Meet The Founder: Melanie Marconi of VIDA
Melanie Marconi, the founder of VIDA, is no stranger to starting businesses. Before starting VIDA, she founded three other businesses, including a successful national event planning firm for nonprofits. When she moved to Portland to launch a new office with a remote team in 2012, she had to start thinking about ways to invite more community into her life.
Melanie valued the flexibility and independence of working from home, especially since she’d become a single mom, but she also knew spending time with other women who understood the unique challenges of balancing a career, personal health and wellness, a family, and a satisfactory life was essential.
From that, VIDA was born!
VIDA is Portland’s first coworking space designed by women and offering members access to onsite, drop-in childcare, which is still an extremely rare amenity in the coworking industry. Other trendsetting amenities include unlimited daily fitness classes, life coaching, onsite parking, as well as healthy snacks and food/beverages provided by women-owned companies and local vendors. Perhaps most importantly, VIDA is a place where members can manage complicated lives and achieve their goals in a community setting.
How did you discover coworking?
I knew about coworking for a while — it wasn’t really a big thing in Los Angeles when I was living there, but when I got to Portland it was already a pretty well-known concept here. In my neighborhood, I toured a coworking space pretty soon after I arrived in Portland, and it was fine but not really suitable for my lifestyle as a working mom.
I watched a lot more of them start opening in Portland, and the open rate today is definitely not as fast as it used to be. It does feel like it’s settled down and coworking is just part of Portland’s culture now.
Why did you decide to open up VIDA?
I decided to open VIDA because I felt like the amenities that helped me make life work for myself and my family just weren’t available in other coworking concepts. And I knew that if we were able to really put it together well, that it would not only benefit my life but the lives of women and families like mine. So it really became an important mission for me in that sense to serve our families in Portland.
Who is your target market? What kind of people are you aiming to bring in to VIDA as members?
If I had to define the market, what we are seeing with our current membership is about 20% men and 80% women. Of those numbers, about 60% have children. So it’s not as highly focused on families as you might think, but for people that have families, our model offers a major benefit.
The ages of our members range from early 30s to mid-40s who are mostly working professionals. We also have a range of entrepreneurs, including two decent-sized nonprofits and a handful of small businesses who are members of VIDA.
How is your space unique compared to others in the Portland area?
Our amenities are very unique compared to other spaces in Portland — what makes them unique is they are more “whole-life focused.” We do have a drop-in childcare program for those who need it, and we also have a full fitness studio with daily fitness classes that are included in memberships so people can stay fit and healthy.
We also have a member concierge that’s available to all of our members, who helps with those small, irritating to-dos like returning a shipment of shoes that don’t fit. Additionally, we have a laundry service and a CSA for local vegetables and prepared meals that gets delivered once a week.
Basically, we look for pain points in the business of life and really provide services and support to help with that. All of VIDA’s members are also able to participate in monthly coaching sessions with our in-house life coach. I think this is crucial, as a lot of times those “big picture” personal and even professional goals get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, even though most people find a greater sense of happiness and fulfillment when they are able to work on bigger picture projects.
Why was it important to you to offer drop-in, onsite childcare?
I think that it’s important that the space was child and kid-friendly for me, mainly because I have a kid and if this is going to be where I work, my kid will obviously need to come into the office sometimes. I wanted bringing her here to be totally acceptable and to actually be part of the ethos of the space.
The way families are today — there are always times when they need a little bit of help and childcare is usually the biggest piece. There is pretty much always a need for good childcare and finding it makes for one of the biggest stressors that families face. Since we want to make life work for our members, and 60% of them have this challenge, we wanted to offer a solution for them so childcare wouldn’t be an impediment to their ability to work.
What are the three key ingredients for operating a successful coworking space?
- A community that is developed and nurtured — really cultivating that and connecting people and facilitating engagement among members
- Getting the basics right — the internet always has to work and be fast; the coffee always has to be out and hot; the basics have to be done well and on-point and functioning at all times
- The environment has to feel beautiful and helpful — for us, that boils down to our aesthetic and the on-site amenities that we have; for our members, the design and vibe of the space is critical
What are some of the other highlights of VIDA?
In addition to the fitness studio, we also have onsite health and wellness practitioner pop-ups (esthetician, massage, acupuncture, chiropractor, etc.) and a podcasting studio — and our large conference room, The Vintage Room, looks like it was taken straight out of a Mad Men episode (our mid-century modern building was originally the headquarters of Jantzen Swimwear).
What is your favorite thing about coworking?
I came of age in the working world in the early 2000s and worked in a traditional high rise commercial office space, with a small private office, a reception area, and shared conference room — where everyone ate lunch together and literally gathered around the water cooler to chat for a break.
I love that coworking and coworking spaces offer the best of all of the work worlds… a throwback to a traditional office setup, beautifully coupled with more innovative and flexible seating areas, plus the ability to choose how and when to interact with people. It’s great to know there are always interesting people to connect with and learn from, along with the freedom to manage your own time and schedule in a way that maximizes personal efficiency and joy.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to open a new coworking space?
Raise more money than you think you need and only spend what you have raised. Everyone told me this, and I tried to follow it, but sometimes you can only get what you can get. I overspent by about $20,000, which really isn’t too terrible, but it’s hard to pay off startup costs while also paying for ongoing monthly expenses.