Shared Workshop – Jelena S. Mishina
Welcome listeners! We have the courageous and smart founder of Shared Workshop here with us on the show. Her name is Jelena Mishina and she shares all about the platform she has designed for manufacturing spaces and how this new but incredibly practical idea became a reality. We have a fabulous Detroit artist at the end of the show right out of the Detroit Institute of Music Education. You won’t want to miss it! So, stay tuned till the end!
For the full transcript click below
Welcome listeners! This is Romy and I have the courageous and smart founder of Shared Workshop here with us on the show. Her name is Jelena Mishina and she shares all about the platform she has designed for manufacturing spaces and how this new but incredibly practical idea became a reality.
We have a fabulous Detroit artist at the end of the show right out of the Detroit Institute of Music Education. You won’t want to miss it!
Before we learn about courage, let’s see what Natalie has for our fun fuel for this episode.
I’m Natalie Hazen and I am bringing you this episodes Fun Fuel.
Newly forming social entrepreneurs or even seasoned social entrepreneurs go through moments of hearing naysayers and experience door shutting. Hearing the word “no” or “that won’t work” or “that can’t be done” is often times all that is heard. Even we can be our own worst naysayer!
This reminds me of the true story of one of America’s greatest sports team, the 1980 Men’s Olympic Hockey Team. I recently watched the movie Miracle which tells their incredible story.
Coach Herb Brooks crafted a team of young, talented college hockey players to compete in Lake Placid, NY to represent the United States, in the 1980 Olympics. They had their work cut out for them as they were up against the formidable Soviet Union team who were just dominating everyone including the NHL All-Stars of the time.
They were intimidating, fast, and seemingly indestructible as competitors. Herb’s own team of advisors told him he wouldn’t go anywhere with a team like that and criticized him. Herb stayed the course of his vision for his team and his players worked their tails off honing their skill sets.
Herb’s locker room speech to his team right before they were to take the ice in the final rounds of Olympic play, should to this day, resonate with every social entrepreneur out there!
On the night the US played the Soviet Union in the medal round, Brooks gave a speech to inspire his team to pull off the greatest upset in sports history. The opening line of his speech says, "Great moments are born from great opportunity." He ends his incredible speech with “this is your time, now go out and take it.”
Let’s tune in with Romy to see how this episode’s social entrepreneur is taking advantage of her opportunity!
Thank you, Natalie! How inspiring! You know, sometimes we dismiss some of the most well-known stories of history because we all assume the inspiration leaves once it becomes familiar. Not true! However, one thing that is true, is we can miss opportunities when we become familiar with our environments. This leads me right into our conversation with our guest. Jelena grew up in a manufacturing background. It wasn’t until she was challenged at a Startup Weekend, that the inspiration activated. Let’s drop in now on part of my conversation with Jelena.
Romy: Well, I'm really glad to have you on the show. Where are you calling in from today?
Romy: Tokyo and what brings you to Tokyo this morning?
Jelena: My husband is a diplomat so he is currently stationed at the U.S. Embassy here.
Romy: Oh, my goodness. It's a beautiful thing in this time in history that we can work for Mohle the way we do, isn't it?
Jelena: It's incredible and it's funny because people still ask me, well how can you do it remotely? And I said, "Well, it's a platform and you don't necessarily have to be in the same city where the founders of Facebook are, the founders of LinkedIn to be able to use it and to enjoy those platforms." So, we hope that people use and enjoy our platform without me being physically in the same city that they are.
Romy: Yeah. Let's talk about the platform, Shared Workshop. Let's tell the listeners what the platform is all about first.
Jelena: Shared Workshop is a peer to peer marketplace platform, where manufacturing companies that have excess capacity, and generally that means factory floor space, can post that space on the platform. And individuals who need space, for whatever reason, whether they've just outgrown their own facility, whether they're a small manufacturing machine shop, for example, that wishes to be part of a larger operation to share expertise or administrative costs, or whether they're a solo entrepreneur that doesn't want to tinker in their garage anymore building something. They would prefer to tinker in a little bit more professional environment. They can go on the platform. They can find the space that's right for them and then they would contact that company and see if a lease can be worked out. If it can, then the two parties go ahead and sign the lease.
Romy: All right. Well put. You've got that down here. You haven't been open very long, really just in the last year or so? Is that right?
Jelena: Less than a year. So, the idea came about in March and the platform went live last summer, about, I want to say June, July. I want to say July. Maybe July.
Romy: June, July of 2017, okay.
Jelena: Of 2017.
Romy: Yeah, so that's the sea resort time, cause we're having our chat right now in 2018. That's amazing and so before we talk about where the platform's at right now, how did you originally get inspired. Because this is one of those ideas, when I first heard about it and you and I first talked, is like, oh wow, that makes such great sense but it takes someone to come along and identify something this efficient. How did you stumble on the idea?
Jelena: So, I come from a manufacturing family in Michigan. My father and my Uncle, they all own manufacturing facilities in southeast Michigan. So, I had grown up in that environment and I saw some of the problems that they had been attempting to tackle, and one of them is space. Some of your listeners who have or have worked in manufacturing facilities know is that one of the biggest problems is that a lot of this machinery is really heavy. So, it is prohibitively expensive to move this heavy machinery, particularly if you have a tool and die shop, or a textile manufacturing plant, or anything that requires large CNC machines, lathes, horizontal machines, etc.
And so, what the owners are then expected to do are to project out how much space they think they need over three, five, seven, ten years period of time, which means that they can't grow organically. They literally have to say, okay, while today I only need 5000 square feet, in five years, I'm going to need 15,000 square feet. So, they end up buying or leasing 15,000 square feet. That means for that period of time, they have a non-monetized resource. They have factory floor slack that they're hoping to grow into. Now if their estimates are accurate, by year five, they've already grown into that space. So, they've carried it for five years, where that space was basically not making them any money and they weren't able to invest that money into why there is people or why there is other machinery.
If for example, the economy hits a downturn, and they thought certain orders were going to come in, and they don't, they now could potentially be carrying that factory floor slack for far longer, so seven, ten years. And the flip side and these are some of the problems that my father and my uncle and others who I know, or their clients or friends have also experienced, you've outgrown your space. So, if let's say, you are a more established manufacturer, you've been around for 20, 30 years. You're probably working, space-wise, at capacity. Now that doesn't mean that each machine is working at capacity, it just means that you've used up all of your space.
The problem is, is that now if you have the potential to grow, so let's say, there's the opportunity to get a new order for widgets. And you're looking to invest in some type of machinery or you need space to store the raw material, you don't necessarily have that space. It prevents you from growing in a more organic fashion. So, some of the things I know, my father, and his friends and others have done, is they basically used their contacts to ask around and attempt to find space. So, they would say, hey, I need 2000 square feet for X number of months, can someone assist me. Then usually through his network, somebody comes in. For example, I know that there have been individuals who have stored machines at my father's facility because they've outgrown their own facility.
And I just thought that that wasn't the most effective way of doing that. But I have moved out of Michigan; I have moved to Washington, D.C. I had joined the government; I had worked for the government for ten years. Had left the government, started another company and wasn't really thinking about manufacturing, until one day I thought I would take a break, and just take part in a weekend long, half course almost, that deals with trying to build a start-up. So, you sit down with a number of other individuals and you're working toward building a start-up and they wanted to do something in the manufacturing sector, and it was five men and myself. And these men kept on trying to do something like Ponyride is doing in Detroit, which is buy a manufacturing facility, subdivide it, and allow small manufacturers to use that.
The problem was they had wanted to do this in downtown Washington, D.C. And I kept on telling them, I said, "Well one, there is no space in D.C. and two, this isn't really something that fits the D.C. model. There aren't enough small manufacturers that would necessarily be able to make this viable for you and make you a profit. On top of that, you are in charge of dealing with O.S.H.A., equipping the building in such a way that a lot of different manufacturers can use it."
And so, I had offered up the idea of what had become a Shared Workshop to these guys and at first, they were very dismissive. They were very kind of gung-ho in building what they had decided to build. And feedback was coming in from some of the ... It's a task force of those mentors that come around and try to give you advice and the feedback all echoed what I was attempting to say to them. They finally said, "Fine, if you think you have such a better idea, why don't you go ahead and essentially put this together." So, I did and they presented it and we ended up taking second place.
And I know I was thinking, someone has to be doing this. Right? This can't be, as you said, something that no one has done because it's such an easy aha moment, right? I thought maybe just my father doesn't know this is being done in the manufacturing community but someone out there, in Silicon Valley is building this. And so, if no one is building it, there must be a really good reason why. There must be a regulatory reason, there must be a trade reason, something has to be there to prevent someone from building this.
So WeWork happened to be having the Creator Awards. And since WeWork works in the collaborative logistic space, I thought well, I'll just apply to the WeWork Creator Awards and I'd hoped that someone would take pity on me. And that they would essentially just tell me, hey, it's a great idea but the reason it doesn't work is that you would need to invest 100 million dollars up front and no one's ready to make that investment. Or it's a great idea but ...
And so, I applied, just hoping to get some feedback from someone who I really respected in this kind of space, which is WeWork. Instead of simply getting feedback or why not to pursue this, they said, "Congratulations, you've won." I was flabbergasted. I was absolutely flabbergasted. I thought how could I possibly have won? It's not a company; it's just a wild idea I had. And so, I kept then trying to tell them that and they kept on saying like, no, no. You now have to start a company because we need to have a bank account, that's your company's bank account where we can deposit this money. And I thought, okay. This is ...
Jelena: This money and I thought, okay, this is very surreal and not what I had anticipated. So, I started this company and I thought you know, what am I going to do with this money? You know, part of me thought well, there's you know various tech startup conferences around the country, I can probably just spend the money going to them. You know, talking to some people and enjoying my time in Vegas at the CES or in Silicon Valley at another conference and basically, that would be that.
Then I thought, you know what, I have a fiduciary responsibility to this money and I can't do that, right? I can't just spend it on a couple of conferences and say, well, you know back to what I was doing before. I also have an interest in kind of seeing you know, why hasn't someone built this and so I took that money and I started doing just market research and I started reaching out to anyone and everyone I could think of, particularly in southeast Michigan because that's the kind of the city I knew best. So, and I started talking to government officials and factory owners, large and small, automation alley, etc., and nearly every single person that I spoke to love the idea.
Sure, some of them raised you know, what are you going to do about insurance or how are you going to protect from a theft, but it wasn't as if you know, no one said, great, this is perfect there is absolutely nothing that you can fix. But, I realized that this was something that people wanted and so I thought okay, I need to build this. So, you know, as I mentioned in, I believe, July, I started to finally put together a very rudimentary website, what's in the startup community known as an MVP, a minimally viable product. Just something so that people can see how it works. It's clunky, I admit it's clunky.
It allows people to go on there and you know, if they have space, to post it or if they're looking for space to see what space is available and you know, we have been getting a pretty positive reception. Now, in fairness, there aren't many factories on the platform, but we have a lot of companies, large and small, who have expressed interested and have indicated that they wish to join the platform and I think that there's a little bit of waiting to see what others do first and that's understandable and there's been other cases where they don't want to be part of the platform, but they want us to kind of help them off the platform find someone for their space.
I mean, I think that's because people are reluctant to try to something new if they're the first ones.
Jelena: It's been a really incredible, incredible experience for me.
Romy: Well, and I think you know, with anything as you're just getting started with something like that, you know you just get a time [inaudible 00:12:55], you know a time [inaudible 00:12:57] as they see it on there. It's a beautiful website. Let's, we'll get on your website again, but what's the website right now?
Jelena: So, the website is www.sharedworkshop all one-word dot co.
Romy: Yeah. It's a beautiful website, so, and they get to see a video of you on there, right?
Jelena: They do get to see a video of me, that's right.
Romy: Yeah. So, back to this, I mean I think this is a good point for others too. When you're starting something like this, it's so common that we hear, gosh, it takes forever for both sides of the equation to come onto these platforms and this little bit of a herd mentality. You go first, no you go first, and then all of a sudden, it blows up. But, in that in between time, you know, we hear this so much, it's like you just got to sort of manually on ramp one and there's a lot of selling going on until it sort of takes some momentum of its own and I just want to encourage anyone else who's got a similar platform that listened to, [inaudible 00:14:06], saying it's normal for her too, even though this is a powerful concept and we really need it, especially in Michigan.
I mean, we have so many, we had been a manufacturing state of course with the auto industry and there's so many spaces that could benefit from this and it probably, I would imagine, one of the key issues is helping people find you, you know, helping these manufacturers find you. Has it been sort of reaching out to them one at a time, or how have you started that process?
Jelena: [crosstalk 00:14:37]. Go ahead. So, we've been doing a lot of cold calls and honestly speaking, cold calling doesn't work as I had hoped. The best is a warm introduction. So, through kind of some of those early introductions that we did with Automation Alley as I mentioned, you know they loved the concept and Tech Town has been exceptionally helpful to us and we've just been working with PMBC, so that's Peer Michigan Business Council and a number of other organizations in Michigan.
They have been incredible in opening their Rolodex and saying, okay, here's who you should talk to and making those warm introductions. There's no other way that we would get in front of companies who's revenue is 700 million a year without that warm introduction. I mean, we have trouble getting in front of some companies to take our calls whose revenue is maybe three million dollars a year. Despite the fact that we know that they need us. You know, if you just looked at manufacturing jobs in general, traditional manufacturing jobs, so we're thinking about things like tool and die companies like my father's and my uncles.
You know, I hate to say it, but they're on life support. You know, we've lost as a country seven million manufacturing jobs since 2000. Now, some of those jobs people argue, have turned into service extra jobs, and that's great and you know, I think job creation is important regardless of the sector that it's in.
But, if you are a 55-year-old man, and the only thing that you knew was how to create a certain type of part using a CNC machine and your job is going away, you know, what are you going to do next, right? You're not gonna go back to school and learn how to code and you're not gonna you know, go back to you know, the job market and find a job that pays you as well as that job did or that makes you feel like you have some type of dignity and so, we're saying okay, you know, the manufacturing jobs that are gone are likely to stay gone and if you look at some of the reports, including there's a report from Harbor Results, which is out in South Field, Michigan that essentially said that by 2020, and I would hate to misquote them, so if I do, I apologize. But, by 2020, roughly half of the revenue of tool and die companies across the United States, or the revenue of tool and die companies across the United States will be cut by half.
I believe they make about 14 billion a year and they're estimating it'll be about seven point, maybe six billion a year. So, you're thinking, well what does that mean? That essentially means that a lot of these companies are going to shutter their doors, are going to lay off individuals, and that's something that places like southeast Michigan are gonna have a hard time absorbing.
Jelena: This is not the only panacea and I recognize that. There's a lot of other ways that manufacturers need help. But this is one that allows them to take something that they're not monetizing today and monetize it and maybe that means that they take, you know as a traditional manufacturer, they rent out 1,000 square feet to some 3-D printing machines, or they rent it out to someone who makes bespoke bicycles and it's something completely outside of what this factory does. But, it allows them to bring some money to their bottom line and hopefully keep themselves afloat for a little bit longer.
I think that that's important and I think it's important to focus on manufacturing and so when I call some of these smaller manufacturers, I know, I know that they need something like this. I know that they need to at least know that it exists and so it saddens me that you know, the cold calls aren't working. But, I also understand, because at the end of the day, no one likes to get unsolicited phone calls and I do apologize, but you know, we are trying to reach as many people as possible and it has been one way that we've been doing it.
Romy: Well, and I'll tell you what, some of them are in survival mode so the warm, the warm introduction helps. I mean, I guess across the board it always helps.
Romy: At the end of the day, we're a relational bunch of folks. We're not a bunch of robots, so, it does help.
Romy: We'll do our best to continue to make introductions as we see fit as well. What, you know, one of the huge things, huge advantages that I see is this opportunity for smaller entrepreneurs too that you mentioned that's one of the beneficiaries of this and potential customers of this. How, so, before I go there, how does everyone sort of pay for the services or what's the revenue model, does everyone sort of pay a fee for placement or how does that work?
Jelena: That's a great question. So, we are allowing the first, cause we think of them as our beta testers, to use the platform free of charge. The only thing that we ask is that they give us feedback. We're almost at capacity for that and so we're gonna start charging companies and the way that it works is that there are three revenue models.
The first one is for companies that have actual space. We break that down into two. There is the basic and then there is the premium model and there's different things that are included in the premium model that are not included in the basic and basically, they choose one of those two and they.
Jelena: Basically, they choose one of those two and they pay for that. They're then allowed to list on the platform. Potential lessees who are seeking space, they also pay a small fee. Much of that fee goes to cover a security and a financial background check. This came out of the conversations we had with a lot of manufacturers who were unsure about having someone in their space because of the potential for theft. We thought, well, if we can give them some more information on who this person is, and we figured that would be a criminal and a financial background check, then potentially they would be more comfortable in making the decision even if that decision is we are not going to allow this individual to rent space from us. We don't force a relationship on anyone. Part of the money that the lessee pays is to cover their own criminal and financial background check.
Then we also are looking for partners who are willing to provide grants or sponsorships. What we hope to do with that money is allow some of the really small manufacturers that are hurting. We're thinking companies are probably making under $150,000 in revenue a year. These are companies that are solo entrepreneurs or maybe they're really small mom-and-pop shops that really isn't making a lot of money and barely making ends meet. Taking some of that money and basically allowing those individuals to use the platform free of charge or for a very, very small fee. That's what we're looking for, even some of the larger manufacturers if they don't have any space that they would like to put on the platform but they want to sponsor three or four of the small manufacturers, we can obviously do that.
We're still working out the last one because we don't know if it should be entirely free or if there should be some small nominal fee like $25 and then the rest would be covered by, whether it's the foundation or whether it's a larger manufacturing company. They're just realizing that there's a huge benefit to keeping those companies that are part of their supply chain in business.
Romy: Yeah. Right. Well, there's just so many benefits from making this connection. What's your next hurdle if you had one as an entrepreneur? We always have these hurdles, all of us. It's like we're always running to get over the next barrier. I'm just curious if there's something you’re laser-focused on breaking through or getting around right now.
Jelena: Yup. Every startup, I know, has two big hurdles. The first one is getting people to use whatever they're producing and in our case, it's this platform. The second hurdle for pretty much every startup today is raising money. We are actually going to be opening up a funding round on the 29th of January. Other than the money that we had won, we have never opened up a funding round. We're finally going to do that on the 29th of January. We're hoping to raise enough money to one, revamp the platform so it's a little bit less clunky, two, to hire individuals. We really want to start hiring people in southeast Michigan. Then as we branch out to other places around Michigan and even other places in the United States, just hiring locally.
One of the things that's really near and dear to my heart is I really want to start hiring some of those manufacturers that have been pushed out of their jobs because of just the changing tide of where manufacturing jobs are going. I think that they have a lot that they can provide and whether that is as a consultant to me, how do I approach a certain group? Or whether it is in the sales division or something along those lines. We're looking to use part of that money for hiring. Then part of that money will obviously be used for marketing. We have up until now a zero-marketing budget. Hence, why we've been doing a lot of warm introductions and cold calls. We would like to do a little bit more aggressive marketing potentially with online ads or even a billboard near some of the industrial zones so that people are more familiar with our company, what we do, and what our mission is.
Those are kind of the two things. So, getting customers on the platform and then raising money to kind of help propel the platform in, I think, a growth direction that we just couldn't do on our own at this point.
Romy: The two most critical things at this stage.
Jelena: The two most critical. That's right.
Romy: I love that you're looking to hire that type of employee too. I call that getting a fox in the hole strategy. Get one of those with all the connections and speaks the language in that community. The fox in the hole employee. That's always a good one.
Jelena: I think that there is a lot of benefit. I mean if you're going to be serving a specific community, you need to have people who have felt that pain, be able to, one, talk to you about it in an honest and direct way and two, be able to connect with those who are maybe going through that experience right now. I think that it's important to look at them as a benefit and not as someone we say, well, you're in your 60s, or you're in your 70s or 50s and basically go find a job flipping burgers and wait for retirement. You want to give them something that they can be proud of. I don't say that this is the only thing that is out there that maybe can bring them some pride and dignity, but I hope that it's a job that people would want to have, which is kind of helping those who are still in manufacturing stay in the jobs that they love doing.
Romy: Right. That's right. You know, something that I noticed about you from the way you approach things, you pay attention to people with cultures. You pay attention the communities that you're in. Do you feel that some of the travel that you've done has influenced the way you approach some of this work?
Jelena: I'd like to think so. I think that you can be very cognizant of people's cultures and people's experience without having traveled extensively. I do think that if you are afforded the opportunity to experience a wide array of cultures, it helps. I've spent time throughout the Middle East. I'm currently in Asia. I've spent time throughout Europe. I do think seeing how different communities approach different issues helps but I don't think it's necessary.
Romy: Right. I agree. I've met some very observant people who've never traveled. The key is sometimes travel kind of forces you to settle down and pay attention to your surroundings. I just noticed that about you and I have always identified that as a key to the success when we've worked with business owners over the last, I don't know, almost 28 years now. That's a note for everyone. We all got to pay attention.
Jelena: That's right.
Romy: Well, anyway. What would be one of the things that maybe you would give a word of encouragement for other entrepreneurs? Because you are fresh out of the gates and said, "Hey, I'm just going to do this. I see this gap. It appears that there's some movement here. I'm going to just jump in." What would you say to other entrepreneurs that are really considering or nervous to take their first step?
Jelena: Yeah. I think that that's a great question. I'd probably tell them what I told a lot of my friends and coworkers when I left the government. That is, follow what makes you happy. You have one life and you have one opportunity. If you are younger, so I'm not young but I like to think of myself as younger, if you have the financial means and if you have the support system where you can leave a position that you are currently unhappy with and pursue something that you think will bring you a great deal of satisfaction, a great deal of joy, do that. I know that not everyone is in that position. It's really hard to walk away from a salary or a paycheck every two weeks to we're going to start a community where ... As I'm sure you all know, as the founder of a startup, you essentially don't get a salary.
Jelena: It's not until you have raised in the millions of dollars that you can take a salary that is probably at the end of the day going to be a quarter or a half of what I walked away from.
Jelena: A lot of people can't do that. A lot of people can't say I'm going to walk away from whatever their paycheck is, $50,000 a year, $100,000 a year to be making $10,000 or $15,000 a year. I recognize that, but if you can, take that plunge. Hustle. Do what needs to be done because I promise you that, at least for me, I am so much more fulfilled.
Romy: Well, that's a great word. There's something about involving your heart in what you're doing that we as human beings, our heart is just as important as all of the pieces, with our mind, our personal accomplishments. We have to feel peace about the direction we're going. Even though we may be working really, really hard, like I'm sure you're doing, we're doing, you end up working more hours when you're in a startup usually than anybody else. You have to have that heart led passion for it. Not that every day is going to be hey, this is just a peaches day, but that you're going to need that in some of the types when others would sort of throw in the towel I guess and say I just really appreciate your honesty here. We love your business model. We want to do whatever we can do to support you and we'd love to check back with you down the road and do a follow-up and follow your journey if you'd be willing.
Jelena: I would absolutely be willing. I'm always happy to talk about even some of the hurdles that I face because I think one of the things that you raised is a really good point and that is some days are hard. There are days that I cry. There are days that it's a Sunday and it might as well have been a Monday because I had no weekend because I'm working every day. When you step back, you should ask yourself, am I happier doing this than I was doing whatever it was before? If you can honestly say yes, I think that you're on a good path. I'm more than happy to talk to you about how that path goes for me and any struggles that I may have or hopefully moments of celebration.
Romy: Well, that would be powerful especially out of the Detroit community where most of our activity happens around this podcast. We have the saying that we're better together. We like to share and collaborate with each other because we learn from each other, we learn how to pick each other up when each other falls down accidentally or on purpose, and share each other's celebrations and that's really what we want this podcast to be about. You're a perfect guest for us to follow up with. How would others reach you beyond the website? Is there any social media or an email address?
Jelena: Yup. They can follow us on social media. The handle is Shared Workshop. If they wish to email me directly, they can either go on our website, fill out the contact us form, and that will end up in my inbox. Or, if they prefer simply to use my email address, then I'm happy to provide it. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. Any one of your listeners or members of your community are more than welcome to use that email address and reach out to me with questions or if they wish to join the platform. I'm happy to engage.
Romy: Well, that's great. Jelena, we really appreciate you taking the time to get on the phone with me this morning. We'll get back in touch with you.
Jelena: All right. Thank you so much. It was great talking to you.
Big thanks to Jelena for spending time with me while she was over in Tokyo. Shout out to our Tokyo listeners, by the way. Thank you so much! Now, you all know we are music lovers around here so we have to have some fun finding all different types of artists. This beautiful artist was provided to us by DIME or Detroit Institute of Music Education. Please meet A Plus and her song, Pride Over Me.
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