Sunday, January 22, 2012

What would you change?

For me, this is a pretty strange question. I often don't think about what I would change because I find that there are so many valuable lessons to be learned from diving in head first into experiences like starting a business or...enrolling in grad school.

In September 2008, I started a business. (An excellent time to go into business...) I'm often asked what I would have changed about my business model knowing what I know now. Until recently, I didn't have the context to answer this question with insight outside of my own experiences. Now, I'm starting to formulate news ideas about what I could have done differently.

My business was a 3,500 square foot incubator and co-working office space that I designed and developed with the vision that it would be a catalyst for economic development in my hometown of Shelburne Falls, MA. I envisioned a thriving hub of young entrepreneurs working in synergy and inspiring the community to look ahead. I ran the space for tow years until it was no longer feasible for me to do so. I was not turning enough of a profit to live off of and it was taking up too much of my time to manage. In 2010, I worked with the building owner, a friend and mentor, and transitioned the space into his hands. This allowed me to step out and make an important life change and made it so the space continued to exist and provide value for both the owner and the tenants. When I left there were 15 tenants. There are now 25.

I used to answer that question of what I would change by explaining how I had become a middle man with all the risk. I was leasing a space, making improvements, and releasing it to tenants who wanted to share space and work alongside each other. Because I had no ownership of the building, I had nothing to borrow on and had little control of the expenses of the building.

What I realize now, when thinking about my business model, is that the value proposition was not fully aligned with the existing customer segments within the community. And, I did not have a financial plan that allowed me to bridge the existing needs of the customers with my long term and idealized vision of what the space would be and how it would affect the community.

In a strategy discussion during last month's intensive at BGI we discussed the role of intuition in business strategy. It may have been intuition that led me to build the space, that allowed me to make it something real, and ultimately led me to know that it was time for me to step away. I am thankful for this and I now realize that I put too much reliance on this intuition when starting the space. What is now apparent that was missing were the tools and resources necessary to run all aspects of the  business.

My thoughts are still formulating around this topic so this post be continued.


Anonymous said...

Caleb thank you for showing me a glimpse into your past experience. That must have been a good experience. You hinted on it in your blog, I imagine that you are doing a lot of comparing of your business to what you are learning now. How could you have changed your strategy to make that business more successful, applying what we have been learning during this quarter?

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you for sharing your personal experience with such openness and detail. What a great gift of learning [for yourself] and for your readership! (me).

I am REALLY looking forward to you continuing to answer these questions about "what you learned from this experience" in SUCH a tangible way in your future blog posts. I can't wait to see how your perspective evolves and is enriched as you move through the quarter.

I think the more you can be concrete & wholly descriptive around the "actualities" of running the business and the "emotions" & "processes" that took place -- the more that you will situate yourself (and your colleagues) for stellar success with your next ventures!


Emily Havens said...

Caleb! Fun. What insight into the former life of C. Dean. I am inspired by your openness and honesty as to what was and what was not in your business model and am interested in how this could (does or does not) relate tangentially to the idea of fail often, fail fast! I'm curious about what you learned about yourself in the process and what growth and "take aways" emerged and exist presently for you. Always fun to read your blogs!

Anonymous said...

Great insight Caleb into personal experience. After the past intensive where Mary discussed passion and the effect on her business do you feel any different regarding your intuition?

What were you key learnings from individual tenants in the incubator? Could some type of mentorship program aid the tenants?