July 10, 2023

Create, thrive…adjust: how VIDA Coworking is killing it in the new business world

It’s not surprising that some of the best product and business ideas of all time have been born out of personal necessity. You need a tool or a resource, but you can’t find it anywhere. So, out of genius, ambition or frustration, you make it yourself.

Maybe it fills a need for others. Maybe it’s a great idea that has real legs. Maybe you get an actual, thriving business going, with proof of concept, a base of customers and plans for expansion…

And then maybe a pandemic turns the working world upside down.

A decade ago, Melanie Marconi had a need, and she saw a possibility. So she created what she needed—a shared workspace that catered to an audience that appreciates a more personalized, holistic approach. And it was clearly a very good idea. But then she had to step back before she could go forward.

I’ll just do it myself

Melanie was previously an event planner, and she moved to Portland in 2012 to start a local branch of the business. It took off quickly, and just as quickly she found herself having meetings with five colleagues in her living room, or meeting at a restaurant and spending too much on food and drink to make the meeting worth it.

She looked for a better option. She started exploring coworking spaces, and what she found did not exactly inspire her. “It was all gray color palettes, concrete floors, generic art and furnishings,” she remembers. And it was mostly men working there. She asked one facility manager if they offered something like yoga classes or other activities for the users: “All I got was a blank stare.”

So she did it herself. She designed a space that would fulfill more needs than an anonymous desk—because people’s lives aren’t that simple. Particularly women’s. She opened the first VIDA Coworking facility in 2019, which offered a fitness studio, kids’ activities, life coaching…a place designed to provide everything possible in one resource, especially for working women.

More than a third of the available memberships were already sold by the opening, and soon after that the business had 100 members.

And you know what happened next.

Survive and advance

Some of the coworking spaces survived; some didn’t. VIDA survived—and also saw the need to adjust. Melanie recognized the role coworking spaces could play, post-Covid: “This may be the way people ‘go back to work.’” The office environment was fundamentally changed: A huge swath of people would want/need a remote working space that’s not in their pantry, master closet or spare bedroom. She went all in on the concept of offering a work/life resource for workers.

That’s reflected in her one-line description of VIDA: “We’re a co-working community designed to help make life work for our members—who are primarily women, families and small businesses.”

“That’s who gravitates to us,” she explains. “Smaller businesses, nonprofits—we currently have nine nonprofit orgs as members—people and groups we can offer amenities to that they might not be able to afford elsewhere.”

A big part of VIDA’s successful approach lies in offering a curated set of services and amenities that reflect its members’ needs. They offer things like concierge mail service, fitness classes, activities for kids that serve as a break from parenting, social gatherings and even on-site health and wellness practitioner visits.

Melanie’s approach is to create an overall community/environment, and then let people find it. “We don’t consciously target a specific segment,” she says. “When people come for a tour, they quickly know if it’s a fit. And we only want good fits, to maintain the vibe we’ve created.”

Expanding—and finding a partner

VIDA was already looking for a second space to open in 2020, but that was shelved for obvious reasons. When they got back in the expansion game in 2022, they came across a space managed by NAI Elliott. Melanie knew pretty quickly—like one of her clients—that it was a good fit.

“This space (in Beaverton) has beautiful floors and an interesting floor plan, and it was clearly well-managed,” she notes. “And everyone from NAI Elliott—the property management team, the construction management team, everyone—had great input on how we could replicate our VIDA vibe in a completely different space.”

Melanie knew exactly what she wanted; all VIDA spaces should look like each other. But this was also a completely different layout. So while the paint colors, the carpet and the finishes match the original space, the NAI Elliott reps helped her reimagine the kitchen, the common areas and more. Together, their goal was to use what was there, not waste materials and replicate the defining overall feeling of the original space.

Coworking’s place in the new business world

Even though Melanie’s original concept was measurably successful, one of the key outcomes of the pandemic is that VIDA was poised to provide something that became even more in-demand. The fact is, some people are never going back to the office. But many of them are tired of trying to be productive in the middle of their households. What’s the sweet spot in between? VIDA is right there.

“The way we work has been fundamentally changed by the pandemic; that was step one,” she says. “Step two is, how can we re-imagine work and workspaces in a way that fits social, business and family needs, all in one place, and at a much more efficient cost and method than what employers previously provided?”

That’s a pretty big step. But VIDA is filling an acute need. The original concept has progressed from solving her own meeting problems to serving the needs of an entire new portion of the workforce. It’s not surprising that VIDA plans to have five locations in the Portland metro area by 2025, and 25 regional locations by 2030. There’s need, there’s possibility and there’s success to build on.

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