Discovering their passion to help and encourage others to learn to love work motivated two friends and business partners to open HustleCo Workspace, a coworking space that bridges a gap in Calgary.

 Take a peak inside HustleCo and learn more about the various workshops put on in the space. Workshop host Alnoor Damji and co-founders Steve Paolasini and Husam Al-rameeni describe why this is such a valuable place to come and “level-up.” Produced by Sarah Allen.

Formerly chemical engineers, Steve Paolasini and Husam Al-rameeni rejected the corporate world and embraced their entrepreneurial spirits  shortly after graduating from McGill University.

The pair, who are affectionately titled “the boys,” say they had to continually push themselves to be successful.

HustleCo co-founder, Husam Al-rameeni sits in the shared workspace and says his heart is full when the space is. Helping entrepreneurs and small businesses is his passion. Photo by Sarah Allen.In order to graduate high school, Al-rameeni had to teach himself to speak English after moving from Jordan to Libya with his family at the age of 13. He worked hard accomplishing his goal, and despite not knowing of McGill University or that it was in Montreal, he was accepted and went there to become a chemical engineer.

The boys met during their first week of school but didn’t see one another for a year, as Paolasini started university in general engineering.

“I only saw him in the chemical engineering program in his first year, my second, because I failed one of the classes,” Al-rameeni laughs. “I thought it was the end of the world.”

Instead it turned out to be a life-changing opportunity for both men as colleagues, business partners and friends.

Working together on projects within the engineering faculty and serving on student council, they were able to break records in fundraising efforts. Al-rameeni boosted his GPA from 2.2 to 4.0 in a single year, even earning himself a scholarship.

Steve Paolasini, co-founder of HustleCo Workspace, reflects on the successes he and his business partner, Al-rameeni, have shared thus far. Photo by Sarah Allen.

Using what they say is their passion for helping others and a knack for marketing, the pair have opened a space that they say offers entrepreneurs more than just a desk or boardroom to rent: It’s somewhere people can come to truly grow within a community who has their back.

“Imagine if Starbucks had workshops or if business centres had a more collaborative environment.,” Paolasini says.

The goods 

The space is located within a short walking distance of Chinook’s train station and has free parking, free wifi, and even a group insurance plan for entrepreneurs in need of affordable coverage.

There’s a kitchen stocked with beverages that is accessible to all guests at HustleCo, even if you are just dropping in or visiting for a workshop, which aligns with the boys’ commitment to hospitality within their space.

Paolasini and Al-rameeni understand that not all people work the traditional 9 to 5, so they have their space accessible to monthly membership holders on a 24 hour basis. Drop-in passes are limited to 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. from Monday to Friday.

One entrepreneur using the space to host workshops is Nicolette Jones who founded a holistic health program called “The Comeback Club.”

“[Paolasini and Al-rameeni] are so eager to feature my workshops on their social media and happy to help with any promotion.” she says. “Having a reliable, large venue with everything I already need ready there for me has alleviated so much stress. Workshops are time consuming to plan and execute, but finding the venue is half the battle.”

Participants at Nicolette Jones’ self-care workshop taking notes on the features and benefits of a variety of essential oils before customizing their own beauty oil blend. Photo by Sarah Allen. The open concept is helpful for Jones as her workshops include activities such as guided meditations which call for plenty of floor space for yoga mats. She also uses the bar space for creating signature beauty oils or lecturing about hormone imbalance with her participants.

Other workshops hosted in the space have included anything from Instagram marketing and LinkedIn training to video editing for your business.

“It is easy to find lots of venues in Calgary but [HustleCo] offers a fresh breath and vibrancy, a new way of doing things,” says Alnoor Damji, a frequent HustleCo workshop host who specializes in career development. “I see from my workshop participants that they get the energy of the place. It’s so open, inviting and engaging. This is where I have to be.”

The start up

Although HustleCo was not their initial venture into entrepreneurship, the need for it was discovered through the development of their first company QuadRipple, an inbound marketing and digital media company.

In 2014, Al-rameeni had a job opportunity in Alberta and was asked to come for an in-person secondary interview. He says he packed his bags, sold his stuff and bought a one-way ticket here. He attests, “I got the job because I had no other option.”

“We moved in together into a one-bedroom basement suite and we were sleeping like we were in the army.” – Paolasini 

He laughs as he describes calling Paolasini and telling him about the weather because of the infamous “Snowtember” Calgary experienced shortly after his arrival in September of 2014. Having no power and trying to warm up in a sleeping bag are some of his first memories of the city.

Shortly, another job opened up and Al-rameeni had Paolasini come join him, but it wasn’t long until the boys were reminded of their entrepreneurial mindsets that had gotten them so far in their classwork and other commitments.

Paolasini says they didn’t like the corporate 9 to 5 and had a hard time getting fired up about the work they were doing. The boys realized they could help a lot of other companies with marketing on their own.

After only six months of working together corporately, the pair founded QuadRipple, their own marketing company, which is still an active part of their daily grind.

“We moved in together into a one-bedroom basement suite and we were sleeping like we were in the army,” Paolasini reminisces. “I was on a blow-up mattress for four months. [So we shared a room] and then our office was out in the main area. It was hilarious. It was the birth of entrepreneurship.”’

A collaborative effort 

The boys say that for “solo-prenuers” who aren’t as lucky as they were to have a business partner, being around others is very powerful. The community they are building at HustleCo serves as a way for everyone to bounce ideas off one another and exchange services and skills as needed.

“Because QuadRipple was founded in a home office, one [problem] was you would kind of get cabin fever,” Paolasini says. “You’d just want to get out of the house so you would go to a Starbucks just to talk to the barista and see people.”

“Both Steve and I are people who love people. That’s what we feed off of,” Al-rameeni adds. “Working from behind a computer at QuadRipple, we were doing very well, but it didn’t have that human touch.”

In addition, the boys knew that entrepreneurs could not afford their marketing services at that time and knew there had to be a better way to help them.

“You’d just want to get out of the house so you would go to a Starbucks just to talk to the barista and see people” – Paolasini

“So, a coworking space where we can help them directly without expecting anything in return” was Al-rameeni’s response.

And the guidance the boys offer does not go unrecognized.

“It’s very hard when you have to make big commitments and you’re just trying to get ideas off the ground,” HustleCo regular Basil Panidisz says. “Typically you’ll find people here that have some great ideas and they would like to bounce them off of the people at HustleCo. They get some feedback and help to redirect themselves. There are some really interesting new businesses [working here]. We’re all learning from each other.”

Cost effective solutions 

When researching coworking spaces for themselves while trying to escape their home office, the boys found prices at existing spaces in Calgary were unaffordable. A space accommodating what they needed would have cost them about as much as their monthly rent.

Because of this, they knew their rates for plans and drop-ins had to be more affordable.

Offering reasonable membership and drop-in packages as well as hosting a variety of workshops — many of which are free — are just some of the ways they use HustleCo to further their goal of helping nurture other entrepreneurial undertakings.

Basil Panidisz using HustleCo Workspace. Panidisz uses the workspace every day and says he thrives in the collaborative environment. Photo by Sarah Allen.Monthly plans range from $250-$400 and student pricing is something the boys are working on. Beyond the basics such as free wifi, coffee, boardroom use, free parking and mail service (and these are only a few), the more elevated packages include free booking of the bar space used to host workshops and other advantages.

Other coworking spaces may be advantageous to the blooming small business, but HustleCo offers a home for entrepreneurs, freelancers, etc.

The boys offer free tours of the space and drop-in packages for those not quite ready to commit to a dedicated desk or monthly membership.

“This business isn’t just for us to make cash from renting out desks, anybody can do that. We want to solve a problem. We do it in many ways,” Al-rameeni says.

He adds that introductory offers and other options are solutions they use to empower entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch.

Jones can attest to this as the boys have helped her in the past through extremely affordable bar rental rates which is an area large enough for her to host any of her workshops.

“Some spaces charge half of what I’m making from ticket sales, making the event feel unprofitable when you’re also sharing ticket sales with someone you’re collaborating with. So I’m beyond thankful for [the solutions HustleCo offers],” she says.

Co-founders Husam Al-rameeni (left) and Steve Paolasini (right) “the boys” sitting in their shared workspace, HustleCo. They are business partners and best friends and say they are beyond grateful for the strength of their relationship. Photo by Sarah Allen.

Making it happen 

In September of 2016 the idea of opening a space gained solidity and only two months later the boys found themselves on a trip to Vancouver to research other coworking organizations and successful businesses.

“Then we came back and we had nothing. We had no money, we just had the idea, the passion and the drive. We just had to make it happen.” says Al-rameeni.

A detailed business plan is what the two began pouring themselves into.

“We didn’t follow any rules or guidelines, it was our heart and soul,”  Al-rameeni says.

Paolasini and Al-rameeni say they owe their success to the people surrounding them who saw their business plan and simply believed in them. While they were rejected for many loans, they persevered and worked until they could not be stopped.

“We had no money, we just had the idea, the passion and the drive. We just had to make it happen.” – Al-rameeni 

Through what Paolasini describes as “love money” — funds raised from friends and family —, good partnerships and funnelling QuadRipple cash flow into the business, they were able to raise enough to get started.

Once a space was found and the lease to HustleCo was signed, the boys got to work remodelling the place, ripping out cubicles and crafting their open concept design. They spent 48 hours straight building IKEA furniture at one point, taking turns for two hour naps in a boardroom.

In less than a year from their research trip out west, the boys were able to see their vision come to life and opened their doors to the public on July 1, 2017.

#Mindset 

The boys say their mindset is what sets HustleCo apart from other spaces.

“We are really focused on having a positive workspace, an addictive workspace that people want to come to work here.” Paolasini says. .

Marin McCue is an entrepreneurial mind-body coach and author who can attest to HustleCo’s mindset after shopping around for a space.

“HustleCo stood out because Al-rameeni and Paolasini are so passionate, generous and inclusive,” she says. “The environment they foster is one that makes me feel supported and encouraged —and I love to support fellow passionate, positive and hard-working people.”

Looking toward the future, the boys plan to expand what they offer and want to incorporate the option of having private offices to give their clients more choice.

While HustleCo is still relatively new and the boys are still building, they’re looking forward to expanding worldwide, but they feel like they have accomplished a great deal.

“In many ways I already think we’ve been successful because we’ve achieved our mission of supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses, freelancers and our members through education in many aspects.” Paolasini says.

sallen@cjournal.ca  

Edited by Amy Simpson | asimpson@cjournal.ca