An Interview with Grace Kraaijvanger

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Grace Kraaijvanger

Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”

I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story” — who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door — the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.

HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.

To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Grace Kraaijvanger

Name: Grace Kraaijvanger
Location: Mill Valley, California
Profession: Founder of The Hivery


You’re the founder of The Hivery, a woman’s co-working space in Northern California… and one of the first women’s co-working spaces in the country.

Some Hivery members are entrepreneurs, some are consultants, others are writers. All kinds of interesting people working on all kinds of projects. I recently became a member and I love it. There is such a creative, focused energy in the air whenever I walk inside.

Can you remember the exact moment when the idea for The Hivery came into your brain? Did it come as a sudden flash or was it more of a gradual realization? What was the inspiration behind this project? Walk us through the story of how The Hivery got started.

I definitely remember the sudden flash. I was about 27 years old. I was living in San Francisco and I was a professional dancer, teacher, and choreographer. I worked with contemporary dance companies. I was very much in the artist scene in San Francisco, which is a very vibrant scene. And I was interested in opening a dance studio. So I think I was an entrepreneur before I realized it.

I started seeing these really interesting spaces, some of which I could afford, and some of which I couldn’t. But as I would look at those spaces I kept thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a space where women gathered to make art and work on projects?” I envisioned a creative co-op for women—women like me and my dance friends. I didn’t know what to call it—back then “co-working” wasn’t a word.

During that time, my side job was marketing consulting. I did that to pay my bills and pay the rent. I had a home office. At first, I thought working from home would be so great, because I had so much flexibility. But working from home can be lonely, too.

Fast forward several years. I had retired from dancing. I was doing a lot more marketing work, but I was feeling pretty bored with that part of my career. I felt like my life needed an infusion of creativity. I really missed the dance community.

I told a friend of mine, “I need a massive change. What I’m doing right now is not working. I have this idea about creating a space for women where they can come together and work and support each other. Not just an ‘office’. It would be a community.”

And my friend looked at me and said, “You told me about this idea 10 years ago, and it’s time you get on it.”

Isn’t it funny how certain ideas seem to follow us—coming back into our minds, over and over? Like an idea that you just can’t shake off? That has definitely happened for me, too. So after that conversation with your friend, you realized, “OK, it’s time to really do this.” And then what happened?

I started to look at spaces again. When you’re on the right path, the doors open. So within two weeks, I found a space—a 110-square foot loft in an art gallery. It was the perfect place to start The Hivery.

It was small, but the commitment and the risk were not very big. I thought, “This is my Petri dish. This is where I can try this idea and see if anyone comes.”

I started putting the word out. It was slow at first, but the answer was always a resounding “Yes!” once I could get the women into the space.

Pretty soon, I began wondering, “What if this could be more than a co-working space? What if we have workshops and events and learning opportunities and mixers and social stuff and wellness stuff, too?” I started experimenting. The more I threw into the experiment, the more I learned what resonated.

I’ve never been so sure this is what I was put on the planet to do. Even when I work hard there is an ease. This is my life’s work.

How did it feel to walk away from your marketing job and start The Hivery? Was it a scary transition? Were your colleagues and friends surprised? Did anybody say, “Are you really sure?” What did it feel like for you?

I have this little green notebook, and it’s from that year of my life where I was trying to figure out, “Should I do this? Should I not do this? If I do this, what the heck is it?”

I still look at it. It’s hilarious, because it says words like “creative, collaborative, open space, light filled, fabulous, collaborative opportunities for women to learn and grow.” It’s The Hivery—and I wrote it all out without knowing what it was.

But in that green journal, I have pages of pros and cons about whether or not I should leave my marketing job. Because the job had a lot of great qualities. I was paid well. It was a company that was based in Connecticut, so I worked from home, which was great because I had two small kids. By the time they were shutting down in Connecticut, it was 3 o’clock here. I could pick my kids up from school. I worked pretty autonomously and independently; I was creating something for a company that was growing really quickly that seemed to have a lot of potential. On paper it was a really good job. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so dissatisfied.

What I finally realized was that I was working to fulfill somebody else’s vision. I was spending 90% of my work days alone in my home office feeling totally isolated and lonely, and then that feeling of isolation would turn into feelings of self-doubt.

It is interesting as I look back at those pros and cons, because I really thought that it was a very difficult decision that I was struggling with. At the time I thought, “Am I crazy to give this up?” Well, now I think, “I’d be crazy to not give it up.”

As you mentioned earlier, you’ve been hosting a lot of events at The Hivery. You’ve done workshops on entrepreneurship, mindfulness, navigating stress, finding balance, and many other topics. Tell us about the very first Hivery event. What was the topic? How many people came? Was it free or did you sell tickets? Were you nervous that nobody would show up?

I think I did my first Hivery event without knowing it was a Hivery event.

What happened is that my kids’ elementary school was having a silent auction and I wanted to donate something. So I donated a lunchtime event called “Women Inspiring Women.” It was a conversation about creating “creative community among women.” I remember writing a description of the event, and I hesitated so long before I pressed “Send.”

I kept thinking, “Maybe no one will sign up. Maybe no one else wants to have this conversation. Maybe this is just the voice in my head that’s having this conversation.” But I pressed “Send” and then… 15 or 16 women showed up.

We had two round-table discussions. I put together a whole agenda and I led a facilitated conversation. And what I noticed that day was that, physically and physiologically, I felt so at home. I realized, “This is what I’m supposed to do.”

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Grace Kraaijvanger

You mentioned feeling hesitant to hit “Send” on that email—the email that led to the first Hivery event. You worried that nobody would care, or want to come.

This situation is so common. As entrepreneurs, so often, we have ideas and we’re nervous to put them out in the world because we don’t know what we’re doing, or we think nobody’s going to show up, or we think, “Nobody’s going to understand what I’m trying to do.”

But if you look at any success story, the lesson always is to “start where you are.” Don’t wait until things are perfect or totally right in your head. Just go from where you are and let your work form a life of its own. Do you find that to be true?

Absolutely. I almost missed opening The Hivery all together because of my fears.

One big block I felt was that I didn’t have the credentials to open a women’s space—so I thought. I didn’t study women’s studies. I don’t have a coaching certificate. I had a thousand reasons why I wasn’t qualified.

At one point, I thought to myself, “You need to get a coaching certificate first, and then you can open this thing.” I started looking at these programs that were eight to twelve months long, and I realized that I didn’t want to wait that long. I wanted to jump right in.

I’m so glad you jumped in! And those fears you described… those fears are so common. As a career strategist, most of my clients are women, and I hear a lot of them say, “I would love to do that, but I’m not qualified, or I’m not an expert yet.

Often these are extremely accomplished women with numerous qualifications and so much talent, but for whatever reason they don’t believe they’re qualified enough to pursue their goals.

It sounds like you’ve dealt with these feelings in the past, too. Why do you think so many women feel this way? Some people call it “the imposter syndrome,” believing that you’re a newbie, a fraud, an imposter, even when you’re clearly not. How can women get out of this pattern of self-doubt?

In Tara Mohr’s book, Playing Big, she talks about this as a “hiding strategy.” And that’s exactly what it is. We employ our hiding strategies when we feel fearful, when we feel self-doubt. It’s a way of putting something in front of your dreams or your vision.

So again, my example was that I thought that I needed to be a certified coach before I could open a women’s co-working space. I thought I needed that official credential. Well, it wasn’t true. But it was a way of saying, “I need to delay, I need to hold off for twelve months before I can really explore my vision.”

So I say try. Start first. Start first and then get your credentials later if you need them.

As more and more women wanted to join The Hivery, your original space began to feel cramped. How did you deal with this? Was it a difficult decision to expand and build out your current space?

We had definitely outgrown the space. We were sharing it with an art gallery, and it was certainly my vision to have our own space. I didn’t want to share space with another organization. I was slowly looking around. And then, we lost our lease on that space. It was just the push I needed.

We were given 60 days’ notice. It’s no easy task to find commercial real estate in Marin County, or the Bay Area in general, and negotiate a lease and get it open in 60 days. But I was really determined to do it. I didn’t want to lose the momentum of my customers. I had 28 members, all of whom were very loyal to my vision. And I felt like all 28 of them were part of building something bigger.

When I first saw the new space, there was all sorts of synchronicity that made me feel like this was the right move. It was a former dance studio. It has a skylight that is the shape of a honeycomb in the ceiling. I fell in love with it, but I also had a lot of doubt. I actually felt really sick right before I signed the lease because I thought, “Is this crazy?”

It was a big leap for me. It was a big financial risk for me. And I thought, first of all, “What if it fails?” And second of all, this is my hometown where I’m raising my kids, and I thought, “What if it fails in front of my whole hometown? How embarrassing.” It felt like it was not just a financial risk, but also a personal risk.

I wasn’t sleeping well or eating well. When I look back at that time, I think “Thank God that I didn’t let those emotions and that fear prevent me from doing something.”

Clearly, it was a perfect home for The Hivery. And it was a launch into a whole other level of the business, and a whole other level of this movement. We were one of the first women’s co-working spaces in the country. So to do that then, that was something big. I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity.

What’s been the most discouraging, frustrating, or heartbreaking moment in your career thus far, and how did you get through it?

The biggest heartbreaks have also been the biggest breakthroughs. For example, like I mentioned a bit earlier, when I first started The Hivery, I lost my lease with 60 days’ notice.

It was coincidentally the first month that I had finally made it into the black and was profitable. I felt like I had just gotten my sea legs and then had to scramble.

Ultimately, it taught me to play bigger, find a larger, more beautiful, more visible space, and really take The Hivery to the next level.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Grace Kraaijvanger

3 THINGS

Pretend you’re sitting down for coffee with a woman who wants to pursue one of her passions and start a new project or business.

Imagine this woman is feeling hesitant, wondering, “Should I really do this? Can I really do this? I’m not sure…”

What are 3 pieces of advice that you’d give to her?

1. Stop asking for advice.

You already know what you want. Get quiet and listen to YOURSELF first and foremost. Most of the women I coach at The Hivery have had something they’ve wanted to do for a long time. Stop shopping it around for validation and listen to the voice inside you that has been wanting this for quite some time.

2. Surround yourself with positive people who believe in your potential.

Times of transformation are sensitive and energy is contagious. Surrounding yourself with “Debbie Downers” will only feed the voice of self-doubt. Positive people will ignite the possibilities.

3. Question your hiding strategies.

Saying “I’m not sure” or “It’s too risky” or “I’m too this or that” or “I need another credential first” is often a cover for fear. Inventory if your self-talk is really true. It may not be that you’re not sure, but rather that you’re just plain scared. Being scared is different…you can tackle fear. Be honest with yourself so you know exactly what your inner voice is telling you.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Laurie? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)


YOUR #1 CAREER GOAL: ACHIEVED

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