How Arian Lewis founded Kiln

How Arian Lewis founded Kiln

Time to start from scratch

After four and a half years and many nights away from my family, I began to consider what the next steps in my career should be. At this point, our family had moved from London to Connecticut, where I would commute to Manhattan or JFK Airport for flights to our international locations. During these years, my kids had grown and changed. We welcomed our fourth child, a daughter, who was born in London. 

From the start of my time at Barclays, I had an inkling that my time there would lead me to start my own company. It became clear through the process of building Rise that I was genuinely passionate about coworking and working with startups. I was thriving and had a knack for the detail of building physical environments and creating communities. I also had a good grasp of the financial model behind coworking and learned how to identify and launch locations. 

With the encouragement of some close friends and family and wholehearted support from Jill, I decided to leave Barclays and start Kiln. I structured a six-month hand-off plan, and we moved from Connecticut to Utah as a family. 

I selected two locations in Utah, and with the help of a trusted mentor and family member, I raised a seed round to launch the company with two locations in Salt Lake and Lehi. It was a classmate from Oxford who led the initial investment. As soon as the capital was raised, I called Leigh. 

Leigh had been designing coworking locations for the better part of a decade, and we had worked closely together to develop Rise. I bribed him with skiing and adventures in the mountains and was thrilled when he agreed to lead our design efforts. We are two very different people, but we share a passion for coworking and a mutual appreciation of one another’s strengths and differences. 

Our first project was designing a kit of parts and a paneling system to enable the setup of a prototype location, which was originally 20,000 square feet filled in just under three months. We began to build a team, and our world started to grow. 

Simultaneously, we worked on converting an old arcade and sports bar in Salt Lake (30,000 square feet) and a new office building in Lehi, Utah (48,000 square feet). By the end of 2019, we had two locations, a team of 12 and over 1,000 members in Utah. Our sites were full, and the network and brand were coming to life.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, we were full in Lehi and Salt Lake City. We had more sites under development, including Park City, Utah and Boulder, Colorado—we were in the middle of building Boulder when the pandemic hit. For a time, things came to a grinding halt. 

We immediately saw revenues drop, and it was clear that the pandemic was going to challenge the survival of our business. We were determined to do whatever we could to stay open and not lay off any of our team. In the U.S., over 800 coworking spaces went out of business, but we managed to keep the doors open. 

One of our values as a team is to “be scrappy and ingenious,” and we really leaned into that during the pandemic. We cut our own salaries and cut back spending, but we never missed a committed payment, nor did we lay off any of our team. It was challenging and stressful, but we got through it and learned important lessons. 

The adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was true about the pandemic. Its impact on the future of work has been dramatic, and demand has shifted to favor flex offices. Over the last year and a half, we’ve launched locations in Meridian, Idaho, and a large expansion in Salt Lake City. Our Boulder, Colorado location has done very well, and we have waiting lists in several locations. 

In the fall of 2022, we acquired a coworking brand out of California called BLOC, bringing our brand to the beach with locations in Leucadia, Carlsbad and Encinitas. We also have locations under development in St. George, Provo, Portland, Arizona and more. 

A critical point of progress over the past 18 months has been the new talent and leadership which has joined our company. We now have strength at every level of the company, and the culture and momentum have only improved. 

The story of Kiln is now about passionate and talented individuals who are “collectively capable of things we cannot imagine.” Together, we have what it takes and are powered by a shared vision for elevating the quality of life while at work. 

I care deeply about our team and how we are creating an environment where everyone can belong. Leigh continues to push forward our design and carefully curate each element of the environment. Our entire team is committed to raising the standard of what we deliver. 

Kiln is admired for our level of care and creativity. Every day, we are seeing progress across a number of fronts. Our members recognize the value we are building for them and share our passion for community and progress. In so many ways, things have turned out better than I had ever imagined, and in other ways, I see how far we have yet to go. Overall, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude and a steady enthusiasm for the path ahead.

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