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Terell and Marisa Johnson
Business profile

Small Business Tour: La Create Sp_ce

Names: Terell and Marisa Johnson 

Location: Inglewood, California

Business: La Create Sp_ce and The Grace Space

Tell us about La Create Sp_ce.

Terell: We're a creative space. We offer meeting collaboration, training, and workshop spaces for all of our members. That really means that we're able to support entrepreneurs and small businesses to provide them with digital tools and resources to help their businesses grow and scale.

And what inspired your business and to create this space?

Terell: We went to school and started to work in Silicon Valley and there were a lot of spaces that are very similar to ours. It really gives entrepreneurs and various types of groups places to come together. We relocated from the Bay Area down to LA where I took a job in the Silicon Beach area and we quickly realized that there weren’t spaces for people like us. There wasn't a space where I can go to get on the internet, a place where I can go to grab a cup of coffee, but also really a space where I can go to find like-minded creatives.

We were inspired by a television show in which someone was going through Inglewood and talking about all the new things that were going to be going on. And we were like, Hey, wouldn't it be great if we had a space in which we can work with our friends to create various types of projects? It started from a really small scale.

What was your lightbulb moment of, we have to bring this to Inglewood?

Marisa: I just think it's the knowledge of what was coming. We knew what we wanted to see and we wanted to make sure that we saw it and we wanted to make sure we were the ones doing it. For example, with the wellness space—The Grace Space. I work out and I had nowhere to go. So why don't we use the space next door and make a fitness and wellness studio? I need to meditate, I need to do my yoga, and it is very hard for me to drive to the West Side to do that.

How do you all balance having a day job and running your own business, and managing your mental health? 

Marisa: I'm not sure if there's a specific balance or a perfect way to answer. I think it's learning over time, and always sticking to your why. There's bumps in the road of entrepreneurship, so it helps to always remind myself of why—why did I start this? Also always aligning with either people, activities, or careers that go and support that. That's how I rationalize my balance in my life. Everything is working together towards our goal, towards our mission.

Terell: For me, I think having a balance is really about understanding what your purpose is. My career job actually enabled us to be able to open this space. It allowed us to save up enough money to be able to invest in ourselves. We bootstrapped everything when we first started. 

The balance is always hard because some days, the business will be running smoothly, and then something will happen with one of your employees and you have to jump in. You have to wear many hats. Some days my main job takes a lot out of me. Some days this place takes a lot out of me. But really this place provides me a purpose and so it keeps me going in both directions.

What are some of the biggest things you've learned running this business? 

Marisa: I think the biggest lesson I've learned from starting a business is that everything doesn't have to be perfect. I have a marketing background, and as you can imagine, everything is perfect there. And so sometimes it takes me a long time to release a new feature, or a new product, or hire someone because I'm thinking it has to be perfect. I just have to lighten up a little bit and know that it's going to be okay and that we can keep building on top of what we have already done. 

What advice would you have for someone looking to start a business?

Terell: I would definitely have a strong plan, and a strong financial plan. I think a lot of people can figure out the idea that can potentially make money or keep the business afloat—but really having a plan, even for the things that you don't really think of.

Also seek out various types of funding. You don't have to use all your money like we did to start your business. There are a lot of various grants and loan programs, or just leaning on family or friends to figure out how to get the money to actually start the business. But again, it all goes back to having the plan. You're going to need to take the plan over to any type of loan officers or any family or friend. Have an idea of what you want to do and the direction that you want to go in your first year.

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We’re much better business owners now than we were when we started this.

You touched on funding, which is a huge topic and a barrier for a lot of businesses. What has been your experience and what advice do you have on that?

Terell: We were part of various types of incubators here in LA. We made it a point where we could invest in ourselves as owners because the learning never stops. And so, although we were able to start a business, get the rent paid, pay ourselves a little bit in the beginning—we’re able to pay ourselves a lot better five years later. We're much better business owners than we were when we started this. 

But funding is huge because there's a lack thereof. You have to also understand that there is money out there for businesses to start. In terms of the African American and especially the Black and Brown communities here in LA, a lot of the businesses closed. A lot of the brick and mortars. They weren't able to survive, but there were funds available. Having your profit and loss statements in order, having your balance sheet—honestly, all the things that QuickBooks provides—is very important because you actually need to have that to go present to investors to get money. Understanding what you need the money for and having a plan for that and how you see return on that investment is definitely something that's really important. But a lot of people, they really just don't even know that there's alternative funds out there.

Tell us a little bit more about all the collaboration among the businesses in this neighborhood.

Marisa: The businesses in Inglewood have a really tight bond. We have a group chat: The Voltron group. We stay really close. We know that in Inglewood, there's a spotlight on us, and that there's tons of opportunities and we always want to make sure that each of us get a piece of that opportunity. We work together on different events. We've done different campaigns together. We stay in close communication because we just want to make sure that we all can grow and scale together. 

Terell: Just given the way that our business operates, we're customers of them and they’re customers or partners of ours. We have this mutual relationship that is about being a founder, and being a business owner, and then it's about just being friends. We've helped kickstart some of the businesses here and now they have brick and mortars. We've helped run campaigns or we've helped them do photo shoots. We all kind of utilize and use each other. 

What are some of the bigger challenges you guys face with the business?

Marisa: We were on the highest of the high right before COVID. We had all of our processes in place. We just felt like we made it and then we didn't—COVID just knocked us out. But that was definitely a blessing in disguise because it gave us time to pivot. It helped us launch our virtual series and our virtual communities. It helped us gain a tighter relationship with all of our corporate partners and we were able to really connect and be personal with our community.

Terell: I think our biggest challenge was trying to take on too much and trying to provide services that were outside of what we knew that we could offer. We had a lot of ideas in the bank, because we obviously did our research and we looked at other major brands that were very similar to ours. And we tried to offer out similar services, but we realized that we couldn't really do that. We had to be more flexible. And so during COVID, we were able to scale down, focus in, and really pay attention to the things that were making us money.

We quickly realized that there was a lot about being a business owner that we didn't know. We were able to learn different business strategies and how to look at our members and our customers and make sure that we're providing them with the best service possible. It's really about being flexible and not getting bummed out when something doesn't work. Because you have to understand that it's not going to work for everyone, but there's going to be a certain time where your idea actually is ready for the world.

Marisa: It's seeing a challenge as an opportunity to grow.

What’s next?

Marisa: For me, the future of the space is expansion and continuing to connect with our communities. We have really strong partners and we feel like our next step will be owning a building and expanding these spaces to serve and provide more resources for the community. I'm really excited about our wellness space, our products, the different training and workshops that we'll have. I’m excited about never putting a glass ceiling over my head, but just keeping an open mind that anything really is possible now because we've gotten this far. 

Terell: As we grow and become better business owners, we’ll have the opportunities to expand to other areas of LA. But right now we're really just looking to solidify our services, reopen now that the world is starting to reopen a lot more, and just continue our mission—to be that impactful type of business that we set out to be, create great content, and see businesses thrive.

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