Member Profile: Annie Sullivan-Chin, A Bookkeeping Cooperative (ABC) Co-Owner Talks About the Benefits of Worker-Owned Coops

 Annie Sullivan-Chin

Brooklyn is known for its entrepreneurial spirit—from startups like Genius to the Park Slope Food Coop, one of the largest and oldest coops in the world, there is just about every kind of business imaginable. It’s no surprise that at Brooklyn Creative League, there are many different types of business models from sole proprietorships to nonprofits and more. We spoke to BCL member Annie Sullivan-Chin about her business, A Bookkeeping Cooperative, and why they chose to form as a cooperative corporation.

Why a Worker-Owned Cooperative?

_There are a few hundred cooperatives in the U.S., which is not a ton, but it's a really growing sector. And this is just worker cooperatives, there are also consumer cooperatives like food co-ops or consumer coopera.png

“ABC is a cooperative corporation, all of our owners are also employees of the cooperative. The spirit of the cooperative, regardless of what legal entity it is, is that all of the workers share ownership, responsibility and the reward of the business,” said Annie. “We also offer profit sharing, which gives all the workers the ability to share in the profit and/or loss. Cooperative workplaces have been used as a vehicle across the country and the world as a tool for economic and social justice and equality. In the U.S., it's a really great way for people to build wealth and have ownership and have control over their workplace conditions.”

Bringing Their Ethics to Their Work

In addition to making sure that they have their worker-owners’ best interests at heart, the company brings its approach to its work with its clients. “All of ABC’s services are available in both English and Spanish. We really like to work with immigrant communities and communities of color that are building their own businesses,” said Annie.

Not only does ABC offer accounting and bookkeeping services, but they also bring their cooperative expertise to other organizations. Annie told us, “For people that are starting their own coop business or they want to make their nonprofit organization more democratic, and experiment with open book management, we can consult on best practices and such.”

They also facilitate trainings and workshops that help clients to become more self-sufficient in terms of their accounting. “We run several workshops primarily around themes of financial literacy—building skills, sharing resources and tools to really enhance the financial literacy of an organization. Our workshop format is based on principles of popular education, so it's very participatory and starts from scratch,” described Annie.

rawpixel-780494-unsplash.jpg

ABC along with a few other organizations and professional curriculum developers is currently developing a bilingual toolkit for businesses that will eventually be free and downloadable toolkit. The information will be debuted in a seminar in Oakland, CA, this September 22-24. Click to register for the seminar.

Why is BCL the right space for ABC?

For Annie, being a BCL member is a family affair. “My wife introduced me to BCL, she actually works for the architecture firm that designed BCL. I heard wonderful things from her so we decided to check it out and I moved into BCL originally in September [2017]. At that point, I was sharing a desk with somebody else [another BCL member] to test the waters. Now, [ABC is] sharing two desks and we're thinking about continuing that path of upgrading to have a private office, which is on the horizon.”

She added, “It’s all of the perks of your own office but at just a much more accessible price. It's even better than having your own office space in whatever building because you do have that community aspect. I think it's a really great space for networking and everyone is quite friendly. So, it's a wonderful balance of having like a private professional space for you to conduct your business and also being able to socialize and network in the times that you want to.”

At BCL, some of Annie’s favorite things are:

  • “The cold brew iced coffee! No, I’m kidding. I’m sorta kidding, it’s an amazing perk.”

  • “Plenty of nooks and crannies.”

  • “BCL feels more community-oriented than any other co-working space I've ever experienced. The way the office space gives us a place to consolidate and is really good for meeting with our clients. It's a really good catalyst for teamwork in a way that remote work is not. BCL was really helpful for social events, the networking, cross-pollination, and cross-promotion.”

———

Want to learn more about your BCL community? Click here. Want to refer someone to our community? Don’t forget that members get a referral fee! Check out the membership page for more information.  

Member Profile: Author Hana Schank Shares Inspiration Behind Her New Book, "The Ambition Decisions"

hana_schank.jpg

BCL is home to a variety of members, including non-profits, architects, small business owners, and many writers. Hana Schank, a part-time BCL Member has recently authored a book, The Ambition DecisionsWhat Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life, so we decided to pick her brain regarding the inspiration behind this book, life as a working mother, and why she decided to work at BCL. 

"Over the last sixty years, women's lives have transformed radically from generation to generation. Without a template to follow--a way to peek into the future to catch a glimpse of what leaving this job or marrying that person might mean to us decades from now--women make important decisions blindly, groping for a way forward, winging it, and hoping it all works out." -The Ambition Decisions

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the book, The Ambition Decisions.

A: The book really grew out of a midlife crisis, as many great things do. I reached a point in my life where I recently turned 40 and was feeling stuck in my career and in my personal life. I felt like I wanted to achieve more than I had, but I was also looking back at the decisions that I made and felt like I don't know what other choices I could have made. I wondered why is this all so hard? It just feels more difficult than I thought it would be.

I remember I was in spin class reflecting back on this conversation that I had with my college friends where we talked about how we're all going to have jobs in the future administration and all of the great things that we're going to accomplish. I had fallen out of touch with a lot of them, and I wondered what had become of them; they were all really ambitious smart women. I felt like if I couldn't do it, maybe one of them could do it, maybe one of them had this great success and figured out what the answer was to life. I thought maybe there was some mythic woman who had it all figured out, so I reached out to a college friend of mine who had been in those early conversations and who also lived nearby, my friend, Liz. We started talking and she was actually in a similar place. We decided to start tracking down some of the women who had been in that initial conversation and talk to them about their lives. Those conversations were so interesting that we just kept going and it turned into a book, The Ambition Decisions, What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life.

41lnirmarzl-_sx329_bo1204203200_.jpg

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the book?

A: We started doing these interviews and at some point, we realized that we had all of this data around the decisions that women made and how they played out. There's no model for women on what our lives should look like, in part because the way that women's lives look have changed so quickly from generation to generation that the way that your mother's life looked, or the way that your grandmother's life looked isn't a good model typically for most women.

We wanted to provide some models for women to say, "Here's what real women's lives look like," and use these models to help inform your own life and to help you make decisions. We started to see that these decisions aren't without predictable outcomes. If you decide to do X, then we can predictably say, "Here's probably what's gonna happen to you down the road." We wanted to arm women with that information to help them make better decisions.

Q: What's your biggest personal takeaway from writing and gathering the data to tell this story?

A: This project was really life-changing for me. In the book, we talked about three different trajectories that our friends fell into. One is the high achiever which is your traditional, very successful career-focused path. There was the opt-out, the women who after they had children decided to stay home. Then there's the flex-lifer, the women who sort of straddle two areas; they're typically women who might have a full-time job or might be full-time freelancers, but they really value flexibility in their lives. They don't see a career as the sole thing that they're channeling all of their energy into. Whether it's ensuring they have time to meet their children at the school bus or they want to compete in trail running marathons, or whatever it is. 

When I started doing this project, I firmly categorized myself as a flex-lifer. I was running a company that let me work from home so I could be with my kids and have a very flexible schedule. Even though it meant that my career was sort of not this superstar career, it gave me a lifestyle that worked for me. The first thing that this project did was help me set that in context and say, it's not that I suck at moving my career forward, it's actually that I've made conscious choices and trade-off to create this kind of lifestyle. Turns out, the majority of our friends and the majority of women out there who fall into this socio-economic group choose to be flex-lifers.

However, when we interviewed these high achievers, I found myself really impressed with them and a little bit jealous of the way that they talked about their lives and their careers. They seemed very focused, very clear on their goals and what they wanted to achieve, and they really seemed to thrive from getting respect and recognition at work. I started to feel like I wanted to know what that was like. So, I actually ended up changing my career and taking a job in a different city so that I could move my career forward. I spent some time really focused on moving into the high achiever category.

Q: Where did you move to and did the change reveal anything new about yourself?

A: I took a job in Washington, DC, working for the White House in the previous administration, which was kind of crazy. I commuted back and forth and it was an amazing experience. After that, I thought I was prepared to move to Washington and take a job with the next administration but things didn't work out that way. Now, I have a DC job but I still live in Brooklyn. At the time, when the transition was happening, I felt like, "Oh, but I just wanna have, like, another really hard driving job and I wanna be in an office." But the job that I ended up getting allowed me to work from home and set my own hours, which has been wonderful. At first, I was like, "But where's my hard driving job?" then I started to think, "Well, actually, maybe this is really the thing that works best for me." I get to do a lot of the things that I love and feel like I'm working for good in the world, I get to be engaged in all these intellectual conversations, and I also go to new yoga. 

Q: You recently wrote an article for The Atlantic, When 'Love What You Do' Pushes Women to Quit." In it, you asked, "Should a career be a sort of manifestation of one's passions and deeply held beliefs or should a job primarily function to pay the bills?" How do you approach this topic in your book? 

A: In the book, we talk a lot about how our culture is so focused on this idea of doing what you love, to the degree that it is even the tagline for WeWork. Actually, we had an event at WeWork and I saw the "Do What You Love" slogan all over the place and I thought, really? Does everybody in this office, like, really... Like, every single person comes in here and is like, "Yes, I love what I do." That is such a huge burden to place on the thing that you're doing to pay the bills and feed yourself and your family. So, we talk in the book about how in some ways that burden falls more heavily on women because a lot of women view their jobs as a luxury; it becomes a trade-off. When women do the childcare cost calculus, they only think about the cost of the childcare as coming out of their salary. So, women will say things like, "I didn't earn enough to cover the cost of childcare so I stayed at home," when in reality, that calculation doesn't make any sense. Why isn't the cost of childcare being factored into the entire household income?

One of the things we talked about in the book, is to look at childcare as an investment. Even if it may not seem like it makes financial sense in the beginning, it pays off a lot down the road once you make more money 5 or 10 years from now, and enables you to keep a foot in and move up in your career as opposed to totally stepping back and taking yourself out. So, we really felt like it was very important to discuss the idea of passion versus paying the bills. What we found was that our friends who looked at their work as not an extravagance, or not something they were doing to feed their inner soul, but as a way to make money - those were the women who continued to work. This may sound obvious, except for the fact that not all women look at their jobs that way. 

So, for women who chose careers where it was harder to earn a living like wanting to be an opera singer or wanting to be a screenwriter, they often ended up opting out because they felt like they didn't earn enough to justify continuing to work, as opposed to the women who very purposely chose careers that would support them. For instance, one woman who chose to become a dentist talked about how she wasn't passionate about being a dentist but it was a good job, it afforded her the lifestyle that she wanted, made her feel financially secure and kept her financially independent. So, the women who took those kinds of jobs stayed there.

Q: Why did you decide to become a BCL member? 

A: I have worked from home for, like, 15 years and when I took a job in DC, I found that I loved being in an office and the change of scenery. I don't like to come in and sit in one place for eight hours. I live a solid 25-minute walk from BCL, so I thought that it would be a good way to break up the day, to spend some of the day in my office and then some of the day at BCL. I have a part-time membership and I like having few days a week where I can just stop and take a nice long walk, do a few hours of work and then take another nice long walk to come home.

———

Want to learn more about your BCL community? Click here. Also, be sure to check out some of the perks and amenities that a membership at Brooklyn Creative League has to offer - like Citi Bike and Zipcar discounts, and plenty more. 

Dads Who Cowork | By Neil F. Carlson

n any case, one of our principal goals in starting BCL was to create both a space and a community that would help us be good parents and accomplished professionals. That’s a goal that has resonated with other dads, so we talked with some new dads here at BCL to ask them about how coworking in general--and BCL specifically--has helped them balance career and family--and what advice they would have for other new dads.

Brooklyn Creative League's Holiday Party 2017

Thank you to everyone who came out for our annual Holiday party last night! We wish all of you a happy winter. What a year we've had! Here are some photos from our party courtesy of photographer Jenni Walkowiak (www.iamjwphotography.com) 

Lessons from My Mother: Fall Cleaning

Whenever the leaves start changing colors, and the temperature drops just slightly, I am reminded of my mother. This may well be because her birthday is in September. It could also be my vivid memories of waking up early to go with her to the International Balloon Fiesta every October. Perhaps it’s because of our autumn hikes up the La Luz trail to Sandia Peak amongst a thick sea of bright yellow aspen leaves. It could be her infamous pumpkin bread, or her annual Pumpkin Parties (which I plan to bring to Brooklyn this year). For me, fall is synonymous with Mom and all of the wonderful lessons I have learned from her. It is because of this that I have chosen to honor my mother with a series of blog posts where I impart some of her wisdom.

Lessonsfrom my (1).png

Fall Cleaning

Most have heard of Spring Cleaning, the age-old tradition of cleaning your home and reorganizing your life at the end of the winter months. It’s aligned with what many cultures and religious practices believe to be the new year. Many Persians practice something called “khooneh-tekouni” which means “shaking the house” where they thoroughly clean their entire homes top to bottom at the beginning of their new year. An ancient Jewish practice involves cleaning the home in anticipation of Passover and so on and so forth (source). Spring Cleaning is deeply rooted in our culture and lexicon regardless of whether you or your family practiced this at all. While my mother prefers to keep her home spic and span regardless of the time of year, our annual deep clean always happened in the fall.

Before writing this, I gave my mom a call (hey everyone- call your mothers!) to ask her if there was any significance to why our family always did our Spring Cleaning months after the fact. She… well she had no recollection of ever calling it “Fall Cleaning” but the fact remains that it is something that I remember as if it were yesterday. Clearly this annual family cleaning party had more significance to me than to her (as previously mentioned, my mother takes a lot of pride in her home and it essentially always looks ready to be featured in a design magazine) she did have some theories as to why we chose autumn to reorganize and dust off the baseboards.

 Pay no mind to the cat my mother adopted to replace me when I moved to New York- this image demonstrates the immaculate condition of the guest bedroom. 

Pay no mind to the cat my mother adopted to replace me when I moved to New York- this image demonstrates the immaculate condition of the guest bedroom. 

 The patio of my mother's home in the mountains to the East of Albuquerque, NM. 

The patio of my mother's home in the mountains to the East of Albuquerque, NM. 

It “Feels” like the New Year

My mother has two children, my older sister and me. Which means that regardless of the calendar year, the school-year eventually winds up dictating the structure of your life. Growing children require you to buy new clothes every season, because last year’s sweaters are now short in the arms, and their rainboots no longer fit their feet. An entire year has passed since we got that one toy, and we haven’t played with it in months. Fall seems like the perfect time to do a complete and total overhaul of your closets and toy chests.

Fall Cleaning for us would always start in our bedrooms. I’d go through all of my clothes and toys. The clothes that don’t fit, or that I know I will never wear again, along with my forgotten toys, all went to a donation bin so that other children could use them. Whatever I kept would be organized, and all the new space that I made would be vacuumed, dusted and put away neatly. As an adult, I’ve maintained this practice. Every fall, when I take down the bin of fall/winter clothes, I go through them and make sure they meet two criteria. First, do they still fit? I may not be growing anymore, but my weight does fluctuate. Sure, sometimes it’s good to keep a “goal” dress, but a whole closet full of them? No, thank you. I’ll wind up in stretchy pants all winter. Second, do I still like them? It’s been a whole year and some fads just don’t last. Everything that passes the test gets to stay in my closet, the rest get donated.

This is a good time to go through your spring/summer clothes as well before packing them away for the colder months. How did that $10 sun dress hold up? If it looks a little wrecked now, it won’t look any better next year. Bye!

If you have kids, fall cleaning is a good habit to get into because it can teach them to declutter, the value of minimizing, and how great it feels to help others. There are plenty of kids and families that need your hand-me-downs way more than you need to hold onto them for the sentimental value.

One way that you can use this model in your everyday life, and to make fall/spring cleaning less daunting, try this tip: When you bring home something new, donate something old. (This is especially helpful if you are someone who enjoys shopping.) My boyfriend and I did this recently when he came home with three new pairs of jeans. His pants drawer was bursting, so we went through all of his jeans and were able to toss five pairs in the donation pile.

 Image borrowed from northphoenixfamily.com

Image borrowed from northphoenixfamily.com

The Value of a Clean Home

When I was a kid, I thought my mom was nuts. I’d come home from school and as soon as I walked in the door I had kicked my shoes off, dropped my coat and backpack on the floor, and usually ran to the kitchen to fix myself a snack. All of this left behind a tornado of mess. When my mother came home from work, I always had to get up from the couch and clean it up before I could go back to my homework or Nickelodeon. I thought she was being unnecessarily hard on me. Like, come on Mom! I was in school ALL DAY and now you want me to CLEAN? Can’t a girl catch a break? But the truth is that there is science behind this.

Studies have shown that clutter and materialism leads to stress and anxiety (source). The more stuff we have, the more anxious, depressed, and joyless we feel. It’s highly likely that my mother’s reaction to my whirlwind after-school routine was a reflection of this. I’ve personally found, in my adult life, that I feel more at ease when my home is clean. If I walk into my kitchen and it looks a mess, I make it a point to tidy whether the mess was mine or not. I don’t think ill of my three roommates, I personally find satisfaction from taking care of the mess.

The positive mental impacts of a clean home far outweigh the benefits of sitting around in a pile of junk. One University of California study showed a significant uptick in the stress hormone cortisol in women who described their homes as messy (source).  Not to mention that just 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise (like cleaning) can trigger the release of endocannabinoids, your body’s own naturally synthesized version of THC. Endocannabinoids literally make you feel calmer. Deep cleaning your home for hours - or even just 10 minutes- can trigger this response in your body, much the same as going for a walk or jog. (source).

Clearly, my mother is onto something. She taught me to pick up after myself, clean as I go, and take time to reorganize and minimize at least once a year. All practices linked to strong mental health. And now that the new school year is in full swing, if you haven’t already done so- why not take a cue from my momma and give your house a full shake down? You’ll feel great.

Jenni Walkowiak is one of Brooklyn Creative League's community managers (1).png

BCL Announces Business Vision 2027: Expanding Coworking and Supporting Community Capitalism

BusinessVision2017 (1).png

Members, Friends, Partners, and Colleagues:

When we started Brooklyn Creative League almost a decade ago, our vision was to create both the physical space and the professional community that was missing from our work lives. We also set out to build a different kind of company: a for-profit business whose economic value was rooted in community, collaboration, and mutual benefit. A company that embodied our conviction that we’re all better off when we’re ALL better off.

Almost ten years later, we can say with pride and gratitude that we have achieved that vision--and in many ways surpassed it. One of the most surprising and rewarding facets of this journey has been the amazing people we’ve met along the way. Whether you are a friend, colleague, or acquaintance, we can say unequivocally that BCL is the special place it is because of you, our members. Thank you, thank you, thank you for helping to make our vision a reality.

About+Us.jpg

It is our sincere hope that you and your fellow BCL members will play an even bigger role in the next phase of BCL’s growth. We are thrilled to announce the roll out of BCL’s Business Vision 2027, an audacious 10-year plan that will transform BCL from being one of many coworking spaces in an increasingly corporate industry into something truly unique: a foundry for community capitalism--successful, sustainable, community-minded businesses that balance private profits with the public good. Using our core coworking business as a launchpad, we will develop an enterprise network of at least five new coworking spaces and three new complementary businesses. Together, these enterprises will combine social and financial capital to create economic value for our members, investors, employees, partners, and local communities. By 2027, BCL and its members will generate at least $120,000,000 in annual revenue, creating a significant multiplier effect for neighborhoods with BCL locations. Through mentorships, community fellowships, and charitable giving, BCL and its members will generate $2,000,000 annually in grants, social investments, and pro-bono services to support our local communities.

 

Business Vision 2027: At a Glance

  • At least five new locations by 2027.

  • A foundry for community capitalism: sustainable, profitable, community-minded businesses.

  • BCL locations as a driver of equitable neighborhood development through: community and worker ownership; expanded charitable giving; community fellowships; and internships

How BCL Members Can Benefit

  • As investors

  • As members of the BCL Fellowship support network

  • As models of community capitalism themselves

  • Continuing to support BCL through continued membership, referrals, peer-to-peer support, investing and supporting other community capitalist businesses working at BCL

 

As we embark on this next phase in BCL’s evolution, I wanted to say a few words about how we plan to grow, because the means are intimately tied to the ends. As you’re probably aware, coworking has become an extremely hot industry over the past five years. Fueled by WeWork’s $20 billion valuation, money has flooded into the sector, and we’re now seeing a glut of corporate coworking spaces all fighting to become the next WeWork. If we wanted to, we could easily turn to traditional investors, as many of our competitors have done. If you want to scale fast and have a shot at making big money, that’s the way to go. But corporate coworking comes with lots of strings attached: a relentless focus on growth over community; pressure to maximize investor returns (by extracting evermore revenue from members); and economies of scale that undermine the relationships, culture, and community that are coworking’s lifeblood.

But here’s the principal reason we’re eschewing traditional investors: We want to create a model for sustainable growth through direct ownership. As the founders and sole shareholders, Erin and I have demonstrated that we can run a profitable, first-rate coworking business by sticking to our business principles and focusing on the long-view: building and running extraordinary coworking spaces; cultivating authentic professional communities; and delivering excellent customer service. As we open the door to outside investors, we are committed to sharing investment opportunities with a broad range of non-traditional investors, including BCL members, employees, local neighborhood residents, and mission-aligned individuals and institutions. We are convinced that these investors--far more than venture capitalists or real estate funds--understand BCL’s fundamental value proposition: that our business, structured thoughtfully and managed with integrity, can generate solid financial returns for investors, while also strengthening communities and creating a more resilient and equitable economy.

We encourage you to read the full vision (it’s a 5 minute read). And we hope that you’ll consider joining us as a member, investor, and partner as we move into this next phase of BCL’s growth. Thank you for your membership and support.

 

Sincerely,

Neil Carlson & Erin Carney

Co-Founders