I Intend to Help People Follow Their Heart
Recently, I've been giving a talk called "How to Build Your Startup From the Heart." (A recent talk in Waltham at Innovation Breakfast was recorded on video. Watch it here
.) I believe that we are often pushed to follow our head as we innovate, and I believe this takes us away from the true energy that drives innovation: the intention energy that comes from our heart. The energy that powers us to help the people we love. To help "our people," the ones for whom we invent. (For a great book about intention, check out Wayne Dyer's The Power of Intention
This book is also available as an audio
program, and its read by Wayne Dyer, who is a great speaker. I highly recommend it and have been greatly inspired by Wayne Dyer's work.)
I believe that giving this talk over and over spurred me to think about a new way to help the people - the ones who need help in following their heart - to create great startup ventures.
Born at C3
Nick Tommarello and I met at the original Cambridge Coworking Center
(C3) on the 10th floor at 1 Broadway in Cambridge. C3 is a new co-working offering from Tim Rowe's Cambridge Innovation Center
(CIC), which has been operating for years by offering a variety of "slices" of space in the MIT-owned building earlier known as the "Badger Building"
Nick and I met simply because we were both using the C3 space. I met him and his business partner when I asked them what they thought of a coupon idea I had for Oggi Gourmet
, a restaurant I co-own with my brother-in-law, Steve Welch. They both said it was a terrible idea, and I why didn't I use the iPhone app that they were working on instead? I was interested, and we started to get down to details.
As I got to know Nick better over time, simply because we shared the same space, I found he had a much bigger idea than coupons for restaurants. So we started working on that, and it became www.sparkcloud.com
. I later invested in the company, and Sparkcloud also just completed the TechStars Boston
Changes to C3
Tim had warned us that the C3 space was temporary; that the 10th floor would undergo renovation soon. A couple months ago, the renovations began, and Tim moved C3 to bigger space on the 9th floor. But the friendly and active smaller space didn't translate, and the new C3 soon became more like a library. I felt sad every time I came to the office. It was so quiet. People were not working together. New companies were not forming, let alone new friendships.
Tim, Nick, and I knew something was wrong.
Nick and I had long discussed the idea of creating some new kind of accelerator/co-working program, but the idea was on the back burner as he pursued Sparkcloud and I was focused a series of speaking engagements and upcoming events.
Tim scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, May 26h, to discuss the issue. The meeting went in a fairly predictable way; we discussed the issues and some ideas on how to fix things. Then, right at the end, Tim changed the game. He said he'd come to the conclusion that C3 was stuck in the middle of two paths, and need to move in two ways. One way would be a "curated" C3 where someone like myself and Nick would own the space and create the programming. There would be a big social component. The other space would be more for people who want to work around other people, need an affordable solution, and the social needs would be light.
Further, Tim said he intended to announce the changes next week, on June 2, at a "Town Meeting" for C3 that he had previously scheduled to address new approaches for C3.
Anything Goes Accelerator Lab is Born - With A Crucial Push from Tim Rowe
So, Nick and had been talking about taking over the C3 space, and now we had a couple days to decide. We both decided to jump in, and the Anything Goes Accelerator Lab was born.
Tim's role in this is crucial, and multifaceted. First, he created the initial C3 as an experiment to see what would work and what wouldn't. Nick and I saw first hand just how it could work, and that was exciting. We also saw what happened if the density went to low, if the environment got too quiet, or if there were too few startup-type people. Tim created the atmosphere of experimentation that has led Anything Goes.
In my talk at the TechStars Demo Day, I recalled a great line from the movie "Top Gun." The two pilots were walking together, and at the end of their conversation, one said the other "I feel the need for speed." I used this line in my talk and said that sometimes moving fast is crucial, in and of itself. I believe that moving fast means you have to use your heart more than your head, and that leads to more results in less time.
C3 was headed for an announced change in one week, and Nick and I had a choice to lead that change or not. As the one who had recalled that line, "I feel the need for speed," I took my own advice, and I jumped on it. (I did discuss it with my wife over the weekend, so it was Tuesday, one day before the announcement, that I told Tim "We're in, with both feet."
One Lab, Three Minds
Nick and I have some different views about what Anything Goes needs to become, and therein lies it's strength. I believe it will be better than the sum of our ideas.
Nick is more focused on the co-working aspect of the space. I'm more focused on the program overlay of the space, and that the program can work even if you're not using the co-working space. Nick's tag line for Sparkcloud is "meet awesome people nearby." What could be better than meeting the person sitting next you, and forming a company together.
Tim Rowe is playing a very active role in the design of the program. First of all, he's taking all the financial risk. He's not asking us to pay a monthly fee for the whole space. Rather, he is willing to bet that Anything Goes will generate a sufficient (and we hope more than sufficient) number of $250/month co-working clients for CIC. Even more, he is handling ALL of the logistics for Anything Goes. His team will handle billing. They will give tours to prospective clients, for whom Anything Goes is just one co-working option. And for anyone else thinking about doing something like Anything Goes, CIC is expanding and will have a total of 5 or 6 co-working spaces when the work is completed. So others might want explore the "curated" co-working space with Tim.
A New Kind of Accelerator Program
The Anything Goes Accelerator Lab is different than any other accelerator program that I know of. For example:
1. Anything Goes can work even if you are working full time - I believe that some of our best potential entrepreneurs are in companies waiting for the right time to launch their idea. At the same time, they need help to do that. For a total of $1050 for three months, a person with a full time job can be a full member of the program, and can use the co-working space on nights, weekends, and perhaps on some vacation days.
2. Anything Goes is based on Agile Development - Avid Technology has adopted Agile over the last year or so, and now they are able to create a new, useful and working build of the Media Composer code base, some 6 million lines of code - every month. And they release to the customer twice a year, with one major, and one less major update. (full disclosure - I don't really know much about Agile beyond what I learned recently at Avid, but I was that impressed to base this program on the technique...so help me learn!). What I love about Agile is it's focus on story, and on individuals making real progress, and on groups (scrums) helping and pushing each other. Given that my intention in creating Avid was "I intend to help people tell their story," then Agile, with it's story-based approach, is a natural.
3. Anything Goes Help Begins with Peers - While other accelerators are focused on mentorship, Anything Goes starts with peer support as the core. The idea is that by taking whatever complex technology you are working on and forming it into a simple human story of who you want to help ("your people") and how you want to help them (your intention), then a peer group of entrepreneurs can help each other, even if they have little expertise in the technologies being used. The nice thing about this is that the help scales with the size of the group, so fundamentally, I believe that Anything Goes can become a widespread technique for accelerating early stage ideas, and even later stage ideas.
4. Anything Goes is Story Based - Not Technology Based - If we are to be true to our name, we can't say, "Anything Goes, as long as it's Internet-enabled or software based." So the focus on story not only lets peers help each other, it allows stories to be told to anyone, regardless of their understanding of the underlying technology for that innovation. We intend to become a source of stories through blogs, audio, and video, and we intend to link these stories in useful ways to help entrepreneurs around the world. So one of the requirements for acceptance at Anything Goes is that you must be willing to be a teacher, as well as a student. You must be willing to tell your story.
(This brings up an interesting issue regarding "stealth mode" projects. What we're thinking for now is that we will have stealth projects that will not be part of the broadcasting part of the program. But those companies must be willing to share freely within the Anything Goes group. And, their stories will be captured, and broadcast later. Think of it as a very long "tape delay." Bottom line: To get into Anything Goes, you must be willing to teach now, and share eventually.)
5. Anything Goes Is Extremely Low Cost - The amazing thing about co-working is that you can have great space in a great location if you make it financially affordable through density. So the $250 per month that goes to CIC eventually pays for all the space, and the free food and snacks, free drinks, conference rooms, you name it. The additional $100 per month per member pays for whatever else. If we got 60 people into the program that is $6,000 per month. Nick and I are not taking any salary for this program, so these funds will mostly be used for equipment, expenses, and scholarships. Eventually, though, we see additional Anything Goes labs being formed, and if each one achieved 60 users, this monthly funding will be enough to pay for some full time management for the program.
6. Anything Goes Takes No Equity - We don't ask for any equity, and don't plan to. The idea is to make the program so low cost that it really isn't an issue. I'm very excited that for just over $1000 for three months, an entrepreneur can make huge progress, AND have a full time place to work with like-minded people!
7. Anything Goes Can Be Free (and even better than free) Through Sponsorship - With low cost, and with no equity, Anything Goes can ask people who've benefited from our local economy to give back with a very simple and small ask: "Will you help an entrepreneur spend three months to make tremendous progress on their idea, and will you write a check for $1050 to make that possible?" I believe that we will get all the checks we need to make Anything Goes affordable to entrepreneurs. Furthermore, I'm thinking of this ask: "Will you add $599 to that check to pay a $200/month stipend to an entrepreneur for whom that extra money will make a crucial difference?" The $599 means no 1099 needs to be filed.) I believe that we'll have more sponsorship than we can accommodate.
8. Anything Goes Builds On Our Local Diversity - Boston has more universities, more research, more diversity, and a greater flow of new talent than any other city in the world (anyone have actual data to prove this? I believe it to be true.) The idea of Anything Goes is to have a low cost but high performance accelerator that can build on our local talent, no matter where they live, no matter if they have a full time job, and no matter what technology they seek to use in their innovation.
9. Anything Goes is Focused on Entrepreneurs, Not Companies - The idea is to grow entrepreneurs from the earliest moments that the entrepreneurial bug takes hold. Some teams will join, and that will be great. But also some individuals will join with a great idea they want to pursue. Others may join with no idea, but with a belief that they are an entrepreneur at heart. I believe that great teams and great companies will form at Anything Goes. We intend to help people who know they want to be entrepreneurs find a path to making that happen.
Nick, Tim, I and many others will be working on the design of the Lab this summer, with the first official class starting in the fall. Want to help? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
, or Nick at email@example.com
. Also consider following us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/billwarner and http://twitter.com/anythinggoeslab
Thanks, and stay tuned! (Watch funny 1 minute video
of our "instant furniture move")