Q & A with Mike from Ottawa City Woodshop

In early 2015 I was managing social media for a local specialty lumber store in Ottawa. Along the way I ran into Mike Grigoriev and Matt Wallace who had an idea called Ottawa City Woodshop, an urban workshop where members have access to woodworking tools to build their projects — like a gym, but for woodworking.

Their use of social media and branding was on point and I knew that working with them would be great for the store. We quickly clicked. Two years later I’ve caught up with Mike to talk about the early days, technology and work life balance.

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I remember standing in a studio full of people excited, learning what Ottawa City Woodshop was all about. There was a real sense of anticipation before you had access to your space in City Centre. 

Everyone at the informational launch event had no doubt that the shop would be as successful as it is today, but, for those who weren’t behind the scenes — what were some of the biggest challenges, especially in the first six months?

We definitely had challenges setting and managing expectations when we got started.

We relied mostly on community and relationships to get this off the ground — not a big capital investment. That meant we worked with what we had and what we could afford, not necessarily what we wanted. This meant scaling up and improving things as we went.

Things were pretty meager in the first few months and it’s pretty funny looking back at old photos of the space, but in those first 6 months everything we made we reinvested to get us up to where we wanted to be with equipment and processes.

I think what drew me to Ottawa City Woodshop was your use of technology to recapture and share Ottawa’s lumber history — you connect a generation of people who grew up assembling Ikea furniture to traditional craftsmanship.

There seems to be a collective fear that the more screens and computers take over our lives the less things feel real. However, you’ve been able to use social media and technology to bring people closer to real, tangible and unique projects.

How do you balance the immediacy of social media with the meticulousness and patience involved with fine carpentry?

It’s an interesting contrast eh? Woodworking is something that’s so tactile. People fall in love with it after they feel the effect they have on wood and feel the material in their hands. Social media obviously doesn’t allow for that, but it’s a start.

We try and share things that will excite and inspire people. Thankfully wood and woodworking is a pretty good subject matter — it’s photogenic and people get pumped seeing others making things.

For us, social media has had a huge impact on how we’re able to bring people into the shop. People follow along, and many ultimately can see themselves taking on a project and coming into the shop.

Both you and Matt work full-time outside of the shop. A lot people feel trapped or are working in a career they might not enjoy.

From your experience, balancing full-time work and the inception and realization of Ottawa City Wood Shop, what are some practical tips or words of wisdom for people that might feel stuck? 

For me, working on, and working in the OCW fulfills me in different ways than I’m able to get elsewhere in life. I get excited by building up and growing the shop, and it also gives me an opportunity to be creative in completely different ways than at work. That’s something I feed on and I need to create these opportunities for myself.

For some, hobbies are businesses, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Find what excites you, makes you grow, challenges you. Whether it is a business, or just a passion you indulge in that could one day potentially materialize as a lifestyle or a career. Start with your inner-fire because if your “side thing” isn’t something you’re fiercely passionate about, then it doesn’t stand much chance of getting off the ground.

Balancing your “main thing” with a number of “side things” has been something I’ve been doing for years and I now strongly feel that’s the way it’s always going to be for me. It also seems like it may be becoming increasingly common where barriers for exploring into new side gigs are eroding and it becomes something much more doable.

Learn more about the shop at ottawacitywoodshop.com and follow them on Instagram. Warning — you’ll probably want to sign up for one of their courses or buy some of their handcrafted products.  

Matthieu Foreman

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