April 2020 - February 2021
Greenhouse was my first step into being a business owner. I had been freelancing for 3 years, but this was different. We were 5 friends with one goal: open the best creative space in Montreal. But to understand how this all started and why conflict rose, I need to take you back to the beginning of the Greenhouse journey.
It’s April 2020, early pandemic. I'm with my friends Dragon and Loc walking around the city looking for a commercial space when a lady approaches us. She’s an artist and conveniently owns a building down the street with space available for July. A couple weeks later I get a call from Dragon. He tells me he signed a 4-year lease. At first I feel like it’s all a bit rushed, but then again it’s quarantine and I have all the time in the world. Alongside Loc and Dragon I begin gathering a team. I ask Renaud, my newly met filmmaker friend and Jason, my soon-to-be roommate. They’re in.
So we're now 5, it’s July 6th and it’s finally time to move in. We quickly realize that there’s a lot of work to be done starting with this room in the back that needs to be taken down. We get the green light from the landlord and the construction begins. Everyday is spent between the studio and the hardware store; building the cyclorama, repainting the walls, looking for cheap furniture on Kijiji, etc. At first we all just wanted a workspace, but as we put more and more hours into the project we grow more attached. By September, we’re almost done renovating. Dragon offers us to be equal partners in the business. A symbolic 20% of ownership each. We all accept, but nothing is on paper. Big mistake...
We begin building the brand; name, logo, website, team photo, social media, etc. Our little Greenhouse is slowly starting to take form and by November we’re ready to launch. The open house goes great. 50 people show up over 2 days in respective time slots. We give little plants to everyone and the word starts to spread. People start posting stories and we grow from 300 followers to 1000 within a couple weeks. From November 22nd up until Christmas we're booked 3-5 times a week. Managing the clients is very time consuming, but we don't want to lose momentum. We go hard on social media. We film a live session with Geoffroy, organize contests, interview creators, etc. By the end of our first 30 days we clock in 7000$ in sales. Now, that 7000$ might seem like a lot for one month and it’s a fair number, but the up front costs were high as well. Dragon put approximately 10k, I put 4k and the rest combined, another 2-3k. On top of that we were paying 2300$ for rent each month. So one month in we were still at loss, but it's pretty normal for a business to take a couple months to make back its initial investment.
I remember going to the team Christmas dinner after a very intense and exciting month of December. The ambience was particularly tense and quiet. At that point I didn't know if we were all just exhausted or if there was a problem within the team. We each went home to our families for a couple days and when we returned things began to go sour. Dragon had taken control of the company bank account and removed Renaud and I from the “Registraire des entreprises”. During our weekly team meeting he announced that he wanted to take back 100% of the company. The reason? Greenhouse was not going the direction he wanted it to go. Dragon wanted a production house. I was confused, but I could somewhat see his point of view. He signed the lease and put most of the money in so he should have more say in the direction we go. However we also put hundreds of hours into the project and didn't want to leave it all behind just like that so we began trying to find a compromise. Renaud and I could manage the bookings in order to cover the cost of rent + initial expenses while Dragon could manage the production side. Jason and Loc would help on both ends. Almost like two entities under one roof.
We never did find a middle ground. One evening Dragon invited me to his apartment and offered me 50/50 equal ownership. I refused for 2 reasons. 1. I felt we had different ways of seeing business and 2. I didn’t want to go behind my friends backs.
There and then, I knew Greenhouse was over. To this day Dragon has kept the entirety of the funds in the bank account, not paid back our financial investments, nor any compensation for our time. Nothing is on paper so there’s not much we can do. I felt extremely frustrated at first. The meetings were taking up all of my energy and time, but I’m slowly learning to let go. Beyond the money, Greenhouse was a great learning experience. I lost one friend, but the other 3 feel like family now. I learned how to (and how not to) run a rental-based business, how to manage a community and how to work as a team. I learned that trying to micro manage every member doesn’t do much and understood the importance of communication (and structure). So all in all, I can’t say I regret any of this because I wouldn't be where I am today if Dragon had not signed that lease. Live and learn, don’t mourn the past and keep your head up.
To everyone that supported the project, Thank You. It would not have been possible without you. Hoping you can take something positive from my experience. Just remember to put things on paper;)