Jenny Folley

A life dedicated to building communities and supporting business owners

Every entrepreneur knows that battle of turning an idea into a business. Typically, you start working from home (maybe even in the garage like Jeff Bezos) but with kids, housework and other distractions, it’s just not a place that allows for focus or future growth.

Seriously, where do you seat new staff members when the team builds? With no corporate black credit card in your wallet, it’s not as if you can spend big on a cold, oversized (and priced) office.
The obvious answer these days is setting-up operation in a coworking space, but there was a time when this wasn’t an option.

You can thank Jenny Folley, Managing Director of @WORKSPACES, for having a heart for small business and the vision to bring coworking to Australia nearly forty years ago.

Jenny Folley

From Hong Kong to Brighton: How a work trip started a coworking space

The idea that spurred Jenny’s passion for a more community-based workspace started in 1985, with her first business, Corporate Executive Offices (CEO). After a business trip with her husband to Hong Kong, Jenny saw the value in virtual offices.

“At the time my husband worked in these rudimentary offices,” Jenny shares, talking about her first brush with virtual offices, “they were not very well-designed, but the idea was there–just a desk or room for your business–and I thought it would be good to bring it to Australia.”

Jenny saw a gap in the market: she noticed that a lot of people in Melbourne were working from home. She also recognised how expensive commercial leases were. More often than not, these spaces were renting out more square metres than entrepreneurs needed and tied them to lengthy contracts that were too rigid for small businesses.
Helping entrepreneurs ease the stress of building their business became Jenny’s inspiration. Jenny envisioned them getting out of their garages and into well-designed, professional and credible office spaces with all the facilities they needed to scale their business and live the lives that they wanted.

Armed with solid knowledge of business owners and a winning concept, Jenny got to work.

Not all business ideas go to plan (in the early days)

Finding the capital and assets needed to realise her idea didn’t come easily.

“No bank would lend to me,” Jenny recounts, talking about her journey in finding funding.

“According to the banks I was just a housewife with an idea, but I finally got one after many rejections, even if they charged me 24% interest. Looking back that rate doesn’t make sense, but at the time I was just so happy I had one, and eventually I did get it all back.”

At the start, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Jenny couldn’t afford to hire staff so when people dropped in to enquire about the space, she’d pretend to be the receptionist, saying that the manager was out, or just down the road.

“I did everything myself back then,” Jenny shares, “I would be cleaning the office then quickly hide the broom the moment a customer came in. I was prepared to do the work and represent the business myself but at the time I thought we needed a (pretend) male CEO because I was a woman in business, which was a pretty new thing.”

While women in business are now common, they still face many challenges like acquiring customers, mastering finances, adopting future-proof technology and achieving work-life balance. When most women start their business to follow their passion and find the flexibility and financial freedom hard to come by in the 9-5, hurdles like these can be disheartening.

Jenny understands it all too well having experienced every set back you can imagine.

@WORKSPACES: The emergence of a new coworking space

After nearly three decades of hard work, scaling the company globally and serving many happy customers, Jenny was offered the opportunity to sell CEO in 2014 and she took it.

Having invested so much energy and passion into CEO, Jenny felt lost–like she lost her right arm-after the sale. Jenny loved helping clients and missed her leadership role in these spaces, so building her next ‘hobby’ @WORKSPACES was the logical next step. Jenny’s understanding of entrepreneurs and their needs supports her passion for her work.

It’s Jenny’s zeal for providing entrepreneurs with flexible, professional and tasteful offices which gives her company resilience in the face of any crisis (and we’ve seen a few of those recently). When the pandemic shook up the world and how it does business, Jenny saw how her customers’ needs changed–people seek out their own business centres closer to home yet offer the ability to work in collaboration with others in a professional environment.

With her experience in the industry, Jenny knows the need for quality business space will always be there, especially as people are less inclined to go into the city for work.

@WORKSPACES comes from her genuine belief in her product and what she’s proven she can do for small business owners. Coworking spaces provide multiple benefits and opportunities for entrepreneurs to build their network, collaborate with other professionals on independent projects and pursue opportunities.

Coworking spaces are also known to help people thrive; work feels more meaningful, people have more job control and business owners become part of a supportive community.

“One of our coworking clients writes legal wills and has written the wills of everyone in their centre,” Jenny shares, “While another client designs websites and has made websites for everyone at that site. I’ve even seen people meet at one of our spaces and get married. Our spaces are where people really come together.”

Jenny’s constant enthusiasm for creating and maintaining these spaces for business owners shines through. In each @WORKSPACES centre it’s a given that Jenny and her experienced team provide exceptional service, but what really allows their business to grow is their commitment to nurturing societies of entrepreneurs who collaborate and sustain each other.

Coming from someone who built their business with nothing but an idea and a bit of capital, Jenny is proof of what tenacity can do: “You just need to apply yourself and doors will open.”

After epic success, what motivates Jenny to keep going?

For Jenny, managing @WORKSPACES is a calling, so every day there’s something new to get excited about. But it’s not a solo effort, she has an amazing team to keep the locations running and her clients happy. That support is not lost on Jenny and she knows how beneficial it has been throughout her journey.

In her first business, Jenny had the trust and guidance of an experienced business partner to help inform her decisions, like opening up coworking spaces into different locations. While with @Workspaces, the efficiency of her team means Jenny has confidence they can (and do) handle daily operations like customer support which allows her to focus on the bigger picture.“Our clients are really the wind beneath my wings,” Jenny says, “one of my earliest customers, who’s still with us today, was a lawyer who needed a legal secretary. That customer, probably recognising I was an inexperienced business owner, helped boost my skills and trained me in business operations. I didn’t know anything in those days. If clients like him didn’t believe in me then I wouldn’t have gotten this far.”

Each @WORKSPACES location is unique, made this way by the different people who work there. Clients are actively involved in participative circles where entrepreneurs work together to grow their businesses.

In business, Jenny has learnt many things about herself

Jenny’s come a long way armed with only her idea. What keeps her on track is that fervour for providing entrepreneurs and small businesses with the acumen and support she was lucky to receive in her own journey.
Her steadfast belief in her offering helped to weather storms in the past years. Initially, Jenny relied on her business as her main source of income which affected the way she approached her bottom lines. “It really toughened me up before,” she recounts, referring to her first venture into coworking spaces, “because at the time business was about making a dollar.”

Now she works from a different place as her experience and work have changed the way she does things. Her passion for giving small businesses the help they need hasn’t altered but the purpose of her work culture has evolved. It’s less about making money and more about maintaining a work-life balance for her and the team.

“It’s important to me that the team has a life outside the job,” Jenny explains. “The dollar is still there, but to me, I’m thinking of my team as we’re helping our clients get what they need.”

What are @WORKSPACES plans for the future?

Jenny and the team are gearing up for more sustainable growth in each new site. Buildings are planned to be eco-friendly and constructed with sustainable products with sustainably sourced furniture, harvested energy and different sustainable technologies are included in the new locations being established right across Australia, serving regional locations.

“The direction of our work is toward building in less urban areas, as country towns are going to need office hubs and @WORKSPACES provides the best facilities”. Jenny understands the importance of moving away from the work-from-home setup people, to offer clients the best venue to collaborate with each other and network in friendly and environmentally sustainable coworking spaces.

Jenny continues to stand by the importance of coworking spaces in bringing entrepreneurs together in a way that’s unachievable anywhere else. She’s seen the businesses, communities and even families built because of the spaces she’s created. Her success is proof that believing in your product and its value create success for you and others.

With all the small business owners she’s been lucky to meet over the years and her own experience as a professional, Jenny advises entrepreneurs to lead with enthusiasm. “You have to believe in yourself and trust in your gut,” she shares, “you can achieve anything if you’re passionate, no matter what journey you embark on. You have to put more than 100% into it.”

Coming from someone who built their business with nothing but an idea and a bit of capital, Jenny is proof of what tenacity can do: “You just need to apply yourself and doors will open.”

 

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