Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why the HuB works (part II)....

If you read my last article, you learned about the genesis of the HuB, and how important it was for us to embrace the creative process. The HuB was a simple concept when we started - 
"what if we just create a place where creative entrepreneurs can come together to work, connect and ultimately create whatever they wanted to".  
It sounds simple.... but it required more than just getting a building and opening the door. It required a few key pieces that weren't easy pulling together.

The FIRST piece was the commitment to invest in the community. We knew in order to grow the HuB, we needed to build and support the creative community around us. Some people call this a "Social Enterprise" - where a business is driven by doing good.... but I think the HuB is more than that - because we not only strive to do "good", but we also actively promote a platform of change that builds a more progressive and creative community. The HuB effects not just the economic development of Sarasota, but also the social and political dynamics   Some of our major community campaigns include "I Love Downtown" (which brought new business to our struggling downtown in the recession), Google Island (which promoted broadband in our community and received national attention), Vote/SRQ (to improve voter turnout in local elections) and many more. These campaigns not only make our community more attractive to the Creative Class, but it also brings attention to our mission and what we are doing at the HuB.  The HuB is not just an incubator, or community workspace, or studio.... its a movement... its a catalyst.

The SECOND piece was our commitment to find ways to attract Creative people (e.g. the Creative Class). Its not easy to find young creative entrepreneurs in our community. Sarasota is one of the oldest communities in the U.S. and our primary industry is tourism and real estate. One could argue that this is the most difficult place in the entire Country to start a project like the HuB.  Despite this challenge, we knew that we needed to become a "beacon". We knew traditional methods wouldn't work. Creatives don't like networking events and they certainly don't respond to advertisements. So how do you attract young talented entrepreneurs and creative minds within a 60 mile radius???? Answer: Throw parties. We knew that in order to rebuild our local economy, we needed to start to build a more dynamic social life.  We went as far to even create a Music Festival.  We knew in order to attract Creative People, we needed to give them a reason to come to us. Who knew beer, music and old couches would attract so many amazing creative individuals.

The THIRD piece was having an Open Door Policy.... we have invested hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours in talking with entrepreneurs and creatives who visit the HuB. Most of the time, they are simple conversations about what they want to do, and how we could help. It can be overwhelming to make a commitment to open a "Free Help Clinic" (especially in a recession with 10%+ un-employment). But we knew in order for us to find the entrepreneurs willing to invest time and take the risk to start the next venture at the HuB we needed to talk to everyone. (Everytime someone walks in, we think "this person may have the next best idea").... and this is what drives the growth behind the HuB. 

If you really think about these three things... you have to ask the question "How the hell can you get anything done???" You probably won't ever find in a business plan or learn while getting your Masters in Business.....

1) Do Good in your Community
2) Party 
3) Help Others Succeed

I admit - it sounds counter-intuitive ..... but then again, that's the point.  Embracing creativity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why the HuB works...

A little over two years ago I came up with the idea of the HuB. At the time - it was more of a philosophy than an idea. I certainly did not have a plan - in fact that was the "plan" - NOT to have one. For years, as an entrepreneur and also as an angel investor it seemed like I spent 80% of my time writing a plan or reviewing a plan. And as much I would like to believe you can plan your way to success... I am almost certain that the time we spend on planning is not just overrated, but completely a waste of time.

Before I go into the basic principles of my argument, let me give you some background into the HuB. Before I started the HuB, I spent a lot of time with entrepreneurs developing their ideas, businesses and eventually watching them succeed or fail. I started to see a trend forming over the years. The trend is not scientific, but it is certainly recognizable (perhaps more in a gut feeling) when working with entrepreneurs. I use the word "momentum" a lot when describing why a venture is successful, but more important than momentum is the creativity of the entrepreneur. It was this aspect that I decided to focus on when starting the HuB - CREATIVITY.

I wanted to build a community that embraced creativity over and above any other aspect to building businesses (or for that matter building communities).  In order to do this - I knew we have to embrace the creative process when developing the HuB - which meant embracing these basic principles:

1. GROW ORGANICALLY - This principal is a difficult one to explain to an entrepreneur (and especially an investor). Essentially, what we demand is that a business grow organically without the assistance of unnecessary (manufactured) capital. We realize every venture requires capital to start and grow, but we believe it can destroy a business quicker than any other factor.  It is critical for anything to grow at it's own natural pace, and only leverage capital when it is based on demand (e.g. new customers, need new product designs, etc) and NOT on some manufactured plan and spreadsheet projecting growth on no real factual data. Many people call this bootstrapping or starting out of your "garage", which I tend to agree with - but its also speaks to the idea that "plans are useless".

2. BE CREATIVE - This is the core principal of the HuB. Too many entrepreneurs focus on the wrong aspects of their business, and instead of being creative on how they can get a product to market - they tend to find themselves in a holding pattern waiting on an investor or taking too long to develop the perfect version of their product. Anytime we look at a business opportunity, we ask the question - "How can we make this idea happen with the resources we have right now?". If the answer is "We can't" - then it forces us to be creative. We find new paths to make the idea happen. Sometimes we can't and we abandon the idea... but many times we do find alternate paths. Entrepreneurs who are creative will succeed. Unfortunately when we demand entrepreneurs spend countless hours developing a plan - they feel like they can't be creative once the plan is written down - and thus - this typically leads to failure. Don't plan. Be Creative.

3. EVERYONE IS AN ENTREPRENEUR - What makes the HuB different than a tech-incubator, a university or even a start up company - is that we want to create entrepreneurs. We don't want employees. This is a challenge, because most people are programmed to look for a "job" - not to create one. Every person who works at the HuB is an entrepreneur. This is not an easy thing to accept if they have had a job all their life. There is a big difference between having a paycheck and manager - to being 100% responsible for the success of your venture each and every day.

It is these three principles that have been the reason I feel the HuB has been so successful. We embrace the chaos knowing that it is part of the process. Everytime a new creative entrepreneur joins the HuB we expect things to change and we hope it adds another element of energy and excitement for everyone else.

The great thing about NOT having a plan.... is every day is unexpected. And that is the way it should be for an entrepreneur.