there is no reason to spend time doing something you hate, because you can lose just as much money being happy as hell. – @garyvee
Recently on the coworking list, the “what is coworking” debate has flared up again, this time comparing it to an incubator. For context, the original question was posed:
I’m wondering if you all can provide some wisdom on the difference between a coworking space and an “incubator”. Is it just semantics? If there are more substantive distinctions, how would you boil them down? –Adam Huttler
Some excerpts from responses include:
…one thing that incubators do most reliably is fail. Largely because there’s insufficient collaborative critical mass, and because they don’t typically include the services that early stage startups need to get momentum, such as software developers, graphic designers, and tech writers, just to name a few. Finally, most incubators get their start as real estate plays for unmarketable space. -Axon
As a result, you have a more diverse work environment of people who are self-sufficient, as opposed to an incubator, where that isn’t necessarily the case. Incubators and coworking spaces are not equivalent, but they share a lot of the same DNA. Like apes and humans. -Tony Bacigalupo
…many of our businesses have gotten stronger by being in proximity to other like-minded business people. But that’s mostly a product of the community that’s naturally created by the way the space is designed. People that like each other talk. It works. -Derek Young
Best option for a company is to look around at what exists and find a home where they feel welcome and can do the best work. -Nate Westheimer
All good stuff from people whose opinions I’ve come to respect. The whole discussion got my gears turning. So, after a few days of chewing, I decided to respond.
Note: I’ve been in an admittedly high-stress mode for the last week, so the rant probably comes across more intense than it needs to, but the contents are still valuable and I wanted to share here what I wrote on the google group.
So here it goes:
The simplest way to approach this is the same way we determine what operations fall under the coworking umbrella: their core values. While incubator and coworking businesses services tend to overlap, their individual purposes are very clearly defined. Incubators can encourage coworking. Coworking can incubate independents, businesses, and even products and services.
Just remember, in all cases, the core values remain in place and, more importantly, in prominence. Community, Collaboration, Openness, Sustainability, Accessability.
In the last year, I’ve seen all of the above take place.
Example: Incubation encouraging coworking – DreamIT Ventures is a Philly version of the now popular Y-Combinator model, sort of a “startup summer camp”. Startups apply, recieve a small amount of seed funding, and are placed in physical proximity with a number of other startups that share, at the very least, one thing: a reasonably common place in their startup cycle. The business services and cash aside, I was lucky enough to consult with one of the DreamIT startups and quickly realized (and I wasn’t the only one to verbalize this) that the REAL value in the program was the comradery of growing your startup together alongside other startups. Sharing in successes and failures. Giving and recieving advice. Becoming stronger as a collective of teams.
“Funding Day”, their “summer camp graduation” event, was last week, and seeing the result of 4 months of growing businesses together is something that’s amazing.
Coworking incubating independents, ideas, products, teams, and even regions – Many of you already know about the activities and results that we’ve had organically form within our community at IndyHall. Some of the larger succsses are iSepta and RipIt.app, but there are other, less visible ones: we’ve been there for more than a handful of people who left their jobs that they hated to go independent, and they credit the community of Indyhall for allowing them to be able to be comfortable taking the leap. We’ve had our fingers in dozens and dozens of events that have quite literally changed the landscape of the city.
I’m not saying this to brag, as it has nothing to do with ego. My point is, coworking has such immense gravity and influence on more than just where people are working. Even the members we’ve had that joined simply for desk space quickly realized what they were involved in, and without anyone asking or telling them to, changed their tune and became more community oriented.
In all of these instances, the core values have been at the forefront of an initiative and the results have been hugely positive. I know I have a habit of getting preachy, but it really comes down to the recipe model (or the pizza analogy, as Tony has taken it). If I order a steak and it’s got a side of greens on the plate, that’s fine. But if I order a steak and I get a salad with a couple of strips of sirloin across the top, I’m going to be pissed.
Incubation is extremely valuable, with and without coworking as part of it’s model. Coworking is extremely valuable, with and without the incubation.
Call a spade a spade. Get over your identity crisis.
Be a part of a community, and be a community leader. If you’re not doing one of those two things, you’re probably not coworking.
Encourage collaboration at every opportunity. Being open and transparent helps that.
Sustainability is just as much about eco-friendly practices as it is making sure that the things you’re doing within your community work towards it’s ability to sustain itself.
Accessibility, to me, means not being exclusive. If you asked me a year ago if I expected the diversity of IndyHall to include government-focused business strategy consultants, green home developers, video game programmers, and educators, I’d have laughed. But today, we have all of that and more. Accessibility of the resources to anyone who benefits from them is important. I’m not here to evaluate your business model. My only concern is that you’re making enough money to pay our membership dues.
I’ve historically been one to avoid the polarization of ideas. Even when there’s a clear good vs. bad, I find myself in the position where it’s been best to keep cool and simply act as a mediator, since I’m good at that task as well.
More and more, I’m finding myself not only comfortable, but confident enough in my opinions that I can, and do, take a stand.
I’m no longer fearful of being high contrast. I’m realizing that my contrasting opinions to the majority are what will continue to set me apart.
And as such, the newest edition of dangerouslyawesome.com takes that into account, both content-wise as I flesh out some new concepts of my own, and from a visual standpoint.
Welcome to Dangerously Awesome Dot Com : High Contrast Edition.
About 3 weeks ago I announced my departure from Round3 and that I’d be pursuing new work as an independent consultant. The main reason for that announcement was my decision to put focus on continuing to grow IndyHall with Geoff while finding other projects and teams to consult with regarding their user communities, as well as social business practices.
I’m really, really stoked to announce that I’ve teamed up with Anthillz.com, a Philadelphia startup founded by Blake Jennelle. Blake is also the founder of Philly Startup Leaders, and we have become friends over the last year through the similarities that our organizations’ (PSL and IndyHall) goals share.
Anthillz is building out tools to help freelancers and independents manage their reputations by organizing client and peer feedback and helping generate measurable statistics that can help in freelancer searches, as well.
Where do I fit? Well, besides my obvious interest in the value of freelancers and doing things that make it easier to be an independent, Blake and his team realized there was value on community marketing as well as using member feedback to drive their product design process. I’m being brought in to help advise and lead that process, all along the way helping be a liaison for the community and the management team. I’m there for the community, and there for the team, when they need things and will help facilitate interactions between them.
My favorite part? Read this part of the position description that Blake and I drafted together:
When there’s a tension between his roles of representing the company and advocating on behalf of the community, the advocate should take the side of the community. Any company has the natural tendency to give extra weight to its own interests, and the Community Advocate is an essential counterweight.
Blake wrote, this not me, but it’s attitudes like this that makes me have hope for company leadership in general. Blake and his entire team are as excited about this new partnership as I am.
I look forward to being able to share our findings as we continue to develop Anthillz as a product and a community, and encourage you to check it out and feed back as well!
I’ve got a couple of other similar projects and partnerships in the work, and am excited to share them with you as they unfold. Stay tuned, everybody!
Reading through some comments on yCombinator’s “hacker news” board tonight (which my previous post was just featured on, welcome new readers/subscribers), I dove into a thread about a post I’d read earlier in the day by 37Signals about some of their early guerrilla marketing techniques that they used to generate buzz around their products, ideas, and methodologies.
The comments struck me as interesting: readers were talking a decent amount of smack, as commenters tend to, both on 37 Signals as well as yCombinator‘s co-founder, Paul Graham. The smack centered around the notion that the 37S team, as well as Graham, were notorious for writing about how “easy” it was to be successful.
Interesting, I thought. These people don’t like being told something will be easy. Personally, I’d find that motiviating to try that thing that someone told me was easy. Maybe that’s just my entreprenurial spirit.
“That sounds easy/appealing. I can totally do that”. Who among us hasn’t at least thought that.
I guess my thought was really simply that yes…it is easy, if you get past step 0 of actually deciding to do it in the first place. Which, if you REALLY read into 37Signals’ message, you’ll realize, that’s the point. Just get going.
The rest really is easy, if nothing else, by comparison to the first step.
It’s like going to the gym. I’d be ripped if I would just go in the first place.
The next most difficult part to the first step is keeping up your momentum.
Stretching your “stay inspired” muscles.
Toning your “remain motivated” muscles.
Working your “don’t stagnate” muscles.
Flexing your “continually learn” muscles.
That’s all a lot of work.
But, if you’re headed down the so called right path, it’ll feel easy. Because even though it is work, if you’re working smarter instead of harder, it probably won’t feel like work.
And if it does, you’re not flexing those muscles often enough. Or you’re working the wrong muscle groups.
Oh, those inevitable cramps you’re feeling?
Quit your whining and get back to the gym.
Brian Oberkirch is one of only a few people in this world who’s every word I hang on. Brian is a thought leader, in it’s truest form. I’m proud that Brian even knows my name. Enough fanboycrap. On to the thoughts that Brian stirred up for me.
Brian just wrote a post taking a jab at conversational marketing, clearly pointing his pointer finger at the “Misbegotten & generally borked offspring of Cluetrain“. His point is something that drove me to create a Flickr group over 6 months ago, tounge in cheek renouncing the phrase “Join the Conversation”. I ended up not following through with the Flickr group because all that happened every time I looked at it, I got angry.
I hate the phrase “join the conversation” because it encourages the worst thing that conversational marketing could have: dilution of valuable, community contributed information.
“Join the conversation” encourages a poor signal to noise ratio.
“Join the conversation” has bred an entire movement that’s forgotten what the social in social media means.
“Join the conversation” doesn’t mean “listen to me, me-me-me-me-me”.
Conversational marketing doesn’t mean “talk about it until they can’t help but listen”.
Conversational marketing DOES mean that your pitches don’t sound like pitches. Conversational marketing means STOP PITCHING.
Guess what. If you are still trying so hard to be conversational, odds are, it’s coming across as far less genuine than if you aren’t trying at all.
Stop, collaborate and listen (yeah, i went there)
How about listening for a change? Rather than spending all of your time talking about what your customers/partners/vendors/markets/employees/members, whatever might want; ASK THEM.
So what does this boil down to?
I think that you should take a good hard look at your “conversational marketing” techniques and exercise the side of the conversation that most people aren’t terribly good at:
As the project I’m most passionate about approaches it’s 1st birthday, and the other mission I set out on skims past 4 months since it’s inception, I’ve come to some realizations and the teams from both businesses and I made some tough decisions. Ultimately, this was the result of us doing some introspection and deciding where our goals were. We got lucky, and our goals allowed us to work together in deciding how the two businesses would grow.
The release below, compiled by myself, Geoff DiMasi, and Bart Mroz explains the steps that we’ve taken.
For immediate consideration:
Recognizing that growth and change are a natural part of any organization and knowing how to react to those changes is one of the greatest challenges for a company of any size.Indy Hall has grown and changed at a rapid pace in this past year and half. As the community has grown, the business and operations have morphed and changed along with it. This agility remains one of our key strengths.One of the scenarios that we anticipated was a startup (or better, multiple startups) forming within the members of our community. A number of these opportunities have, in fact, materialized. One of them became known as Round3Media, formed by IndyHall board members Alex Hillman and Bart Mroz, along with Ken Rossi. It was initially created to help aid business process between some of the collaboration that was already happening with the members. As that business grew, focus shifted, and the overlapping founders of Round3Media and IndyHall sat down to discuss that growth.
The only way for both of these organizations to thrive is for each of their leaderships to stay focused. It is for that reason that Alex Hillman has stepped down as a partner of Round3Media, LLC. Similarly, Bart Mroz has stepped down as a board member of Independents Hall, LLC.
Respectively, Alex will remain a consultant to the Round3 team, and Bart will remain a full time member of IndyHall.
This decoupling of the businesses is for maintaining the the strength and focus of each organization, and for removing potential conflicts of interest as one business resides within the walls of the other.
We look forward to both of these operations growing and continuing to add to the success stories of the Philadelphia creative and startup community.
I consider myself lucky to have such wonderful business partners that this potentially sticky situation ended up working out to all of our benefits: we get to continue working with our greatest passions. And, as I’ve said before, I do it all for the love of the game.
I remain wholly dedicated to IndyHall and it’s community, the city of Philadelphia, and the spirit of innovation and creativity in our community and any other communities that I touch.
While continuing on the path we’ve set out on with IndyHall, the Philadelphia community, and our own set of goals, I’m also returning to the life of an independent (rather than the co-owner of two businesses) and beginning to contract my services as a social business strategy advisor and social marketing consultant. I hope to blend my historical experiences in technology, my interests in the web, and my passions for community in a blend that brings unique opportunities for my clients and projects.
I’m already working with a couple of local startups, and am actively pursuing opportunities that fit my interests as well as the best interests of the company I contract with. Additionally, I’m interested in more writing and speaking engagements on the topics that many of you have expressed enjoyment in reading about here on my blog.
Thank you all for your continuing support. I’m truely thrilled to be at this point in my life and be surrounded by great friends, business partners, and immense opportunities.
Amy Hoy and I have been talking about an event for long enough, it’s time to put ourselves on the hook and make it happen.
The idea behind FailCamp came from a proposal for LoserCamp.
There’s a whole lot of people talking about their successes, because it’s easy and glamorous and interesting. OK, well, maybe not interesting. But it is easy and glamorous.
Talking about failures is a whole other ballgame. It requires you to let your guard. It requires you to not point fingers and take responsibility. It’s humbling. And most of all, it’s educational.
There’s not a whole lot to be learned from success, really. The vast majority of successful people are very hard workers who got very lucky. Or, more often, they’re hard workers who got lucky after many, many, many previous failures.
We should learn from our failures…but wouldn’t it be nice to be in a safe place where we could let down our guards and in a trusted environment, admit to our f*#k-ups, large and small. Colossal and miniscule.
And thus, FailCamp.
We all make mistakes. The best of us learn from them. The best of the best help others learn from their mistakes.
These can be business failures. These can be life failures.
We want your fail.
We’ve set a date for Saturday, July 26th. Unlike many other weekend events, we’re not going to FAIL and start early. It’s a Saturday. So plan on 10am.
We’re unsure on the final location right now but it will be somewhere in Philadelphia, likely near IndyHall.
We’re limiting the RSVP for now, and we may raise the limit depending on demand and interest. So please, visit the Upcoming page and RSVP.
It’s a little silly that this is the first post I’m making from San Francisco. I’ve got a bunch of other drafts started, but I wanted to get this one out now while it was fresh in my mind.
I learned a lot this week.
I’ve often described my past experiences at SXSW as somewhat sobering (not chemically, but psychologically). It was my first exposure to some of the people responsible for literally creating the internet, or critical parts of it that we all take for granted. And rather than be presented with an egomaniacal rock star, I found lots of people just like me, who wanted to do cool things with cool people.
I’ve had this experience repeatedly over the last 2 years. I’ve got some really incredible friends. I’m friends with some really incredible people.
Secret? One my “would be cool if…” ideas for this week was to sit down with Evan Williams and chat. Not about Twitter, not about anything in particular. Just in general as someone who has interest in his approach to business and thinks he’s done cool stuff. I still would love for that to take place at some point.
This week has been a difficult week for one of our favorite one to many real time device agnostic communications platform. Seems I picked a bad week to try to make my sit down with Ev happen.
I’m not going to go into the details of what’s been going on with Twitter, technically or socially. I reserve my own opinions, and many others reserve theirs. Way cool. Thats what happens when services transcend the usual verticals of user expectations. That’s not what I really want to write about.
What I wanted to remind myself, and everyone else is this:
The door above is the front door to Twitter HQ. Twitter isn’t a magical creature. It isn’t a mythical beast.
It’s the product of a lot of hard work by people who, unlike the conjurers that we sometimes make them out to be/expect them to be, still need to walk in that door at the beginning of the day, and out the door at the end.
We’re upset because we care. I get that.
Based on some of the information they’ve released, the team seems to being through some of the “converting a hang glider into a Boeing747 in mid-air” syndrome that I’ve alluded to in my own life, so I empathize.
The other side of things that I can parallel to my own experience is that, I hope, it’s not over. There’s lots more to pan out. This isn’t 100% uncharted territory, but there certainly is a good deal that’s new. If for nobody else, it’s new for the team who’s dealing with it right now.
I’m watching intently. I’m resisting the temptation to use Twitter as a self-referential kvetch-funneling megaphone, because that certainly isn’t helping the situation right now.
These websites live up in “the cloud”, but the people are real. And a lot of the time, the people are WAY cooler than the websites they drive. If decision making were easy, people would fuck up a whole lot less. And I don’t know when the last time you looked around you was, but there are way more failures than successes out there.
More on that notion later.
In other news, I finally got to pick up an official Twitter shirt. And I got to see Alex Payne and Brit Selvitelle for a few minutes (and hopefully again this weekend) and they’re two really rad dudes who walk through the aforementioned door every day.
And Ev…you were there today, but you looked busy, man. Didn’t want to bug you. So hopefully another time.
Geoff and I were out chatting about some things last night and in conversation I mentioned the term “Civic Entrepreneurship”. The word came out of my mouth nonchalantly, and frankly, I’m not sure where exactly I’d heard it before, or if I was using it in the appropriate context. Either way, Geoff’s reaction to the term and what it might mean, was enough to get me to think more about it on my walk home.
Confident it was impossible that I had coined the term myself, and curious about any kind of real context, I decided to ask google for a definition.
The first result, a newsletter from the Center for Community Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin, caught my eye. The result summary contained enough information to match what I’d considered myself, so I dug deeper.
The term civic entrepreneur combines two important American traditions: entrepreneurship–the spirit of enterprise–and civic virtue–the spirit of community.1
The article goes on to establish five important qualities in civic entrepreneurship.
- Realistic understanding of contemporary economic realities and willingness to embrace those realities on a local level, building a foundation for larger future growth.
- Results-driven attitude towards change. Focus on why things can happen, rather than why they cannot. Focus on mobilizing resources to an end game.
- Collaborative leadership style, rather than leading with formal authority they lead with credibility. Strong ties between economic development and community development. Strong bridging between these two arenas.
- Long-tail self interest. The individual leader’s end game is long term, short term and narrower goals are heavily focused directly on community involvement. “Give give give, till your face falls off”. Sound familiar?
- Creating, and enabling, new leaders. Playing different roles within different teams. Heavy focus on teamwork and encouraging collaborative growth.
A lot of this rings so, so true to everything I’ve been immersed in for the last year and a half. But I’ve noticed something else.
A lot of “civic entrepreneurship” qualities read a whole lot like what’s evolved into this moving target people are calling “social media”. This piece, for me, is a great and humbling reminder that even new and exploratory concepts aren’t new, simply evolutions.
I laugh, often, when I (or anyone else, for that matter) are referred to as “social media experts”. How can you be an expert in something that most people struggle to define in the first place? It’s too new for there to be real experts.
Are you an expert simply by being an early adopter? I think that’s a difficult, and dangerous, thing to quantify given the connotations of “expert”.
Social Media leadership? Certainly. I know a lot of brilliant social media leaders. Social Media Innovaters? Absolutely.
Now. I’m not sure if you could call yourself a Civic Entrepreneurship expert, even though the arena is well defined, and well established. Proof? The points in the article cited above were written nearly 10 years ago.
I have to wonder how many participants of the social media space have read the newsletter. Or were they too busy suckling their RSS feeds looking for the latest trend to mimic.
Although, I have to think that there’s something intrinsically humbling, probably tied to quality number 4 above, that most “civic entrepreneurs” wouldn’t go so far as to call themselves an expert.
There’s a difference between calling yourself an expert, and being identified as one.
Be realistic. Be persistent. Share responsibilities. Be humble. Know your roots. Care.
At SXSW, during the coworking core conversation, Geoff made a point that blew my mind with it’s obviousness. That exact same point is relevant to this conversation as well:
These are the secrets to being a good human being.
These are my most popular and most valuable pieces, to help you get started.
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