The Collaborative Spirit Inside RISE: A Conversation
We sat down in St. Louis with RISE Collaborative Workspace founder Stacy Taubman and her COO Kate Wiegmann, and nearly 30 minutes passed before either sipped the cocktails they ordered pre-interview. They were far too busy talking to drink. And what they were talking about may have far more positive consequences than even they predict.
When RISE opens in early 2017, 15 founding members and 150 “drop-ins” will gather every day to work side by side, individually but also together, pursuing their own business goals and bottom lines with a cooperative spirit heretofore unseen at co-working sites. How that will happen—and how RISE hopes to foster even more growth for women not yet in the workforce—is best explained in Taubman and Wiegmann’s own words.
Stacy Taubman: I was a high school math teacher and left to start Girls Dreaming Big, a tutoring and coaching company for teenage girls to receive mentoring and guidance from successful women in business. I started by having coffee with local women, just to understand how they became successful—over 300 women in this area. I needed to know how to guide young women who wanted to pursue industries unlike my own. And all these women I interviewed wanted to help give back.
Kate Wiegmann: We didn’t get here alone. No woman can say, “I did this all by myself.” Every one successful woman has a mentor who helped and inspired her and showed her things about herself that she didn’t already know. And we all want to make this possible for young women on the same path. When we open with 150 to 200 members,
Stacy: We want to make it easier for the next generation. We don’t want them to have to make our mistakes or take as long as it took us to figure things out. So, I learned that. I also learned that women want the ability to collaborate. They feel lonely working alone. I started touring co-working spaces downtown and got really jazzed up about them but still thought, ‘This just doesn’t work for me for a variety of reasons.’ Whether it was the age bracket, the community culture—
Kate: It’s super trendy for co-working spaces now to have kegerators and pingpong tables, but those aren’t necessarily great when you’re 30-plus and established.
Stacy: That’s what led to RISE. I want to be around really impressive, established people. I hated working from home. I didn’t realize when I was teaching that the classroom was my office.
Kate: There are great perks to working independently, but working in an office gives you a reason to get dressed in the morning. It gives you opportunities to brainstorm. RISE is this niche, boutique community. We’re trying to create an environment for women who are not currently being served in the marketplace.
Stacy: I kicked things off with a party for 50 or 60 people in Dec. 2015. Everything for the party—from marketing to food and alcohol—was donated by women business owners. They wanted to help because the idea resonated with them. And I was like, “We’re opening in Jan. 2016!” [Laughs] If I had known how hard it would be, or how much time this would take, I might not have done it. I needed to have that pie-in-the-sky outlook to make RISE happen.
Kate: It takes grit to open a business.
Stacy: I’ve been lucky. I’ve been living this mission since I started in Dec. 2014. No one is successful by herself, and so many people have come to the table to make this a reality. While it’s a vision in my head, I don’t have all the skills to execute the vision. Mary Jo Gorman, for example, agreed to mentor me once a month for two hours, provided I showed up and did my homework. Maxine Clark has been my devil’s advocate and helped me create a viable business model. Their help was game-changing.
Another example: I had no clue what it took to raise capital. I was a high school math teacher! I didn’t have the financial capability to do this on my own. I met with an early investor who suggested a crowd-funding site because you have to have capital to raise capital. Our Indiegogo page raised $20,000.
Kate: Another thing that is really cool about what we’re doing is that we’re trying to live and model what we’re supporting, which is collaborating with the women who will work at RISE. That leads us to the topic of location. In our market research we learned that downtown—where all the other co-working spaces have opened—is just not convenient for a lot of working women.
One of our members is in marketing. She lives in Wildwood. The commute for her from home to downtown is not practical for every day. But she has a lot of clients in the central corridor. RISE Collaborative will be close to Clayton, close to the airport and close to suburbs throughout the metro area. It might not be right for the people who want to be in co-working spaces downtown, but for our niche, it’s perfect.
Stacy: I’ve done so much market research. It’s taken so long, and my ego doesn’t like that, but the time has given me the opportunity to find out what women really want from their work spaces.
Kate: We have different levels of membership to cater to different needs. Unlimited coffee and tea. A formal boardroom, a classroom. Yoga and Pilates classes. The rooms that get the most feedback are small rooms with comfy chairs and not much else—so a woman can have a private phone conversation without hiding in her car or whispering at her desk or so a new mom can breast-feed her baby.
We also have a few true offices with desks and doors to close if you need to take a meeting. In addition to having the brick-and-mortar offerings, we’ve got a dynamic collection of people involved who can help one another reach their business goals.
Stacy: One woman who became a drop-in member works for LinkedIn. I’m obsessed with her. One of the reasons she wants to be a member is to give back by showing fellow members how to maximize their LinkedIn profiles and grow their businesses on the platform. I am so excited to learn about how to use all that data.
We also planned a day with Emily Miller, the local makeup artist and now a drop-in member, on which she’ll do makeup and a photographer will take headshots for a $75 flat rate. These small services will make a big impact.
Kate: When I moved here [from South Carolina in 2014], I tried to make it on my own as a freelance marketing consultant. Then I took a shitty cubicle job. It was soul-sucking. That reminded me that I needed something for myself. So I left to freelance again, but the isolation was crippling. I’m not from St. Louis, and even though I know a lot of people, I didn’t have those deep roots that this city is built on. RISE creates that community for me.
Stacy: We harness the power of collaboration. It’s a crappy road to try to travel by yourself, and we make it possible to achieve major goals. Even creating RISE has been a study in collaboration. I couldn’t have done this without Kate, who helps me communicate in ways that aren’t natural for me.
Kate: I feel like I’ve known Stacy forever now. And it’s true; I came in with a different perspective and the ability to tell Stacy, not just when her baby was ugly, but how with the right products we could make it cute again. [Laughs]
Stacy: Too often women don’t have those conversations because we’re taught to be nice. But RISE fosters a climate for having those conversations honestly. We spent a lot of time thinking about our manifesto to make sure we’re drawing in women who get it and share similar values. Plus, we’re still engaging teens in the space through tutoring and coaching and student memberships. Our nonprofit RISE Society will oversee internships and need-based scholarships.
Kate: Had RISE existed when I moved here, I would have joined in a heartbeat. It could have changed my career over these past two years. And I’m our target market. We want to grow; we want to pull in new talent that maybe didn’t grow up in St. Louis but still want a close community of successful women.
Photos courtesy of RISE Collaborative Workspace.