I was working the graveyard shift at a steel company at the same time I was trying to grow our web design side hustle. I would get home from work at 3:30am, sit down at my laptop and create website designs, email clients, and try to write marketing material. Progress was slow and not always steady.
One day, after two years at my job, I was let go out of nowhere. We were shocked and upset, but we decided to use the situation as an opportunity to take the side hustle to a full-time hustle. When our web design business, Tapa Creative, started to grow, it became clear that we needed office space away from the noise and distractions of home. We looked around town at the available office space, but everything was either too expensive, required too much commitment, or was simply an uninspiring space for a creative company (or all three). We knew we were going to have to find a creative solution.
Soon after this realization, I had an inspiring conversation with a friend about the concept of “coworking,” or sharing workspace among different small businesses and entrepreneurs. St. Thomas didn’t have a coworking space yet, but I became convinced that with all the new growth the city was experiencing, it would be an amazing asset to the community. That night, my brother and I built a website saying St. Thomas was getting a cowork. I didn’t list a location and I didn’t have a business plan, but I had a clear vision and I wanted to get a feel for the community’s interest. The images I used on the website were my inspiration – the offices were open concept, very modern, and full of plants and natural light. I know most people didn’t believe they would translate into anything close to that in reality.
Nevertheless, we pushed the concept on social media and asked people to sign up via the website if they were interested in pre-booking their spot at the not-yet-named coworking space. To our surprise, people started signing up. The idea had gained enough traction that I decided to take it a step further and get everyone together for coffee to talk about what it could be. I held meetings at Streamliners Espresso Bar to discuss what the community wanted in a coworking space. Our following began to grow.
One day, Matt McLennan from Ark Property Group reached out to me. He had heard what I wanted to do and asked me to look at a property he had just purchased – the former Old Gardens Flower Shop on Princess Ave. I walked into the atrium the family had used to grow their flowers and instantly saw what my business could be in the space. It was almost as if I was able to paint the vision over top of what was there. I went home and drew a 3D model of my vision and pitched it to Matt. I got a big stamp of approval and four months later, The Atrium was a reality.
It’s been over a year since we opened our doors and the adventure has really just begun. I thought I was just solving my own company’s problem, but what happens within these walls is much more than that. The Atrium brings independent workers, solopreneurs, and home businesses together into a space that’s affordable and built just for them. They don’t have to sign a lease – if their business can’t support their monthly membership, they can cancel anytime. They don’t have to be alone – we have community events, we network and encourage each other. And they don’t have to work uninspired in their basements – our space is filled with sunlight that comes in through the translucent roof and a 16-foot living wall towers over the desks. Bringing these people together, sharing in the struggles of independent work, and watching businesses grow has been the most incredible feeling.
One of the lessons I learned through creating The Atrium is to just start doing. We had an idea and we built a website. That’s it. From there we were able to take the next step and bring people together to talk about the idea. Then, out of nowhere, we made a connection and the idea became a reality. But it all started by simply getting the idea out there and creating the demand before we had the supply. The key is just to start making it happen. It’s part of the reason I have so much respect for the Flicker Project. I remember when the idea was born. Soon after, Brad had a website built and now he’s celebrating the launch of the project by bringing a community together. But it all starts by getting your ideas out there and keeping them moving.
Great things are bound to follow.