Wordsmith Casebook : Family Business Nightmare – Co-working Space, Seattle

Background

I have very fond memories of this city – Seattle in the United States although I found New York to be the place where I felt something coursing in my veins that I cannot express. In the summer of 2016, in a long visit – almost seven weeks – partly business, partly pleasure and partly family visits, I planned to meet some freelance translators of the city in one of the co-working spaces and I became their client and then the relationship continued later, online. I was welcomed because freelancers are one of the largest client categories in co-working spaces.  The business was managed by a couple, husband was a Product Manager of an IT company and wife was an architect who had been working in a city architectural firm. In spite of all great thought and effort that had gone into the business, the seats – both of work space, of meeting / conference rooms / cafeteria displayed more furniture than people. Competition in this area was cutthroat and being a service industry, it needed some special skills to retain existing clients and grow. and I had found that 12 local freelancers who attended because of our invitation did not show much interest to be paying clients. The couple were in considerable debt and the business was not returning as they had expected, after some sixteen months.

First Investigative Measures

I met them twice in Seattle and later the conversation shifted online when I returned back to Calcutta.

  • The business conception was psycho-logical and in a way, romantic escape for both, to walk the road of “be your own boss” after a considerable time of working in established large companies. They looked and understood business through those tinted glasses.
  • The design of the space was more to the liking of the architect co-owner and not after checking with prospects. So, it was a statement on the part of the architect (and co-owner) and product development thinking and training of the husband did not help in understanding the ruthless undercurrents of a service industry with more of retail customers. A classic case of hubris and ignorance in  understanding one’s market and one’s customers.
  • The whole set-up smelled and spoke loudly of the taste, preference, eccentricities, idea, creative impulses of the owners. For example, the lady was fond of cats and there were too many pictures of cats in the walls. I had asked them that did they ever think that some customers of them may not like cats as much they do or a possibility – may hate cats. Will they like to be here ?
  • For most of their lives (both were in late forties), they understood business from a particular perspective. Their idea of cost, salaries to staff, operational cost, cost of capital, personal expenses were not water-tight as they should be – business finance and personal finance mixed. They thought, at least in their subconscious this as a hobby rather than a business.

Latest Report

The money ran out by the end of winter, i.e. within next six months. Fortunately, a more successful competitor was expanding and they were interested to take the lease and they got out of the business, although they suffered quite a loss. Even though their dream was over but at least they had escaped a worse nightmare. Although the business venture ended in a loss, that strengthened their bonding and both became more self-realized and wise in understanding that starting and running a small business is neither a hobby nor some dream fulfillment device but a fully consuming task.

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