Today I talk to Jax, who moved from a cutthroat finance career in New York to being General Manager of my favourite coworking space, Huckletree Shoreditch ( London). We talk a lot about how the environment you work in strongly affects your life, your productivity and your career plus how she’s teaching herself skateboarding in her free time!
Keep scrolling to read the interview or you can listen in to the podcast to hear Jax and I chat.
Before we dive into what you’re up to right now, I’m really keen to find out how you ended up at Huckletree because I know you’ve got a very interesting backstory. Please share with us.
It’s a bit of a long story. I’ll try to make it short. I was working in finance in New York City for many years as Managing Director of Global Programs and Events for the NASDAQ Stock Market, which I loved. It was an amazing, incredible job, but it got quite cutthroat, quite hardcore and a little bit soulless for me towards the end.
I was 33 when I came to that realization and I was burnt out. I think I’d achieved everything I wanted to achieve within the role, and I didn’t see much opportunity to go any further with what I wanted to do so I had a plan to leave and take some time to figure out what I wanted to do.
The plan was to open up my own creative space with three elements to it – a café, a coworking space and an events space. But things rarely go to plan!
I feel strongly about the environment in which you work in and how it affects your life, your productivity and your career, and I got to experience it effects first hand by having a very bad working environment. I was in a cubicle that had no window. I didn’t see daylight for days especially in the winter, and I began to notice the toxicity of the space and the people around it. I loved my job but I just began to hate the environment.
I started to do a lot of research into what affects productivity, what affects happiness, what affects your work, what affects you personally? Your workspace is one of them. My interest started to peek in how we work and the future of work. At the same time, I was very into my health, really into my fitness, really into my cooking.
New York obviously has all of those things on tap, so I got into the food industry out there. My background had always been on events. My idea was to set up my own creative space and have it be in three parts, mainly focused on a clean-eating, locally and responsibly sourced café, a small bespoke coworking space, and a boutique events space.
Living in New York, I really got to understand coworking spaces as they were popping up everywhere and a lot of my creative type friends were working in them. I was just like, “What is this coworking movement that’s happening?” With that, I decided to quit my job. I was exhausted with everything at that point and so I handed in notice one day with had no plan, nothing.
Wow. That’s incredibly brave.
I should have had a plan, but I didn’t. Then, I walked into a local restaurant in my neighbourhood in Brooklyn, which had just got a Michelin star – super rare in that area with only four other restaurants that had them. It wasn’t a white tablecloth fancy place but more approachable and relaxed – I loved it. I walked in and asked them if I could be a server and they said yes! I walked out of the Managing Directing job at NASDAQ and became a waitress in Brooklyn.
That’s so cool.
It was a really good experience actually and I did it because I wanted and needed some restaurant experience to execute my plan. I felt like I had the skills on the events side, as I’d been managing a global program for a stock market for a few years and I felt pretty confident about opening the coworking piece and I thought I could figure that out, I didn’t know much about the café or restaurant piece so this job had a purpose. My motivation was to get some experience on the ground so I could apply that to my own space.
How did you get on with working in a restaurant? I’ve done it. It’s tough.
It is tough, especially in New York City because it is so competitive and people are career servers out there. It’s not just a job that you do in between stuff. They take it so seriously. The design of the restaurant was open plan with the kitchen bang smack in the middle, so we had the chef who was also the owner, plus a Michelin star chef and so very particular, out on the floor seeing everything we did. We as servers got to see him and his team in the kitchen which was amazing to watch and learn. We had to know where everything was sourced from, exactly how it was cooked, how it was prepared, know everything about the wines, suggesting names and also getting the timing right when in terms of coming out of the kitchen at the perfect, whilst dealing with difficult people and also amazing people.
It was brilliant. I just loved it. The cool thing was I got really immersed in this underworld of New York and the service industry, I’d spent my life working 8:00 until 8:00 in the day and now I was working like 8:00 until what? until midnight every night. Then, you all go out afterwards. It was this whole different underworld of New York City. I’d always been on the customer receiving end, so it was really nice to be on the inside for a little while.
Oh, my goodness. It sounds really exciting. Then, what happened between then and now?
At that point, I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to leave New York City. I had a green card, so I had the option to stay and in my mind I still wanted to start my own business. I finally decided I was going to move back to London as I thought if I’m going to start my own business I really need friends and family around me. Obviously, I had lots of friends out there but I felt like I needed the support of being able to live with my parents or friends. You suddenly realize how alone you are when you’re abroad and you want to do something like start your own business.
I came back to London, which was a big change after five years in New York, at age 33. I moved back in with my parents, was single and thought “Oh my God, I’m regressing. I’m not going forward at all.” Leaving my whole network behind was quite a daunting experience but I had decided I wanted to be close to family and so made my peace with the move to come back. Straight away I started looking at properties, I had my business plan in hand, . and I wanted to get this thing done. But it began to dawn on me that I didn’t have the resources I needed to do what I wanted to do, I wasn’t as familiar with London having been out the city for five years, and I wasn’t sure I really had the skills and the coworking piece either. Then, this business idea became quite a black cloud over my head and it became a burden that I wasn’t enjoying anymore.
I had told all my friends I was going to do it so it was quite like … the word is not embarrassing, but it was a knock to the pride to actually feel like I know I’m parking this and that I’m not going to this. I can’t do it now. I made a decision to go back to work and park that business idea for now. At this stage, Huckletree was on my radar and I met with the CEO and Founder Gaby a few times very early on after returning from New York. I had been following her on social, as well as the COO and Co-Founder Andrew, and was excited by what they were doing. I really loved the space, I’d been in to attend a couple of events here and I was like, “This place is cool.” I really, really, really wanted to work here, so I just kept in contact with them until a good fit came up for me.
I knew that I wanted to work for a cool company that wasn’t Corporate or in finance and wasn’t as crazy as what I’d been doing. I knew I wanted to be doing something that was contributing to a movement and doing something different and I really think coworking is changing the way we interact with humans and the way we work, I wanted to just be part of it as cheesy as that sounds.
That’s amazing. Well, I’m so glad you came here because it wasn’t for you, I really don’t think I’d be here because you’re the first person I met and you really embodied what Huckletree is, I think. Can you tell us a little bit more about what your day-to-day is and then I’d be really interested in what you’re officially trying to create. Let’s see if they match up.
I think they do. I remember meeting you. I remember you coming in when I was Membership Manager. That was one of my favourite jobs, I love being GM, but Membership Manager is a big and fun job! We have quite a strong curation piece here. It’s not so much an exclusivity thing but more are you a nice person working on an exciting thing and will you contribute and get on well with our existing community. For many, the purpose of a coworking space, especially for someone like yourself working alone, is that you not only make friends, but you also make business connections as well.
The curation piece is really important to us and at Huckletree Shoreditch. Everyone has quite a tech focus just because of the nature of where we’re based. West, for example, has more of a digital lifestyle focus, but the type of companies that we want in this space aren’t just startups, freelances or small companies. We have corporates in the space, we have corporate innovation teams, investments funds, we have people that startup as one person and now they’re 12 people and then you have people who literally just started out.
Having that diversity of companies from different industries and all at different stages in their journey makes for a really dynamic community that is interesting to watch. Actually, like seeing people like you because you’re a chatterbox! Just seeing people chat around the coffee machine, sometimes help each other out or actually do business among themselves, that is magic for me. I love that. Ultimately, for me, it’s the people. That’s number one. Who’s in the space and how we were interacting? Everyone is here to work. You come in to do a job. You’re not here to have fun, but we still manage to.
Yeah. We work hard here. Yeah. Exactly. Everyone comes into work and that’s one bit of feedback. People come in and they say their productivity goes up.
Yeah. How so?
Because people like yourself could be working coffee shops or at home, but you chose to pay X amount per month. You don’t need to do that, but it’s a place to meet other like-minded people, be inspired and increase productivity, which everyone says they do when they come into the space, which is cool.
Everything is taken care of. You’re not going out and sourcing coffee or tea so Yeah. It’s just like you’re there and your only thing to do is really work and have a chat occasionally.
Yeah, which I love. It’s my favourite thing seeing Zoe talk and make people that don’t want to talk, talk. Then, they end up loving it and it’s really good. The other thing that I try to do is bring the team to the members. I’m really proud of my team. You’ve got Meetra who is a Membership Manager, her role is to bring the right people into the space, but also to look after people already here. She’s got an overview of what all the members are doing and she knows what stage everyone’s at in their journey so we can help make introductions and extend peoples networks. She has to know everything about everyone to be able to help facilitate our member company’s growth.
Then, Enrica from the events’ perspective. She always wants to put on relevant events, whether it be yoga, workshops, networking events. She strives to put on events that are relevant to the community, bringing experts to them. Zack and Joe take care of the space, this beautiful space, but it doesn’t run itself. We have to make sure everything is working, the tech works, the walls are painted, the coffee machines are filtered properly and all those things that hopefully no one notices because it’s all running smoothly! And we have our Front of House team, the first and last face that see’s each member each day and are there to help with literally anything. For me, it’s the team. We are all so invested in it. We all really believe in it and I know this sounds so corny, but I’m so proud of them.
Wow. Excellent team. Excellent. I always put my hat off to Zack. I’m like, “You are opening all these huge spaces and you are not stressed out. Why aren’t you stressed out? What’s your secret?”
I am too. he’s amazing.
For me particularly, I’m a massive fan of the events because I love the events and the opportunities to meet new people. I’ve met so many people through those events and they are very diverse. I think it’s really important for a person individually to do things or see things or experience things that you wouldn’t normally get to because otherwise, you can become extremely siloed. I think that’s a really, really, really good feature for me and the fact that I can get up and literally, it can be a half hour event or an hour event or an after work drink and I know, “All right. Well actually, that was only going to take an hour.” I haven’t got to track across London to make an event.
Even if 10 people turn up, it’s not about quantity.
Yeah. Yeah. Tech will save us, was a great example.
At Tech Will Save Us, for example, there were only eight or nine of us there. She is used to speaking to huge crowds and sometimes we get a little despondent when we think the turnout is low, but actually, the ones that came got loads out of it. If it’s 8 people or 80 people, it doesn’t really matter as long as the quality of the event was good and as long as the effect is a good one for our members, whether that be 10 of our members, 20 of our members, then we’re happy. It’s cool to hear you say that you like the events. That’s good.
Yeah. that one, in particular, was great as you said because normally, I wouldn’t get the opportunity to speak with her. She works in my market and then it was really just like being sat in a library. It was like being inside somebody’s nice living room. Yeah. Having a chat hearing about this woman that’s grown this huge company. Yeah. That’s really what I love about the culture.
So happy you loved it.
What are you actually doing right now? Let’s say, what are the plans for next year with the space? Even though I won’t be here officially, but I will be darting back and froth, I’m sure of that.
Our focus for Huckletree as a whole is to grow the community beyond these four walls, which we’re starting to do. Huckletree West is opened, Dublin is open or has phased opened and will be fully opened by Christmas 2017. Perhaps, there’ll be a couple more next year. The challenge is, yes, we’ve got an incredible community here, but how do we make sure they are connecting with other people in the community at other locations? We’re working on that challenge now and it’s fun to figure out, because once you’re in the Huckletree family, that just doesn’t mean Shoreditch, West or Dublin, it means you’re in the family. We’re growing that membership base and that’s for you guys. That’s for the members.
From a space perspective, we’re focusing on a bit of a refresh and spruce up, it’s been nearly two years that we’ve been open so we’re going to take care of a few maintenance things. Nothing structurally will change. Don’t worry.
Then from a community standpoint, I think we just want to help our existing community grow, make sure we’re facilitating their growth as individuals and as companies, which is what we always want to do. And, we’ve got some availability space wise so we want to bring in some new cool companies to the community and integrate them into our existing community. For me, every day is just about making sure the people here are happy and that we’re bringing in some really interesting, inspirational people to add to the already amazing interesting inspirational people. That’s always my focus, the members.
Amazing. Amazing. I’m kind of sorry to leave.
You’ll be back. You’ll be back. They all come back
Let’s get on to a bit more personal stuff then. Apart from all this working and taking care of all this, what do you do in your free time?
In my free time, I love spending time with my nephews. I have a sister who is my best friend and she has a little five-year-old and a three-year-old. Lots of family time, which after living in New York for five years, I really missed a lot of their early years. It’s just amazing for me. Family time is one. I’m a huge exercise freak especially because I’ve sat like this all day. I’m hunched over my laptop, so I love going to the gym although I find it a bit anti-social, but it’s more for myself. I love feeling strong and my posture is better for it, I do a bit of yoga as well, which I’m really into and that’s a big part of me. I really, really want to stay fit and I’m noticing now that I’m into my 30s that it’s really important to keep that up for my mind as well.
I’ve not been to gym for a couple of weeks as I’ve been so busy here and I’ve just not had the energy but not going makes me feel like I’ not my game! It’s not only a physical vain thing, although that’s also a nice by-product of it, but it’s also for my mental health. What else? I’m learning to skateboard at the moment.
Wow, that’s very cool
It’s fun because I go to the park on the weekend and I literally make plans on the weekends around parks, so if I meet friends, I’ll be like, “Do you want to meet near this or that park?” I’ll just get their earlier and have a skate around before I meet them.
That’s really cool. Let me ask you because I’m a bit of a scared-y cat, I’m very accident prone. Are you using padding or you’re just going for it?
Going for it. My boyfriend gave me a couple of tips, but I just went for it. I’ve fallen off loads but I love it. It’s fine.
Is it a normal one or is it one of those long ones?
It’s a medium size. Actually, I bought it off one of our members’. They convinced me I should get it. It’s gorgeous, a vintage longboard but not super long, it’s not a trick board either. I just want to cruise around and it’s so good for my nephews as well because I can go to park with them, they’re on their bikes and their scooters and now I get to skate with them.
I bet they think you’re seriously cool.
They will once I’m actually half decent at it. At the moment, I’m not very good. They’re a bit like, “Oh, we don’t know her.”
I also love cooking, and food and reading, I try to do a fair amount of that too as this job is very member facing and with that you have to always be “on” which is not fake at all, as you know, I actually love it and get energy off that. That’s how I feed my soul, being around other people. You do realize when you’re an extrovert like that, that you do need to recharge and the gym, my health or reading alone is when I can recharge my batteries so that when I’m back on at work, I can be back on in a genuine way.
Are you into reading? Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction. Yeah. I just started The Trial by Kafka. Is that how you say his name? It’s very fancy. Someone recommended it. I’m actually in a book club with my girlfriends so I don’t get to pick my books as we read a book a month, then we all meet for dinner on a Thursday and talk about it.
Yeah, it is. Yeah.
Yeah. I try to read fiction because I like the escapism.
Oh, God. Yeah. No, that totally makes sense especially if you’re on all day. You know that I sell gadgets. I’m always interested to find out what sort of gadgets people are using. What’s your sort of favourite gadget?
I’m not really a gadget person. One thing I cannot travel without … I don’t know if this is a gadget. You can tell me. Is my Jawbone mini speaker.
That’s a gadget.
Yeah. I will not go on holiday without it because I am a huge music fan. If I’m in any room in my flat, there’s music on. If I walk out one room and I have the radio on in that room, I walk into the other and I put the radio on in that room too, whatever it is. I love love, love music. If I go to a hotel on holiday, I can’t not have any music. Headphones is not sharing. I like to put a song on then talk about it. I would say that’s my “cannot leave the house …” Well, holiday-wise. I cannot leave for a holiday without my Jawbone, even if it’s just a weekend away.
Where do you normally buy your gadgets?
Online, I think. Amazon.
We’re all using Amazon these days.
I was trying not to. My sister and I were like, “Let’s try and buy locally and support local shops.” We were really trying to make a conscious effort to do that but the convenience factor always wins, doesn’t it? I need to kind of revisit and do better. I forgot that we agreed to do that, my sister and I.
How would you say that you get inspired? Because obviously, the job that you do and the things you do around here, you got to be one step ahead of us because everyone here in this space is quite, I would say forward thinking, naturally very curious, the sign on the wall says, “Stay curious.” Where’s your inspiration coming from?
My team. They keep me on my toes. We are all massive Slack users. We share articles, podcasts whatever it might be. The members, they inspire me. Your story inspires me and sometimes I’ll catch up with a member on the fly by the coffee machine and they’ll tell me about a pitch competition they’ve just won or a new business interest acquired and that gives me life. It makes me want to be better at my job. Then one day eventually, when I finally unpack my business idea and go ahead with it, I will be mega-inspired by all of you.
Yeah. I think reading, seeing what other people are doing and just surrounding yourself with good positive people, not just the team and our members, but my friends and my family too. So many friends of mine are stay-at-home mums and they inspire me. You don’t have to be a high-flying CEO to be an inspirational person. Someone who is good at doing good and thinking intelligently and challenging me. I have many friends that think differently to me and they challenges me, and it’s good. That’s what I need.
Music to my ears. That’s what this broadcast is all about, inspirational women. You talked about how you stopped getting burned out which is reading, the gym, relaxing, fiction. Have you got any more plans in 2018 to really make sure that you don’t burn out, or is that where it’s at?
I am definitely going to do some more things because I realised recently, I’m obsessed with my phone and it’s very unhealthy. I bought an alarm clock, an old-fashioned alarm clock. I’m going to leave my phone at night in the kitchen to charge.
I love that.
That’s my new thing. I haven’t quite make the step yet. It’s really surprising how much I can’t do it. I keep saying, “I’ll do it tonight. I’ll do it tonight.” I haven’t.
You’re not alone.
That’s my next step during 2018, I’m going to try and have a bit of a tech detox outside of work time because I work, I go home, I check my emails, and blah, blah, blah. I’m going to, I don’t know, set a time to just cut off. Maybe not in busy time, you can’t. Maybe 7:00 p.m. onwards, I turn off my notification, or whatever. I’m going to start implementing some little rules to start just a bit of a tech detox. My evenings will be yoga, gym, reading, friends, dinner rather than … I still do those things, but with the phone right there. Checking it.
It’s amazing. I think I told you I went off the grid holiday, which I also wrote about. Just the extra head space it gives you when you’re not looking at notifications is unbelievable.
I always think, “Oh, I could be doing more. I could be doing more.” It’s like, “No. I’ll just do what I need to do in a more efficient productive way in a better amount of manageable time.” I think I prolong my day when actually I could do it more efficiently and more productively if my mind was rested and felt good, and having had a good night’s sleep.I think a tech detox is going to be a theme of 2018 for me.
I love that. I’m going to try and join you for sure. Okay. I’ve got couple of last questions now. What city would you say gives you energy?
New York City, baby. My favourite, favourite most incredibly inspiring, it’s full of misfits and I think I’ve spent my whole life feeling like I was a misfit and I never quite went with the grain. When I was younger, that felt horrible whereas as I’ve got older now, I really embrace that. New York City was the one place in the world, and I’ve travelled the world, where I felt like I was the normal one and everyone else was crazy because it’s full of misfits, it is where they all go and you can be completely free to be who you want to be.
I feel like I need to go there. I think that might be my place. If somebody offered you two weeks to go away somewhere, where would you go? Where would be your ultimate? No expense spared. It’s not like I’m going to offer it to you, by the way.
I would go to Portugal, which is where I spent most of my summers with my family. The smell of the pine trees there takes me back to so many happy memories. The beaches and the water, the ocean air is so vast and wild. It is my favourite place on earth. The food is sensational. The smell, I love. The beaches, I love. I would be there in a second, and I know it’s not fancy if someone just said where do we go right now, that would be it.
As I’m very close to getting off to going on the road, what travel tips would you give me? I need everything I can get.
Travel tips? Oh, gosh. Okay. I would say when I used to travel, there wasn’t the internet. I know that makes me sound really old, but I used the Lonely Planet books everywhere I went, which I actually think is kind of nice. I think go back to the books, talk to people. I listened to the “How I Built This” podcast by the two founders of Lonely Planet. They talk about when they wrote the first book and the interviewer mentioned that there’s the internet now so you can just Google whatever you want. They responded with, “Actually, there’s a lot to be said for sitting down with someone you’ve never met before in a place like Kabul and having a coffee just asking them where’s the coolest restaurant? When have you seen really good live music? What’s a great spot for the quiet beach retreat?” I would say, “Forget the internet. Go on word of mouth.”
I agree. I love that. I also travelled in the age of the Lonely Planet. Those are the best experiences. Connecting. I love it. Okay, Jax. This has been an amazing conversation. I’ve learned a lot more about you. A lot of stuff I didn’t actually know, which was really interesting.
I just want to say a big thank you and thank you for having me at Huckletree. I haven’t left yet, but it’s really changed my life, which when I post my article about Huckletree, then everyone else can read too. Thank you for doing this and thank you again.
Thank you. We are going to be so sad. I am going to be so sad, to see you go, but I know you’re coming back and I’m so envious of your plans. I know you have not had an easy ride to this point in your life and I’m so happy that Huckletree came into your life when it did. I’m so happy that we’ve been a part of making your life different and better and sending you off in a new direction. I’m really pleased that we’re part of your story. Thanks for coming to us.
And thank you Jax for the interview. It was wonderful.