The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: SF Local, Rena Tom of Makeshift Society — May 12, 2013

Interview: SF Local, Rena Tom of Makeshift Society

This week Eliza interviews retail strategist and Makeshift Society founder, Rena Tom. Follow Rena on Twitter via @rena_tom.


Last year you founded the Makeshift Society, a coworking space located in the beautiful Hayes Valley. What goes into the day-to-day of running a coworking space ?

There are far more details when managing a coworking space than you’d think! Besides making sure the place is clean and stocked with supplies, you also need to make sure the social and emotional needs of people are met. Even if most folks are on their laptops, they are here because they are craving a certain level of interaction and connection with others. Monitoring the space is important, as the vibe differs every single day.

Besides this, there is the usual administrative support, and lots of blogging and social media, which is our marketing strategy right now. Word of mouth and familiarizing potential members with Makeshift through images of the space and current members has worked wonders.

Calling the Makeshift Society “a clubhouse for creatives” calls upon vestiges of childhood creativity while also eliciting the notion of exclusivity. What inspired you to describe the Makeshift Society this way?  

From the get-go, we wanted to emphasize play. Play is such an important component of creativity, as is permission to act. Creating a place where members feel like they have ownership to experiment, talk to people and get feedback is what we’re all about.

We figure that people already know how to work! We just try to make them feel comfortable enough to make mistakes. They might *not* make mistakes but they won’t know until they try.

As far as exclusivity goes, we aren’t, actually; we don’t maintain a waiting list and we don’t “curate” the membership mix. However, people who believe in and embrace our mission tend to get what we’re all about very quickly. We’ve been lucky that the Society membership largely self-selects and yet is still quite diverse. Our main difference from other coworking spaces is that the activities are geared toward freelancers. This is partly because we are a small space with all flex seating which works better for freelancers rather than teams, and partly because those are the people I’ve worked with in the past, so I understand their needs the best.

Rena at Makeshift Society
Rena at Makeshift Society

You founded Rare Device in New York City in 2005.  What lessons from that experience would you share with aspiring business owners? 

That was a great time to open a store, and NYC is just the place to get great exposure and learn fast. I would just say that if you have a great idea, just do it. I mitigated risk by taking on an extremely small space and giving myself a deadline to “make it”. Slow and steady growth is also not a bad thing to aspire to, especially if you are new to the business.

For a seasoned veteran, you can take on more risk, but if you are entering a field that you have no experience in, you don’t need to shoot for the moon – you need to learn the ropes. When you feel comfortable with that, *then* you can go big.

When you opened the San Francisco location in 2007 did you notice any drastic differences between starting a business on the West Coast vs. the East Coast? 

The main thing I learned is that it’s harder to get traditional press outside of New York. However, blogs and social media have started to become much more of a factor for successful retail, and that definitely helps level the playing field. I also learned that New York is far more trend-driven and less price point conscious, and that California was even more story-driven and concerned about the provenance of a product – but that also reflects the shift in values overall over the years. The recession really threw a wrench into the works but the recovery seems to be moving retail along nicely again.

Rena at Rare Device
Rena at Rare Device

Word in the Twitter-sphere is that you’re looking to open a Makeshift Society in Brooklyn. What influenced that decision?   

Demand and momentum. I think the time is right to bring our kind of coworking to Brooklyn, which is just so creative and has a great work ethic as well. It also makes sense because of real estate. Most people are in tiny apartments and can’t afford studio space or office space, and yet trying to meet and network at bars or similar places is loud and unsatisfying. The people I’ve talked to want a low-pressure environment where you can work or have a conversation or take a class. There are a lot of people who fly back and forth between SF and NYC, also, and expanding the network and having reciprocal membership will be awesome. We’re actively pursuing a space right now, and need to start fundraising. So far everyone I’ve spoken to has been very positive about the idea.

What was the last thing that inspired you on the streets of San Francisco? 

Let’s see. I have a fondness for survey marks.  You’ll find them sprinkled throughout my Instagram feed; I can’t stop myself from photographing them. I like that they are a secret language in plain sight. They offer clues about major, impactful things happening to our streets and sidewalks, but most people don’t even see them anymore. The online world is important but I am obviously a proponent of the built, offline world as well 🙂

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About our contributor // Eliza Dropkin is a lover of live music, good food, and beautiful places. Connect with her on Twitter via @elizadropkin.

Life Is Eventful: How Getting Out There Got Me Here — May 5, 2013

Life Is Eventful: How Getting Out There Got Me Here

We’re taught from a very young age that there are certain major life events that will have significant importance and deliver at least a modicum of respect. Being born (though you aren’t quite aware of that one), graduating from college, getting married, having children, buying a house, turning 50, etc. These are the Events with a capital ‘E’.

What no one really tells you, however, is the way the other kind of events will impact your life. These events will present the opportunity for learning, fun, and personal growth. Occasionally they will offer you a few hours of complete anonymity, and with it the extraordinary chance to be whoever you want.

When you scan The Fetch each week, deciding which events you’d like to attend, you never know how they will go. You could meet a new friend, make a new connection that leads to a new job, or find the perfect person with whom to start a company. We know this is true because we have experienced it first hand, and we’d like to share our stories with you (first Eliza and then Kate will in a follow-up post). Hopefully these will encourage you to take a chance on something new. Feel free to leave your own stories in the comment section, we’d love to hear them!

Eliza’s Experience

The events I have attended in the last year have had a greater impact on my life than I ever could have anticipated. While working as a marketing intern for Lovely last summer, I organized a mini-guerrilla marketing party in Dolores Park. We entitled the party “A Lovely Day In The Park,” and luckily for me, Kate was in attendance.

Two weeks later I had the opportunity to go to one of the monthly Community Manager Breakfasts at SoundCloud. As a verifiable tech newbie, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d only been working for a few weeks and I wasn’t entirely sure what the role of a community manager was. Not only did a conversation contributor (Kate) give me the full scoop of the CM role, I also became friends with Jane, the SoundCloud CMand had my first pupusa at Balompies (nearby the SC office).


This past fall I became involved with Yelp. It’s a funny story actually. I was studying abroad in London and made the audacious decision to spend a good chunk of October’s living budget on a plane ticket to surprise my boyfriend in California at a later date.  I lived off of a few pounds a day supplemented by a lot of quinoa and Hare Krishna for a week before I received a thrilling email inviting me to become a member of the London Yelp Elite. I accepted the invitation and RSVP’d yes to the next Elite event. When the day came I was almost too nervous to go, but emboldened by my +1, memories of images of wild Yelp Elite parties from Ligaya Tichy’s TED talk, and a growing hatred of quinoa, I hopped on the tube and went.

Easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

My first Yelp event was followed by dozens more, taking me all over London to places I would have never otherwise gone. I made terrific Yelp friends (shout out to the London Yelp CM Alex Shebar), ate delicious things and drank delicious cocktails for free(If there was ever a time for a #winning, this would be it).

If there is one nugget of wisdom you can take away from this blog post I hope it is the following truth: the only thing holding you back is yourself. Everyone is intimidated by the thought of conversing with a group of random strangers, but the truth of the matter is people (generally) don’t bite! If you pick an event of interest to you, the chances are you’ll meet some cool people. Plus you’ll already have something to talk about 🙂

Good luck, and happy networking!


6 Tips For Not Letting Email Rule Your Life — April 22, 2013

6 Tips For Not Letting Email Rule Your Life

I think everyone can agree that email is stressful. It’s surprisingly easy to let your email inbox keep you on a emotional leash without being aware of it. So I’d like to share with you the best ways I’ve found to fight back and keep email in its place (somewhere after maintaining general happiness).

1. Prioritize your email responses.

It is important to remember that you don’t owe anything to people looking to monopolize your time without paying for it.

2. Keep your work email and personal email in separate apps on your mobile device. I use the Mailbox app for work mail which has a nifty system for prioritizing emails, and the normal iPhone mail app for my personal email accounts.

3. Don’t enable push notifications for your personal email. This way you only have to deal with personal emails on the go when you have the time. I enable push notifications for work emails on my phone, but use mailbox’s option to only show a “1” flag for any number of new messages to cut down on potential stress.

4. Use the flag or star functions to mark important emails so you won’t forget about them later.

5. If your email load is truly immense, popping specific emails that you need to remember to respond to into a program like Asana can be helpful. This adds an element of instant gratification when you check off the ‘completed’ box for said email.

6. Try not to get in the habit of sending personal emails from your work account. This will just make things more confusing. If you’re working with browser-based email, keep your work account open in a normal window and your personal email open in an incognito or private browsing mode window.

Eliza is the newest member of The Fetch team. Follow her on Twitter or her blog

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