Determination, being bold, and starting a business as a single parent, with Tessa McLoughlin
Tessa McLoughlin is the founder and CEO of KWENCH, a full-service work and culture club that hosts unique co-working spaces, creative studios, and events.
Like KWENCH, Tessa’s career history is full and colorful. From stage performer, musician, and world traveler, to arriving in Canada from Australia and taking on frontline crisis work, tree planting, and more — Tessa has done it all.
Her path to entrepreneurship began when it felt like things were falling apart. Through heavy transitions including a sudden divorce, Tessa found herself asking how she could stay grounded for her kids and her own wellbeing. She needed a place that supported simple happiness, where everything she was passionate about could be under one roof. When she couldn’t find anything that fit her vision, the question changed to: “Okay, why don’t I build it?”
KWENCH was always more than just workspace. Its Victoria, BC headquarters is a meeting place that hosts lectures, art installations, meditation, fitness facilities, food and drink — all in one place. It centralizes the experiences Tessa was seeking and provides a place for ambitious thinkers and creatives to network.
“I was thinking this morning about what I love about what I do. I love that the purpose of my company is to raise people up. And we do that [through] the pillars of KWENCH — which is an acronym for knowledge, wellness, experiences, novelty, curiosity, and connection, bringing health and happiness.”
While her vision for KWENCH has come together, Tessa doesn’t gloss over the challenges of entrepreneurship. But she says the “really, hard slog” of starting a business shouldn’t stop people from pursuing their ideas: she encourages others to brave the fight.
The biggest challenge Tessa faced when establishing KWENCH was financing. She was starting a capital-intensive business; in order to provide workspace, she needed to acquire a large downtown space and outfit it meticulously.
“Finding funding was very difficult. It was made more difficult by the fact that I’m a woman. And that I’m a single mother didn’t help. I didn’t have any collateral or other income to fall back on.”
Filling out bank forms for financing, she recalls always being asked for her spouse’s name and earnings. After having to leave these spaces blank and facing continual rejection, she started to suspect the system was not set up for her to succeed.
She began to feel as though her applications were up against an unfair standard: as if she should have the assets of a man who hadn’t taken time out of his career to raise kids — and had statistically earned more his entire life.
Her experience with raising funds opened her eyes to how seemingly small barriers can have a huge impact on whether women entrepreneurs, especially single mothers, can launch a business.
In time, after many rejections and some unwavering determination, her hard work was being noticed. Tessa was connected with angel investors who helped with a portion of the initial funding.
Despite the challenges she faced in starting her business, Tessa’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is: if you’ve got an idea, just try it.
“To be thrown out of [my comfort zone] was an incredibly intense upheaval, but holy crow I’m so glad that it happened because it’s made me really value what’s important to me.”
Entrepreneurship for Tessa involved lots of instability (and no pay for the first four years) as she poured everything into starting her business. But losing the things society says makes life secure, made her realize that nothing is secure — so why not take more risks?
Her comfort zone was overtaken by the value of pursuing her curiosity, being bold, and living in her experiences. Now a successful entrepreneur, building a business and managing her team is all about taking the challenges in stride and embracing a “give-it-a-go” attitude.
Q: What's the best piece of professional advice you've received so far?
A: I wouldn't say I've had one specific piece of advice. But here’s my thing: advice is there to be advice, not a rule book.
I think it's really important to have an array of people to call on, especially the ones that can be blunt. I make sure I really listen to all the different points of view. And then, once I feel educated enough to make a decision, I follow my gut with what feels best.
Q: Do you attribute your success, thus far, to hard work or luck?
A: I mean, I've worked my butt off. But I think there's always an element of luck. I fully recognize the privilege of being a white, English-speaking woman. Yet, you know what it's like when you're running a business, you're working all the time — you're really trying not to — but there are always things going on in your head. You have to give up a lot to do that.
Q: How do you empower your team to create meaningful work and inspire innovation?
A: At KWENCH, it's all about being seen. That's all we ever want, isn't it? We just want to be seen for who we are. And so with my team, I try to make sure that they feel seen, and that I'm letting them know that I appreciate them. And I don't question, I just give them autonomy to be themselves.
But I’m really big on accountability. So, if you screw up and you tell me, I'm probably the most forgiving person out there. And I think that creates a safe place for people to try things.
Q: What words of wisdom do you have for an aspiring leader?
A: I mean, I think the biggest thing for me is if you've got an idea, just try it. I think for me starting KWENCH, it was an incredibly stressful, difficult time. I'm not not going to take away from what it was. But even if I fail tomorrow, I'll never regret having tried. Never. So just do it. Give it a try. Give it a whirl.
Q: What's something you do to improve your workflow?
A: I have a pretty tight calendar that I keep an eye on, every night I check what my next day is going to be. I always try not to do meetings back to back because that sucks and you just can't give the attention to the people that you want.
At KWENCH we're also trying to refine how many “things” we use in the company. Sometimes it's like, “oh, I sent you a message on Slack, or did I send in an email? Or did I text you?” So we’re really trying to simplify things — zen the workflow.