Launching a Female Co-Working Space with Melissa Alam of The Hive

They say life is all about timing, and this entrepreneur’s latest business venture was no exception to the rule. Nearly one year ago Melissa Alam opened Philadelphia’s first co-working space dedicated to ambitious, entrepreneurial women, otherwise known as The HiveI’m a big believer of taking opportunities that the universe presents to you. Around my 26th birthday, I got news of my mentor’s branding and advertising agency At Media moving to a larger office space uptown, leaving their adorable space open for rent. The gears started to roll with the notion of: What if I took over her space and started a business there?”

And that’s exactly what she did. In a few short months, Melissa obtained the space, media coverage to market her idea, and officially launched The Hive with requests for membership information from around 60 women by the time the doors opened. Today Melissa is talking with The Everygirl about how she funded The Hive’s launch, separated her business from the rest in a saturated market, and her plans to expand The Hive beyond Philadelphia’s borders.

Name: Melissa Alam
Age: 27
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Current title/company: Founder & CEO of The Hive
Education: Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Temple University in Philadelphia

What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position?
I spent the summer after I graduated assisting on PR campaigns and media pitches at a local PR agency here in Philadelphia. Come fall, they weren’t able to offer me a job so I started the epic job hunt while living with my parents in the suburbs. I was bummed the agency couldn’t hire me because I loved the work and the people, but it made me get creative with my next move. I reached out to some ads via Craigslist and Twitter and started writing for a local online pop culture magazine and also became a brand ambassador for a local newspaper (I sat at their booths at events and talked about their newspaper).

I got my first full-time job as an assistant media buyer at a local agency that December, but I didn’t really see growth with the company and the pay was bad so I ended up quitting after six months. I wanted as much experience within the marketing and events realm, so I was balancing a lot of random side gigs for that first year out of college. The benefit? My network of friends and acquaintances grew a ton here in Philadelphia!

From there I got another full-time job doing SEO at a local agency, which was an awesome learning experience especially for my digital marketing mind. I lasted a year there; once I officially quit I went freelance. That was the summer of 2012 and I’ve been on my own ever since trying out new business ideas, launching new brands with friends, and buying a whole lot of random domains in the process. I know I was born to be my own boss and I’ve never looked back, nor do I think I ever will because the pros (making my own schedule, time to travel, becoming a true hustler, working with amazing clients) outweigh the cons (no health insurance, figuring out how to pay bills on time, working with clients you don’t like, etc.).

You are now entirely self-employed and currently spread your focus between the co-working space The Hive, your website Femme & Fortune, and your branding/strategic development company. How do you allocate your time each day?   
Good question because I’m still trying to figure it all out! Every day is different and it really depends on what the most urgent task at hand is for me to complete. I’ve also recently come to the conclusion that as much as I love working with clients and creating strategic ideas and concepts for them, I really need to nurture my babies (The Hive and Femme & Fortune) more. I’m trying to focus more on the growth of both my co-working space and online magazine this fall and winter, along with one or two passion projects.

I’ve also started to focus on attaining a better work/life balance for myself so that I don’t burn out. I will turn off my phone when I’m with friends or choose to binge watch Netflix on weekends rather than do work (especially if it can wait). I’m in this for the long run and it’s so important to create your own boundaries as an entrepreneur. Figure out what makes you happy (spending time with friends, traveling to random places, playing soccer) and find time to do it. Your body and mind will thank you!

Figure out what makes you happy (spending time with friends, traveling to random places, playing soccer) and find time to do it. Your body and mind will thank you!

Let’s talk about your newest business venture. The Hive is a small co-working space geared specifically toward female entrepreneurs and creatives in the Philadelphia area. What inspired the idea?
I was already working at a co-working space and loved the environment and community aspect that co-working spaces bring to freelancers and entrepreneurs like myself. I would never have guessed that I would open my own space, but I’m a big believer of taking opportunities that the universe presents to you. Around my 26th birthday, I got news of my mentor’s branding and advertising agency At Media moving to a larger office space uptown, leaving their adorable space open for rent. The gears started to roll with the notion of “What if I took over her space and started a business there?”

I was already familiar with the office and loved the huge windows, great location, and two floor space. It was a no-brainer and exactly the career move that I was looking for. Two months prior, I was asking the universe to give me a sign for something bigger and better and this was it. Once I pitched my mentor about an all-female co-working space, she asked me if I was sure and I said yes, so she let me take over her space. I took a huge risk and jumped at the opportunity, but at the time it felt natural. I haven’t looked back since and I have my mentor Antoinette to thank for her support and believing in my vision for The Hive.

Tell us about the process of acquiring the physical space to open The Hive. What hurdles did you overcome during the process?
I can’t deny how lucky I got with acquiring the space and what perfect timing it was for not only me, but the city itself. I’ve been a big advocate of female empowerment and realized from my own experience that there wasn’t a stable resource or accessible location in the city that supported and encouraged women. When I see something missing or lacking, I try to fill it with my own solution.

I figured I’d get some negative comments about having an all-female space, but The Hive has really become a safe and encouraging environment for our members to bounce ideas off of one another, fulfill higher education needs with our workshops and classes, and as a clubhouse for entrepreneurial women. The biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome have just been financial, which has been stressful but worth it to see the positive energy and outcomes The Hive has produced this past year.

Tell us about how you got the word out to gain members for the space. Did you begin advertising and selling memberships before the official launch or after?
As my first “public” startup, The Hive has been my wonder child. I mean yes, I worked my ass off day and night trying to build the business, but by doing so I got a lot of organic press and media attention a month after I even thought of the concept. I didn’t even have the keys to the space and I was being featured on multiple media outlets in Philadelphia—this made me realize that I had something unique and special. Once the press got out about the space, I had about 60 women contact me for information about memberships.

To have a successful co-working space, you need members that believe in you and support the cause—you need a community. My personal social media accounts really helped with getting the word out and cultivate a community of interested women as I tracked my everyday progress with behind-the-scene photos and tidbits about The Hive. I think sharing your journey with your community and followers while you launch a business is a really important aspect of promotion—just be authentic and open because people want to cheer you on and feel involved with your journey.

What equipment did you need to purchase to start and how did you find the funding to do so?
Because I was planning on opening within 2-3 months from the inception of the idea, I knew I had to find funds fast. I also knew that I needed to harness my inner ‘budgetista’ and really invest in certain things for the space. My mom helped put the first, last, and security deposit down for the office and I used my consulting money from clients to pay for the furniture and payments on items such as our business wifi, security system, etc.

I also spent a lot of time going back and forth to Ikea, Target, and local thrift stores to furnish the space. I’m still decorating here and there, so it’s good to remember that you don’t always have to be 100% done in terms of how your space looks to open. Yes, I had all of my desks and chairs that were required for me to open, but little decorations and knickknacks have been coming through the doors each month, making the space so much better each month. I have a very “go with the flow” mentality when it comes to business (and personal life), so I try not to stress out too much about having things perfect.

At only 900 square feet, The Hive is a much more intimate space than most co-working offices. Tell us about the positives and negatives of starting out small.
The positive is that I’ve been able to run and operate The Hive on a very lean budget. We opened with only a few thousand dollars (thanks, Mom!) and I’ve been able to maintain it as a business, versus taking out loans or bringing on investors and losing equity in the business. I’m in the works of potentially making the space here in Philadelphia larger, so yes I’ll have to take on some investment, but it’ll be worth it.

Some of the negatives of the space include not being able to host the type of events I want or cater to larger organizations looking to rent the space. We get a lot of requests for conferences or networking events, but our max capacity is around 30-40 people comfortably. Not a bad thing because it makes our events and space more intimate, but there is a larger market I’d like to tap!

With co-working becoming a saturated market, how did you make sure that your space would offer a specific and unique value that your members wouldn’t find at another co-working office?
Co-working, especially here in Philadelphia, has become very saturated. We even have have a few more, and much larger spaces opening up within the next year! All of the spaces are doing very similar things and we all offer similar amenities to our members. What I like about The Hive is that our events and workshops are catered to our audience and we try to maintain a level of casualness to everything we do.

We want to be approachable and relatable, so we run our co-working space as equals with our members and guests, versus coming in wearing a suit and being all exclusive. We also offer a platform for our audience as well, so a lot of our workshops are held from people that have emailed me saying that they were interested in teaching to our queen bees.

What day-to-day tasks do you have to take on in order to manage The Hive? Do you have assistants or managers to help you run the space or are you still a one-woman show?
I started out managing the space by myself but I’ve thankfully brought on some very close friends of mine to help manage aspects of the business such as membership and events. An important lesson I learned early on as a CEO is to write down every task that you do on a daily basis and figure out which tasks you can train and delegate someone to do. By doing so, my days have cleared up so much!

On a day-to-day basis, either myself or my membership director (and newly-graduated sorority sister) Nikki opens up The Hive in the morning followed by hours at end in front of our laptops either working on client deliverables, planning events The Hive is hosting, or brainstorming new ideas to test out with the space. Since the space is small, we don’t have set tasks to do each day and we split up the normal “chores” such as taking the trash out and cleaning up the tables for our members before we leave each night. And then it all begins again the next day! The beauty of being your own boss is that everyday is different. So some days I’ll be in meeting after meeting with potential clients or new members and other days we’re working till the evening at The Hive. That’s the beauty of entrepreneurship—days can be spent however way you want them to be!

With three businesses already under your belt, how do you hope to see your career and businesses evolve?
I wonder about this everyday and I’ve realized that it’s a common question a lot of female entrepreneurs face. My go-to word when it comes to how I run my businesses is innovation. Cheesy and probably overdone, but I’m always trying to think of how to keep innovating my ideas into something new and fresh for my audiences.

For The Hive, I’m working on hosting a week full of empowering events and a conference for women called Fearless Philly Week. I’m also chatting with a few queen bees on potentially branching out The Hive into other cities, which is something I never thought would happen a year into the business! As for Femme & Fortune, I’m hoping to grow the readership on that site and to continue creating content that women want to read about on a daily basis.

A new position I’ve recently taken on that I’ll be focusing on is a marketing and social media role for Spoonful Magazine. It’s going to be an amazing quarterly publication (think Kinfolk, Cereal, or Darling Magazine) that celebrates home cooks, local artisans, and the art of entertaining. I love my role for Spoonful because it’s a team mentality—something I haven’t felt since leaving my last full-time job three years ago.

I’ve come to realize that I have a serious habit of taking on too much client work, so I’m starting to shift my time to focus on only major projects. I guess you can say it’s one of the downfalls of having so many passions (and having to pay the bills)! I’m curating my time moving forward to only work on projects and people that I want to work with—a huge step from the Melissa a few years ago who would say yes to everything.

What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
To keep launching those crazy business ideas in my head. I call myself a “professional ideaholic” because I’m addicted to thinking of new business concepts and I’m happy to have tried my hand at a ton of random ideas. Some never launched and some lasted a few months but they were all a learning experience nonetheless. Those learning experiences and “throwing the spaghetti on the wall” helped me to become a stronger businesswoman, and I’m excited to see how much further I can get with my career by 30.

“I’m happy to have tried my hand at a ton of random ideas. Some never launched and some lasted a few months but they were all a learning experience.”

Melissa Alam is The Everygirl…

Go-to business book?
My favorite business books so far are The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau and any of the books by 99U. They’re full of knowledge bombs for entrepreneurs!

I wish I knew how to…
Work out. I hate the gym. Oh and budget for my business and personal life.

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Easy. I’d want to have a boozy Sunday brunch with Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, and Abbi and Ilana from Broad City because they’re my comedic spirit animals. We’d probably order a few apps to share followed by pitchers of mimosas and bloody marys followed by a long nap until Monday morning.

TV show you wish was still on the air?
BUFFY, The Vampire Slayer! I was the biggest Buffy geek back in the day.

Next travel destination?
I’m currently planning a mini Euro trip this January starting in Berlin! I was originally thinking about making a short-term move there, but I think a month around Europe will suffice—it’s the wanderlust in me.