Learning how to be self-sufficient ultimately meant that I would need to create my own path because I truly believed I wouldn’t receive it otherwise. I was in constant pursuit of what would make me “whole”, create this feeling of acceptance and power. Entrepreneurialism was in my soul, having anything from lemonade stands to DIY scrunchie store in my childhood cul-de-sac. Launching Profresh Style was a version of being self-sufficient, of making my own path, say what I wanted to say and have a voice, a platform. It led to some entrepreneurial endeavors but I was very uncomfortable owning something that was about me, solely me. I wanted to focus on what could have more value, what could bring the idea of community together and pave a way for me to build on that self-sufficiency I so clearly desired.
Thus, JIG+SAW was created.
She, JIG+SAW, was such a beautiful little idea. I took everything I knew, everything I learned and made a long ass investor deck and pitched my heart out to anyone who would listen in October of 2015. I just wanted someone to believe that an all-women’s coworking community would be impactful and important. I got lots of no’s and LOL’s. But, I didn’t and wouldn’t give up. So I went back to my apartment with my two new interns and started on a theory test — do women want a workspace just for them? Does that work? Is it necessary?
A few pages from JIG+SAW’s first investment deck in 2015. Funny thing about this deck? The space I toured (shown in the deck) and applied to is now the Ban.do offices. :)
In 2016, my two teammates, Maggie + Ashourina, helped me launch my first event under JIG+SAW to test the theory. Do women want collective learning + space, and simply put… safety to show up as myself and hustle with like-minded humans to grow what’s been on our minds forever. Eighty women, on a Monday morning, in Midcity showed up ready to work, ready to create something for themselves. It was the coolest confirmation I could have received.
It was that impact that proved my narrative. Eighty women and fifteen experts trusted my vision for this space and trusted me with their money and time to build something for our future. That excited me. That motivated me. So, I went back out to pitch.
A few pages from my 100th or so try at JIG+SAW’s investment deck in 2017. Lots pivoted and evolved and shifted. More case studies were available to show scale + more realities about the business I was facing.
Worked my way into a few pitching competitions, sat in way too many uncomfortable conference rooms and silly tea room chats to receive kinder no’s and words of encouragement. I believe because it was starting to exist in other cities, these kinds of women’s spaces, it was no longer an LOL but maybe I just wasn’t the leader this mission needed… I was frustrated.
December of 2016, I got an email that would change what it meant for me to really test JIG+SAW — an opportunity to have a six-month pop-up at the new Row DTLA in the Arts District. I had four weeks to figure out how I would pull this off in a 1,000 square foot blank space. I had about $2,000 in my savings, rallied my two teammates back and begun the process of what many came to know as the JIG+SAW experience. In January, I texted over 50 or so friends what was happening with JIG+SAW and I needed help. This was a major deal for me because I’m not one to reach out, I wanted to know I could do this on my own but I realized this was selfish and grasping for acknowledgment. That’s not me, I checked myself. I asked if they would be comfortable venmo’ing $20 or whatever was possible to see JIG+SAW come to life. I received over $2,000 from these amazing friends of mine. $4,000 to build out a space in about three weeks. My heart was full, I was ready. My dream was happening, I would see my space come into reality. And it begun.
Sharing a few brainstorming sessions, cost analysis + overall over-planning from about six different JIG+SAW notebooks.
And most of you know the story of everything that happened in those 1,000 square foot walls. Beautiful stories, impactful moments, women launching companies, women putting things to rest, women connecting with each other, women bringing down their walls, women finding comfort in communal struggles. It was six months of really powerful, intentional connection. We built a monthly incubator for first-time entrepreneurs, we held over 70 events during our six month partnership, collaborated with incredible companies, non-profits + brands wanting to support us, and saw hundreds of women + supportive men come through and be present in JIG+SAW’s growth and their own. It was really something.
My team + I did our best to maintain JIG+SAW outside of those walls, partnered with spaces who allowed us to maintain our community as best possible. But it got tough.
Net net, I was running low on cash.
JIG+SAW was never intended to have us bank-rolling. We charged what we did to create accessibility and bring people in who would have otherwise not shown up. JIG+SAW was self-funded by my freelance efforts, month by month, paying for my team + maintaining space. My now ex was contributing financially when I couldn’t pay myself which was always. A few months into JIG+SAW’s launch, he quit then-stable job leaving me scared + panicked… yeah, I know. Don’t get me started. So, I had to bring in more clients to support he + I, as well as my team, as well as the space. It was difficult. I felt anger, frustration, sadness. How could I keep this up? Every cost was getting eaten and I was exhausting myself by having way too many people working for me that I couldn’t afford and trying to maintain my clients while biz dev’ing my way into new retainer work. It got complicated. I did as much creative flexing as I could to ensure we wouldn’t fold but by the end of August, I had to have the conversation with my team that we wouldn’t be moving forward and would be out of money by October. This was beyond devastating. A lot was happening in my personal life as well. My ex and I were in therapy for his addiction issues, which added to the end of us + while at the same time, JIG+SAW was coming to a close. I felt heavy and scared. I wasn’t able to pay my last contractor for months after we closed up shop because there simply wasn’t any income coming in; no freelance clients, no JIG+SAW fees, nothing. I went dry. I was alone. And I turned it all inward.
I was failing myself, failing my people, my committed talented team, and I had no idea what to do.
A full year and change has gone by. I took all of 2018 to refocus on everything that happened. I hadn’t processed what happened between my ex and I, I left therapy because it wasn’t helping, and I hadn’t fully understood what I could have done more for JIG+SAW. It was a healing period. I had failed a lot of people and I had failed myself. And I’m not one to be afraid of failure, I welcome it. But it scared me to know I put myself out there and tried to do this thing, and “everyone” saw and now it just didn’t exist. I had to forgive myself for not managing the finances of the company responsibly. I was working freelance to pay for JIG+SAW but JIG+SAW didn’t make money but I had five people with retainers. It didn’t net out. And I didn’t understand that. I created multiple streams of revenue for JIG+SAW without fully thinking things through like HER.LAB, our hiring database… it frustrated my team that I was throwing shit to the wind and hoping something would come back with a return. It was all disastrous.
Late last year, I had gone to coffee with a friend of mine who helped put things in perspective for me, as harsh as it hit. She said,
“JIG+SAW didn’t really fail. You just stopped. You hadn’t worked on it long enough for it to fail. It didn’t have a chance.”
And that was real. My fear of what had already been done shocked me from wanted to go back into the ring. And I just stopped.
Since January 2018, I hadn’t thought about JIG+SAW as something to pick back up. I wanted everything to be put away so I could just stop. For a second. And I did, for as long as I could— I got inspired again, wanted to share again, wanted to bring community back together. But I’m fucking terrified. But I know that’s what this is for, to share what’s real about this journey… what’s real about me. It feels so good to be open and share it and hope you feel it too.
There’s so much more about JIG+SAW and its journey. But what I wanted to share was what happened and why it happened, as clear and as open as I could be. However, there’s one last note on this. I hid behind JIG+SAW; it was easy for me to see it as a possible success because it wasn’t about me, it was about what was being built. I was too afraid to stand proudly as myself, not just as the founder of my company. Today, things are different. I’m fully stepping into Christina Topacio, Profresh, I’m fully accepting that is who I am and I desire the platform to share my stories, connect with you more. It’s okay for me to stand in the light. I could have multiple companies, no companies, working for someone else, doing something else, but I’m always going to be me, sharing with you + connecting with your heart. That’s my mission. I wake up daily thinking that. Thank you for welcoming me back here.