Make Lemonade with Semantics

I had the joyful pleasure of interviewing the founder of Toronto’s Make Lemonade yesterday.  27 year old Rachel Kelly is a refreshing version of the previous generations CEO.  What I mean by that is first of all, she wouldn’t call herself a CEO. She may be the one making the big decisions and she may be responsible for the operating of Make Lemonade.  She may also be the one who birthed the business and she may be the one who takes home all the stresses that come with being an entrepreneur. In fact - She is.

She is all that, and more.  But she is not a Chief Executive Officer.  It’s not so much that she told me this, as much as it is what I took away from meeting her.  When I asked if she would identify herself as the founder of Make Lemonade, she agreed she would.  When I asked if she would identify herself as the CEO of Make Lemonade, she disagreed on the use of that term.  There was no further discussion as to why, but as we moved along on our tour of the space and carried out the interview I began to see why.

Make Lemonade is 6 months new and proudly offers a generous, bright, inspiring environment to co-exist with other entrepreneurs and off-site workers.  It’s called a “co-working space” for those of us who may still be old school in our lingo. With more and more companies switching to remote offices, no offices and home offices, these co-working spaces are popping up left-right and smack-dab-centre-in-the-middle-of-Toronto.  Well, at least this one is! 326 Adelaide Street West. Penthouse, baby. Unit #600.

Back to Ms Kelly.  Instead of a handshake when I walked out of the elevator and rounded the desk to greet her, there was an embrace.  Neither of us had met the other in person before, although we had corresponded in an openly authentic way via email after I initially reached out to her via fb and implored her that:

“GIIRRRRL. We needs to talk.”

And that:

“I’d love to connect and add Make Lemonade to my research for the upcoming book

‘Cocktails with Chickens’ - go ahead.  Try to tell me this isn’t already destined to happen!”  

Oh, and there may have been a little bit of “French” spoken in there - but that’s expected from a Canadian, eh?  And even though I said:

“Totally looking forward to squeezing your hand(s)”

There was no hand squeezing.  A hug hello, a hug goodbye. I’m not suggesting everyone who walks thru the door to Make Lemonade is gonna receive the same greeting.  I mean, it may be Because I made the lame “squeezing your hand” pun that she chose not to shake hands with me. Naaaaah.

Now you might have already read about Rachel Kelly and her latest endeavour in Canadian Living, or Toronto Life or maybe Forbes.  Make Lemonade is the result of real-life frustrations Rachel had in finding a space to work that was reliable, supportive and conducive to working the freelance lifestyle.  It is also the result of collaborations with local artists who seek to empower and designers who look to uncover virtues.  Some of the workshops that are offered at Make Lemonade are by entrepreneurs who also utilize the space to do their own work.  And a lot of the support Rachel receives outside of her immediate family and friends, comes from the connections that are made at Make Lemonade.

This is the thing: Rachel isn’t operating from the classically controlling, power hungry, money oriented mindset of yesterday's CEO.  She has evolved way above that. She takes full responsibility for ensuring she meets liability factors, she expects members to respect the space and has proper contracts set to facilitate that, she values the needs of her clients and continuously strives to provide the services that support their personal successes, and she runs her business conscientiously with an eye on progression and expansion.

When I asked Rachel why she decided to create a co-working space for women only, she smiled, held up a finger and corrected me.  For women. A co-working space For Women.

Semantics. Powerful semantics. What I offered in my use of language was confining, restrictive, exclusionary and limited.  Switching from “women only” to “for women” created a completely different vibe. All of a sudden the specialized environment because a special environment, the limited work zone became a limitless work zone, the idea of protection became an ideal of promotion, and the closed door to men became an opening for acceptance.

Refreshing, right?  Indeed. Like the positive reminder you’ll find designed right into the tile floor, the bathroom full of affirmations, the private phone booths that allow for professional phone calls or the free coffee/tea and of course - lemonade.  The way Rachel Kelly operates doesn’t stop at the edge of her skin, I would say the pulp and juice below it has been squeezed into the entirety of Make Lemonade.


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some words to rearrange...

Heather Hurst