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Remember that 10k Independents manifesto thingie?

8 minute read
by Alex Hillman

Hey there. If you want to jump to the punchline of this piece, my original 10k Independents manifesto is now an organization, with a leader who isn’t me, and a real plan for the next 18 months.

We even have a website. It’s pretty rad.

Dive right in:

But it’s also (probably) been a while, and you may not even remember what manifesto I’m talking about.

So let me jog your memory and bring you up to speed:

Back in early 2019, I published an enormously long, 7,000 word essay that detailed an idea. That idea was a direction reaction to the Amazon HQ2 Project, which pitted cities across America against each other for the “opportunity” of having Amazon build their next headquarters in that city.

The promise of that opportunity was 50,000 jobs for the “winning” city.

You might notice me using a lot of scare-quotes. Needless to say, I did not think this was a good idea for anybody except Jeff Bezos.

But the whole thing did get me thinking. If 50,000 jobs is an undeniably good thing for our city, and that number is big enough to catch people’s attention, how would I go about creating 50,000 jobs for our city?

My answer to that question became the aforementioned 7,000 word manifesto that, according to my notes, you signed up to hear more about in the future.

In my manifesto, I laid out something of a roadmap to rethinking how we approach economic development. I guided readers to think about the danger of depending on a single large company, and the power of building interdependent ecosystems of small, healthy, thriving Independent businesses.

I talked about equity and access. I did math.

And people seemed to dig it.

A personal shift

This original manifesto was a reaction to Amazon (and our city’s reckless participation in the whole charade). But it was also a personal evolution.

Up until this point, I’d been resistant to thinking about my work with both Indy Hall and Stacking the Bricks as “tools for economic development” even through that is very clearly what they are and a large part of the impact they’ve made during the last decade and a half.

But the manifesto gave me a new way of thinking about my work on a larger scale, and for the first time in my career, I was starting to get comfortable thinking of myself in the terms of economic development.

And that was before March 2020

I won’t belabor what has happened over the last 2 and a half years. You know.

But all of the stuff I wrote about 12 months before the world changed forever suddenly became even more relevant than before the covid epoch.

By the end of 2020 and into early 2021, my plan started looking less like an “economic development” plan and more like a pretty excellent plan for the much-needed economic recovery of our city.

And bonus: more people are Independent today than ever before, at an accelerated rate. Some by force, but many by their own choice.

Like so many things, COVID only accelerated things that were already in motion, for better and for worse.

Our government has failed us in so many ways

Again, I won’t belabor the details because you’ve likely experienced your own version of these failures.

But one of my other personal lessons from the pandemic is that no matter how successful you are in your business, we exist in a world of shared communities and infrastructure that are both large and complex.

Those large, complex systems require ownership and in the society that we live in, that ownership tends to be outsourced to two places: governments and powerful corporations.

You already know how I feel about powerful corporations from what I said earlier. But during the pandemic, my feeling about governments shifted too.

For the first time I really felt like I understood how important it was to have elected leadership that actually uses the power that we gave them to make decisions that are in our best interests.

And at the level of government leadership, that level of care for our communities has vanished. There are still good people working on the ground, but our leadership has told us exactly who they are and what they care about.

This isn’t just about small business owners either. It’s everyone. And the city of Philadelphia is in a particularly damaged state with a mayor who doesn’t want his job and a very precarious set of economic and social epidemics of our own.

The whole thing is just…maddening.

Which brings us to today

Well, almost today.

Back in the spring, as we began putting the pieces of Indy Hall back together in a new and improved IRL clubhouse, I couldn’t stop thinking about the 10k project and mission.

Everyone I talked to about it still believed in it, many even more than before given the societal and cultural shifts we’ve all observed and lived through.

I realized that in order to achieve the remarkably realistic goals I’d outlined in my manifesto, 10k needed to go from being an “Alex Hillman idea” that everyone seemed to love and a handful of successful but scattered projects, to something more real and concrete.

And critically, it needed a leader who isn’t me.

Meet my friend, Opéola Bukola. She’s one of those people who believed in the 10k mission from the start, and saw how the vision was even more important in 2022 than when I wrote the original piece.

Opéola is awesome. You can (and should!) read this piece to learn more about her background, and how our interests and values align.

I first asked Opéola to come on board as an “executive director” of this new organization. When she said yes, I followed up with “do you want a job, or do you want to build this together as partners?” She chose to come on as a partner.

So today, 10k Independents is a real organization with a real plan and a real leader (who isn’t me).

Together, Opéola and I have launched a new website that attempts to communicate the most important parts of that original 7,000 word manifesto much more quickly, and in a way that’s inviting to way more people.

The website also highlights a portfolio of projects and resources that already exist to help the Independent Business community of Philadelphia. Some of those resources are ones that we have created (or are coming soon) and soon, we’ll be adding more that highlight the important work already being done by individuals and organizations across the city.

Career Control

New to the project from the original manifesto is a clear stance on our role in working with the government and other institutions. Opéola and I decided to launch with an advocacy arm of the organization built in, helmed by another fellow Independent and former public servant Anne Gemmell. You can read more about our policy-related plans here.

We have a packed roadmap for the rest of 2022, and a strong high-level plan for most of 2023. And speaking of the future…

Our future is co-operatively owned

While I’ve always been fascinated by co-ops, they seem to be having a moment right now (along with unions). This all feels very related to the 10k mission.

While it might not look like it at launch, the 18 month roadmap for 10k has us working towards becoming one of the first member-owned business associations in the country, with a specific focus on our local community of Independent businesses and workers.

Our member-owners will get full financial transparency and have a one-share-one-vote style influence of how the organization prioritizes and invests their membership dues.

This model feels so perfectly aligned to this work, and an ideal compliment to my now 16 years (!!!) of experience with Indy Hall.

Lots more to do and discover here, but as a north star, it’s shining brightly.

So poke around the site, and see how this wacky idea has already started taking shape

Click through and browse the 10k site.

Share it with friends and colleagues who you it makes you think of!

You’re already on the list (unless you choose to unsubscribe below) so we’ll keep you posted about our continued plans and efforts.

Most of all, if YOU are an Independent business owner or worker (or are trying to figure out if independence is be right for you), let’s talk.

And by “let’s talk” I mean “hit reply so I can introduce you to Opéola, cuz she runs this show now.” 😎

Back to work.

Co-founder, The 10k Independents Project

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.