Felena Hanson: Entrepreneur, Superwoman & The Brains Behind 'Hera Hub'
Golden Money had the opportunity to sit down with tech superwoman Felena Hanson. A savvy entrepreneur, empowering supporter of women’s rights, and overall, wonderful hardworking lady, Hanson is the epitome of a girlboss, and a true inspiration to us, and women everywhere. Check out our Q&A below and get to know the brains behind the innovative startup that is Hera Hub.
Tell us about your company and how the idea came to mind.
Hera Hub is a co-working space and business accelerator where entrepreneurial women can create and collaborate in a professional, productive, spa-like environment. The platform provides members with connections to other business experts, access to educational workshops, and visibility within the community... thus giving them the support they need to be prosperous.
The company was founded in San Diego, CA in 2011. They have three locations in Southern California and are expanding internationally through a collaborative licensing model. There are now additional communities in Phoenix, AZ, Washington, DC, and Stockholm, Sweden, with more sites coming soon! Through this expansion, Hera Hub is on a mission to support over 20,000 women in the launch and growth of their business by 2020.
Hera Hub is often called a “space for creativity”. Members have uncovered new market opportunities, found business partners, and even funders for their business through the community. See testimonials. Our members not only build strong business relationships and alliances but many also go on to build personal bonds and friendships with other members.
I was turned on to the concept of co-working in 2010, when I hosted a networking event at San Diego’s first co-working space, the Hive Haus. As a small business owner for 7 years prior, I was intrigued by the model but didn’t feel the techy, concrete environment was the right atmosphere for my business and clients. I began to study the world of co-working spaces, visiting locations in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco throughout the summer of 2010.
I saw a real gap in the market serving professional women. I wanted to build a space that was not only beautiful and professional but also allowed women to learn from each other through tools, support, and educational programing.
It took me approximately 12 months from the time I decided to move forward with the launch of Hera Hub to the point where I completed my business plan, secured financing, and negotiated my first lease (much more difficult than I’d imagined). We opened the doors to the first Hera Hub in August 2011.
Who is your audience?
Our members range from ideation phase to rapid growth stage companies. They consist of freelancers, consultants, and entrepreneurs and represent a variety of industries, including:
- Life Science
How did you know it was time for you to start your own company and be your own boss?
I found myself pushed into entrepreneurship after being laid off from a Marketing Director position with a San Diego based high tech company in 2003. I launched a marketing strategy consulting firm, Perspective Marketing, and found it convenient and cost effective to work from home. Yet, after a couple years I found working from home to be, at times, distracting and isolating. Shortly after launching my consulting practice, I took on a leadership position with several professional women’s organizations, Women’s Global Network and Ladies Who Launch, San Diego. In this role I found myself consistently challenged to secure cost effective, fitting event and workshop space for monthly meetings.
That’s why the co-working space concept resonated with me. I could support other female entrepreneurs with space, community and education… all under one roof.
Did finding your passion come easily?
I’ve always loved business but didn’t see the dots connect until I came up with the Hera Hub concept in my late thirties. I think like a lot of women, we have many things we’re passionate about but it can take us a while to figure out how we can blend these into a profitable business model.
Where there ever moments when you wanted to give up? And if so, how did you deal with that?
The commercial real estate process was much more complex and challenging than I had ever imagined. I had two strikes against me - new business & new concept… no one wanted to take a risk. After six months of negotiation and two failed lease negotiations (both in the eleventh hour), I was about ready to throw in the towel. I started to question if this was the “right” path for me. It was almost luck when I hosted an event at a friend’s shared office only to find out a week later that the main company in the space was leaving. I jumped on the opportunity and am happy to say that the third time really is a charm! Through the help of my network and my tenacious commercial real estate broker, we were finally able to secure close to 5,000 square feet in a very desirable location. It was double the size and twice the risk but I felt confident that the gamble would pay off.
How are you planning to support over 20,000 women in the launch and growth of their business by 2020?
We are supporting women through our Hera Hub locations, our Business Accelerator program (Hera Labs), our annual conference (Hera Venture Summit) and through my book, Flight Club - Rebel, Reinvent, and Thrive: How to Launch Your Dream Business.
What does it mean to “lean out” and why do more women need to do it?
The term “lean out” came as a response to Sheryl Sandberg's book, “Lean In”, where she encourages women to “take a seat at the table” and dig into corporate politics. I’m suggesting just the opposite… instead of fighting for a seat at someone else’s table why build our own dreams… launch our own business.
Do you feel that female entrepreneurship has risen exponentially as of late?
I not only feel it but it’s a fact! Between 2007 and 2016, the number of firms in the United States increased by 9%, while the total number of firms owned by women grew by a whopping 45%, more than five times the national average!
Women are launching businesses for many reasons. It’s often said that the need for work/life balance is the primary driver of growth, and while that is a factor for some, we have found through Hera Hub member surveys thatbut we have found that the primary reason for women leaving their job was frustration with corporate politics (along with mismatch of values and toxic environment). Hera Hub member, Janeal Ford, founder of Fordable Freelance, shared one of her favorite quotes, "Culture eats strategy for lunch every day." This is the essence of the frustration many employees feel. Janeal grew weary of corporate leaders agreeing that changes were needed, but when efforts were made to effectuate those changes they would end up waylaid by the egos of leaders or sabotaged by the traditions and habits that corporate organizations hold dear. She launched her own business to advance initiatives and projects for the charities she loves without needing to tiptoe around institutional politics.
Within corporate politics is also where employees often find themselves attempting to dodge multiple stray bullets, one in which they feel that their ethics and values often do not match those of the corporation. Women often find themselves burned out, as they try to make a meaningful contribution to the business mission, while at the same time work to have their voices and opinions matter.
What would you say are the benefits of working in a co-working space as opposed to working from home?
Launching and growing a business is challenging, to say the least! Trying to do so in isolation is not the best path to success. We need support and community, which can be found in co-working spaces like Hera Hub.
Our members cite…
- Productivity - on average members get 60% more work done when working from Hera Hub than from home… do to the distractions.
- Creativity - It’s impossible to innovate in a vacuum. Working in an inspiring setting, even one day per week, helps our members to gain different perspectives and viewpoints on their business. Our members often say that they feel “inspired” from the moment they walk in the door.
- Accountability - When no one is driving the agenda or telling you what to do, it can be overwhelming to decide on what steps to take and how to take them. Much of the programming at Hera Hub is to help our members set goals and stay on track.
- Separation - In a world of 24/7 communication, it’s difficult to separate yourself from your business. When you work from home there is no delineation between home-life and work-life… it’s always on. Having a separate space to work on your business and new projects can make a world of difference in how you see your “home”.
- Professionalism - You wouldn’t want to invite a client into your home to have a meeting. Sure, you could go to your local coffee shop, but the distractions and noise also don’t paint a picture of success. Having a beautiful, private space to meet clients and colleagues can make all the difference in how you feel about your business (fighting the impostor syndrome) and how others see you.
- Access to trusted resources - Hera Hub is a curated community. Members know they can trust the advice, referrals, and recommendations from other members.
What is your advice for other young female entrepreneurs?
Thanks to successful shows like Shark Tank, launching a business has never been more trendy. Yes, it’s fairly easy to get a service-based business off the ground but there are some basic principles to bear in mind. My advice is...
As Voltaire famously wrote, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”—the perfect is the enemy of the good. You will paralyze yourself if you insist that everything has to be perfect before your launch your business. That’s why I love the “Lean” business methodology—because it encourages you to test as you launch versus waiting to unveil your masterpiece.
You’ll Never Have It All Figured Out
Similar to the last point, business is not a “set it up and press cruise control” kind of venture—things are going to go “off course.” At Hera Hub we try not to use the word “failure.” I personally like the phrase “learning moment” (coined by the founder of WD-40, Gary Ridge) or the ever-popular “pivoting.” Whatever you call it, you will always be learning and pivoting. That’s just part of business! Yes, you need to plan, but be aware that it’s going to shift.
Business is hard. Yes, anything is possible, but you are going to have to be willing to stay the course (even if there are pivots along the way). There will be long hours and lots of frustration. Some days you’ll feel like someone has socked you in the stomach—or, as Gary Vaynerchuk says, “punched you in the face.” There will be many highs and many more lows. You must accept this and let your passion pull you through.
You need to understand that you are not your business. I see this often when someone is consulting or providing a service—they have a difficult time not feeling personally hurt when someone doesn’t accept a proposal or gives them a bad review. Men are much, much better at this. They compartmentalize things, while women mix everything up into one big plate of spaghetti! Do not—I repeat, do not—take things personally! Business is business. Get up, brush yourself off, and move on.
Watch Out For “Shiny Object Syndrome”
In today’s world of constant bombardment, it’s easy to be pulled off track. Everyone will try to give you advice, whether you want it or not. This will be challenging for you if 1) don’t have a solid business plan and 2) you are not confident in your direction. Women are natural people pleasers. On top of that, they are often more sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. I’ve seen one comment send an entrepreneur on a completely different course.
Keep focused on your core business, and don’t let the dozens of other ideas that come your way pull you too far off track. I recommend getting an idea journal or using a platform like Trello to note down all of those “great ideas” and “advice.” After you have a solid foundation for your business, then you can go back and explore some of these ideas.
Look Out For Imposter Syndrome
You will from time-to-time feel like a fraud. Note it, and get over it. Even some of the most successful women I’ve met tell me deep down that they are afraid of being “figured out.” Even Tina Fey once confessed that she sometimes screams inside her head, “I’m a fraud! They’re onto me!”
Dr. Valerie Young is a leading expert on the impostor syndrome, and author of award-winning book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It”. Boys are raised to bluff and exaggerate. Girls, on the other hand, learn early to distrust their opinions and stifle their voices. They discover they are judged by the highest physical, behavioral and intellectual standards. Perfection becomes the goal, and every flaw, mistake or criticism is internalized—slowly hollowing out self-confidence.
Learn more about Felena's story at https://herahub.com/felena-hanson-story/.