CHUCK: Alright. Shall we do this?
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CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 158 of the Freelancers’ Show. This week on our panel, we have Reuven Lerner.
REUVEN: Hey everyone.
CHUCK: Eric Davis.
CHUCK: Jonathan Stark.
CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. I just want to remind you really quickly, if you’re into Ruby, go check out RubyRemoteConf. That’s RubyRemoteConf.com. I’m pulling together the conference; I’ve invited a bunch of people to come speak; it should be awesome.
We also have a special guest this week, and that’s Alex Hillman.
ALEX: Hey everybody.
CHUCK: You want to introduce yourself really quickly?
ALEX: Sure. As you already said, my name is Alex Hillman. I’ve got a whole list [chuckles] of thing I could use to describe myself. Perhaps the thing most relevant to today’s conversation is I’m the co-founder of one of the longest running co-working spaces in the world here in Philadelphia called Indy Hall: IndyHall.org or @indyhall on Twitter, if you want to check that out but my background’s in freelancing. I started Indy Hall as a freelancer. I worked also with Amy Hoy who’s got an awesome blog called Unicornfree.com and together we teach a class called 30×500 which is largely geared towards freelancers, helping them turn their hourly rate approach into maybe the product building side of things, which changes in terms of marketing and things like that. I’ve got my fingers in all kinds of things related to freelancers. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Very cool. We approached you on today to talk about collaboration. It’s really interesting because when I think about collaborations, I’m thinking about people that don’t do what I do that I’m going to work with. Is that generally what you’re talking about, or you’re talking about other freelancers to help you with projects that are what you do?
ALEX: Well, actually, my personal philosophy on collaboration has a lot less to do with the work – the specific project itself. And it’s actually a big foundation idea of what makes Indy Hall as a co-working space unique. When I think about collaboration, I’m not necessarily thinking about ‘I need to complete a project, and if I don’t have this other person who can do a skill that I can’t onboard, then the project is screwed’. Although, that’s tactically true sometimes. When I’m thinking about collaboration, I think about it in terms of ‘what can I do with another person that we couldn’t do on our own?’ And maybe that’s a nuance difference but for me it’s more about working with another person, having them bring something to the project – their interest, their perspective in addition to the fact that, yeah, there’s some things that need to get done, but ultimately I want them to be on that project not just because it’s a project to do but because it’s a project that interests them as much as interests me.
REUVEN: So eventually, you have a co-working space. I’ve been to a few co-working spaces, but I’ve never worked to anyone before. Is it a typical thing to do – collaboration? Although, to be honest, often, what I see is just a lot of people working at desks. I think I’ve just been a visitor rather than an actual participant.
ALEX: Yeah. It’s a really, really good question. When you think about co-working, for the listeners out there, if you’ve been to a co-working space, your experience can really be very varied and even in the best co-working spaces, the different composition of people there on a different day. So, what’s happening that day changes from day to day. I think the key that makes co-working a unique perspective – maybe if we backup a little bit and talk about how I was working with people that even led me to consider wanting a co-working space was it was very much like a distributed agency model sort of thing where I was a freelancer, I was a web developer and I knew that the limitations of what I can do were based on the skills that I had. So, I had to either go out and learn new things or collaborate with other people.
But when you’re a freelancer, who do you collaborate with? In my case, it was with people that I already knew. I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t necessarily have at their fingertips is people who they already know – they already have some trust established with. Maybe if you’re working together at other companies or on other projects, that pre-existing trust, that understanding of, ‘yes, you’ve got this skills on paper, but are you actually good to work with?’, that’s a hard thing to come by while you’re doing the work. It’s hard to build a trusting relationship with somebody while the project is going on.
One of the things that a co-working space is really great at and I think not enough people approach co-working spaces intending to do is to get to know people long before you ever need to collaborate with them. The first time you’re talking to somebody is when you need something from them that they have, you’re too late; versus if I know that there’s a great graphic designer in the room but I also know that I really like spending time with them and I’ve seen them do really amazing work and I’ve seen they’ve got amazing work ethic, and they really care about their clients and delivering an awesome product, that’s a person that I want to collaborate with, not just because they’re talented but because – it’s like the best job interview you could possibly imagine. People put their best foot forward when they know they’re being interviewed. Working in a co-working space is an opportunity to observe people around you who do things that are different from you, and learn from them. Maybe you never work with them but you learn how they work; you learn how they solve problems. They can help you with a tactical thing like,‘I don’t know how to serve this particular – an error in my code’ or this design layout issue or a copywriting help or maybe they’re in a completely different field like,‘I need the assistance of an attorney to help me think through a contract’ or something like that. These are all things that you generally don’t think about until the very last minute when you need them. But when you’re in a co-working community and you’ve taken the time to get to know people long before you need them, it starts to make some of the harder parts of being a freelancer vanish. It really can feel kind of magical. It’s one of things that – I know that once in a while I step outside of my little happy universe of Indy Hall and I realize that I’ve forgotten how hard business can be for a lot of people that are independent and solo because they’re not surrounded by people that they already know and trust who they could turn to for help at any scale, small or large.
So, a co-working space – yeah, there’s people sitting in desks next to each other and frankly, for he folks that are in the business of running a co-working space, if that’s all that’s happening, if there’s no interaction in between people in getting their work done, you’re not really delivering [chuckles] a lot of value. And if you pay for a co-working space and that’s all you do is you come in, you put on your headphones, you sit down, you work, and you don’t talk to anybody, you’re not getting the value out of the thing you pay for, which is the other people in the room – what they do, what they have done, what they know, what they care about, their interests, their time and attention –all of those things are valuable resources for independents and freelancers when you’re working in a co-working space.
REUVEN: There’s a co-working space that opened not too far from me [inaudible] Israel between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We’re pretty quiet – perhaps too quiet, suburban community – so it’s nice that it exists. And I’ve been working from home for many years and now they have all these different memberships. [Inaudible 8:50] cars, not walking distance, not public transportation; it would really be a pain to get there. But then, I saw recently they’re offering now cheaper membership if you want to go there on evenings and weekends.
Now, it’s an interesting idea, although quite frankly, I can just close the door. But I think that, actually, it would not provide any of the benefits you’re describing because nights and weekends, I think it’s going to be relatively dead, and if you’re just looking at me to make a bit of extra money. They might get in terms of their bottom line but I doubt it. Maybe I’m totally wrong here – I doubt it that there will really be that sort of interaction and collaboration that you’re talking about.
ALEX: It’s tough to say. What I can say is that if there’s not a – look, it doesn’t take a lot of people for there to be value in that thing. One night a week, we stay open late for what call night owls. And it’s not an extra fee; actually, it’s included in all of our membership levels including our lower cost which includes our membership that we have that just includes one day a month. So, for $30 a month, you can come in and work for one work day but you can also come in every single Thursday that month from 6-10 and get some work done.
I’ll tell you what the hard part is that when I think people often underestimate – I guess is the word I’m looking for – is it takes time for people to consistently show up or for there to be a group of people show up often enough for it to feel that room is not empty. So that concern you’re thinking about, I think you’re right on the money; you’re worried about the right thing, which is if I’m coming there after hours, who the heck is going to be there? The audience that’s there, the people that are there might be different; they might not be freelancers. Although there’s people who – I put myself in this category – I like working in the afternoons and the evening shifts. Mornings, I like to take a little bit easy. More commonly, it’s people who maybe they have a day job that requires them to be on site or they just have a company that requires them to be on site and they use the evening to focus on something a little bit different either a side project, a passion project, something that they do want to do out on the open and collaboratively and be able to share with others and be inspired and things like that.
The question is really: is co-working space doing anything to actively facilitate that, or are they saying ‘you can work after hours’, in which case you maybe correct. And there’s also the fact that co-working – have any of you guys [inaudible] been to a BarCamp conference? Have you been to one of these? Or an unconference?
CHUCK: Yeah, I have.
ERIC: There’s been a tract for it but not a full conference around it.
ALEX: Aha. Ok. So the thing that I love about unconferences and BarCamps and what they have in common with co-working is they do require a bit of facilitation. However, if you’re not getting anything out of it, there’s a good chance it’s because you didn’t put anything into it. It’s not a ‘sit back and let it wash over you’ kind of experience and co-working is very much the same thing.
So if you’re going to a co-working space, again, as a freelancer, as someone who is looking to meet people and the first thing you do is sit down and don’t talk to anybody, you’re contributing to the problem, [chuckles] not helping solve it. For some people, that’s a lot tougher to get up the courage to go introduce yourself to a stranger. But remember that everyone that’s there, hopefully, is there for the same reason you are, which is ‘it’s kind of lonely at home. And maybe it’s been a while [chuckles] since I’ve been out and interacted with other professional people and I would like that experience.’ After hours isn’t inherently a less collaborative experience simply because it’s after work hours. In some cases, it can be even more so because it’s time where people are a little more willing to be socially lubricated and have those interactions because they don’t feel like the pressure of, ‘I’ve got x amount of work to get done during the day before I can go – do whatever I have planned to do this evening’.
It really depends on who’s in the room, though. That’s the biggest difference. So I would say, ‘go and find out who’s in the room and maybe let yourself be pleasantly surprised’. That’s one of the things that I think the people who go in, whether it’s during the day or in the evening, going to a co-working space with a very specific thing that you want to get out of it including – we have people who show up saying, ‘I’m starting a company. I need to hire a freelancer who does graphic design’ or ‘I need to hire a freelancer, a Ruby developer’, whatever it is. And we tell them, straight up, ‘it’s not that that person’s not here. In fact, I can fairly certainly say a person who you could hire is in the room. However, this is not a talent agency and this is certainly not like shooting fish in a barrel. You’re going to have to put in some time to get to know people and if the first impression you make is, ‘hey, I want to hire you’, believe it or not, everyone here is here because they’re busy. [Chuckles] They’re here to get work done, not to be solicited for work. That’s a fine line to walk. And the best thing you can do is sit down next to somebody with work of your own to do and when you get up to take a walk, go get a break, go get a glass of water, go get a cup of coffee, a snack, just get up and walk around the room, change scenery. In those moments, go out of your way to meet someone that you haven’t met before, or look for a friend and say hello and see how they’re doing.
Those are the kinds of interactions that a co-working space makes easier than if everyone was sitting at home by themselves or even in a café. You can’t really turn to someone in a café and say, ‘hey, do you know anything about active record or can you help me proofread this copywriting?’ They’re going to look at you like you’ve got ten heads. Even if they could’ve helped you, that’s a weird interaction. They’re not there to help you. They’re there to usually put on headphones and get out of their house. Whereas, a co-working space is a place that people are actively choosing to go to be around other people. And it’s totally normal for a stranger to say, ‘hey, we haven’t met before. I’m Alex. I’m working on this thing. Would you mind just even talking something through with me?’ That sounds like it could be a strange interaction but it’s amazing how easy it is when you know that it’s a cultural norm of the people that are in the room.
CHUCK: Is there a way to set that as a cultural norm because most of the time, when I hear people talk about co-working spaces, it’s much more along the lines of what Reuven was talking about where it’s like, ‘there are certain distractions at home that I want to avoid at work and so I’m going to go work at a place that’s set aside for work’. So that kind of interaction, it can happen organically but some people are really there] to get away from that.
ALEX: Yeah. Yeah. And a very fine line to walk. I’ve seen co-working spaces actually go too far in the other direction where they over-program it with social events and end up to being just as if not more distracting from – if you’re trading off my laundry or walking with the dog for an hour and a half long or 2-hour long lunch break with somebody because I enjoy that conversation, you may be able to argue, ‘well, at least it was a conversation about something related to work, but it’s not really that much better’.
I would say that really being thoughtful about the kinds of events and experiences that you can create for people to choose, doing lots of small scale things that are way less disruptive – we don’t do a lot of formal events at Indy Hall, which I think is something that is a little bit different from other co-working spaces where they host lots of outside groups and meet-ups and things like that. I think that stuff can be very distracting unless you have a dedicated private space for it. So, when we do things like that, we generally do them nearby offsite. Maybe we’ll go to a bar or a restaurant nearby or we’ll do a big social event in another events space nearby. Just because we have the space of our own doesn’t mean we have to do everything there. Sometimes, I have to remind our team and our members that just because we have this space doesn’t mean it’s a space for everything; it is a place to work.
A lot of things that we do in this space are – I like to think about choice architecture – it’s the thing that I’m really fascinated by. I’ll give you one tiny little example that makes a huge difference in those little social interactions and that’s how we actually layout the workspace itself. We set up the workspace in these small clusters of desks, generally between 3 and 6 desks. And the reason for that is less than 3 desks together, it’s very easy to end up sitting by yourself which again defeats the purpose and larger than 6 desks and it turns into a “Last Supper” kind of dinner where everybody blends into the scene and it’s easy, once again, to vanish into the room.
And that first thing I talked about where it’s easy to sit by yourself, again, people are choosing to go to a co-working space to be around other people, whether they’re talking to them or not. And I like to describe this as the elevator effect: when you get into an elevator by yourself and you stand dead center in the middle or maybe you’ve got your favorite corner or whatever it is and the second another person walks into the elevator on another floor, you both instantly and instinctively go to opposite corners of a 4ft by 4ft square room [chuckles]. It’s a personal space issue and a natural response. And what’s interesting is when people come to a co-working space, they walk into Indy Hall, they take a tour and they say, ‘I’m here because working at home has gotten really lonely and the loneliness has become distracting. I do need other people around in order to be productive. I have work to do but I do want to get to know other people’, and the first thing they do is they go find a corner to sit in by themselves and they wonder why they haven’t met anybody. So we try and design it so it’s easier for people to do the thing that they say they want to do versus choose the default that is the path of least resistance which is, ‘I don’t have to talk to anybody, so I’m going to go sit in the corner’, or ‘I’m going to go sit in the corner so I don’t have to talk to anybody’.
There’s another thing that we’ve done, though, to really help instill that culture that we were talking about before and that’s – you’ll see in a lot of co-working spaces, they separate the full time members from those flex members – the people that are there less often. They’ll create an area of the office that is maybe able to be closed and locked off because it’s got people’s computers and electronics and things like that, and they say, ‘well, this is where full time members go because it’s where we can lock and keep it secure because we have all of these events after hours and that has strangers coming through the space’ – and again, there’s a bunch of reasons why lots of after-hours events actually can be more damaging than good. And then they create this other – basically where the events space would be in the evening. During the day, they’ve got tables that can be collapsed or moved out of the way, they’re on wheels – the flexible common space doubles as the events space. And so you’ve got the people that are there – either they’re visiting for the day or they’re on a membership or they’re there once a month, once a week, a couple days a week in that café open area, and then you’ve got other full time members clustered away in a completely different part of the co-working space. And I think that that sucks for [chuckles] a lot of reasons, not the least of which is it reinforces the ease of staying separated from one another.
And so we’ve actually done this all of those clusters of 3-6 desks are mixed full time and flex desks. Our full time desks are a darker colored surface. All of our flexed desks are a lighter colored surface and it makes its cool checkerboard-looking layout of cross both of the floors of Indy Hall. But here’s what’s beautiful about it: it means that the full time members aren’t sitting next to all of the exact same people every single day. They’ve got flex desks right next to them which means that people who are dropping in for that day and different people each day are going to end up next to them. And for flex members, they’re not going to end up sitting in the exact same place with the exact same people all the time. They might have their favorite spot but if they come in that day and someone’s already there, they’re going to choose something else.
So little bits of choice architecture to help people sit down in a place where maybe they’re next to somebody they haven’t met before – and then, what we’ve done on the full time members side of things to really reinforce that, ‘hey, introduce yourself’ culture is most of our full time members really want to get to know all the person who just sat next to them. So, if you come in for the first time, and the second time, the third time, and the person you sit down next to goes out of the way to say hello and introduce themselves, ‘welcome, I haven’t seen you here before’ or ‘I haven’t seen you in a while, welcome back’, that sends the signal of, ‘oh, people like it when I come in and sit by them; people like it when I say hello. So maybe when somebody new sits down next to me, I can do the same thing’. And creating that experience on an ongoing basis takes quite a bit of cultivating and reminding that every new person who comes in needs to hear a spiel about all of this, even though we’ve said it a million times. And often, people need to be reminded of it. People will express their concern about something going on in the office and almost consistently, the root of that concern is that they haven’t taken even a moment to get to know the person that they’re in conflict with. And so when we remind them, ‘hey, do you even know the name of the person who you have a problem with?’ And they say no, and I say, ‘why don’t you get to know that person’s name? Because if you guys know each other, you probably – you’re going to be less likely to interrupt each other – do things that disrupt each other because you know you’re an actual person’. It’s a simple subtle little thing that just reminds people, ‘hey, the people around you are here to get work done, too. The people who are here are here for the exact same reason that you are. So whatever you’re getting out of this is really good to give to your neighbors, as well’.
CHUCK: Now, I want to see if we can aim for a little bit more of the collaboration stuff. It sounds like you got a co-working space and you have opportunities to get to know people and to interact with people and things like that. And the thing is that once you’ve gotten to know somebody and you feel like you want to collaborate with him on a little bit more long-term basis or something, how do you start to formulate that so that it works for everybody?
ALEX: That’s an awesome question and a very tough starting point for people. The biggest issue and I think the biggest reason why a lot of collaborations go wrong – and actually, if I take you minutes to back from that, I think a lot of people avoid collaboration because we’ve got scars from school projects [chuckles] where we were assigned to a group of people and we were given a task. And at some point, either we got a bad grade because somebody didn’t pull their weight or the only way we got a good grade was by pulling the weight for what felt like everybody else. And that’s not collaboration.
CHUCK: Oh, I never had that happen.
CHUCK: Ever. Oh no. [Chuckles] I don’t know how that feels at all.
REUVEN: We were lab partners, Chuck.
ALEX: And so those scars are very real and I think the thing that they have in common with professional work-related collaborations too: when you get assigned to a team, and now you’ll have to do a task is it’s all about the task. If it’s all about the task at hand, when the task is over, whether it’s good or bad, what are you left with? Well, no guarantees really – versus making the goal of getting something out of this as individuals.
If you go into a collaboration with the goal of learning something, for instance, you’re more guaranteed to get something out of it than if you go in to make it just about the work that needs to be done. That’s one of the angles that I think you can take – is approaching somebody from perspective of ‘it’s not just that I need a skill that you have but I really admire the way you do something. Can you show me? Would you be willing to help teach me? And obviously, I want to bring you into this because it’s going to be mutually beneficial. But know that I’m in this because regardless of how this project goes, I really want to learn from you’. I think it’s a very healthy way to start a collaboration versus ‘I have a project and I can’t do it without you’ because at that point, there’s a whole lot of pressure and a whole lot of places that don’t feel very good.
I think another missing component of collaborations is an – and it’s very much in line with what I just said – is having an understanding of what everybody involved really wants to get out of this. And it’s a prerequisite conversation that’s tough to have because people are just afraid to be totally honest. But collaboration requires everyone be honest about what they want to get out of it because as soon as somebody’s actions and their words don’t match, everybody can tell. And they might not know why things are wrong but that’s when projects start feeling nasty and gnarly is because somebody said they were going to do something or they said they wanted to do something but it just don’t follow through.
And the last tip that I would give for collaboration – and this could be one-on-one collaboration, group collaboration – I learned many times in the hard way that when you set a goal or a deadline for somebody else, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and making it very easy for them to disappoint you. I like to set a bearing, a direction and instead ask them where they would like to go, have them actually set the goal and go from there. That way, it’s their goal that they’re choosing; it’s only themselves that they can let down. Again, all of that is built on a foundation of they’re willing to be honest about where they want to be, where they want to go.
JONATHAN: Could you give an example of the kinds of collaborations you’re talking about so it’s a little bit more rooted and specifics? It’s hard to tell if these sorts of collaborations are things where people have a side hustle that they’re looking for help with or if this is actually like, ‘I’ve got a paid client and I need some design help because I’m a developer. Let’s collaborate on this and you’ll get paid’.
ALEX: Sure. I’ve seen examples of all of those, so I can try and give a couple of them and maybe paint a clearer picture for you. One of my favorites is actually a fun story because the guy who’s the main character in the story – his name is Parker – started at our co-working space as an intern. I believe he would agree – qualify as almost no marketable skills. So he [chuckles] definitely was not the kind of person who is going to be approached because he was a great designer or copywriter or programmer. And that was part of why he wanted to be an intern at Indy Hall is because he wanted to figure out what he did want to pursue. And while he was there, he got watch a lot of people work, watch a lot of people do what they do; he tried a lot of things. And remember, he’s a beginner at all of the things that he’s trying. At the same time, he’s active in helping run things related to the community. One of the sub-communities that was bubbling up within Indy Hall was the IDGA.
The International Game Developers Association was hosting their monthly chapter meeting because a number of their members were member of our community, as well, and they were looking for a place to gather once a month. And so Parker started hanging out in those meetings and meeting some of the folks there, as well, and became good friends with a number of them. One of them whose name is Jake O’Bryan. Parker and Jake would just get to talking about mobile games and game ideas and Jake had a couple of successful – small successful but successful games in the App Store at the time and essentially, Jake said to Parker, ‘you’re – some of your game ideas are really good. Have you ever actually made a game before?’. Parker said no and Jake said, ‘what can you do? [Chuckles] what skills do you have?’ and Parker off-handedly said, ‘well, I can draw’, and Jake said, ‘well, do you do digitally illustration ever?’, and Parker said, ‘I think I can learn’, and set a goal for himself to learn enough digital illustration and turn his artistic skills into something valuable that they could work on together. And they didn’t have a specific game or even an idea that Parker brought to Jake or Jake brought to Parker. And actually started doing games for hire, so take this to a different stages for other people where there were some local companies wanting to create a game for marketing their company and things like that. They would hire Jake and Parker to come up with a game concept. Parker would design it, and Jake would implement it and they would be paid as consultants – they were freelancers.
And what they learned to that process was they really liked working together. They had a chemistry which I think is really, really important for a collaboration. If it feels forced, there’s a good chance that there are things that are going to get worse, not better. The chemistry is really valuable. And that chemistry, I think, was possible because they had gotten to know each other before they started working together. And as the freelance projects got bigger and bigger, their experience in working together got better and better and their skills improved, as well. Parker was practicing – he had a motivation to get better at what he was doing because it was to support his partner in this, as well, in addition to his own personal goals. And what was cool was slowly over time, they started making their hour of their – it starts with their evenings and they were able to creep in to 30 minutes to an hour of their afternoon and start working on a game of their own and launch a game in the App Store. The first game of their own was not super successful financially but it was the proof to them that working together was what they wanted to pursue. Again, this is the longest job interview ever but it’s the thing that when missing, so many collaborations fall apart – when things get tough.
Their second game, which is a game called Domino, which is the leading turn-by-turn dominoes game in the App Store – it’s like Words with Friend but for dominoes – ended up pulling Parker out of that internship. He was able to fund his lifestyle with the better freelancing and then Domino as it grew. And then they started hiring people. The entire business partnership in a relationship that evolved from the freelancing towards the product was all founded on that base of ‘we actually like working together’ and I think that’s so often missing from collaboration. And I know they will say – I’ve gotten to see the entire story all the way through – that that relationship that they had was the thing that not only helped them be successful when things are going well. But here’s the thing that people don’t think about when they’re collaborating is how are you going to support each other when things go terribly? If people are only in it for when the work is doing – when the work is going well, the collaboration is not going to go well. So when Domino has a down month or when their advertising revenue – a deal falls through and they have to figure out something new, ‘we have to bring on a new teammate’, when they have to – they just recently moved into their own office, they’ve continued to grow; each one of these difficult points has been more successful because they collaborate. They don’t simply work together for the sake of the company.
I always think a lot of collaborations is the equivalent of staying married for the kids in a way where it’s a collaboration. A true partnership in business, I think, is just as complicated, if not more complicated to undo than a marriage in a lot of ways. And so, I think approaching it with a same level of seriousness, both in the dating and courtship side of things, getting to know the people that you want to work with versus just adding a partner to your life is what can lead to greater successes.
There’s lots of other much smaller scale examples of people simply saying, ‘I need to get a thing done’. Right before I jumped on this call today, I got a message from one of our members, Christine. Christine is part of a duo – two women who run an independent publishing company that they started after they met each other at Indy Hall. They came in doing two very different things. Her partner, Amanda, was doing custom wedding and greeting cards and Christine was a freelance editor, copywriter, things like that. It was over lunch that they both learned that they spoke and practiced speaking Chinese. And so they created an event that, essentially, was just for the two of them, although it was open to other folks and some people came through; it got to be called Chinese Lunch where they would practice speaking Chinese to each other over [chuckles] lunch. In some of those conversations, they learned that they had all of these other interests and passions and things they really cared about, big ambitions and things that they locked away because they always thought, ‘I could never do that’. And when they realized that they both wanted to do that, and that – ‘being a publisher, I want to publish books. I want to publish books that publishers won’t take on because I think these books need to be published’. Being a boutique publisher is an extremely hard business to get into. Neither of them had done it before but they gave – through the relationship they built, they were able to give each other the confidence to say, ‘let’s take a go with this’. And they have since published two original works, I believe it is.
Their first book was a very successfully kick started reprint of the Legends of Sherlock Holmes – Sherlock Holmes stories post-Moriarty, beautifully illustrated by Amanda – because remember she was illustrating custom greeting cards – and edited and typeset by Christine. It’s all public domain. So basically, they created this beautifully typeset book and illustrated book for Sherlock fans everywhere. It was crazy, crazy successful. They’ve continued to publish, the business keeps growing. The thing that’s amazed me about Amanda and Christine is how they both collaborate with each other spills over into how they collaborate with other people outside of their core team. So you have a business partnership that’s formed.
But I’ll take this in a direction that maybe people don’t think about, and I want to bring up interns. When I think about interns as potential collaborators, really – they’re grunts, right? They’re going to help us do things that need doing; they’re going to have the privilege of learning along the way, and I’m going to have someone who is able to do junior work for me. In the way Amanda and Christine approached their interns was as collaborators. They really went out of their way to take these college students to understand what their passions were; what they dreamed about doing and say, ‘well, you use this as a platform to learn and try and we’re here to make it safe for you to screw it up and fail. That’s what you’re here to do because that’s how we got this far’. And also along the way, encourage those interns to make use of the co-working experience and say, ‘you’re here to work for us as interns but in those same moments where you’re going to go grab a cup of coffee, you should get to know the other people here and ask them questions and learn things’. So when the internship is over, those students not just learned what they learned from these two women who run this boutique publishing company – this Indy publishing company – but they also learned a new way of thinking about being a professional which prior to graduation is an extraordinarily valuable lesson. So bringing people more closely into your work orbit and inviting them into your process and being generous and sharing and teaching and asking people to share what they know, I think, are all components to this process that make things feel more collaborative versus simply working together to get the work done.
REUVEN: I feel like you’re using the term collaboration as a casual for people spending time together and working together and not only pointing together interesting products and work, but also growing personally. And I’m not saying that is wrong – so here, I’m going to pull a little bit of an academic rank which makes me, of course, completely cut-off from the real world since you’ve been actually running a collaborative institution but my PhD experience was all about collaboration. And so I feel like my adviser, who would never listen to the show anyway, would personally come and strangle me for more than normal reasons he would want to for not pointing this out.
In the academic world, there’s this distinction between collaboration and cooperation. Cooperation means that the two of us are working in parallel with one another. You can think of it as like maybe on a certain software project, the designer and the developer. And every so often, they’re checking with one another but for the most part they’re working independently. And that’s cooperation. Collaboration is more ‘we are intertwined; we are – I cannot move forward without you, and you cannot move forward without me’. I think it was the word “magic” before – I definitely think there’s “magic” in that collaboration because people are able to do – and I think it also expresses this beautifully – you’re able to do much more with other people than you could possibly do on your own, and you’re also learning a lot more than you could on your own. And yet, I feel like for all the fantastic stuff that’s involved in a collaboration, you seem – and I think you’re pointing out this amazing environment in which collaboration may well happen and is encouraged but it’s also saying, ‘however you guys want to work together, that’s fantastic’. And I don’t feel like it’s – at least from your description – you’re pointing anyone type – in the direction of one type of collaboration. You’re almost a matchmaking service. I got a mass of group dating, match making service rather than pointing people to one specific type of way of working together.
ALEX: That’s an interesting distinction. I think the way I like to look at it is I would define the Indy Hall experience – the co-working experience – as a community of practice. And I think the thing that is being practiced is the act and art of collaboration because to your point, there’s more than one facet to it. I think the intertwined-ness is what you come to achieve as the work progresses, as the relationship progresses. I think you’re totally right in terms of facilitating and experience where people are more likely to match themselves. We don’t do the actual matching for them. And that’s a very intentional choice. You’re a hundred percent on point there. I think part of that is because if I had gone out of my way to say that I know who is the best match for who, we would miss so many of the matches that have been made. The ways that people have added to each other in that deeply intertwined way and those serendipitous and often unexpected ways are the result of getting people comfortable with expressing what they’re working on, how they’re working on it, sharing early on often –starting with those touch points, the cooperation end of the spectrum – rather than look at them as opposites, I would really look at it as a continuum – and say we help people start where they’re comfortable and move them along. Or perhaps, help them move each other along.
The effect of the experience that is probably the most interesting to me is how much of that comes from other peers. The amount of hands-on guidance that leads to people actually coming together to work on a project, to create a business, to succeed together does not come by my hand or the hands of my team as matchmakers, as you described. Honestly, I think it’s more in the realm of – and this is where the community of practice thing comes back in. It’s more about knowledge management. It’s how do you present people with the right opportunity with the right person and the right context at the right time so that they will choose it for themselves because – and maybe the fact that I haven’t brought up choice up until this point is a factor of it; back to those scars from collaboration – forced collaborations where the collaboration is imposed on you, generally don’t feel as good and they’re more limited and less successful versus having an opportunity to choose a collaboration are far more likely to be lasting.
REUVEN: Yeah. [Inaudible]I was interviewing people for [inaudible] and I was like, ‘what sort of collaboration were they doing and [inaudible] software modeling environment so that as a [inaudible] to my creating an online collaboration system for them to actually do it or to do it more. And so I asked them ‘do you collaborate?’, and many of them would say no, and I say ‘why not?’ and they’d say, ‘well, we’re really nervous’. Some of them were worried about IP sorts of things but some of them were nervous about how just – they basically were nervous about being embarrassed but if they stick their necks out, then people are going to make fun of them, or people are going to think less of them when everyone’s got alphas and betas, and even worse, [crosstalk] out there. And it sounds like I think you’re on to something in there where you’re saying, ‘let’s try to get people working together on something to build up that trust so that they’ll get over the embarrassment and so that then they’re more likely to have the deeper collaboration that would otherwise not happen.’
ALEX: Show me an effective collaboration that does not require someone to be vulnerable to somebody else. They don’t exist. So, creating that environment – I think a big part of this is also why the community of practice, why this is being in a network environment is so valuable is when you get started, you’re somewhere on that spectrum that we were talking about and how comfortable with this, how experienced with this, how willing to be vulnerable and stick your neck out like you said you would be. And if you’ve never done it before and if all you’ve ever seen is failures or challenges and struggles in collaboration, it’s going to take even more work for you to go and be willing to stick your neck out.
So being able to have a generational element to the network of people being able to observe other people putting their neck out, asking for help, showing off that alpha or beta, or worse, even putting out a half-baked idea before I’ve even done anything with it, my favorite counter-intuitive lessons for building that culture is being willing to share a half-baked idea before you thought it all the way through. No actual product; no actual alpha or beta yet; it’s just a – I got this inkling.
One of my favorite books is from an author named Steven Johnson and it’s called Where Good Ideas Come From. In the book, he talks about this thing that he frames – the name he gives it is a slow hunch. And it’s essentially a half-baked idea. And it takes through periods of time of renaissance and creates everything throughout history. There have been places where people with half-baked ideas slow hunches, as he called them, would gather. These are salons in Paris and cafes in London and writers’ workshops in ancient Greek times and things like these where people would show up with a half-baked idea and get used to the idea of sticking their neck out. And when two half-baked ideas complement one another and add up, not to a 2 plus 2 equals 4 but a 2 plus 2 equals 5, 2 plus 2 equals 8 or 10, that’s what we believed is that flash-in-the-pan moment of genius.
But that can’t happen unless there’s two half-baked ideas from two people willing to be vulnerable and sharing something incomplete or willing to put them out into the room. That takes, not just guts. But I think it also takes a willingness to see somebody else do it, succeed, and go, ‘you know what, if they did it, I can do it’. And that’s I think one of the greatest powers of being in a community of people who have that perpetual motion is the more successes that are visible, the more likely new successes are to become visible. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in a very positive and virtuous way.
CHUCK: My ideal is that I’ve thought for a while about starting a co-working space and the reason I didn’t was more or less what you talked about at the beginning of the show where you basically said, ‘what’s the point if it’s just an office to go to?’. And that was my thing was I’m pretty comfortable at home and if it’s just somewhere else for me to go work, then I’ll just go to the local café or something. So, how do you create that place where people can go and get that kind of collaboration?
ALEX: For your initial thought of just going to the café is you’re already 90% of the way there. The thing that we did and many people have done, like following our lead, was doing that on purpose with other people. Instead of just going to the café by yourself to say ahead of time, ‘hey, on Friday, from this time to this time, I’m going to go work in this café or this panera bread or this’ – basically anywhere that has Wi-Fi and will let you spend the day without it being awkward and terrible, go there and see who shows up. And don’t just do it one time. Remember what I said about the night owls, it would take a long time to build up momentum. We did it for 7 months before we were at a point where we even thought that having a place to do this every day would be worth it. That’s all a pretty stark contrast to what often you see people do. And then what you don’t see is how much they struggle – where they set up an office and then later go out and figure out, ‘oh I have to find the people that are going to hang out in this place with me’. And even if you go out and you ask people beforehand, would you come to a co-working space?’ – ‘yeah, that sounds great’, and then as soon as you open the doors and have a place [inaudible] it, you’ve got crickets.
So, I think doing a low to no cost, regular, casual co-working event where you got a place to go – and this can also be like in someone’s living room or a public library; Wi-Fi is in so many places that where you do it matters a whole lot less than doing it on some regular interval and letting people know that they come do it with you. You can co-work anywhere. You don’t need a co-working space to do it. And we did it for the better part of 9 months before we had a co-working space. Are there advantages to having a dedicated co-working space? Of course. But I can say with confidence that you can get a vast majority of the quality experience even with an imperfect work setting when it comes to the ‘I just need a day where I’m out of the house and I’ve got some other people around me’. It can still be a heads down work day; you can still have those moments of breaks where you get to know people. And the best thing about it, honestly, for me, in that process going through it was in doing it on a – once a week basis, people come out of the woodwork and – so long as people are coming and are having a good time, word will slowly start to travel. And I met people that were quite literally – not literally, literally – in my own backyard but within blocks of where I live who did things in similar, related and different industries – but we all work from home – that I never would’ve met. There’s no networking event that could bring us together. So, for all the events there are for entrepreneurs and for freelancers and for particular techs – technology or programming language or whatever it is, I’ve never seen anything that’s specifically for people who work at home to not work at home for an afternoon except for this. So that’s where I would generally suggest: regardless of where you are in the world, rather than start a co-working space, start that. And be willing to do it for 3 months, 4 months, 6 months. And I think at the end of 6 months, take an inventory of who’s around. Is this actually better than being at home? It might not be, in which case, a co-working space definitely wouldn’t be. And maybe the solution is something different; maybe it’s something virtual like a Slack chat or a weekly Google hangout or something like that. Co-working spaces are just one way to get that fixed; a very good one but also not the best for everyone.
JONATHAN: I’m glad you said that because it strikes me that this is definitely not for everyone. Are there traits that the listener could look for in themselves to know whether or not they would be a good fit for a co-working space? Because I don’t think it’s obvious. I don’t think, speaking for myself – I go to Starbucks all the time. What you’re describing does not sound attractive to me personally but I do go to Starbucks all the time. So for people who end up being really, really in love with Indy Hall, is there anything in common that people could look for to see if they should maybe push themselves out of their comfort zone and give one of these a try, or maybe even start one?
ALEX: Yeah. That’s one of my favorite questions – I’m so glad you asked it. If there’s one theme across the people who, whether they thought they were going to get a lot out of it at the beginning or they did not or they’re skeptical, is that they were curious. And I think if you’re a curious person, if you find yourself a curious person and what you’re curious about – maybe I should explore to you’re curious about other people. If you have any degree of curiosity about what other people do, how they work, what you could learn from how they work. If you have any willingness to share what you do, then this could be a really valuable experience.
The thing that I think a lot of people struggle with the most is, ‘how am I supposed to get any work done? If this is all about interacting with people, how is this possibly going to make me more productive?’. And the thing that I think in – an unexpected skill that you can learn is an element of self-management. One of the two things that we hear most often on people coming in to Indy Hall is, ‘wow, it’s quieter in here than I expected it to be’. Because most of the time, the only thing you hear is a little bit of light music, maybe just a little bit of keyboard typing, walking around. It’s not noisy, considering there are literally a hundred and twenty some other people sitting around and doing things. The other thing that people often say is – they’ll say something like, ‘I wasn’t sure how this is going to fit in to my day but I got more work done today than I have in the last however long’. And I think the reason for both of those things are the majority of the time, it’s quiet heads down work. When you get up and you, again, you walk around to stretch your legs, you grab a glass of water or cup of coffee or go out and walk around the block, whatever it might be, you take those moments of break to potentially interact with somebody else. And they can literally be that; they can be moments.
The other side of it though is no one’s going to be upset when you say, ‘I have to go back to work’. You’re not blowing anybody off. And in fact, if somebody were to come over to you and say, ‘hey, I have a question for you’, it’s totally okay and normal for you to say, ‘I can’t talk right now. I have work to do’. There’s a few different ways that that can be signaled even beforehand. There’s a headphone rule that’s pretty popular. Two headphone in is ‘don’t bother me’; one headphone in, that’s ‘you can say something, but keep it brief’ and headphones off is like ‘I’m casually working. It’s not a big deal if you come over and ask me a question or have something to say’. So I think where people struggle the most is being willing to say no because that feels like you’re being rude perhaps. But the thing to remember is everyone is there for the same reason as you, which is also to get some work done. This goes back at a relationship: trust, communication. If you’re not willing to talk through, have a conversation – and it doesn’t need to be a conversation – if you’re not willing to say, ‘I can’t talk right now’, then maybe then it’s not going to work for you.
But there’s so many other values you can get out of it and it’s so easy to walk in and really ride the wave of everyone else’s energy for the day. It’s probably the biggest thing that the people get out of it, I think, is it requires no direct interaction. It’s more like a room full of people who’ve got good stuff going on. And if anything, you feel a little guilty if you don’t. And so got to find something to do, something to be productive – actually be productive – and when you do take a break, you take it with a couple other people that spent the last few hours being super productive and you celebrate that together. I think it’s – it requires a degree of self-management that a lot of people aren’t super comfortable with. But I’ll tell you this: that kind of self-management is insanely valuable as an independent freelancer, entrepreneur anyway. If the world is endlessly distracting to you, it is hard to be productive in any environment. You need to close yourself off. I think it could be really valuable training wheels to learn how to manage yourself in a way that is effective where small interruptions don’t throw you and ruin your entire day. You need to want that, though. I can’t force it on you.
And back to your point: there’s plenty of people that come in and try it and it’s not for them, and that’s okay too. Or think about it this way: sometimes, it’s task-oriented; what kind of work you’re doing, the setting needs to reflect. If you are doing days of heads down focus, ‘do not interrupt me or else you will ruin my day work’, a co-working space is probably not the best place for it. But if you’re doing more creative brainstorming stuff where you need some stimulation to be inspired and think a little bit differently than you usually do, maybe those are the days where you go in. Another way I like to frame it, which is the complete contrast of that is: think about your admin days. The one or two days out of the month where you’re doing paperwork and invoicing and stuff that’s just sucks. If you could be in a room full of people who are doing awesome work, inspiring work and when you take a break from your freelancing invoicing, you had someone to talk to, even it was just to simply say, ‘ugh, invoices’, or [chuckles] someone who gets it, that can turn your crappiest day out of the month into a really awesome day to look forward to; that’s going to be my co-working day instead of my lousy, boring admin days. Think about your work in units of what you’re doing and how you do it best and say, ‘are there places where it’s a little bit outside of the box and inspiration’s going to help me more?’. Maybe those are the days that you choose to do your co-working versus making it a full time thing.
JONATHAN: That makes sense. I could imagine a heavy dev day, I would choke someone if they interrupted me. But if I was doing invoices, that’s completely different.
ALEX: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I think being willing to – and this is something that as the world is moving away from full time employment and towards freelancing and contracting and things like that, no one’s taught us these self-management skills. Where do you go to learn how to choose where you’re going to work based on the kind of work you’re doing that day?
JONATHAN: Or even, where do you learn how to work from home? I get that a lot from people. I think all of us have experienced working from home. The ones that work full time jobs at an employer and have to commute in, they – you often hear the ‘I could never do that. I would just be so distracted by the laundry, a little bit of whatever’. And that is an interesting thing to me is that lack of – how do you learn that? How do you find out if you –? You’re not going to quit your job to find out if you can work from home. It would be interesting to – it just feels like a deficiency that there’s no way to try that out and maybe something like Indy Hall’s – working from Indy Hall one day a week, even while you’re at a full time job, if you can get away from that, would give you some indication – I don’t know – I never thought of it before.
REUVEN: I worked on site with a lot of companies doing training. And when I have a lunch with people, the two questions I’m asked most often are, number one: how is our cafeteria versus the others? And the second one is: what is it like to be self-employed?
To them, it’s just a mystery as to have someone could not go to the same building every day, work with the same people every day and work on the same project that a boss has given to you for a long time. It’s seems bizarre to them. On contrast, I said to my kids at some point, probably about 2-3 years ago, ‘you know, most grownups go to the same office every day and work with the same people every day in the same city every day’. There were like, ‘no. Really?’ [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Yeah. That’s my kids, too.
REUVEN: Right. It’s all a matter of what you’re used to – what you see around you as [crosstalk] normal.
ALEX: I think what’s interesting – my girlfriend is a chef and works in an unusual chef job and that she does not work restaurant hours; she works through a corporate contract company. But working in a kitchen, you have to go to the kitchen to do the work that you do. She’s a chef manager, so she runs a team; she has all these business experience, as well. She knows a lot about the business, the management and the culinary side of things. And in the last 2 years, she’s started doing her own business in what’s become her off-season she now works for universities. So the spring summer months, she does a farmers market and things like that; creating her own food product. She makes [inaudible] pork and chicken and home-made sausages and sells those.
The discipline of getting up in the morning and choosing what you work on that day – even though she was a manager, she was not – she did get stuff that – she got like a – you have to hit certain marks and things like that. She was mostly the one giving the instruction versus receiving it, so she knows how to give instructions to other people. Giving instruction to yourself is a total different ball of wax. We’d had lots of conversations about it and how do you learn it? Again, I think it’s in that realm of tacit knowledge. It’s like riding a bicycle. You can’t read a book about riding a bicycle and then being able to jump on a bike and ride it. You need to do it surrounded by somebody or rather with the assistance of somebody who you trust, who you’ve seen do it, so clearly they know how to do it, and you believe that they’re not going to let you fall and break your neck, metaphorically speaking perhaps.
So, yet another vote in my mind for these co-working communities because even if you never worked directly with somebody, if you’re surrounded by people who you know have done what you’re trying to do and they somehow succeeded without dying, then your odds are pretty good. And if you go one step further [chuckles] and you can turn to them and say, ‘I’m stuck for – I’m about to break my neck’ or ‘oops, I broke my neck’, and they can say, ‘it’s ok. I’ve done that, too. You’re not the first, you won’t be the last. Here’s how to get out of this situation’.
JONATHAN: To me, that’s the most important thing you said of the entire conversation. That’s like a critical point. And you actually brought it up earlier, but it didn’t click with me, which is that working around other people that do have a lifestyle like you – they might not be doing the same thing but have a lifestyle like you – gives you confidence.
ALEX: Big time.
JONATHAN: That is critical.
ALEX: I’ve seen people join Indy Hall on our lower cost memberships – we have a community membership that is only virtual. We have our Slack chat – our email discussion list and events; so basically, a purely social membership with access to the clubhouse without coming in and work at the day. A lot of them join because they want to do something like what they have seen people who work at Indy Hall do. They want to be exposed to it. They want to, basically, have a point of reference to prove to themselves that they can work up the guts to quit the job. That those people are perfectly normal, their days can be difficult too; basically, get an honest look in the day of a life of. When you see that – I think you said the word is confidence. Spot on. It’s terrifying to leave something that you’ve known how to do and go do something new. But when you’ve got someone, even if they don’t say it directly to you, saying ‘you can do this because I did this’, the willingness to take that leap – I’ve seen so many people take the leap, succeed, and afterwards, I said, ‘what made the difference?’ and they said ‘seeing other people do it and not hurt themselves quite literally, and succeed. If they can do it, I can do it’. It’s like the best version of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ I could possibly imagine.
JONATHAN: Yeah. Generation of people working in their basements really makes that hard. And I think that’s a really – that’s the most compelling argument I can think of. That’s a great one.
ALEX: And think about the fact that what exposure do we have to freelancers and entrepreneurs online; for the most part, it’s how you’re doing. ‘I’m crushing it. I’m doing great. I scored a new client. I’m making more money’. I was like, people don’t see the tough stuff. And so they either assume it’s all sunshine and lollipops, or they refuse to believe that it’s all sunshine and lollipops, and therefore all those people out there are liars. So having more – I think, honest exposure to the difficulties when people back [inaudible] to sticking your neck out there, for someone to say, ‘I’m stuck on something and need help’, there’s so many layers to that statement. I think it’s really powerful. It’s the willingness to admit that you don’t know something. It’s the willingness to ask even if you don’t know if someone has the answer, and the willingness to listen when someone gives you advice. Those are all really hard things that a lot of people do not have a lot of experience with. And having an environment that was to be available is really powerful.
CHUCK: I would love to get more information about how to set something like this up from you; the logistics, how big the co-working space is, where to get cheap office equipment, stuff like that. If you decide that you’re going to go and build a place like this.
ALEX: Yeah. Tactical stuff related to getting your actual – your own [crosstalk]
CHUCK: In about 3 minutes, so we can do picks.
ALEX: Ok. Perfect. Can do. Where we start, I would talk about until you’ve got a critical mass of people who are already gathering on a regular basis, then – if you do not have this, none of this stuff that I’m about to say applies. Until you’ve got a core of 8-10 people that are committed to the cause and not just say, ‘yeah, co-working is a nice idea’, but the people who are literally calling you, sending you messages in Slack and saying, ‘when is this going to be available?’. Until that point, none of this stuff applies. But once you do have that point, you’ve got a really exciting process ahead.
And think about it less like opening an office and more like – I love the reference of community barn raising– and I’m in Pennsylvania, so I’m in Lancaster. You’re not opening an office for a bunch of people; you’re all going to come together and raise that office together and for each other and for the people who are going to come, so on and so forth.
So, think about the entire process itself as an exercise in collaboration and deciding where it’s going to be. That’s a common first tumbling block is ‘I can’t find the perfect location’. Well, first of all, there is no perfect location. The [chuckles] place that you think is a perfect location is likely to be a mirage. The most important facet of picking a place is, ‘are people willing to go there?’, which can be challenging especially in places where people are used to driving. So cities and parts of the world where it’s more of a driving culture versus public transportation culture can make that challenging. One typical give might be to choose a place that is equally inconvenient to most people versus a place that is convenient to a few. That’s counter-intuitive but if somebody feels like, ‘well, everyone’s going to drive about the same distance. It’s worth it to them, it might be worth it to me’, is a totally different message than, ‘well, you all work there, but you live 5 minutes away. I live 20 minutes away, so screw you guys’; that thing, in terms of making a choice.
The other thing is focus on a landlord who is just as interested in this thing. Maybe not just as interested but is supportive of the idea. Having a great landlord is going to help through the tough parts, as well. Don’t treat it like a transaction; treat it like a relationship like everything else I’ve been saying.
In terms of actually getting it off the ground: financing. Lots of different ways you can go. Another reason that have that core membership up front is because you can – without even needing to go to a formal crowd of funding route, although you can, what we did – and this was in pre-crowd funding days – I’m going to be a crowd-funding hipster for a moment – I just went to the people that had said, ‘we want this; we want to be a part of this’, and said ‘cool. I would need you to commit to actually joining. If you can pre-pay your membership for a few months, that would help even more’. It would send a signal of, ‘I’m willing to be in it for at least this long’. And so we had people pre-paying memberships 3-6 months in advance, give us capital up front. Obviously, that creates a potential cash flow challenge, so when the doors open, you need to keep that momentum up. But for us, we were able to get about half of the upfront costs covered by membership pre-payment and I came out with the other half. Actually, I have a blog post that I can give you guys a link to that breaks down all of those costs: where the money came from, what it was spent on, both of the initial opening of our original space, which was only 1,800 square feet – room for 15, 18 desks, maybe a couple more if you’re willing to get cramped.
I would advise highly against starting large. I would start small with the shortest term lease that you can get, with a landlord that wants to work with you and has opportunities to grow. So we outgrow 1,800 square foot space and moved into 5,000 square feet [inaudible] couple of years later and at this point, we have just shy of 10,000 square feet. But if we’d started with a 10,000 square feet, we never would’ve been able to stay in business versus – what we’re able to do is breakeven inside of 2 months. And at that point, we were able to make money, put away money so that as new costs are incurred as the community wants to do new things, we can say yes because their money is available.
The last thing I’ll say in terms of buying things is buy what you actually need which is surprisingly less than you think. People will say they need all kinds of things. Bare bones co-working, just share power internet – hopefully a roof over [chuckles] your head. But all of the extras, even printers, coffee machines – you can print at the printer at a coffee shop nearby, you can get coffee at a coffee shop – lots of things that you think you need up front that you can get later as you built critical mass but do not spend money until you absolutely need it.
Furniture-wise, you can’t go wrong with Ikea. Hopefully, you’ve got an Ikea near you. If you don’t, do a little bit of searching online. There’s some places that will help you do bulk Ikea ordering and then you’re paying free which obviously add some costs. But I’ve got a bunch of blog posts that I can give you guys in terms of links to look at some of the startup, lessons, and cost breakdowns, and basically, how to dodge lots of bullets.
CHUCK: Alright. There’s some great stuff there and I’m going to have to go back through it and maybe build just a little guide or idea of how I’m going to do it, if I do it. Sure.
But let’s go and do picks. Eric, do you have some picks?
ERIC: Yeah. I got a quick one. It’s a Tim Ferris podcast episode called Lazy: A Manifesto. I think it’s a snippet from an audio book. It’s 10 or 15 minutes long; pretty interesting; some good stuff in there. That’s it.
CHUCK: Alright. Jonathan, do you have some picks for us?
JONATHAN: Yes, I do have a pick. It is a blog post from Kai Davis who wrote about how he hired his first assistant. This is a real life – in person, and not just a virtual assistant. But it is so amazingly easy and it’s so clever and 95% automated that if you’re thinking about hiring an assistant or a virtual assistant, you should check out Kai Davis’s post on How to Hire a Part-Time Employee. It is pure gold.
CHUCK: Alright. Reuven, what are your picks?
REUVEN: Last year, I recommended a podcast from [inaudible] called Working where they interviewed people about their day-to-day jobs and how they go about them. This year, it’s back with a second season and it is even more brilliant. Really, it’s [inaudible] to hear that a variety of people and how they work. It’s definitely worth listening to.
Another podcast which probably many of you have heard of is Startup. And this year, they’re following this startup called Dating Ring. And I have to say, it is also better than the first season, and kind of horrifying. I say horrifying because the latest episode is all about how ridiculously horrifyingly [chuckles] sexist the whole Silicon Valley fund-raining ecosystem is. I would definitely advise people to listen to it, even if you’re not going to listen to the rest of the series. It’s quite an eye opener. And there’s a similar blog post from one of the Startup’s founders describing in greater detail what she’s gone through in trying to raise funds. Anyways, those are my picks for this week.
CHUCK: Alright. I’ve got a few podcasts that I want to pick. First one is called CodeNewbie. If you’re a coder and you’re interested in discussions with general programmers. This one’s done by [inaudible] who is on Ruby Rogues, and they are awesome. Another one is one that Reuven’s picked on the show before: Ask Me Another. It’s fun to listen to. It’s just word games and stuff like that.
And then, I want to remind everybody to go signup for RubyRemoteConf. That’s RubyRemoteConf.com if you’re interested in that.
Alex, do you have some picks for us?
ALEX: I do. I have a couple. Since you guys are rattling off podcasts, I’ve been loving Reply All which was the second podcast from the same crew that did Startup. It’s all this quirky, weird internet culture stories and the episodes have been overwhelmingly fascinating. And some of them are nostalgic because there are things – I think a lot of us grew up with online.
The other thing that I want to share is a book. For anyone who’s interested in getting through to people who maybe are hard to get through to, whether they’re clients, potential collaborators, business partners, significant others, children, parents, grandparents – everyone has people in our lives that it’s tough to – it feels like you’re talking to a brick wall. The book is called Just Listen by an author named Mark Goulston. He’s a clinical psychologist; he runs a family practice helping spouses communicate better and parents speak with their kids, but the reason he’s famous enough to write a book is because he’s also the lead hostage negotiation trainer for the FBI, and uses the exact same techniques to train hostage negotiators as he does to get parents to talk to their kids and husbands talk to their wives and vice versa. It’s one of the most practical books on persuasion, and quite frankly, takes it from the opposite perspective of listening, and breaks it down as an awesome mix of neuroscience and storytelling, and every chapter is super actionable and has an exercise that you can try on yourself. So instead of trying to go all pseudo-psychology newbie on your husband or wife or partner, which sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it, you’re going to use this kinds of things on yourself to learn how to actually get through to your own internal conflict before you try dealing with other people. Excellent book; it’s great for sales; it’s great for relationships; it’s great for collaboration; it rocks.
CHUCK: Awesome. Well, thanks very much for coming Alex.
ALEX: My pleasure.
CHUCK: If you want to follow you or get a hold of you, what are the best ways to do that?
ALEX: You can follow me on Twitter @alexhillman. You can also check out my website which is dangerouslyawesome.com. Lots of essays, mix of practical stuff and storytelling related to co-working and collaboration, community-building, and the like. Those are probably the best two places. And oh, come and check out my podcast, as well. It’s the Coworking Weekly Show where we’re not just talking about co-working spaces but the interactions that people have in them and what it takes to actually make that stuff possible, so come on over and check that out.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, thank you for coming. We’ll catch everyone next week.
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