As the owner of Forge, a thriving coworking space in Birmingham, Alabama, Kim Lee tells us her story of how she created a successful startup. She shares the lessons she learned along the way and offers advice for other entrepreneurs looking to create their own businesses. Learn how Kim cultivated success.
The Early Stages of Forge
I never dreamed of owning my own business. I studied hard in school and got my Master of Arts in Counseling from Covenant Theological Seminary. My goal was to work with troubled teens. But life didn’t quite turn out that way. Because of my husband’s schooling, I needed to find a job quickly after I finished my program. When I couldn’t find a job right away, I took a position focused on business development and operations in a residential window washing and commercial cleaning company. It was there that I discovered my love of business—especially businesses that provide a service.
Our priorities were serving our customers with excellence and treating each other with love and respect. This position deepened my understanding of the intrinsic benefits of treating all businesses, regardless of the industry, as hospitality and service businesses.
When my husband finished his schooling, we moved back to Birmingham. Our youngest entered her final year of preschool and that led me to work. This is when I first became aware of the coworking industry. The more I learned about it, the more certain I grew that this was a business I could succeed. Hospitality, serving business owners, creating community, and supporting new and growing businesses are all areas that I am passionate about.
I took small steps toward making my dream of owning a coworking space a reality. I studied the business model by visiting other spaces and networking with potential customers. This gave me the confidence to take the leap.
Now, my husband and I are proud owners of Forge, a thriving coworking space in Birmingham. We love being able to serve our community and help businesses grow. We’re thrilled that we took the plunge and followed our dreams!
Challenges and Lessons Learned Along the Way
There have been numerous trials and lessons acquired along my journey. Through the ups and downs, the most important thing I’ve learned is how to deal with the problems and hardships that come with the startup journey.
I can vividly remember one night in December at the early stages of Forge dealing with a very difficult challenge (though I cannot recall specifically what it was 😅). What I do remember is a lot of anxiety and probably a lot of tears–all of which had been building up over the span of a couple of weeks.
My husband and I were sitting in our living room with all of the lights out except for the glow from our Christmas Tree. He reminded me that each hardship (and every accomplishment) is precisely what I needed at the time. “This issue that you are facing right now is like one of those nicely wrapped presents under the tree,” he said, pointing to the packages under the tree. “It is the ideal present from the Lord, exactly what you require at this time. This task is for your benefit as much as his. Nothing ever surprises him.” As a leader, I strive to keep this perspective in mind, knowing that challenges help me grow into a better person and leader.
#1 Piece of Advice
Surround yourself with people who are smarter and wiser than you. I knew from the very beginning that in order for Forge to be successful, I was going to need wisdom and advice from others. When I first started Forge, I formed an advisory board. While no one on this board had ever considered starting a coworking space, they were all experts in business and entrepreneurship. I wanted to learn as much as I could from this group as we worked through all of the stages required to create a successful coworking space. We dissolved the group once Forge launched, but I continued to pursue opportunities to learn from others. I am now a member of a community of coworking space owners from around the country– we gather once a month and have a lot of fun.
I believe this practice should also be the approach when hiring. Bring people on your team that know more than you do in their particular field. This is when your business will really elevate to the next level!
The Future of Forge
At Forge we say that we are in the business of growing business. We do this by providing a space and community that will allow people to have their best day at work and help them and their businesses to thrive. We absolutely envision expansion in our future in order to help as many people in our community as possible. We desire to establish numerous Forge locations throughout Birmingham to support entrepreneurs, small business owners, and remote workers in all of Birmingham’s communities. We are in the process of identifying potential new future locations–which is beyond exciting.
Kim Lee is the founder and CEO of Forge, a downtown Birmingham coworking space.
Her passion for service-based businesses, hospitality, community, and the city’s economic prosperity led her to start Forge in September 2017. Forge gives entrepreneurs and small business owners a chance to prosper by expanding their work locations in ways that were previously unavailable in Birmingham.
Would you like personalized advice about starting and running a business? Take advantage of the Office Hours program at HVL. We offer free one-on-one sessions with entrepreneurs and professionals who have been where you are.