Rachel Kelly is the Founder of Toronto’s Make Lemonade, a workspace for women in that city’s downtown core. Make Lemonade opened their doors on September 18 and in honour of their launch, we connected with Rachel to learn more about her story, her vision and her brand.
Read the full interview below:
- What are you looking forward to most about this new chapter?
Meeting the people I’ve connected with on Instagram. It still seems unreal that so many people are connecting, liking and sharing what I’ve been putting out to the world. I’m just constantly reminded that Make Lemonade is a an idea that people like, need and can’t wait to see! Also, for the literal dust to settle. It’s been a construction site for too long!
- What inspired you to create a coworking space in Toronto?
I had been freelancing, working from coffee shops all over the city for about a year-and-a-half before the idea crept into my head. Although I loved exploring all the cafes and working from a new place everyday, the romance died. I constantly found myself in a situation where I couldn’t find a seat to sit, solid wifi or a quiet space to take an important phone call. Sure, I had a home office, but I also craved that human interaction and a desire to be somewhere. Working from your pyjamas is only fun for so long. It wasn’t until life handed me a big lemon, I knew it was time for me to revisit this idea of opening a coworking space.
- Who can use your coworking space and what type of application process is there to sign up?
Make Lemonade is open to any women-identified person. The application is simple, come in for a tour (you can book online), learn about our membership options and if the vibe is for you, you’re in! It’s that simple.
- Understanding Make Lemonade is an all-female space, what do you do to encourage gender inclusivity in your place of work?
When I landed on the idea that I wanted this to be a workplace for women, I realized very quickly I needed to educate myself. What I’ve learned is that the language we use can impact everyone and sometimes a seemingly innocent greeting as “hey guys or gals” can be non inclusive. I’m still learning everyday, but going to workshops (which I will be hosting at Make Lemonade), being open with your dialogue, asking for preferred pronouns and admitting you may not know are the right steps to creating an inclusive space.
- How long have you been working on the launch of Make Lemonade?
The idea first sparked in 2015 when I was reading a book on entrepreneurship. The constant theme was to create something out of a frustration; a problem to be solved. Flash forward to September 2016 when a job opportunity fell through and forced me to take a tally of all the elements I liked in my life, and all the things I did not. That’s when I decided to revisit this whole coworking idea and to create what I had been imagining. At that point in my life, I had nothing else to lose. On October 26, 2016 I reached out to a family friend to connect me with a Toronto real estate agent. A few days later, i made an instagram account to see if there was interest in the brand I was creating. I made sure not to tell any of my friends – I wanted the following to be organic so I could truly gauge if it was going to work.
- What has been your biggest challenge since you started this journey?
It’s really hard to pinpoint it down to one specific thing, but I think it must be that my life has just changed so dramatically. I really work well on a schedule, and since that first call to start looking for a space, my life has been nothing but chaotic. I’ve had meetings all over the city, met on a moment’s notice and had to adapt very quickly – but that’s the nature of business!
- Who has been your biggest support along the way?
My family. Before the idea of Make Lemonade was even there, my parents were always pushing me to dream big. When I told them about my idea they supported me wholeheartedly, and have spent many, many hours at Make Lemonade to get it up and running.
- Who’s on your team, helping to bring Make Lemonade to life?
Officially, Make Lemonade is a team of one, but I’ve had a solid 30 or so people in my life step forward to help me at some stage of the game. It’s really amazing how much people are willing to help when you just ask. From close friends and family, to Instagram strangers (who have now become friends), the help has been amazing. From painting, website wizardry, supportive text messages and sharing Make Lemonade in their network, the support has been truly game-changing.
- Have you always lived and worked in Toronto? What’s your favourite place to explore in that city?
I grew up in Burlington and then moved to Toronto in 2008 when I went to Ryerson University. I haven’t moved back since. I love Harbord Village. The bike lane is perfect, there’s a handful of great restaurants and one time in October the whole street was lined with jack o’lanterns!
- Make Lemonade is right downtown – near Adelaide St. W. and Spadina Ave. Why did you choose this location?
I would love to tell you that my location choice was intentional, but it was not. It took seven months to find a space that was going to work with my vision. The Toronto real estate market is insane – there were spaces that were signing deals in hours! In the early days of planning, I mapped out all of the cafes with wifi, libraries, hotel lobbies and coworking spaces in the city. That way, whenever my agent would show me a space, I quickly referenced my map and knew if it would work. Then I had to take transit, parking, bike lanes and accessibility into consideration too. When I visited 326 Adelaide St. W., there were flaws (like not being fully accessible), but overall, it had the potential.
- Have you always been inspired to create? Where do you think this passion came from?
I’ve always been drawn to good design. From magazine spreads, labelling on a jam jar, to the way an invitation is presented. I think it comes from my mother, she has a really hard time throwing away design magazines, and I have a very similar issue. In high school, I spent a lot of time ripping out pages, text and photos from magazines then arranging them on a walls.
- Toronto is Canada’s most diverse city and it’s probably the country’s busiest, too. What types of fears do you have about launching a business in Toronto?
I used to be so intimidated by this city – it’s crazy to think that now that I’m opening up my own business here. I think no matter where you open a business, there’s an element of risk. Toronto is probably the most secure city I could launch Make Lemonade; I know it well.
- If we didn’t take risks, we likely wouldn’t make any progress! Understanding fears always come with new projects, what have you learned about risk-taking, so far?
The thing you’re most hung up on at the moment won’t be your biggest challenge yet. There’s always something bigger, more intimidating and challenging ahead of you. Nothing will go as planned, so you have to roll with the punches. I know it’s so cliche to say, but all of those sayings have never rang more true than in these past few months.
- Was starting your own business always on the horizon, for you?
Absolutely! My parents were entrepreneurs and I looked up to the life they created for my brother and I. From an early age, I always knew I wanted to create something for myself.
- What type of path did you take to get to where you are today?
Travelling has been a big part of my life from the get-go. My parents took my brother and I on many adventures around the globe and throughout school, I studied on exchange. After university, I worked a range of jobs, some in my field of study, many not-so-much and a lot of the time, I juggled more than one. In between it all, I would go on backpacking adventures overseas, climb mountains, go hiking, scuba diving, anything that challenged me mentally and physically. Although I loved going on these grand adventures, I knew I was running away from the reality at home: I had no clue what I was doing. At the end of 2015, I got back from yet another backpacking adventure and I decided to reach out to people who I admired and felt they were on they type of entrepreneurial path I wanted to be. That sort of set some wheels in motion as had me thinking more critically about the type of work I wanted to do and the people I wanted to connect with.
- What advice do you have for people who may be on a similar path that you were once on?
First things first. I’m still on a path figuring it all out! I think the hard advice I would give is this: Get out of the romanticized version of your life, and be real. You know deep down if you’re working hard or not, pushing for that job interview, seeking out the advice you crave. Do the work and things will follow, but it’s a lot messier, and harder, than you anticipate.
- What do you hope the future of Make Lemonade will be?
If I put it writing, it will never come true. With that said, if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that what I’m imagining now will look dramatically different a year from now.
- Do you think you will continue to create business and brands in the future?
I really do hope so! I’m excited to see where Make Lemonade will take me, but right now, I’m just focused on getting doors open.
Thank you Rachel for sharing your story with A Quarter Young and congratulations on all that you have accomplished so far. We can’t wait to follow along with you and Make Lemonade.