- Leading Indy Hall with Geoff and my friends
- Writing a lot (long and short form)
- Trying new restaurants
- Proactive communications & growth, strategy & implementation at Wildbit (2 products, Beanstalk and Postmark)
- Directing product and business development at DynamicWear with Jarvus and ChoiceShirts
- Interviews and/or photoshoots
- Guiding technology decisions at ProWorld
- Listening to music
- Coaching small businesses & startups
- Developing a housing community based on Indy Hall with DIGSAU and Postgreen
- Planning parties
- Teaching people how coworking really works
- Drinking at National Mechanics
- Wishing I had a little more time to do a couple more things
Bart had just handed me the telephone.
“Hi, is this Alex Hillman?”
— “Uh, yes. Hi. I’m Alex.”
“Hi Alex! My name is Jane Von Bergen and I write about workplace for the Philadelphia Inquirer. We heard you’re doing something down in old city and it sounds very interesting. I’d like to come by with a photographer and talk to you about it. Can we stop by tomorrow?”
— “Uh, no. I mean…sure, uhm…not tomorrow. Tomorrow? No, not tomorrow. How about Wednesday?”
“Sounds great. I’ll see you then.”
— “Yep, great!”
Shit. We had better go buy some furniture.
This was Monday, August 13th of 2007.
I’d just gotten back from my 4 year anniversary vacation with my girlfriend and some friends from college. But it was also the first weekday after we’d signed the lease on the office that was about to become the clubhouse for Independents Hall.
We had 18 days to transform an empty space into our home.
And the Inquirer wanted to talk to us before we even had any fucking desks.
So we went to Ikea. We bought desks. We put them together.
This was Sunday, August 19th of 2007.
Jane’s article came out just 1 week after that initial phone call, on Sunday. Well technically, it hit newsstands on Saturday night. Some of my friends called me to the bar after midnight to see it together.
So yeah. We were on the front page of the business section of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
My face looked a bit more like this.
Jane wrote “By Wednesday, they were showing up for work”. The fact was, we’d been there working feverishly for 48 hours to get the space in shape for our first emergency visit from a journo and a photog.
The group effort paid off. By Wednesday, we could work. Really though, we’d been working together for months. We just had a new place to call home. We had almost 2 dozen members signed up already, but we didn’t start counting memberships until September 1st while we weren’t 100% sure who our internet service provider was going to be. “Come by and work for free until our grand opening on September 1st!”, we said.
This was Wednesday, August 22nd of 2007.
If you did plan to work this week, you’d better plan to be near to a power outlet. A few days later, boxes showed up. My friend Jory worked at Belkin, and had coordinated a drop shipment of the most essential coworking space utility besides coffee cups: power strips.
This was Friday, August 31st of 2007.
3 weeks had passed.
I’d been up for 20 hours a day. I was basically a scarecrow except instead of being stuffed with bugs and straw, I was being propped up by gallons of coffee, a carton of cigarettes, and beer.
Indy Hall had people in it every day. Some mornings it was just me and Bart until noon. Other days we had a person parked at every desk before lunchtime. It was completely surreal. The only thing keeping me going was knowing that the people I’d been wanting to be around were at Indy Hall, ready to cowork with me.
Today, though, was the last day of “free coworking” for Indy Hall. On September 1st, the giant Dr. Frankenstein switch on our memberships flipped to “on”.
This was Saturday, September 1st of 2007.
Independents Hall was open for business. Of course, in true “independent” fashion, it was a Saturday.
Good thing, too. Because we had a party to throw. We got to transform this:
That went pretty well.
Today is Thursday, September 1st of 2011.
Turns out those first 3 weeks were just practice.
Together, we’ve spent 4 years transforming our surroundings, 4 years of finding the best things in our worlds and coaxing them even closer to greatness.
4 Years of JFDI.
It started with those first 48 hours before Jane Von Bergen arrived at Indy Hall.
It happened during those first 3 weeks of making a loft in Old City Philadelphia the home for a community of nomadic workers.
It happened that September Saturday, when people traveled from all over Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York, New Jersey, and San Francisco to celebrate with us.
And we never stopped. I don’t think we will anytime soon.
To one of my best friends, my mentor, and my business partner Geoff DiMasi for being my own personal Yoda, and once in a while giving me the chance to Yoda right back.
To every person who is or has ever been a member or friend of Indy Hall.
To anyone who’s been inspired by Indy Hall.
To anyone who has given me the chance to be inspired by you.
To Philadelphia, for being so fucking rad that we couldn’t help but make sure everyone else got the chance to realize it too.
To Ben Franklin, the original coworker.
To everyone who’s helped tell our story, online and off, in video, audio, and in print.
To the global coworking community, for keeping me on my toes.
To my parents, for loving me and being proud of me even if they’re not 100% sure what I do.
To everyone who’s believed in me, and believed in us.
To everyone else who lives to JFDI.
To the last 4 years, to the next 4 years. To many more years.
Sometimes I “get serious”, and I find that those are the times when I lose sight of what I really care about.
Anyway, you say you want to become better. I mean that’s really all you need.
_why points out to this aspiring programmer that all he needs to get better is to never lose the desire to get better. Everything else is experimentation to figure out how to get yourself there.
When I was speaking to a Drexel Alum group earlier this year, somebody asked me “why I chose to be an entrepreneur”. Frankly I’m not sure it’s something I chose, but my answer was off the cuff and still pretty accurate.
Every major decision in my life has been fueled by my unwavering intolerance of the status quo, for the static, and for the unchanging. I don’t just want me to get better, I want to be surrounded by things that are getting better all the time. My motivation to make everything around me better, even just a little bit better, and never forgetting that as my primary motivation – I’ve gotten better myself, even just a little bit better, as a result.
Everybody has excuses. For every idea, brilliant or terrible, somebody will come up with at least one reason not to bother in the first place.
I hate excuses. Hate is a strong word, but excuses are really the one thing that my tolerance levels have dropped to zero for.
When I’m critiquing something, I’ve tuned my focus to be on identifying the things that can or should be better rather than the things that can’t or shouldn’t ever be.
Chris Lehmann wrote a blog post titled “A School I’d Love to See“. It’s the most inspiring thing I’ve read all day.
Near the end, he says:
I’m sure there are 1,000 reasons not to start this school… 1,000 reasons this might not work. But isn’t interesting to, instead, wonder if it could?
Chris and I share an affliction. We know that those reasons – those excuses – exist. But rather than be inhibited by them, our affliction is to be inspired to search for the one reason to try anyway.
When you’re presented with 1000 reasons not to try, take it as a cue to find the one reason to try and – if you can find that one reason – go for it..
I spent some time this afternoon having an excellent conversation about many, many different things with my new friend Kira Campo. I’m hoping I can get a copy of her notes because we covered a lot of ground and I stopped taking notes when I realized I couldn’t read my own handwriting. But for the last hour I’ve had something in my head that needs to get out.
Before I go on, I want to point out that one of Indy Hall’s core assets has been it’s ability to build networks of trust. Back to that in a moment.
Risk taking means different things to different people. To an entrepreneur, it may mean betting it all on a big idea. To an artist, it may mean sharing or inciting an emotion. To many working class americans, it may be leaving a job that’s anywhere from “okay” to “god-awful” in pursuit of something better.
But I think that if you dissect successfully (read: healthy) risky behavior, it comes down to an either innate or learned ability to trust yourself.
And I’m not talking about skydiving, swimming with sharks, doing drugs, or having unprotected sex – that’s not risky, it’s dangerous.
“See what is possible in what you don’t yet understand, share what is possible in what you see differently.” – Hilary Austin at TEDxSoma
Kira reminded me of this quote that I tweeted from TEDxSoma back in the middle of June. I’d forgotten about it, but hearing it again put it in a new light.
If I think about the risk-takers I admire, they spoke out about what they thought was possible in what they saw differently and shared that with others. That took a large degree of trusting themselves to be more than right – but to not be alone in wanting to be right.
I think back to when I first met Chris Messina and Tara Hunt – these two people were operating on a completely different set of frequencies from the ones that my employer-at-the time was.
On one hand, the way they were thinking, talking, and acting was different from the environment that I actively wanted to remove myself from. On the other hand, and more importantly, that they validated my feelings that what I was thinking could be realized in the form of words and actions.
I went from being alone in my craziness to realizing that I could trust myself to be right. And that’s when I started to open my mouth and bring words into action, even when it seemed risky – because I learned to trust myself, and I understood that somebody else could be having the same experience I was having before I’d met Chris and Tara.
If they unlocked me, who could I unlock, simply by trusting that I wasn’t alone?
Risk taking is a polarizing activity no matter how you slice it. But when you lead risk taking with trust, rather than disillusionment or false hopes & expectations, amazing possibilities lie on the other side.
What are you doing to help people learn to trust themselves rather than operate on disillusionment and false hopes & expectations?
When asked “how” to approach a problem they perceive as challenging, I often ask back: “why?”
Why are you solving this problem in the first place?
If someone knows the answer to “why”, then they almost always already know the answer to how and are really just looking for affirmation or a sanity check.
If someone don’t know the answer to “why” yet, I point them down that path and ask them to return when they have an idea.
In both cases, I’m asking the seeker to look into themselves for the answer. It’s transformative.
“…because if you flunk that part, the deal’s not happening no matter what conditions are offered.”
And by “that part”, they mean being interested in the human relationship with your business prospect as much or more than the transaction.
As it should be.
Indy Hall has brought literally thousands of amazing people into my life, but the most important of them to me turns 40 today.
In Geoff DiMasi’s honor, I invite you to participate in his birthday by choosing any of the “Random Acts of DiMasi” below and performing them. You can also add suggestions of your own in the comments and I’ll add the good ones to the list.
- Hug your wife and kids
- Listen to Fugazi
- Speak with thoughtfulness and brevity (reference: Yoda)
- Ask a waitress what she suggests to eat (between two choice you already have made)
- Drink a Jameson and Ginger Ale
- Plant a tree
- Take a risk on a punk kid like me
I was going to give you all sorts of background on our friendship, how we became friends, what it’s meant to me, blah blah blah. The I remembered that you probably wouldn’t care.
What’s important is why Gary and I became friends, and why we’ve stayed friends. We have a commonality. We’re both wired to make the world a better place, whatever it takes.
In 2009, Gary released his 1st book. “Crush It!” was a fun read, but it was like talking to Gary circa 2009. It was manic and excited, often inspirational, but otherwise was phoning it in. Gary and I haven’t talked about it, but I think even he knows that “Crush It!” wasn’t a book that was going to change the world.
Today (well, yesterday by now), “The Thank You Economy” is on bookshelves. But I’m not going to review Gary’s new book, in spite of having had a galley copy for the last week. The fact that I’m writing about it at all should tell you that you might want to go pick up a copy and read it for yourself.
Instead, I’m going to suggest a trick to employ while reading “The Thank You Economy”.
Remember, Gary’s a make the world a better place, whatever it takes kind of guy. Which is why I think that “The Thank You Economy” is actually a trojan horse carefully placed in the business section.
While the message appears to be about how to succeed at business, I’m going to challenge you to read the book as a guide of how to succeed at life.
“The Thank You Economy” isn’t a business book, in spite of the section of the bookstore you found it or even the name of the publisher on the spine. It’s a sneak attack on a broken business world, with a mission to make the world a better place, whatever it takes.
When we scored the coworking.com domain early last year, my personal goal was to have a digital placeholder for the word “coworking” and tie it to the shared core values of the community: collaboration, openness, community, accessibility, and sustainability.
As I watch announcements of new coworking spaces pour in, and the beginnings of another of my predictions being fulfilled at an equally alarming rate, I’m seeing yet another pattern emerge.
Among the top “reasons” cited, at least in a completely non-scientific study of my own perception, is “cost savings”. It’s a bum economy, so I get why, but that bum economy isn’t going to be lifted out of it’s own sorrows by the graces of coworking.
The shame is, every coworking space that’s selling itself on cost-effectiveness is founding themselves on a short term value for their members. At some point, there’s a good chance that they’re not going to be able to sustain being “cost effective” and will return their rates to something that makes commercial sense. Alternatively, as the economy bounces back and priorities shift, cost effectiveness will sink in the hierarchy of needs, rendering the primary offering less attractive.
I’ve often harped on the importance of remembering the history of coworking. Not just the historical facts, like names and dates, but the historical purpose and intent.
In 2005, Brad Neuberg’s “Spiral Muse” based coworking arrangement was anything but practical, but it had a purpose for Brad and the other participants: improving quality of life and wellness. Part of the communal workday at the Spiral Muse included some forms of meditation and yoga.
Nearly 5 years later, I propose that we should push ourselves ahead of the curve and remember the long term value of coworking: wellness, in a richer, more sustainable working lifestyle. Indy Hall was, very personally, founded in a need for separation of work and life. Today, when I work at Indy Hall, I’m happier. If that’s not the most critical form of wellness we could stand to improve in our workforce, I don’t know what is.
I’m not necessarily proposing that every coworking space institute a yoga or meditation practice into their regiment, unless of course members are the ones driving that forward. Instead, I’m proposing a shift in focus. Don’t drop your rates because members want cheap membership, create sustainable rates for them and you, so that they can receive a benefit to their overall wellness.
There’s 10 month left in 2011. That’s a lot of time left to bring wellness back into the message of coworking. We’re doing our part by inviting a yoga instructor who is developing a program specifically for office exercising to Indy Hall next month. More ideas will be discussed at tomorrow night’s Town Hall, as well.
I propose we introduce “wellness” back into the core values of coworking.com as well.
Coworking comrades, how will you help?
These are my most popular and most valuable pieces, to help you get started.
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- Guest Post: 3 incredibly counterintuitive lessons that every coworking operator needs to learn
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- How to hire the best people to run your coworking space