Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price met with Lisa Natcharian, who recently founded The Storyteller’s Cottage. The startup provides a unique space for public and private events including literary societies, book clubs, writer’s groups, and literary escape rooms.

Entrepreneur at Heart

Lisa acknowledges that she’s always had an entrepreneurial streak. Her first endeavor started right after she was married.

“I was doing event planning on my own and eventually bought The Wedding Day Sourcebook, a wedding planning magazine based out of Western New England. It was mostly ads for vendors, but I wrote all the content and designed all the ads and I was out there doing the distribution,” she recalls. “It was a great creative outlet, but then I started having kids.”

Lisa sold the magazine and concentrated on freelance writing to work around her kids’ schedules.

“I did a lot of volunteer work, but that doesn’t really give you the satisfaction of doing something for yourself,” she notes.

After moving to Connecticut from Massachusetts five years ago, Lisa was unsure of her career path. As a parent of gifted children with a background in writing, event planning, and gifted education, she wondered how she could use her experience.

She remembers thinking, “There aren’t gifted education programs in any of the local schools, so what am I going to do with all this information, knowledge, and experience I have?”

Lisa launched Raising Wizards, a website for parents of gifted children. “I wanted to share with other parents of gifted children all the things I know,” she emphasizes. “When you first realize you have a gifted kid it can be very isolating. You need to ask advice and people often assume you’re bragging about your child.”

Lisa subsequently got a certificate in personal coaching and became a Gifted Parenting Coach for clients nationwide.

“People were approaching me saying they had kids who needed intellectual challenges—and a way to find other kids who are like them,” she recalls.

At this point, the idea for The Storyteller’s Cottage began to percolate.

“I thought it would be great if there was a place to ‘find your tribe’—a place not just for kids, but for adults too. There’s plenty of stuff for kids who are into sports, but there’s not really a space for literary things, for people who love fantasy or live action role playing.”

Unrelated to Lisa’s uncertain career path, her husband wanted to invest in real estate.

“I came from a family who all had day-to-day jobs but they owned property on the side. So, we have been surrounded by people who always had something else going on and we learned to ‘never put all your eggs in one basket’” she explains. “We started looking at properties to could we invest in.”

They looked at houses and apartments; however, Lisa notes, “none were going to work and be profitable, so we started looking at commercial property. I had my real estate license for a while, so I could go out and look at all types of properties.”

 The couple ended up buying the Fiddler’s Green shops building in Simsbury, CT in December 2016 and have been working since January to prepare the space for The Storyteller’s Cottage.

Turning the Idea Into A Reality

The concept for The Storyteller’s Cottage is “such an unusual idea,” admits Lisa. “It’s not the kind of thing where you know if it’s going to work or not,” she notes.

As an entrepreneur, she relates to others who think: “I have this great idea, but how can that ever work? How is it going to be a thing? How are people going to find it and know what it is?”

The more she thought about it, the more she recognized the need for a space like The Storyteller’s Cottage.

“The goal is to provide a space for the community to come together,” explains Lisa. “It’s all with a literary underlying theme. Also, my general idea is it needs to be accessible for everybody. It’s not the kind of thing where I’m trying to make a bazillion dollars.”

Startup Challenges

One of the challenges to launching The Storyteller’s Cottage is that the idea is so innovative it’s been hard to get feedback from mentors or other entrepreneurs. “I haven’t found anything that’s just like this,” says Lisa. “It’s also been challenging to try and figure out whether people are willing to pay for this kind of thing.”

To test her business assumption, Lisa plans to start with ad hoc ticketed events. “I need to see if there’s a desire here and people will pay to have access to these types of events. It will evolve as it goes,” she notes. “The space will be available to rent and there will also be membership options. We’ll start with a membership-based club for kids to come after school.”

Lisa points out that zoning the space has been the other major challenge. “Because it’s a historic property, a lot of exceptions need to be made, zoning rules and building codes,” Lisa explains. “But it’s all moving forward and we’re hoping to have everything wrapped up to open in October.”

“We’ve been making a lot of organic connections. The more people hear about it, the more they’re telling other people about it. I’ve hardly had to market and I’ve had people already calling me about it, which is just from word-of-mouth,” says Lisa.

Community Collaboration

The more people hear about The Storyteller’s Cottage the more Lisa’s business model has been evolving.

“The Storyteller’s Cottage has become a creative incubator space, where people with literary talent and small business ideas can come and try out their concepts,” Lisa notes.

“I now have a whole bunch of collaborators—local authors who are holding writing classes and one-day workshops here,” she says. “These groups are led by published authors from Simsbury and Avon. I’m getting pitches every week for new, creative, literary-based schemes.”

She adds, “It’s great to be able to provide the space to make those happen. I do all the advertising and the group benefits from its association with The Storyteller’s Cottage, which is becoming its own brand.”

Getting the Word Out

The Storyteller’s Cottage has been doing a great job telling its own story.

“We’ve been making a lot of organic connections. The more people hear about it, the more they’re telling other people about it. I’ve hardly had to market and I’ve had people already calling me about it, which is just from word-of-mouth,” says Lisa.

“It does feel like there’s a hole in the market and people are seeing that and thinking: I’ve been looking for something like that,” she adds.

“The pieces are coming together. Finding the Fiddler’s Green property helped me see my vision,” says Lisa. “I see how this is all going to fit and the feedback has been so great. People have been telling me the idea sounds amazing and they want to come and I want to see it. I finally feel like: I think I got this. I think it’s going to work.”

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