Vijay Mehra is the founder of Journey Coworking (formerly ATX factory), a 14,000-square-foot Austin workspace that combines co-working and lifestyle amenities. Being a serial entrepreneur himself, Vijay experienced the frustration of getting plugged into an environment an office space that offered culture, energy, and a turkey solution with the companies he grew. Driven by the vision of an ideal workspace, Vijay purchased an empty warehouse in East Austin, gutted the building, and transformed it into a state of the art coworking space.
Prior to starting up Journey Coworking, Vijay Mehra has spent more than eight years leading REthink, which helps real estate firms digitize their processes. He wrote the original version of the software and bootstrapped the business with just $2,000 in savings and transformed it a major player in the Residential and Commercial Real Estate Space. Mehra recently stepped down from his role as REthink's CEO to focus on Journey Coworking.
In this interview, Vijay shares his background as a serial entrepreneur, his ups & downs, along with some ways he's learned to keep himself grounded/sane. He also shares powerful insight into harnessing customer feedback to better products/services and how to maintain a positive attitude no matter how tough times could get.
His advice for entrepreneurs starting a business:
Don't be afraid to fail. It's through failure that you learn. Make sure to iron out any sort of legal agreements early on. When you begin building your team, always hire members who are smarter than you.
Can you tell us a little bit about Journey Coworking, Vijay? What else do you do as an entrepreneur?I began my entrepreneurial path quite early—just two years after graduating from college. I noticed an opportunity to provide residential and commercial real estate agents and brokers with a platform and tool to help manage and streamline their businesses. It sounds silly, but as recent as eight years ago, many real estate professionals were managing their business on a notepad. I built REthink CRM to allow agents and brokers to scale and automate, ultimately allowing them to close more deals.
As I grew REthink CRM, I bounced around to several cities to launch offices, usually wherever I saw opportunity. One thing I noticed in almost every city where we started a new office is that it was difficult, sometimes impossible, to find a cost-effective, turn-key office solution for our team. If we found a cool space that had potential, the landlord wanted us to sign at least a 5-7 year lease.
Anyone in the startup world knows how scary this can be, as you never know where your company will be in one year, let alone 5-7 years. Also, most times we would have to spend a significant amount of money to make the space ours, whether it was tearing walls down, buying furniture, painting walls, etc.
After experiencing these hurdles in several markets, and seeing the success, and WeWork had proven the co-working models in markets around the globe, I decided to launch the first FACTORY in Austin. The idea behind the FACTORY was simple—provide a home for entrepreneurs to focus on their business and let us take care of the rest. Entrepreneurs spend countless hours working, so we thought, “why not create a space that promotes creativity, wellness and community?”
What does Journey Coworking do that makes it better than the rest? In other words, how did you find your competitive edge?As an entrepreneur, coming up with the concept wasn’t too hard. I basically created what I considered the most ideal space for my software company. There were so many times I wanted to take a mid-day yoga class to clear my head and reset after a brutal morning meeting. So we added a yoga studio.
But I didn’t want to go home to shower before my 4 o’clock meeting, because the commute would be a waste of time. So we added showers and locker rooms. Sleep pods were added so that we could take an early evening nap before the 2am sprint release. And happy hours on Thursdays and Fridays allow members of Journey Coworking to make new connections and friendships.
Did you have a hard time starting Journey Coworking? How did you handle time and resource constraints?Like any new venture, a little bit of blood, sweat, and tears is necessary. Starting Journey Coworking wasn’t the hard part—execution was. We wanted to make sure the layout and design were perfect. We must've gone through about 100 different layout ideas before finalizing the one we built. We wanted to make sure the space was perfect for any entrepreneur who joined the FACTORY. This meant rolling up our sleeves and taking on tasks we had never thought about when scheming up the idea.
I remember one night having to run to the FACTORY mid-construction after it started pouring rain. We had to throw tarps all over the roof to prevent water from going inside the building because half the roof was demolished in preparation for a new one. As I was running from one side of the building to the next, I tried to jump over what looked to be a puddle. On the other side of it was three feet of concrete that I sank right into as I landed on the other side. I remember thinking, “This is not what I signed up for!”
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson?Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Find your niche and really excel at that. By trying to accommodate an offering for everyone, you tend to dilute and diminish the strength of your offering, and ultimately, your brand.
Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?Of course! I don’t think any business can grow or mature without disappointed customers. With both REthink CRM and Journey Coworking, we experienced a handful of upset clients. Sometimes the complaints are petty, and sometimes they are legitimate feedback.
To handle this, we always understand what the issue is and what course of action is necessary to immediately remedy the situation. More times than not, feedback from a disappointed client will help you improve your product and offering, so it’s important to always listen to your customer.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.Any entrepreneur who tells you they've never thought about giving up is lying, or is a machine! I have felt defeated many times along my path and have thought about what throwing in the towel may look like. But then I quickly remember the victories I have experienced along the way.
Nothing is more satisfying in the business world than achieving and (sometimes) surpassing your goals, closing your first major deal, or seeing your product come to life. Nothing compares to the satisfaction and pride you and your team feel when you know you were responsible for something that can potentially change someone’s life. I reflect on those positive times when things get tough.
What attitudes/habits helped make you successful while starting Journey Coworking?Balance has been the key for me. When I first started REthink, I was so driven and excited that all I wanted to do was work. All I talked about was work. I sacrificed my workout routine, my social life, and I eventually found myself in a rut.
Ideas quit coming to me. My drive wasn’t as strong. I quickly realized that without physical wellness, my mental wellness wasn't as sharp. And taking a Friday evening off to go have drinks and catch up with friends was ok. And sometimes, stepping away for just a few hours led to some inspiring ideas for the business.
A positive attitude is contagious. No matter how tough times get, it's important to remind yourself of the reasons you're on your mission. This will not only help you stay motivated, but it'll also positively impact your team.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do each day?The cliche answer—there is not a typical day for me, especially in the early days of the business. You wear just about every hat—from marketing & sales, to operations, IT, and sometimes, you find yourself scrubbing the floors and dishes because the cleaning service may have missed a few spots.
I make sure to be thankful each and every day. I constantly remind myself that it's a privilege to wake up every morning and build something I'm passionate about, while defining my own professional path. I also try to practice yoga every day. This helps me reset each day, while keeping grounded and sane.
Most businesses evolve over time. Is there a way that you slowly evolved the mission of Journey Coworking to serve your customers better?Every single day contributes to the evolution of our mission. By having such a tight-knit community of entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries, we are able to collaborate with our members. They're the ones who help us strengthen and evolve our mission through innovative ideas and feedback.
What are your top 3 pieces of advice for someone starting a business in Texas?
- Don't be afraid to fail. It's through failure that you learn. Make mistakes, but try not to make the same ones too many times.
- Make sure to iron out any sort of legal agreements early on, whether these are employee documents, sales contracts, etc. Have a trusted lawyer in your corner to offer legal advice early on to avoid costly headaches down the road.
- When you begin building your team, always hire members who are smarter than you. Surrounding yourself and your business with intelligent folks will help to raise your company bar and strengthen its mission.