Working from home is definitely awesome, but sometimes all you need is a creative, inspiring place to get some work done. Outside the comfort of your apartment.
Sabrina Doumet is the amazingly talented founder of L’Atelier Coworking, a boutique shared office, event, meeting space and networking hub in Vancouver, Canada’s historic Gastown neighbourhood. L’Atelier Coworking currently has over 80 active monthly members and over 100 people visiting every month to attend community events or book meeting spaces.
Before starting her own business, Doumet worked as a film producer and production coordinator on video projects and documentaries, including Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning documentary film “The Square”.
A year or so after L’Atelier Coworking launched in 2016, she decided to create her own line of products starting with The Focus Journal: an undated planner that helps you balance productivity and wellness, and The Focus Mist: an all natural, uplifting aromatic facial mist. I chatted with Sabrina to get the scoop on the early days of her businesses, what roadblocks she faced and what advice she has for aspiring entrepreneurs.
What is L’Atelier Coworking?
L’Atelier (French for “The Workshop”) is a boutique shared office, event, meeting space and networking community in Vancouver, Canada for entrepreneurs, startups, freelancers and remote workers.
We provide a comfortable, inspiring and affordable space for individuals and small businesses to be productive, meet with clients and connect with a community of likeminded individuals.
Most of our members come from all over the world and work in design, marketing, PR, e-commerce, animation, UX, writing, content creation and innovative tech. But we don’t discriminate based on occupation or any other criteria. We mainly look for easy going, open minded and respectful individuals.
Where and when did you first get the idea to open L’Atelier?
A while before Vancouverites became familiar with the concept of co-working, I worked out of “Next Space”, a co-working space in Venice beach, California. I was assisting Oscar-nominated filmmakers with the distribution of their documentary film and I was the only “creative” type in the space. Back then, co-working spaces were mainly reserved for tech startups.
Working out of this co-working space, I started imagining what my very own space would look like: a nicely designed one which I would fill with other creative types. That was basically how the idea was born! It would take another 2-3 years for this idea to become reality.
I took the plunge when I had a long “transitional” period, when I was looking for a job and couldn’t find anything other than small gigs here and there. I told myself if no one was going to hire me, I was going to hire myself.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business off the ground?
I wanted to educate myself and do research first. I took a few classes at “Small Business BC” and started researching existing local co-working spaces. My initial plan was to create a shared artist studio, but I realized there were already too many of these and they didn’t seem like profitable businesses.
I also wanted to be able to control the look and feel of the space, which is hard to do with artists doing messy things like painting. My initial business plan had very little to do with what my actual business structure ended up being, but it was a start. It’s always good to have a roadmap, even if you know you’re going to go “off road”.
What were some of the roadblocks and obstacles you faced in the earlier days of L’Atelier and how did you overcome them?
Oh so many road blocks and challenges. A particular one I faced is not being taken seriously by landlords. I put in a few offers before I was able to secure a space. I had to make myself a personal guarantor in the lease to make the landlord feel at ease with letting me lease the space. He took a chance on me even though he didn’t understand exactly what I wanted to do with the space.
That was the other challenge: having to explain the concept of my business to so many people. Now (4 years later), most people know what a co-working space is and I get most of my clients from organic searches on google. Back then, I had to constantly find creative ways to just get people through the door.
At what point did you realize L’Atelier was doing well?
About 3-4 months after I opened for business, once I started breaking even on my monthly costs, I realized that I could support myself with this business. But I never felt like I could rest on my laurels, even now. My costs and competition both have increased and are still increasing so I always have to find ways to improve my services and set my business apart from others (especially the larger ones that have a way bigger budget and entire teams working for them).
In terms of timeline, how long was that after your initial idea?
2 years after the initial idea and about 1 year after I officially registered my business (November 2015 to November 2016).
You are also a creator of two products, The Focus Journal and Focus Mist. How do you juggle so many different projects and stay on top of things?
I wanted to create products because the profit margins for my co-working business were very low (and still are if I want to be completely honest). Instead of expanding my space, which would have been another big investment and high risk, I tried to create an income stream that was complimentary to my existing business and leveraged its successes.
After the first year in business, my goal was to establish systems to automate a lot of the work I was doing. For example: people can go to the website and sign up for a plan or book and cancel meeting rooms on their own.
I also wrote guidebooks on how to run the day-to-day operations of my business so anyone could step in and take over while I was on vacation. I recently hired my first full time employee, so that frees up a lot of my time too.
What advice do you have for someone starting out as an entrepreneur?
Be a good listener and ask your customers for feedback, they have all the answers. Entrepreneurs can be stubborn and want to stick to their original ideas but they have to recognize when something isn’t working and be flexible enough to adjust.
What’s next for your business? Do you have any exciting things coming up?
I have been working on a key organizer product for the past few months but it’s going a bit slower than it should because both my partner on the project and I have our hands pretty full at the moment. I just gave birth to my first baby a month ago so I am still learning to juggle being a business owner and a new mom.
The best way to stay in the loop with upcoming products is to subscribe to The Focus Journal newsletter on our website www.TheFocusJournal.co, you would also get a free printable PDF of the journal pages to try!