Name: Lauren Decker, Lynne Pagano and Suzanne Willian
Hometown: Summit (Decker) and Short Hills (Pagano and Willian)
Kids: Lauren Decker: Eva, 7 and Nate, 4
Lynne Pagano: Will, 24, Mary, 21, Burke, 18
Suzanne Willian: Caroline, 25, Matt, 27 and Paige, 22
Business: The Co-Co
Location: 115 Summit Ave., Summit
New Jersey Family: Tell me about the Co-Co and what makes it unique?
SW: We launched The Co-Co to create a collaborative co-learning and co-working community where members can work, learn and have fun. We are a gathering place for relationship-building and forging productive connections to make things happen and build momentum for our members…whatever they are working on. The Co-Co exists for a future of work and life beyond the nine-to-five. We have created an influential community of members where everyone’s voice is heard and each person’s contribution is valued…no matter where they are on the journey of life and career.
NJF: When did you launch the business, and what was your biggest inspiration to launch it?
SW: The Co-Co opened in January 2019. The founding team members were each at different points of transition in their lives and work. They knew they were not alone in seeking community, connection and fun through these changes, especially in this hub of talented women in the NYC suburbs. Transitions are not easy, and we wanted The Co-Co to be a place for support and inspiration—whether starting out as an entrepreneur after a corporate career, looking for a network of local working moms or seeking to return to the workforce.
NJF: You recently celebrated one year in business and had an amazing turnout to mark your first birthday! What was that first year like and what have you learned?
LP: We’ve learned that entrepreneurship is more fun when you’re connecting with a community of benevolent supporters along the way. We surround ourselves with the energy and encouragement of our co-founder ‘work-wives,’ team and members. Our community truly sustains us.
NJF: How have you pivoted your business to adapt to this stressful and uncertain time?
SW: Our current #stayhome experience is highlighting the need for community and connection—what The Co-Co is all about! Though physically closed, The Co-Co’s virtual doors are wide open. We’ve hosted more than 40 gatherings for hundreds of members and friends since closing. Coming together personally and professionally, we’ve seen and heard vulnerability, resilience, kindness and compassion in our community. We have laughed and cried at virtual coffees and learned how to co-work online. As contemporary artist and Co-Co Artist in Residence Gail Winbury shared in the wrap-up to a recent virtual coworking session, ‘It’s nice to feel you here with me.’
NJF: How have you been able to retain a sense of community at the Co-Co while your physical doors are closed?
LP: We’ve seen the great potential of this community and the relationships formed, especially in recent months. Our members continue to ‘show up’ for each other while the space is closed. They share struggles and wins in the ‘new normal’ at community coffees and happy hours, and lift each other up with videos, comments and posts on our app and on social media.
Recently, a dozen women met on zoom for a positive parenting conversation led by Co-Co member Adele Dujardin and her friend and colleague Allegra Baider. Some participants have young adults unexpectedly home from college and New York City. Others are caring for preschoolers and overseeing elementary schooling. The group left the conversation with better perspective and equipped to be compassionate to themselves and others. After the workshop, Co-Co member Sarah Rosen shared, ‘I’m so glad to have this community in my life right now.’
NJF: If possible, how are you and your business giving back through this period?
LD: The Co-Co Founding team has had a long-term commitment to social impact. Since launching, we have provided opportunities for our members to get involved in efforts supporting the broader community. We’ve continued to harness this influential community’s collective empathy at this time to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic statewide. Initiatives include:
- Leadership in the NJPandemic Relief Fund: Co-Co co-founders Christine Gilfillan and Suzanne Spero have been working closely with First Lady Tammy Murphy to band funders together in support of New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities. We invited our community to contribute to the impact of these efforts, leveraging all of our communication platforms to get the word out.
- South Ward Children’s Alliance Collection: Utilizing The Co-Co physical space at a time that we are closed for co-working, we set up a “touchless” drop-off on site to share cleaning and household products to supply an urgent need for Newark’s SWCA. We also invited members to purchase items on their Amazon wish list.
- “Virtual” Social Impact Panel: On May 20, we will host a social impact panel on hunger in New Jersey as a result of the pandemic. We will engage in a dialogue with local and statewide leaders to understand the issue, the response and ways to get involved.
NJF: What will be the first thing you do as a business when this is behind us?
LP: We will celebrate our members’ resilience and welcome them back (as they are ready) to a place outside their home that exists to support and inspire them…a place to cultivate creativity, build relationships and to grow whatever they are working on. We will set up the space and new routines to ensure our members’ safety and comfort and adapt our programming to create a sense of welcome and belonging in the ‘new normal.’ For example, we will continue to offer virtual events along with live events as we know members may have different time lines and comfort levels with re-entry.
NJF: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever gotten that you want to share with others?
LD: ‘Success is getting to the point that you are absolutely comfortable with yourself.’ Oprah Winfrey.
We’ve created a community where members can show up as their whole selves and get support and inspiration exactly who they are and how they are at this moment. When our members feel welcomed, celebrated and valued, no matter where they are on the journey of life and career, good things happen. Members’ openness to collaboration and interest in forging relationships in this supportive community has led to success in whatever they are working on—effectively growing businesses, cultivating networks and starting new friendships.