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Interview: Rena Tom of Makeshift Society

In anticipation of our upcoming Retail Readiness Workshop on June 8th, we interviewed Rena Tom, founder of Makeshift Society and one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs we’ve met.

You’ve been involved with or founded a startling number of projects, from opening Rare Device, a design store and art gallery, to being the Market Editor at Anthology Magazine and founder of the co-working space Makeshift Society. Add jewelry designer, wedding stationer and website builder to the list and we are kind of blown away! Can you tell us a bit about your background prior to all of this? For example, what did you study in school, and does that even matter?

I went to UC Santa Barbara and got a Mechanical Engineering degree and an English degree. I don’t think either degree directly prepared me for being entrepreneurial; that said, both gave me solid technical and analytical skills that I use every day. I entered the job market in 1995 which was kind of a tough time, but that was right around when web browsers were invented so I feel lucky I got to learn and be involved in web design right from the start. I did that for a number of years before deciding to do something entirely different and make things with my hands. I am curious about lots of things and have always been horrible at focusing so that led me to hopping from project to project.

You sold Rare Device in 2011. Was that the goal all along?

It wasn’t a long-term plan. When I started Rare Device in 2005, it was kind of an accident! I never had a deep yearning to be a retailer but it was a natural offshoot of being a jewelry designer who felt isolated working by myself and wanting to showcase the work of my maker friends. By the time 2011 rolled around, I had a business partner (Lisa Congdon) who was doing really well with her own business and also a one year old son. It was just the right time for a change.

What inspired you to open Makeshift Society, and how do you feel it stands apart from other co-working spaces? Are you hoping to expand beyond San Francisco and New York? If so, any particular cities that you have in mind?

Makeshift is just another extension of what I’m interested in, which is creative projects by creative people. We are different because of our focus on freelancers and small business owners. The majority of the other spaces are much larger and have a fair amount of private office space – I really encourage people to learn how to get along with others and interact with people across all disciplines, so we have all open seating and the more kinds of people we have as members, the better! I’d love to see Makeshift in other towns but we haven’t quite figured out how to make that happen yet. Chicago has been clamoring for us, and various locales around LA county too :)

We know people usually pay for your advice, but any words of encouragement that you could lend to those who are trying to get their projects off the ground, or at least out of their heads and into some kind of reality?

The only thing I can say is to tell lots of people your idea. Chew it over with friends and strangers. The more you talk, the more concrete it will become in your mind, and also you start to be accountable to others about actually *doing* it. Sometimes peer pressure is a good thing! It is scary to start a project but if you’re the right temperament, you will get a rush during and after that can only be duplicated by doing another one.

Sign up for Rena’s workshop on June 8th here:

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