re in a stressful situation trying to find a home and caregiver or this woman’s mother.”

And just being in that environment where you feel comfortable and it’s hard to articulate. It’s hard to duplicate to some extent, but I feel proud that’s what our members say, but really it’s the community and support. And I know every coworking space as community, but I think we define it. We’re doing 15 to 20 hours a week of programming.

We have something for everybody.

[00:08:20] Natasha Miller: That’s a lot. If you haven’t been in a co-working situation, you may not understand the work that goes behind programming. I know for myself, when I was at WeWork, there was some programming, but it wasn’t consistent. It wasn’t branded. It’s kind of like, oh, this person’s going to do something.

This person’s going to do something. And it was nothing you can count on. I’m wondering so many things. So in your locations, are women able to have their own enclosed office or is it all open air? Is it various levels?

[00:08:54] Felena Hanson: Oh, yeah, so we have some private offices, but unlike WeWork, which is 90% private office and 10% open space, or like 90% open space or flex space, we have private meeting rooms that folks can rent by the hour.

So in a footprint, we have smaller footprints as well. So in a typical footprint, we’ll have four to six offices. And it speaks to our target audience too. We’re not incubating the next tech startup. I have some tech entrepreneurs in the community, but they joined for different reasons.

So we’re not, while I say that and I have a software company that builds products for medical device industries and they have 25 members, but female led. And they’ll come in for team meetings and things of that nature. But by and large, our members are solopreneurs or attorneys or CPAs or folks in marketing. They’re nonprofit organizations.

And so they value that flexibility. On average, a member is paying about $200 a month for a membership, but it’s flexible, right? So they’re not here all day. They want to work from home. There’s a day they want to work from a coffee shop. There’s a day they’re on client site or whatever it might be. And so having to commit to full-time space is not a fit for most of our members.

[00:10:09] Natasha Miller: So I’m interested on the licensing model and I’d like you to talk about the licensing model that you have and explain the difference between licensing and franchising. Yeah.

[00:10:22] Felena Hanson: Yeah. It’s a fine line. The quick of it is there’s more flexibility in a licensing model. We chose licensing because I’m not the woman to launch this in San Francisco or Washington DC. It is very much the leader of that community. And again, it’s community first and space second. It’s important to us that that woman is an entrepreneur as well, that she is walking in the shoes of her members.

And she can say, “Yeah, I went through that. Here’s how I handled it. I feel you, let me help you. Let me connect you.” And that’s been proven over the last six years that we’ve been licensing. That connection is really important. And again, when opportunity for a woman who is probably already a leader and a connector in her community to build that solid foundation with a brand system and model that’s been built and broke and built and broke a dozen times over and then can tap their members into all of our programming as well.

Like I said, 15 to 20 hours a week. So we have member affinity groups called sub hubs. We have daily virtual coworking. We have mentoring, we have accountability groups. A lot of it is member led, but it is very cohesive and it runs like German trains where it’s like on the clock, you were there, someone’s there to support you.

We do global challenges where we’re helping members push through certain aspects of their business might be video or writing or marketing sales, for example. It is important for us to build that community locally, but then tie the community together. And that’s been the silver lining as we all have a silver lining of COVID. That has been one of the silver linings, pulling all that together online.

We’ve seen so many connections from members, city to city. My vision is to continue to expand, to create that platform for women, not only to connect city to city, but also country to country. We did have a location in Sweden. Unfortunately, our licensee there has three children at home that she had to distance learn with for a year.

And it’s impossible to run a co-working space and do that at the same time. But we do have our sights set on other countries. I got to lead just this afternoon from a woman in Mexico who filled out a form on our website. So we have a niche market, right? It is women. And again, those smaller businesses where a lot of other coworking spaces, especially WeWork, that’s not their market.

They want the tech teams, they want the larger organizations and that’s great. We’re helping that part of the market that’s being ignored by most other coworking spaces.

[00:13:03] Natasha Miller: What does a licensee get from you? So when we talk about your venues, they’re spa-like, is there color palette? Is there specific furniture buys? What is it that a licensee gets in order to create this brand feel?

[00:13:23] Felena Hanson: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s everything from start to finish. It’s how to find the right real estate, how to negotiate a lease, how to build out all the furniture, fixtures, and equipment. Yes, definitely to color palette and how to build a community.

All the marketing that goes into pre-launch of a space, all the systems, all the software, all the integration. Everything gets set up for them and is maintained for them so they can truly focus on community building and really connecting with the women in their city, versus having to worry about software integrations, breaking and software updates, and new processes that are being implemented. That really takes that off there.

[00:14:06] Natasha Miller: So if a female entrepreneur is listening to this in a city where there isn’t a Hera Hub, are they able to participate?

[00:14:14] Felena Hanson: Good question. Yeah, we do have a virtual membership. It’s just $89 a month and they can participate in all our virtual programming. They pick a home location that is closest to them and they can engage in that location when they’re in town.

So for example, if a woman was in Baltimore, obviously, she’s not going to head into Washington DC on a daily basis, but she could join that location, participate in all the virtual programming, be part of the network, so to speak. And then if she does go into DC now, and again, she could utilize the meeting rooms and things of that nature.

[00:14:49] Natasha Miller: Lovely. I just love the model. And as I hear more and more about it, it’s more intriguing. I’m going to assume that San Francisco real estate is..

[00:14:59] Felena Hanson: Just the tricky..

[00:15:00] Natasha Miller: It’s a challenge.

[00:15:01] Felena Hanson: It is. And that is the tricky part. We haven’t targeted in New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco for that reason. Now COVID has changed the game a little bit in commercial real estate.

To be honest, we’re looking at some strategic alliances with other coworking spaces, frankly, who have a sense of community and really need that support structure underneath our roof for female entrepreneurs. So we’ve been talking to some folks about that. And I think it’s a good model of, yes space and we create beautiful spaces, but the more important piece of the puzzle is the education mentoring and community.

So how can we achieve that in a city without necessarily, you know, have to have a licensee dropped down a couple hundred thousand dollars to get a space open.

[00:15:46] Natasha Miller: I can’t even tell you of the challenges, but I’m sure somebody will come through. And it might even be me. I can’t say that I can’t start any more businesses today.

[00:15:57] Felena Hanson: But it’s a good platform for folks that maybe have an existing business. Maybe they’re a business coach, so they’re doing some sort of consulting and marketing strategist. Someone who may be as a solopreneur has a small team who does want that physical platform under what they’re doing is a leader is a connector.

It’s that person that is like, “oh, my gosh that I just met somebody new and you have to know you and then bring them together right away.” It’s that kind of person that gets really excited about that. And it gives them not only that physical platform, but that reoccurring revenue. So it’s a membership model, like all co-working most coworking spaces.

And I know as somebody who ran a marketing business for eight years, your income is like, you get a big project and then it goes away and then you get a new again. So it’s a bit of a rollercoaster. And so this is a nice base, so to speak.

[00:16:53] Natasha Miller: For your team, so your employees and the people that you depend on day-to-day and working on these projects with you, what keeps them motivated and what moves the needle for them?

Is it money? Is it bonuses? Is it the conscious, I just interviewed a guy earlier about Conscious Capitalism and it was interesting to hear from him.

[00:17:15] Felena Hanson: Yeah. We actually host the Conscious Capitalism group and our space for their chair and their board meetings. It’s a great network. It’s really the people that we support.

 It’s Christine Higgins who was in here today. One of the lead attorneys at Sony Electronics for years and said, “I’m done with corporate.” She now has a diversity and inclusion business, and she does training for corporations. And she showed up on our doorstep.

She said, “I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never started a business. I used to pick up extension three and had Tom come down and fix my computer down the hall. Like that doesn’t happen anymore. Like I need support.” And so it’s those stories and those women that we’re helping build a livelihood, build their own brand, their own story, their own wealth.

And it drives me. And I know it drives the team as well.

[00:18:04] Natasha Miller: I can imagine that, I think feeling that you had a part of somebody else’s success. I know for me, when I help somebody succeed, it feels more impactful to me than if I have a success on my own. And it’s taken me some years and time to get to that realization.

It was happening before, but I wasn’t really focusing on it.

[00:18:28] Felena Hanson: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:18:30] Natasha Miller: So what is your growth strategy and what were you really thinking of focusing on this year to continue the growth?

[00:18:40] Felena Hanson: Yeah, the growth strategy is through what I mentioned a few minutes ago is more strategic alliances with other larger spaces that have this void. They have a programming void. They have a void in really supporting female entrepreneurs. I do have men in my community. It’s a small percentage, but we say female focused, but gender inclusive. And for those coworking spaces, those early stage entrepreneurs.

And again, that’s where really is our sweet spot. They’re hard to help. They’re needy. They need a lot of support. So our events and programming and gurus and sub hubs and all the things we do really. I support that individual as they launch their business or they step out into consulting or things of that nature.

And so we’re continuing, we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback so far and we’re continuing to look for those fits, even if it’s not a forever home for us, at least as a start in a particular city. It’s a great way to enter a city, have a chance to connect with the community there, build the brand.

And then if the licensee, at some point decides they want to maybe move into their own space, they can do that, but it’s a really good way to get started.

[00:19:55] Natasha Miller: Speaking of needing this and people needing a lot of help, I like to on the show, show our listeners that even successful well modeled entrepreneurial endeavors are not without challenges.

So every day there’s a challenge. It can be monumental and very stressful. It can be just continuous or it can just be that little thing that’s nagging you. So today in your business, what is the number one challenge that you’re facing as the leader of this incredible model?

[00:20:29] Felena Hanson: COVID. People not wanting to get, people being afraid to get in with groups of people. And it’s two steps forward and one step back right now, right? We’re all vaccinated, I’m vaccinated and I’m sure you’re vaccinated. Everybody I know is vaccinated because those are the circles we run in.

But even folks that I know are vaccinated have. Okay. We’re good. And then they started to pull back. I run a physical location where people get together and we’ve had events planned. I’m preaching to the choir Natasha, yeah. The beginning of the summer we were like, okay, we’re optimistic. And then oh, what’s going on here?

I see light at the end of the tunnel and we have a lot of conversations around mental health and why we need people in person and why you need to be able to hug somebody every once in a while or shake their hand.

It’s different. We know that. And you know that, so that’s the biggest challenge. And I don’t want to say the jury’s out because I don’t want to say that, frankly, we’re still not out of the woods.

[00:21:32] Natasha Miller: Did COVID bring in more interested people for your virtual offerings at all? Did COVID help your business in any sense?

[00:21:43] Felena Hanson: Great question. Okay.

[00:21:45] Natasha Miller: Not the disease itself, but the symptoms.

[00:21:49] Felena Hanson: Yeah. There’s movements, right? Like a movement and how we think, how we work. This idea that everybody is working from home and loads of surveys have been done about how 20 somethings and 30 somethings never want to go back to the office and they’re quitting their job.

There’s so much movement. And any pandemic or any huge seismic, I know I’m repeating myself duplicative words here, but like, how do you explain the magnitude? You haven’t been through this. I haven’t been through this. No one’s been through this. These seismic shifts and how we work and who we work with and why we work.

How do we bring meaning to work, you know, have brought light to coworking and the idea that all day every day in your house, isn’t there a situation all day, every day in the office, isn’t the right situation. It’s all about choice and flexibility. So I just wrote an article for hr.com on this very topic.

We’ve coined in coworking, we’ve said the third workplace forever, but now everybody’s picking up on it. And I think there is a big role for coworking spaces. And I think the future is bright for coworking spaces.

[00:22:59] Natasha Miller: Right? So you may not have felt that impact in the last 18, 19, 20 and counting months, but perhaps it will lead to a big surge once we are feeling safer, which is really exciting to think about.

And there’s no way to know there’s no way to forecast, but I think in a couple of years, as we look back. That’s when we’ll know what this did to us all.

[00:23:27] Felena Hanson: Yeah. For better and for worse. Yes, exactly. And the writings on the wall. I think again, coworking spaces will play a big part in just how we work in the future.

[00:23:37] Natasha Miller: So future is bright. Next couple months, continue to like hang on.

Felena gave us a glimpse inside her brilliant business model, talked about the various programming she creates for community, and how she’s scaling via a licensing call. For more information about Felena, go to the show notes for your listening to this podcast.

For more information about me, go to my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe also, if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

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