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Driven & Co. Ep: 16 – How Collaboration Catapulted Entrepreneurial Success

Jenny Poon, founder of CO+HOOTS, CO+HOOTS Foundation and eeko studio, talks with host Justin Gray about her dream of becoming an inventor, her foray into the corporate world and how she ended up a serial entrepreneur.

What does a normal day look like in the life of Jenny Poon?
My days are crazy because I run CO+HOOTS, CO+HOOTS Foundation and eeko studio! And I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. So normally I get up early for breakfast and then I’m on email and getting on track for the day. I schedule my days around when I’m most productive. Meetings are for the mornings and afternoons are for when I’m working by myself. As much as I love a coworking space, when you’re the owner of one, you can’t get much done when there.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I dreamed of being an inventor. It started in third or fourth grade when we had to create these little machines with various items (like a spoon) to accomplish certain goals. I loved creating solutions for everyday problems. When I was younger I used to share a room with my brother and sister, and we would always fight over who had to turn off the lights. I ended up stringing a rope to the light switch and attached it to the ceiling and strung it across the bed so I could easily flip the switch. There ended up being a lot of strings and contraptions in our house. Really, I craved the moment of finding a solution that worked.

How did the seed get planted to become an entrepreneur?
My parents are immigrants and came here with nothing, but were fortunate enough to be sponsored by a family in Minnesota who helped them with housing. Somehow, they started a restaurant in Minneapolis. It’s always just been my parents running it and then us three kids helping out. As an adult now I see it as such a blessing to have seen firsthand people putting in so much hard work for something they really loved. What I learned was you can have a family and build a business and succeed. It’s possible but you do make sacrifices.

What did you have in mind when you went to college?
After growing up in the restaurant, I knew I didn’t want to end up working 24/7. I thought it would be so great to have a cushy job where someone paid me and I got benefits and vacation time, so that’s what I was looking for. I studied journalism, advertising and graphic design. I eventually worked my way up to these jobs in corporate America, and realized it wasn’t for me after all.

What were the indicators corporate life wasn’t for you?
I was working at the Arizona Republic, which is a great newspaper, and had been named the new art director for a magazine they had. On the second or third day they pulled the team into a meeting and explained how they wanted us to succeed and asked what could they do to support our efforts. When it was my turn I suggested creating a website or even a landing page, but was told basically the Internet was a fad and my efforts would be better focused on other things. Wow, that was a big signal to me! I knew then that there was a big barrier and it wasn’t okay with me. I ended up starting eeko while in that position and finding I loved being the director my future.

What was the catalyst to your coworking space?
I’m an introvert so working out of my own space on eeko was great! But I realized at one point I was in my home office and it was 4am and I hadn’t been out of my house in two days. I started thinking about what would be best for me, and I realized I loved being around teams and seeing other people be amazing. It makes me inspired and want to kick ass. I needed it.

So I went out looking for a place to house me and my team but I wanted to be smart about it after hearing about companies that worked basically to pay their rent. I knew a bunch of people either working on their own or growing their small businesses and saw the opportunity for collaboration. I ended up finding the perfect place but it was 10x too big, so that’s when I looked into having other people join me.

As you look back, what were the most important characteristics you’d look for in a business partner or hire?
My husband is my best business partner because we’ve failed in the past enough to know how to make it work in the future. A lot of it comes down to communication style. I have failed with other partnerships. Sometimes there are people you don’t work well with. You can only control the things you control yourself.

To connect with Jenny, visit www.cohoots.com, email her at jenny@cohoots.com or find her on Twitter.

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