Bringing it All Together – Part 8

Connecting the Old Idea and New Idea

Figuring out a glaring need and a business model to address it felt great and all, but I still wanted to make the world a better place. So how did the two fit together?

Finding the answer took a while and that answer is still very much developing, but the most important piece started to become clear as I thought about the purpose of creating this great work place.

In fact, when it came it was a little disappointing in its presentation. I guess I had expected some sort of brilliant “A ha!” moment – a moment of sudden inspiration where the clouds parted, the angels sang, and a voice from above BOOMED the answer.

What actually happened was a lot more mundane. I asked myself the question: “What happened to the education idea? How does it relate to this?” And quite frankly, I just gave myself the answer: “Well, if we give people a great place to work, and make it easy for them to see what others are working on, they’ll get inspired. If they get inspired, they’ll want to do something they’re interested in. If they want to do something they’re interested in, they’ll want to learn more about it. So there you go.”

“Oh.” I thought to myself. “Duh.”

The connection made sense. Even if it hadn’t come in quite the flash of inspiration that I’d expected. And the more I described that connection to others, the more I came to believe in it myself. I didn’t realize it, but that realization and evangelizing of that connection became the core of a snowball that has been gathering mass ever since.

I still had a long way to go, but I knew this was the answer. I knew I was on the right track.  I wanted to create a kind of uber cafe, but I knew practically nothing about coffee or tea. So what now?

Fortunately, I was pretty sure I had an answer for that. Collaboration.

To be continued …

Bringing it All Together – Part 7

On the surface, the new plan didn’t seem connected to the old one. What did creating a workplace have to do with rewarding people for learning? To tell the truth, I’m not sure that I knew how they were connected. I just knew that it felt right.

The only direct connection I could immediately make was that this space could empower anyone, even people who might not be able to afford an office space, membership to a space, etc.

Anyone would be able to come and work at the space and benefit from the tools and resources we were making available: A conference room overlooking the creek, private offices that could be rented by the hour, great wifi that doesn’t cut out or slow down, and power outlets everywhere.

That was really what grabbed me about the idea. It gave people flexibility, so they wouldn’t have to spend a ton on an all-inclusive membership, or leasing office space. In fact, one of the things I heard from Alyssa loud and clear, and that seemed like it applied to every business I saw running out of a coffee shop, was that for a small company, there aren’t a lot of options. One of the more poignant things she said to me was “I’ve given my employees the option – I can either spend the money on an office space, or spend it on healthcare and benefits.” The employees invariably chose the latter, which I think is totally understandable.

And why shouldn’t that be an option? It made total sense. And that was the premise upon which my model would be based: Give people the option.

I still didn’t know how this all tied in with education, but I knew I just had to wait to find out. And what do you know? I was right! Within the week the answer started becoming more clear.

To be continued …

Bringing it All Together – Part 6

The conversation with Alyssa defined the overall form of my business model: a collaborative space where people could pay for only the services that they needed and where members, in exchange for shouldering a monthly fee, would get discounts to the services they used as well as member-specific perks like 24-hour access and a proprietary social network. That model continues to be fleshed out – every day I have a conversation with some amazing person that I just met who says something that helps me refine the idea with a greater focus and understanding of what I need to do.

However, for all intents and purposes the model had finally taken form – I would create a space that filled a very blatant and glaring need: a place that had the social and high energy atmosphere of a cafe, and yet had the tools and resources that people needed to get their work done.

Cafes, especially in Boulder, always seem to be at 60% or more capacity. And most of those people aren’t there just for the coffee – they’re there to work. So why deny them the power outlets they need, the high speed and consistent wifi they crave? That’s not to say that all cafes are missing these things, just that on the whole there could be more of it.

So that was the need I wanted to fill. I wanted to create a cafe that was designed for the teleworker. A place where anyone could come in, grab a coffee and a sandwich, and work. They wouldn’t have to worry about where the power plugs were, or whether the wifi would cut out. They wouldn’t have to leave the building to talk on the phone, or worry about how long they had been sitting at their seat without buying anything.

More importantly, I realized that this was the perfect medium for growing my idea of the Knowledge Cafe. My original concept had been to reward people for learning – for seeking knowledge. What I was planning now seemed like a radical change but was really just a slight shift in perspective.

It was all just a question of how that space was implemented. The answers to that question were already bubbling in my brain and presenting themselves from random conversations with excited individuals.

Together, we were creating a solution to what I believe is one of our world greatest challenges. A challenge whose time has come.

Empowering people to change their world. Inspiring the world to change itself.

To be continued …

Bringing it All Together – Part 5

It was a dark and stormy night … wait … wrong story. Well, I’m sure it was a dark and stormy night SOMEWHERE in the world, but in Boulder it was crisp and cold outside.

Inside, I was having a conversation with Alyssa that changed my view completely on how to do what we were aiming to do. Before Alyssa and I spoke, the concept of creating a space for coworking had already been flitting around in my mind. What Alyssa said was basically this: “I have a company of 5 people. We work out of coffee shops because renting an office is too expensive. Even thinking about a coworking space is expensive for us when you add up the cost of membership for each employee.”

It started me thinking – how many people had I seen working out of coffee shops in Boulder? I’d certainly been around to a lot of them in the last few months, and they were almost always at 60-80% capacity. But what I immediately realized as Alyssa spoke was that 80% of those people were working! They would have a long-empty cup of coffee next to their laptop and be plugging away at their day to day. Sometimes you’d even see a large stack of papers next to them, occupying almost all of the table space and almost spilling over onto the floor.

I realized that Alyssa wasn’t a unique case. She was the paradigmatic small “nomad” company in Boulder. These companies were part of the reason that Boulder has such a large coffee shop culture.

I also realized that if any of these companies had had the same experience working in a coffee shop that I had, they were itching for something a little better. Something with the same atmosphere as a coffee shop – high energy, distracting but focusing, constantly in flux – yet with better access to comfortable work areas, power outlets, reliable and fast wi-fi, and maybe healthier food that goes beyond baked goods and the occasional sandwich.

Boulder had plenty of work areas, and plenty of coffee shops, but nothing that successfully combined the two into a high energy collaboration space that was both engaging and affordable.

The gears started turning and before I knew it, I had  a specific and complete vision of how our work area would be set up.

To be continued …

Bringing it All Together – Part 4

When Richard and I spoke on the phone for the first time it wasn’t some magical “OMG we need to work together immediately” moment, but we definitely clicked. He was in California on business at the time, so we set up a meeting for when he would be back in town.

We had lunch at Sherpa’s and started talking about our concepts. His was based on an internet cafe that he’d helped start and was helping to run in Ukiah, California, called iCup.

The idea behind iCup was to create an internet cafe that brought people together in a space with great lighting, great music, and great food. They provide video games as a way for people to connect for free – as long as the games are multiplayer and age appropriate for the time of day.

As we talked we realized that we could easily combine our two ideas – take iCup and add the idea of research and education. Reward people for learning while also creating a great space for them to come together and just relax.

But it wasn’t just that our ideas meshed. Our reasons for doing what we were doing were also very much in line. We wanted to help create a better community, a better world, by bringing people together.

The most exciting part, though, was that we could easily collaborate on this project since our goals were so similar!

Our first goal was to start gauging interest by potential tenants and figuring out what the building itself would look like internally. We immediately started working with local groups and businesses to find a good mix of tenants that would have synergy with each other and create a stronger whole than the sum of the individual parts.

As we talked about the building we started gaining a lot of interest. This building is so central to Boulder, that everyone we talked to had a deep interest in knowing what we were doing, and had great ideas on what to do in the space.

That enthusiasm still continues today, and still continues to inform our decisions on building amenities, products, and branding. One idea stood above the rest, though, and it has defined the core of the building.

The idea came from Alyssa Reese of fleetCreature at a great event called Pitch to Developers hosted by Alon Katz. But exactly what the idea is and how it changed things is something you’ll have to wait until next time to find out.

To be continued…

Bringing it All Together – Part 3

My original concept for what I wanted to do was something I called The Knowledge Cafe. The idea was easy enough: Create an internet cafe where people feel comfortable learning, and are rewarded for doing so.

I wanted to have video games, a home theater room, a large database of music and films, discounts to local merchants – all as rewards for good educational behavior. Good grades? One free hour on the 360. Present a topic you’ve researched? 20% off your next purchase. Do good, get good – that was the idea.

As we toured the space, Dan talked a little bit about how it was already under contract. Of course my spirits fell for a bit when he started describing the situation, but as he began talking about what the mystery contract holder was planning, they began to lift again: Video games? Shared space for community? Internet cafe? It was 80 percent of what I wanted to do!

It was Dan’s idea to put us in contact – or at least he was the one who suggested it! By the time he finished talking about what was going on with the space I already had business cards out and was ready to beg for an introduction.

His name was Richard, and of course I was nervous about calling him. This was someone who was doing a lot of what I had wanted to do. More importantly, this was someone who had “my building” on contract.

If the conversation went well I could have a partner who shared my vision. On the other hand if things went south I would lose all access to the building I’d quite literally dreamed of.

A lot of this weighed on me as I dialed Richard’s number. What would he be like? What were his motivations? What were his plans and just how similar were they to mine?

For all my speculation I could never have imagined just how incredible the result of that conversation would be.

To be continued …

Bringing it All Together – Part 2

So I went through with the final day of my employment – 12/28/11. It wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that much. Every doubt in my head was stacking up like a giant wave of legos teetering on the edge of collapse.

I took a few days to myself and tried to focus on next steps. I cleaned up and organized the office space in our common house and started planning the trip to Peru that LuAnne and I had decided I needed to go on.

One of the first things I did was to reach out to Dan Ferrick, the real estate agent for the building I wanted to work with. I knew exactly what building I wanted – if you want the details on why/how there’s a forthcoming “History of Change” blog post to describe that.

Dan pointed out that the building would require a lot of work because the owner had changed his mind about using the space after gutting it. He said it would cost 500k-1M to get it ready, but of course that didn’t deter me. I’d just left my job to change the world – I wasn’t about to let the question of finances get in my way. Well, not yet at least.

He let me know that he would be showing the space on Monday and that I could join in. When I got there and we walked into the building the reality of what he had said previously sunk in: The building was literally a shell. There was nothing inside but pools of water from where the roof was leaking, insulation hanging out like entrails, wiring hanging exposed and (thankfully) lifeless, and the occasional hole in the floor leading into the pitch black basement. And that was just the main level!

The second floor and basement followed suite – the former being obviously used most recently by a few people who’d sought shelter there, the latter having no real lighting and quite a few obstacles to trip over.

Yet the space was perfect.

What better place to start a #LearningRevolution than in a building that had been discarded and left for dead in the heart of a thriving city full of entrepreneurial energy? Artists, programmers, MBAs, students – they had unknowingly collaborated to create a city where you couldn’t help but feel inspired. This building could be a testament to that. It should be a testament to that.

And if I had any say in the matter, it would be a testament to that.

To be continued …

It’s a Big Dream

The following is an excerpt from an e-mail I recently sent describing what we’re trying to accomplish. I thought it did a really good job of explaining what we’re doing and why, so I wanted to share it here.

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Part cafe, part event venue, and part collaboration/co-working space, we’re creating what I think can best be described as an Entrepreneurship Incubator. It’s being designed to provide a comfortable and functional work space for Boulder’s entrepreneurs, artists, students, and makers to create and collaborate on their businesses and projects.

We are creating a culture of entrepreneurship using:

  • A proprietary, member-only social network with project and business pages, tutoring connections, and “in building presence” using RFID
  • Weekly scrum meetings where members can talk about challenges, opportunities, and accomplishments
  • A micro-job board a la Mechanical Turk to allow members to be rewarded for helping each other
  • Shared resources like a conference room, private offices, and workstations which can all be rented by the hour
  • Other items which are still in the works

And here’s the exciting part. The behind the curtains part I don’t always talk about: In the middle of that miasma of creative energy – that culture of “I can do that” – we will have the cafe, event venue, wine bar, and bakery attracting people from off the street with great events and a great space to hang out in. Unwittingly, these people will be wandering into a culture that is unlike anything most of them have ever experienced.

They will be surrounded by people following their passions and turning their dreams into reality. All around them they will see evidence of people working to change their world. Not far-off and mystical people in the news, magazines, or books, but real people within arms reach who are creating the next big thing in art, robotics, web, or other technologies.

And if even 1% of those people come away thinking “Wow, I could do that …” then all we have to do is tap them into the building’s community and the tools and resources available there and they can truly become the masters of their own destiny.

Then? Then we export the business model. San Fran, Five Points, Manhattan, East St Louis – we balance the profit centers with centers in areas with less opportunity and wealth. We start spreading that culture of opportunity and entrepreneurship everywhere. The US, the Americas, Europe, Japan, rural India, South Africa, and the rest of the world.

If we manage to replicate that 1% success rate around the world – that’s the change maker. Even if we only inspire 1% of 1% of the world’s population to take their future into their own hands and give them the tools and resources to do it, that’s success. That’s the new world we’re all looking for.

It’s a big dream, I know, but what’s the point of dreaming small?

Bringing it All Together – Part 1

Things have been happening so quickly since I left my employer at the end of the year – maybe it’s about time to recap the journey.

When Steve Jobs died I was absolutely devastated. I’m no Apple fanboy – in fact I’m more of a Googl-ite than anything. But there is simply no denying the impact he had on our world, especially with regard to how we interact with computers and smart devices.

Pretty much that whole night I read through everything I could about his life and what he’d accomplished, and then in the morning I watched his commencement speech on YouTube.

And then I decided to quit my job.

It was simple, really. He had done almost everything he was best known for AFTER he was booted from Apple, and that had been in his early thirties. I felt like I had a duty to stop dreaming and start doing, because if he could do all that after thirty, then I could at the very least try.

And if I failed? So what. I have learned one thing more than anything else in life, and that is that if you believe in yourself and the decisions you’re making, they’ll always (ultimately) be the right ones.

So I gave notice – 3 months of it. I had no intention of leaving my current employer in a lurch, and from a personal perspective it seemed most logical to start my new endeavor in the new year.

It took about 2 months for the anxiety to start.

What was I doing? What was the point? How could I possibly change anything? I mean, really, the world is the way it wants to be, right? What about money? What about my sanity?? I’d never worked for myself before with very few exceptions, and those were just a few part time consulting gigs I did more for entertainment than anything.

How could I possible justify leaving everything I had – a great work “family”, medical coverage, decent (and steady) pay … not to mention being able to just walk into work, do my thing, and have someone else run the show.

But it wasn’t a choice. I had to try. If only because if I didn’t, I would never be able to look my children in the face and tell them that they could be anything they want to be – they just have to put their mind to it.

I don’t believe that anyone can be anything. But something I believe with all my heart and soul is that everyone should try. Because real success is learning and growing regardless of the outcome, and with that definition there’s simply no way to fail.

Featured in the Daily Camera

I’m excited to announce that the space we’re creating has been featured in the Daily Camera, Boulder’s excellent newspaper.

Following an amazing “debut” and very warm reception at the Boulder Open Coffee Club, I was approached by Alicia Wallace, business reporter for the Camera.

We scheduled some time for Richard, Alicia, and I to chat, and this is the outcome!

Here are a few great excerpts:

Two local businessmen have leased the long-vacant building off Broadway and Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder with plans to “resurrect” the historic creekside property to serve local “makers, entrepreneurs and thinkers.”

“(The building) is meant to do something great; it’s meant to be at the heart of things,” Macy said.

The boarded basement windows would be punched out and LED lighting would be added to illuminate the subterranean area that will house a variety of for-rent art studios, offices and co-working spaces.

A wine bar operator has expressed interest in leasing a portion on the main level, where they imagine a collection of independent food and beverage operators will sell items such as coffee and baked goods. The focal point of the main level will be an indoor café and outdoor patio designed for creation and collaboration, Macy said.

Here’s a link to the full article if you’d like to read it – I hope you will!