I wrote a version of this today and thought it worth sharing.
We are building companies bound together by a common thread of disruption, a relentless focus on execution and an equally relentless focus on company culture.
I wrote a version of this today and thought it worth sharing.
We are building companies bound together by a common thread of disruption, a relentless focus on execution and an equally relentless focus on company culture.
A few months ago I read Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. This week I shared it with my team to read and discuss over the coming weeks.
It’s the most influential book I’ve read in a while. Though I’m reading Happiness Hypothesis right at Tony’s suggestion. He calls it the most impactful book he’s read (while noting that he knows impactful is not a word). So far, it’s trending to be the same for me.
Yvon cites a quote François-René de Chateaubriand that I think worth sharing.
A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.
He also makes me feel better by saying, in his own words:
If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.”
You should find time to read it.
We’ve been talking about building a coworking space in downtown Las Vegas for a long time. Too long.
Coworking is a state of mind. It sometimes takes the form of a defined space, sometimes a coffee shop, sometimes a pizza joint. The concept we’re working on at Downtown Project, Zappos and (now) Work In Progress is coworking as a city. How can you create a network of spaces and places that allow people to connect with others and discover new ideas across a wide range of spaces? That’s the challenge and we work tirelessly to try to solve it.
But can a space be more than a coworking space? Is the concept solely about having desks or is it about the community that surrounds you or the experiences you have in and around the space and community? When we first envisioned the space we planned at 302 E Carson, we focused on desks. Then as we spent more time learning from experiences like TED and Summit Series, people like Alex Hillman and companies like General Assembly, we realized that space should be more than desks.
About a year and a half ago I joined Tony and an amazing team of people to focus on bringing Zappos to downtown Las Vegas. At the time our work was focused on building a campus and helping to foster an environment where communities of passion outside of our group do amazing things. And boy did these communities ever do amazing things (see vegastech.com, Build a Greener Block, Vegas Vernacular or The Reset Project). Since we started on this journey we’ve grown (mentally and by sheer numbers) and evolved our thinking on a variety of things. Fast forward and today we have Downtown Project, VegasTechFund and more plus dozens of community groups, small businesses and interesting projects doing amazing work in downtown Las Vegas.
What was once an idea focused on a corporate campus has evolved to a much larger area with a much larger team. And that’s the magic of working with Tony, his willingness to change course if he thinks we could do something better but in a different way. So it’s no surprise that the ideas we had in early 2011 are completely different than the ones we’re working on today.
The vision we share with the community is to help create a city of learning, innovation and entrepreneurship…and that vision hasn’t changed. How we actually do our work certainly has evolved as it will many more times I’m sure. That’s one of the best aspects of a startup mentality and we live and breathe it.
302 E Carson
We have always hoped the story of downtown Las Vegas will be about entrepreneurs building amazing things. To that end we try to structure everything we do as an investment rather than a group of companies Downtown Project owns and manages. The logic is simple, really. Who will operate a better sushi restaurant? Us or someone who is passionate about sushi? But there are some things we know we need to do quickly and that may not have a clear business model, so we sometimes choose to do those ourselves just to get them going. A year ago coworking was one of the things we were unsure of, or at least hadn’t thought through, so we thought it just made sense to build it ourselves and see what happened.
As our thinking evolved we started to think of Downtown Project as a platform. To borrow from Apple, Downtown Project is iOS while restaurants, events, startups and coworking spaces are the apps, ideally built by others where a business model is clear. We’ve always thought that way but until early this summer had never articulated that idea, even to ourselves. Coincidentally it was about the same time we were preparing to pull the trigger on construction on the 302 E Carson space that we realized we needed to take a different course.
The 302 E Carson project would have been, over five years, at least a $6 million investment. We know, at our core, that there is and will continue to be a huge need for spaces to work, connect and share in downtown Las Vegas. But we realized that we needed to start a bit smaller to test the waters and get to know the business before we took on that level of an investment. You could also make a case that three 8,000 sq foot spaces, for example, are better than one gigantic one, each with its own culture and feel–the variety is refreshing. We also realized that it was better for Downtown Project to invest in the space rather than own and operate it.
So at midnight on an August Monday we made the decision to halt construction work at 302 E Carson and find a smaller space. Immediately we started looking at other spaces and reformulating the business plan. In September we found an 8,200 square foot building a 317 S 6th Street that rocks. So I, along with two co-founders, built a business plan and secured an investment from Downtown Project to build Work In Progress 6th Street.
Enter Work In Progress.
We’re launching Work In Progress as a collection of spaces, tools and experiences that help creative people grow and connect with each other. We’re building our first space at 317 S 6th Street, we’re building a wifi network to cover all of downtown Las Vegas for our members’ use and we’re managing the development and behind-the-scenes operations for the awesome synshop and photography community space opening soon on 4th Street. We’re also in advanced discussions with amazing partners to bring learning opportunities to our spaces and the larger community. And we’re far from done.
We’re opening the 6th Street Workspace with a unique and approachable membership model. Global community membership includes access to the 6th Street Workspace communal desks, meeting rooms and tools during business hours (plus wifi all over downtown) for under $100/month. As our member community grows we’ll open more spaces and that low cost will get you access to all of them. At each space you can opt-up to another level of membership if you like. At the 6th Street Workspace dedicated workspaces will start at an additional $250/month and 24/7 access without a desk will start at an additional $100 (get it, start with Community Membership and opt up). We’ll have drop-in rates but you’ll probably just want to become a member.
When we open you’ll find an amazing array of classes and events to help you grow, learn and explore new ideas. You’ll find tools and experiences to help you connect with others. We hope that Work In Progress can be a critical part of the vision of downtown as a place that makes you smarter.
Work In Progress is a separate company founded by Patrick, Josh and me. Downtown Project is our primary investor and the money’s in the bank. As of last week the lease is signed and our general contractor is in the space. It’s in good shape and doesn’t need much work but we’re making a few changes such as ripping out a bunch of walls, getting rid of turquoise carpet and bumping up the infrastructure to support a dense workspace. Some of you might say let’s just move in now and I get that mentality. But the work we’re doing is the right thing to do for the long-term so we’re going stay our course. Believe me, I want the space to be open too, so we’re moving quickly.
A little less than a year ago I shared the idea of 302 E Carson with the tech community. We had no reservations at the time about proceeding. But our thinking changed along the way and we learned a lot so we made a change. I know it’s been frustrating to wait. If anything I’m mostly sorry for sharing things that had a risk of not moving forward. I apologize for the frustration.
But what I know to be true is that where we are today as a company and a community is much better than where we were a year ago. This time of learning has given us the opportunity to refine and improve our plans and we’re confident the final product will be many times better.
We’re excited to open Work In Progress 6th Street with you, our community and members. And we’re even more excited to build a company that can help you all follow your passions and build amazing things at many more spaces to come.
You can follow progress at workinprogress.lv. Over the coming weeks we’ll be posting more information on how to join, upcoming events and progress on development of the 6th Street Workspace. We’re also hiring a few rock star people so keep an eye out for position details.
On a personal note, I’m involved with a number of companies including Zappos, Downtown Project, VegasTechFund and (now) Work In Progress. The common theme between the work I get to do at all of them is that I get to help build awesome things with awesome people, namely the downtown community. Let’s keep building cool stuff together!
There’s so much good we can do together. Join us.
We do what we do, we enjoy the trappings of the life we create. We do this because we know when to work, we know when to play. We don’t see these things as distinctly different. We aren’t ashamed of integrating the two, we just do it because we love what we do no matter the venue. The moment we don’t love it is the moment we stop doing it, personal or professional. We climb a rock and write an epic email at the base of a crag. We swing a golf club and skype at the 19th hole.
This is who we are. This is what we do. And we love it.
I read a lot. Some of it could be considered self-help, I call it personal development. Things like Drucker and books about Zen along with blogs like The Art of Non-Conformity. Like the guy I work for, I’m obsessed with the behavioral elements of life that lead to happiness. I’m less interested in prescriptions and more interested in examples. It’s scientific after all and I’ve been studying it for years.
But last year I made a pact with myself last year to go to Coachella in 2012 then did nothing to live it out when the time came. I bailed on a chance to learn to surf in Costa Rica earlier this year, partially because I was terrified to fail. That stuff is crap.
Over the last few months I’ve been changing. I lost a ton of weight and tried some things that freaked me out. I over analyzed every experience and was generally a pain to be around…but I grew. I was constantly trying to apply logic and explanation to a very human desire, do s**t that makes you happy. I think I’ve accomplished a lot in that time, but there’s more to be done and a much easier way to do it (minus all the overthinking).
I love seven day challenges. So this week I’m trying something new…a Jedi mind trick. I’m throwing out all of the systems and over thinking. I don’t really know how else to describe what I’m doing other than to say Make Every Day Epic.
Epic is awesome. Epic is playing golf, rock climbing, doing some work and sharing a home cooked meal with friends…all in one day (Sunday). Epic is going for it. This week will be epic.
Also, I’m giving a talk at Inspire! on Tuesday, April 16th at 7pm in Downtown Las Vegas, probably about this idea. Come!
I’ve been thinking a lot about communication recently. One of my biggest personal challenges is managing the various communication sources in my life. Email, text, phone, twitter, facebook, etc.. They are all inboxes that need to be managed and generally stress me out. But as my world has grown more complicated I’ve realized that there’s a great power to understanding the differences between them and developing a respect for how others use what they use.
A few thoughts.
Email is our best worst enemy. It’s not necessarily designed to do what we do with it today but it’s a very useful asynchronous communication tool. No matter what we’re doing right now, email queues and we can take the time to properly read and respond to everything when our minds are ready. By waiting to respond we’re demonstrating to our recipients that we care enough about the conversation to put some real thought into it. Of course that all breaks apart when we wait too long to respond. What email is *not* good for is time-sensitive, “I’m at the movies where are you” messages. For that we have…
SMS is for urgent communication. Something like, “I’m here where are you” or “we’re leaving in a few minutes.” It’s not made for long dissertations or basically anything over 140 characters. That’s what email is for. We aren’t trained nor do our tech tools facilitate handling a queue of text messages. So when you send a long text to someone that they can’t deal with immediately or something that requires a ton of thought, they’re very likely to forget you sent it if they are not, at that moment, in a position to deal with it. So by attempting to bypass a potentially long email queue, you can actually do worse for yourself by texting.
Phone. Calling someone unscheduled is presumptuous. The average person spends a total of 30 minutes/day in the bathroom (btw, that’s a huge number). That means from 8am to 8pm you have a 4% chance of calling someone while they are in the bathroom. Add in the time people are meetings or when they are working and can’t easily breakaway to answer a phone and you can see that calling is a huge gamble. When you call someone unscheduled you’re basically telling them whatever they are doing is less important than what you want. If you saw the same person in a deep conversation at a coffee shop would you walk up and prod them until the respond?
Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn. These methods are inherently tied to email but not always. Twitter is like SMS. When you receive a direct message or a reply it queues but not in the way email does. Facebook inconsistently emails messages and LinkedIn can be such a spammer that it’s hard to differentiate between messages and product announcements. Generally I like to avoid communicating personal messages on any of these platforms because I simply don’t know how the person I’m communicating with uses them.
How I’m dealing with it.
I’ve reached a point where during business hours I can receive 70 emails an hour (560/day). I don’t work regular business hours but a lot of my partners do, so the days can be killer. I’ve started sifting through email several times a day as a batch process, responding to emails immediately that take 30 seconds or less, archiving random ones and moving thought-needing ones to a processing folder (I call it Time). Then I move to the Time folder and actually do work. I move task-oriented communication to Flow and move on.
What’s nice about that is that when I’m in the Time folder I can’t see the mounting inbox so I’m not distracted. I work a bit, clear the queue as best I can.
The points of failure are:
Out of these processes and thinking about the points of failure, I’ve come up with a a few rules to test:
I have no idea if this is useful or if it sounds bitchy. But I think it’s worth trying. Any thoughts?
A friend encouraged me to share this honest but somewhat rambling recap of the last few months. Here goes.
In August 2011 I set about to live the Paleo Diet for 30 days. At the time I weighed 210 pounds and had a 35″ waist. I wasn’t “fat” but I was by no means in good shape. I never exercised.
Aside from a few slips, mostly caused by a lack of available chicken, I was successful and lost about ten pounds. After the challenge I kept a few things with me. Generally bread, dairy and potatoes make me a combination of sleepy and unsettled (I’ll offer no more details than that). So it just made sense to continue living mostly without them.
The funny thing about decisions like that is that they carry with them all manner of unplanned benefits. When do you eat bread? Usually on a sandwich that often comes with fries or potato chips. So if I’m not eating bread then the sandwich doesn’t work and so I look to the salad menu or eat something creative like quinoa. It’s a logical equation. No bread = no burger = no fries = salad.
By December I was down to 185 (20 pounds lighter than August 1). Around that time I finally succumbed to a good friend’s nudges to start rock climbing. Joining someone who has been climbing for ten years as a newbie is tough on the ego but I persisted, sometimes painfully for everyone around me. I started climbing every third or fourth week, then more frequently. Somewhere along the way I got hooked. By March I was climbing outdoors just about every weekend and in the gym once or twice a week. I didn’t need the nudge anymore.
Looking back to August I realized that the greatest benefit of a challenge wasn’t the effect the challenge itself had on me, but the pieces of it I took along with me afterwards. So last week, on a whim, I decided to do a seven-day challenge. I shared my plan with a few friends in the below email. I took a flight with one of them moments later and agreed that if I failed, I’d dress up like Richard Simmons, complete with hair, for a full work day. In bold is how I did. I’m leaving it to him to decide if I have to pay up.
i’m going to do a seven-day challenge starting sunday, sort of like a boot camp for myself to see how hard i can push myself. since i spend most of my time around you guys i could use your help because will power is my biggest weakness.
this is what i’m going to do this week. next time you see me ask me when’s the last time i did a pull up or a hang on my training board.
- quit tobacco success, but with one slip up during first friday…see the next one
- no alcohol (friday is binge day, ff) every month we at downtown project have nearly 40 guests staying with us in our apartment building around first friday and i host all of them plus our own community for drinks at my house before we all head down to the event. i knew it was pointless to resist. but also that week we closed the city hall transaction and met a target for launching a shipping container bar, all of which we’d agreed to toast together so i had a toast those nights)
- eat only healthy, mostly paleo success
- climbing gym mon, wed nights sort of. i climbed outdoors on sunday, at the gym on monday and tuesday. i got the number right, just not the actual days…details. also i sent my first v4 in the gym!
- climb on sat or sun see above
- only take stairs to/from my car (or 8) this was the hardest. i live on the 23rd floor so my challenge was to use the stairs anytime i went to/from my car which is parked on 5. i did this every time, a total of 9 times down and 11 times up. i carried golf clubs, a bike trunk rack, groceries or my bag. it was super hard but awesome.
- stairs to the gym and do (4×8) didn’t do any of this. i climbed so hard and the stairs worked me so badly that this seemed pointless
Tues – squats, overhead presses, pull ups
Thurs – deadlifts, bench press, body weight rows
Friday – lunges, dips, chin ups
- take lots of ibuprofen did this
Today, eight months after my first challenge, I weigh 168 pounds. I went from a size 35 pant to a 32. I wear medium shirts now. None of my old clothes fit. (There’s a huge hidden cost to losing weight. Clothes!)
Over the past week I’ve started drinking a vegetable smoothie for breakfast and I take the stairs about 50% of the time. Last weekend I climbed three 5.9s outdoors (only fell once total) and tonight climbed two really challenging v2s on overhangs at the gym. In January I couldn’t do any of that.
The hardest part is starting. In August I made a drunken bet with a friend which triggered a series of lifestyle changes that have led me to feel better than I’ve ever felt. The other major change is that I let myself try something I didn’t know how to do around a bunch of people who know how to do it really well. I was a complete and total pain in the ass for them. I’m super-competitive and being the worst at something around a room of experts is not easy. They stuck with me and I’m grateful. Take the fitness aspects out of it and the mental part of the journey alone was worth the pain.
What I learned is that if you do something consistently for a reasonable period of time, you’ll get better. It will start to flow. But the most important thing about it (and one of the best things about climbing) is that what you are doing is all for you. No one I’ve met climbing cares that you fall, they just want to see you try your best. Your challenge is between you and the rock. Nothing else matters.
My buddy gave me this advice recently which I think could apply to a lot of things that we think are hard, things we want to give up on trying. I hope it helps you.
you aren’t happy if you only climb super easy stuff that you don’t fail on. you aren’t happy if you keep failing on hard stuff. so what do you do? learn to deal with the failure and try to remind yourself that because you are failing means you are trying something you aren’t good at which is really what we are looking for which in turn should make you happy.
fucked up process but one that is really addicting and will get you stronger mentally…or just piss you off.
Sometimes I email myself things I find inspiring or useful. It’s easier than using Instapaper (which I ignore) or Pinboard (which I rarely consult). Interesting nuggets pile up.
Tonight I’m cleaning out my me to me emails and wanted to share a few things I don’t want to be lost.
That is to say: calm down. We, the young and ambitious, deal almost exclusively with rich white people problems. We’re not going to starve if we make the wrong decision.* There is very little we can’t undo.
Get tactical. Categorize your priorities into four buckets: wastes of time, tactics, winning moves, and crazy ideas. The winning moves tend to be the opportunities that will pay off in the long term. Since right now you are focused on pushing through today, it’s time to focus on the tactics. You are looking to advance in inches, not miles, so just do the work. Stop asking why (that’s step one) or whether (step two). Pick up the phone, write that proposal, or in my case, write this blog.
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.
I have the best job in the world. I’m a part of a growing community of people inspiring and empowering even more people to transform downtown Las Vegas into the most community-focused large city in the world.
Any given week we may have more than a dozen people from all over the world visit and get to know the community. On the tech side it means we get the chance to hang out with startup founders, investors and nerds like me.
We share plans for the growth of the community both physically and otherwise. We grab drinks at DCR, perhaps breakfast at The Beat and hang out at the Jelly. But there’s a lot of open space in-between. Open space that would be awesome opportunity to hang out with a Vegas Tech Startup or to give an interesting company a chance to share their ideas with a group at /usr/lib.
Over the past week instead of going on a trip to Costa Rica, I stayed behind to focus on scaling myself and our team. Since our goal is to connect these interesting people to the awesome VegasTech community, asking the tech community for help was a perfect match.
We need your help.
What if instead of making ourselves the hosts for *everything* a visitor experiences, we instead help connect them with the community directly and let magic happen naturally?
So I propose an experiment. I’ve created a Google Group here: http://groups.google.com/group/vtvisits
If you’re someone who is interested in showing off Vegastech to a visiting techie with a drink, a walk around downtown, a jam session at usr/lib or whatever, signup. Ideally we could let the list know when people are visiting and let you figure it out together.
Let’s show off and build our awesome community together!
Update: Fixed the link (oops)
Almost exactly a year ago I moved to Las Vegas to join Zappos as a product manager. Over last year I’ve had the chance to build some really cool things with a lot of really smart technologists. I’ve had the chance to build a product team and be challenged more than I ever imagined. I’ve been humbled and honored to be a part of the Zappos Family.
In December 2010 Zappos announced our 2013 move to Downtown Las Vegas and I was excited. I had just moved from San Francisco where the serendipity and connectedness of urban life makes people more productive, creative and entrepreneurial. Las Vegas lacked that sense of connectivity and our move would play a part in changing that. And I lived on a cul-de-sac.
I started spending time downtown and grew to love the place, the people and the culture it added to my life. As I got to know Tony (our CEO for those of you under a rock) I realized we saw downtown the same way. In March while at SXSW Tony and I started talking about the opportunity to catalyze growth in Downtown Las Vegas. The conversations centered around the relationship between population density and economic output, the concept of serendipity and more. He had been thinking about it for years.
In May I moved Downtown along with Tony, Fred and a few other folks from Zappos. In June he asked me to head up development of our Downtown Las Vegas Campus and be a part of what would become the Downtown Project. I hesitated at first, said no at least once, then accepted. In hindsight I don’t know why I hesitated.
So in August I officially left our tech team to lead development of our Downtown Campus, reporting to Tony. I will have the opportunity to lead development of the most serendipitous, fun and creative corporate campus in the world. But our campus will be but one part of a vibrant, growing Downtown Las Vegas.
Along with the campus development I’m working with an amazing network of people to launch a host of ventures like a bike sharing program with Patrick, a coworking community space with Dylan and possibly a hotel. Along with others we’re building affordable housing, a technology center and creating green space. Our network is reinvigorating First Friday, building music festivals and investing in improving education. We’re partnering with the City of Las Vegas to build bike lanes, fill vacant properties and create a “City of Possibilities” for entrepreneurs from Las Vegas and around the world.
In just the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to learn from people like Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, the R&D Team at Herman Miller and visionary City leaders like the Mayors Goodman and Betsy Fretwell. I’ve shared our vision with a US Senator and our Lt. Governor. And I’ve met some of the coolest and most passionate people I’ve ever met, most of them randomly at our corner coffee shop, The Beat.
Along the way I’ve changed. I’ve starting thinking of this place as my long-term home and the people I’ve met as lifelong friends. That doesn’t sound abnormal to most people but for a guy who’s lived in five cities in six years, it’s a weird feeling. We are all part of a community of passionate creatives, technologists and entrepreneurs dedicated to catalyzing organic, sustainable growth in a place we’ve grown to love.
What’s so interesting and challenging about our vision is that it’s not part of a master plan. Disney World is easy to build. An organic community of entrepreneurs, not tied to a master plan but to a shared community vision is infinitely harder.
And The There’s Tech
I have to mention #VegasTech (vegastech.com coming soon). When we started down this path we wanted to help inspire a community. Along with education, art, food and music we had a feeling there was a vibrant technology scene that didn’t have a place or a reason to assemble. We were right.
The #VegasTech community is growing fast. People like Dylan, Crystal, Jimmy, Shavonah and Will have thrown amazing events like the first Startup Weekend in LV, a regular Jelly, our first Ignite and ReCommerce Hack Day (a Vegas Original). People like Stewart have thrown LaunchUp, Rick and Jeff are working on an incubator and a few startups are kicking ass. Startups like Rumgr, Ayloo, Wedgi.es and Lystee. Pawel is building /usr/lib tech library, Brian is building a hackerspace and Jeff is helping UNLV students discover entrepreneurship. The list goes on and there’s more in-store.
Everyday is terrifying and exhilarating. It’s been three months which is about two years in Zappos time. We move fast and we’re just getting started. I want to share more but this post is already long enough and I’m not so talented at prose. So I’ll save that for another day.
Check out downtownproject.com for more (just a collection of links right now, more to come).
To quote one of Zappos’ Core Values: “So there are no experts in what we’re doing. Except for us: we are becoming experts as we do this. And for anyone we bring on board, the best expertise they can bring is expertise at learning and adapting and figuring new things out….” Come join us, Paul Carr did.
(Update: Check out http://www.vegasstartups.com and VegasTechEvents.com for more on the tech scene. Thanks for the reminder John! VegasTech.com is en route…we just picked up the domain for the community. Woot!)