Inspired by the strong local women making waves in the workplace, New Jersey moms Lynne Pagano, Lauren Decker, and Suzanne Willian founded The Co-Co, a co-working, co-learning space in Summit. This trio has created a warm, inviting, light-filled environment for working women who crave connection and community.
These three mothers have all played a role in creating and designing this beautiful space, which features areas for private conversations and meetings, a lounge, conference rooms, phone booths for quiet calls, and plenty of space to sit and work on a laptop. The best part? This team is inspiring women to collaborate and harness some serious #girlpower.
People need connection, especially women, and when women connect– look out! The world will change.- Lynne Pagano
NJMOM sat down with them to discuss the space, women they admire (think Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Glinda from the Wizard of Oz), and their favorite family spots around New Jersey (hint: Reeves-Reed Arboretum is beautiful this time of year).
Co-founders of The Co-Co & NJMOMpreneurs: Lynne Pagano, Lauren Decker, and Suzanne Willian
NJMOM: What inspired you to start your company?
Lynne: We were inspired to start The Co-Co to provide a space and community for the talented, highly educated, creative, compassionate, badass women that live in Summit, Short Hills, Madison, Chatham and all the surrounding towns. We all know women doing amazing things and wanting to reach out and connect with other women. The Co-Co provides a physical space where this can happen.
Lauren: The Co-Co’s mission is to support members wherever they are on the journey of life and career. In my four years of living and working in NJ, my own journey took many turns! I went from occasionally working from home in my full-time role in corporate philanthropy to leaving my job to be a stay-at-home mom to two young children, to building a new network local to NJ as an independent non-profit consultant. In this last endeavor, I gained the flexibility I needed but missed the creativity and connection of being part of a team. I realized that my story is not unusual. The NYC suburbs are a hub of talented women who’ve made all sorts of changes in their lives and careers to build families and jobs that live up to their dreams for the future and for themselves. I was energized to create a place for these women to go to get the encouragement and inspiration needed to manage these transitions with freedom and confidence.
Suzanne: Before opening The Co-Co, I would often find myself involved in conversations about the amazing women in our area. “How can we support and nurture this amazing talent and energy?” My usual routine was to have the conversation, agree that “someone should do something,” and then go back to regular schedules and commitments. But in the fall of 2017, the world was different: The Women’s March, ‘Fearless Girl’ in New York, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” and a flood of charges streaming down on Harvey Weinstein. A few weeks later, my friend (and now co-founder) Lynne forwarded a New York Times article on The Wing (a network of work and community spaces designed for women) with a note, “It’s time.” Those words launched our journey!
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Lynne: I love connecting members. It is such a thrill for me when I introduce two people at The Co-Co who did not know each other and then run into them outside of the space whether at a restaurant, coffee shop or having a drink somewhere. People need connection, especially women, and when women connect– look out! The world will change.
Lauren: Making connections. I love seeing the sense of possibility on our members’ faces when they meet someone who has gone down the same road professionally or personally. They know they are not alone in their efforts or challenges, and that this is a community where they can pursue their ambitions and passions alongside other bright, brilliant, fun women who’ve got their back.
Suzanne: The Co-Co’s Thursday Conversations initiated with an Entrepreneur Cohort exploring Simon Sinek’s thesis that “people don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.” Near the end of the session, participants were asked to reflect on what they’d heard and learned, and based on their learning, name a next step action. Coming out of a breakout discussion with two other cohort participants, a Co-Co member recognized that the “why” of her work centers on reassuring and supporting the children and families she works with as they address their speech and language challenges. She excitedly committed to emphasizing the “why” of her practice on her website. This kind of aha moment, a moment of learning, inspiration, or clarity, happens regularly at The Co-Co and is my favorite part of our business.
NJMOM: What are you professionally most proud of?
Lynne: It depends on which career you are asking about. When I was a lawyer, I was so proud after I litigated my first trial (it was small claims court, but that still counts!). When I returned to graduate school and became a social worker, I had such a feeling of accomplishment when I passed the licensing exam and fulfilled the requisite number of supervised clinical hours to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Today in helping to launch The Co-Co, and working as the Community Manager, actually getting the physical space up and running has given me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The space is beautiful and highly functional and I just love being there.
Lauren: Creating a place that allows women to bring their whole selves to work, wherever they are at that moment in time.
Suzanne: I am most proud of launching The Co-Co as a community where all women are celebrated, how they are and where they are on their journey of life and career. The Co-Co is a place where women are met without labels – as people with goals and aspirations for their relationships, careers, personal growth, health, finances, fun, and more.
NJMOM: Who is your role model and why?
Lynne: My mother has always instilled the value of work in me and my siblings. We were all required to work from a young age. When I left the law profession to stay at home with my 3 kids, my mother lied to all of her friends and still said I was working because she was embarrassed that I gave up such a great job! Even with my own children, my mom encouraged them to get a job as soon as they were old enough to work. She says it is the best confidence booster to feel valued at work.
Lauren: From my managers in my first professional job to my co-founders now, I admire mission-driven leaders who strive for excellence, make things happen, and like to laugh along the way.
Suzanne: Two role models come to mind. Having just watched RBG, how could I say anyone other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg! An elegant and soft-spoken warrior for women and minority rights, RBG’s intelligence, work ethic, and grace are inspirational. And as a middle-aged entrepreneur, I am inspired to see her killing it in her 80’s. A fictional character also serves as a fun role model for me. My daughters Paige and Caroline were obsessed with The Wizard of Oz as young girls. I’ve seen the movie dozens and dozens of times, and Glinda captures my imagination. She’s kind, wise, and she supports and inspires Dorothy to find her own way. “You’ve always had the power my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.” (Plus, she wears fabulous sparkly clothes and travels in a translucent bubble!)
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
Lynne: We love to go to Sea Girt and head to the beach. My family is also made up of big golfers, which is very fun and assures 3-4 hours of your child’s captive attention which is hard to come by these days.
Lauren: I love getting outdoors with my 3 and 6-year-old. Our favorite adventures are hikes at Reeves-Reed Arboretum, stopping for cookies at Natale’s and then a walk at Briant Park (or the “duck pond,” as we call it), exploring at Lord Stirling Park, or taking the train to Millburn for the South Mountain Fairy Trail.
Suzanne: Now that my children are working young adults, we make a point of gathering for holidays. Over July 4th, we’ll have a rotating crew of family and friends at the shore. I love having a full house!
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Lynne: Enjoy the ride and do not take yourself so seriously. Owning a small business is like getting punched in the face every day, but if you stay true to your mission and remember why you started the business in the first place you will get through and thrive. It’s like a marriage, if you can reach back into the recesses of your brain and remember why you married the guy in the first place that can carry you through to a long happy life. Oh and humor always helps!
Lauren: Don’t do it alone. Wherever you are on your journey, find a community to support you along the way. You’ve got this!
Suzanne: As an entrepreneur, you will regularly face challenges that you don’t know how to address. Be willing to experiment. Give something a try, learn from it, and adjust.