If you could give advice to someone just starting out what would it be? We asked the NextSpace community of entrepreneurs to divulge their nuggets of wisdom and we were flooded with emails, including this no BS response from Lucas Wilson, founder and CEO of Revelens, and Cafe member at NextSpace Los Angeles in Culver City:
1. You will read endless reams of articles on how other people did it. It will make you feel like you’re behind, and doing it wrong. That is what worked for *them*. Everybody’s path is different. Read it all with a grain of salt, and stay your own course.
2. Do not cut costs on a startup legal firm. There are no shortage of terrible stories of entrepreneurs who start succeeding only to be crippled or impoverished by shockingly poor legal early on. Everybody is friendly and does things in a communal spirit until the money starts flowing. It doesn’t necessarily change people, but it changes how they view their efforts in relation to a business venture. If it’s uncomfortable to talk about, get comfortable with it now, or be really uncomfortable later.
3. If it’s a tech company, establish a centralized cloud-based code hub immediately. Do not let any IP reside exclusively with an individual. The IP belongs to the company, not to a person. Codify that, and enforce it. If you don’t know how, see step 2. ; )
4. Don’t be an asshole. Life is long, and there is a lot of truth to the statement, “everybody you pass on the way up, you meet on the way down.” Build a community, and they will be there to lend a hand up on your next downswing. And your next downswing will happen. It does to everyone.
5. Experience is what you get right after you need it. Don’t shy away from your screw-ups. Admit them, own them, make amends if you need to make amends, learn and move on.
6. Wear clothes to all pitches. Seriously.
Lucas testing out the Oculus Rift in the NextSpace cafe.
Lucas Wilson is the founder and CEO of Revelens, a company with a new way of connecting creators and viewers in the online video space. He’s been apart of the Hollywood technology industry for more than a decade as a passionate and effective advocate for the fusion of advanced technology and creativity. Connecting people, building teams, and constructing businesses for revenue built on leading-edge technology is what he does and is passionate about. When he’s not working he’s playing music and hiking with his wife and kids. Check him out on LinkedIn.
They’re not self-starters and only know how to follow orders. They’re too regimented and by-the-book. They’re not innovative and can’t think out of the box. These are just a few of the stereotypes that I’ve heard about why veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces don’t make good entrepreneurs.
As a veteran and an entrepreneur—I was a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy and started NextSpace from scratch six years ago—I’ve dealt with most of those stereotypes. But the discipline, teamwork, and sense of mission accomplishment that veterans learn in the military are the same traits we admire in entrepreneurs, freelancers, and other members of the Naked Economy who are hustling to make a living and make a life on their own terms.
At NextSpace, we’re lucky enough to have dozens of veterans as part of our coworking community. I recently spent some time talking with a few of them and learning how serving our country in the Armed Forces has uniquely prepared them for entrepreneurship and for success in the new economy.
Mary Flynn is a freelance writer and video producer and is a member at NextSpace Santa Cruz. Mary was a public affairs specialist in the Army National Guard and served a yearlong tour in Iraq in 2004 and another yearlong tour in Guantanamo Bay in 2008. “Those were both election years, making it an interesting time to be in public affairs,” she says with a smile. That high-stakes environment was perfect training for her current gig. “When you’re a freelancer, you don’t have a boss or a company structure keeping you on track. The army taught me to be disciplined and deadline-driven. That mindset is essential for freelancers and entrepreneurs.”
Mary Flynn, shooting video at a school in northern Iraq in 2004
Kenji Gjovig, a member at NextSpace Potrero Hill, found that the focus on mission accomplishment lead to a sense of confidence in his ability to do big things. Kenji just left a job at Walmart to start High Tide Consulting, a boutique e-commerce firm. Kenji also served as an engineer on a nuclear-powered submarine in the U.S. Navy. “The Navy gave me a lot of training, but when I finally arrived on the submarine, I was expected to do my job without a lot of hand-holding. On my second day, I had to start the nuclear reactor by myself. That was nerve-wracking and a little scary, but those kinds of experiences gave me a ton of confidence in my ability to just figure things out and get things done.” Confidence in himself and his ability to make things happen were critical to Kenji launching High Tide.
Kenji Gjovig, Founder & CEO, High Tide Consulting
Part of getting things done is the ability to work with a wide variety people. Peter LaFond served in the U.S. Army and spent his time attached to a Special Operations group. Peter says, “In the Army, you serve alongside an incredibly diverse mixture of people from different backgrounds, different geographies, and different points of view. You have to learn how to overcome those differences and pull together as a team to get the job done.” Peter now runs his own business and hosts a WordPress developers MeetUp at NextSpace San Jose. “Whether it’s working with teammates with different skills or clients with competing agendas, learning to work with people on a common goal was an important part of my experience in the Army that directly applies to my business.”
Mary, Kenji, and Peter are outstanding examples of why military veterans are 45% more likely to be freelancers, entrepreneurs, or self-employed than their non-veteran counterparts. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, veterans are responsible for one out of ten small businesses in the United States, employing over six million workers and generating nearly $1.5 trillion in annual revenue. They not only defy some unfortunate stereotypes about veterans in business, they embody the very traits that we admire most in entrepreneurs. On behalf of everyone at NextSpace, I want to thank our veterans not only for their service and their sacrifices, but also for what they contribute to making our economies and our communities strong.
- Jeremy Neuner, Founder & CEO, NextSpace Coworking
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post mistakenly described Peter La Fond as serving in the Special Forces when in fact, he served with a Special Operations group. My apologies for the error.
Thinking of joining a coworking space? Well there are a few things to consider before pulling the trigger, including whether or not you can try before you buy.
NextSpace CEO, Jeremy Neuner, tells Fast Company’s Lisa Evans that checking out a spaces “personality” is critical before signing up for a membership. Make sure you run through these 10 questions before you commit:
1. Can I Visit?
Jeremy Neuner, CEO of NextSpace, says every coworking space has a different vibe.
2. Who Are the Current Tenants?
Before setting up shop in a coworking space, survey the list of current occupants and ask yourself whether these individuals may be able to help you in your business and career development.
3. Can I Try Before I Buy?
Ask if you can work in the space for one day to try it out to make sure the space is compatible with your work style.
4. What Networking Opportunities are Available?
Many coworking spaces host social events and professional development workshops to inspire tenants and foster the sense of community.
5. Does the Space Offer Other Perks?
Some coworking spaces offer special benefits including health insurance or discounts on educational courses.
6. What are the Working Hours?
Some coworking spaces keep set office hours, others are open 24/7 allowing tenants to set their own hours.
7. How Long is the Commute?
Most coworking spaces are located in urban centers, great for those who live downtown, but for those in the suburbs, you may be committing to a longer commute than you’d like.
8. How Long is the Contract?
Most coworking spaces allow tenants to rent a space on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis.
9. How Much Space do you Need?
While some coworking spaces offer little more than a desk, others have private offices to accommodate multiple staff people.
10. What’s the Infrastructure Like?
Before signing a lease, make sure the coworking space you choose has the right infrastructure you need to support your business.
Guest post by Lynn Wang & Dvid Silva, members at NextSpace Berkeley
We recently hosted a panel with the founders of Kloudless (cloud storage API), Bayes Impact (data science non-profit), and Bitgym (immersive fitness technology) at NextSpace Berkeley. Thanks to everyone who joined us for the event. Here are the top 10 things we learned from Alex, Eliot, and Eric.
1. Still in college? Take courses in different disciplines to up your learning ability and get involved with a variety of organizations. The startup environment requires a lot of teamwork, as well as the ability to juggle many things at once.
2. You can never be totally ready for entrepreneurship, but experience at an early-stage startup almost always helps. “Look for a role where you can work with extremely knowledgeable people,” suggested Alex, “instead of the position with the highest pay.” Eliot agreed, “Being able to see what goes wrong in a startup, see what other founders are doing, and learn from that before going on your own venture is important.
3. Learn to code by working on real projects, not just completing tutorials. Have an idea of something you want to build, start learning the components, and get help from friends, mentors, or classmates when you get stuck. If your mission to learn programming is on a tighter timeline, consider enrolling in a project-based course, like Hackership.
4. Be creative with your earliest prototype to make it as barebones as possible while still being able to validate your idea. For Bitgym, the key question was whether people would enjoy a virtual tour on a screen that’s synced to their physical movement on a bike or treadmill. To test that, Alex strapped a video game console to a bike and had friends bike while watching the screen. Little did they know – the strapped console was actually doing nothing; Alex was secretly making adjustments manually with a remote. But through that exercise, it became clear that people enjoyed the experience as something novel and cool.
5. “Fake it until you make it” is the cardinal rule for sales at an early-stage startup. “You have to create magic about the sell,” said Eric, “Magic that you have a ton of people interested in it.” When cold calling, it’s helpful to use each conversation to dig deeper into the client’s perspective and figure out their needs. “If someone is interested but not on board yet,” said Eliot, “Mention it to your next client. It builds credibility, unless they’re a competitor.” For Bayes Impact, recruiting an early group of influential advisors was also very helpful in creating the “magic” that convinced an initial cohort of non-profits to sign on.
6. Peer mentors – especially other founders who are a few steps ahead – can often be more valuable than formal advisors. All startups face similar challenges at similar stages, and it helps to hear how other people solved the same problems. At the end of the day, however, no one knows your company better than you, so it’s crucial to have your own opinion to make the final call.
7. Use unexpected questions to assess cultural fit among potential employees. Eliot’s personal favorite is: “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” He’s found that people who are too uptight for the startup environment tend to take the question way too seriously and start analyzing flavors. Eric enjoys playing board games with candidates at Bayes Impact. “It’s very disarming,” he said, “and lets you see if you will get along.”
8. Always look for the truth. As a founder, you’ll be rejected many times by many people. But most people are polite, so it’s up to you to figure out the real reasons for rejection and adjust your business accordingly. When customers turn you down, are they being polite by saying it is not a good fit, or is it just because your product just isn’t good enough?
9. Raising money is hard. To be clear – getting meetings with investors is easy. Closing is hard. When you decide to do it, talk to people who have done it recently, and ask them how they did it. Fundraising should be deliberate, structured, and condensed in a short period of time. “Don’t ever go into an investor pitch with 4 people,” advised Eliot. “It should just be the CEO, or your message will be diluted.”
10. Incubators, even the best ones, will not guarantee success. Programs like Y Combinator are particularly great for 2 things: getting the founding team to commit full-time and providing valuable connections for fundraising and recruiting. But at the end of the day, an incubator can only validate your business, not make it. “There is only so much that advice can help you,” said Eric, who participated in the last YC batch. “You know your business the best.”
What is Flex Day you ask? Flex Day is apart of National Work and Family month and is an opportunity for everyone to highlight the importance of flexible working schedules, whether you work for a company or for yourself. This is an issue near and dear to my heart as I finish up my 3rd week back at work from maternity leave. With the support and guidance of NextSpace I was able to take 4 months leave to birth and care for my daughter and now I’m returning to work on a flexible hourly schedule that allows me to slowly transition from full-time mommy back to a full-time NextSpace employee. Am I exhausted but learning to multi-task like never before (aka nursing while talking on the phone and writing emails)? You bet I am! And even though I’m feeling frazzled as I write this (does this baby ever sleep!?!), I’m still incredibly grateful because I know the average working American is not afforded the same kinds of options that I am.
According to Think Progress, out of 185 countries the U.S. is one of three that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave (the other two are Papua New Guinea and Oman.) Meanwhile, over half of the countries that do guarantee paid leave provide at least 14 weeks. What’s up with that America? Some companies (Change.org, for example) are taking matters in to their own hands, creating generous family leave policies and encouraging others to do the same. Lucky for me NextSpace is one of those and has both a paid maternity leave policy AND a flexible work schedule policy. Obviously work life balance is a concept that NextSpace takes seriously, and as a result I take my job seriously (but not myself of course!).
But hey, kids (and maternity leave) shouldn’t be the only reason you adjust your work schedule to fit your life. Everyone needs a healthy ratio of screen time to actual face time, which is why coworking is so awesome. NextSpace, and many other coworking spaces, allow 24/7 access, meaning you can work when you want and still have time for that dinner party (or tea party if you’re a working parent.) Or perhaps you’re a puppy parent and you need a flexible working environment that allows you to cowork with your dog. Yep, many coworking spaces also allow for coworking pets, which has been proven to reduce stress and create a happier workplace. And speaking of happier workplace, do you work alone and find yourself asking the refrigerator for feedback? As we at NextSpace like to put it, working alone sucks! Join a coworking space and see an increase in productivity and a decrease in one-sided conversations. But don’t take my word for it, there’s a whole study to back me up. Seriously, the benefits are too numerous to name which is why I’m thrilled to work for a company that is at the forefront of it all. (Did i mention we do coworking and childcare too? Yep, its called NextKids and it’s revolutionizing the way parents get work done.)
So thank you NextSpace. Thanks for being a leader, not only in coworking and the revolution of work, but also in fostering a healthy work life balance for your employees. Way to walk your talk. I’m certainly glad you chose this route over offering to freeze my eggs.
On a crisp fall day back in 2008, Andreas Mueller knocked on the front door of NextSpace in Santa Cruz. He had to knock because the call box wasn’t activated yet. We didn’t have much furniture and the only Internet connectivity came from an old DSL line leftover from the building’s previous tenant. But Andreas had ridden his bicycle fifteen miles from his house—where he’d been running his company Bloofusion—to downtown Santa Cruz because he wanted to get to work. And he wanted to work at NextSpace.
At first, I didn’t let Andreas in. “We’re not ready!” I told him, slightly panicked. But you’re never really ready to start a business, are you? You just have to start. So I opened the door and we got to work.
Over the past six years, we’ve had the privilege of serving thousands of NextSpace members like Andreas. The most humbling and amazing thing about you, our members, is that you constantly demonstrate the courage to get started and get to work. Making a living and making a life in this new economy isn’t always easy. But the courage, passion, creativity, and connections that you bring to the NextSpace community make it just a bit easier for all of us. Thanks for six great years. What will the next six years bring? Let’s find out together….
Jeremy Neuner, CEO, NextSpace Coworking & Innovation
Who’s that guy?
Q&A with Andreas Mueller.
Andreas Mueller is the Chief Strategist at his digital marketing company Bloofusion, with offices in California and Germany. He’s also a dad, a cyclist and the very first member of the NextSpace coworking community in Santa Cruz where, as Jeremy puts it, he came knocking down the door eager to get started. In commemoration of 6 years, I thought what better way to celebrate then to talk to Andreas about his experience at NextSpace.
Q: How did you come to be a NextSpace member?
A: When I started my company back in 2001 I was working out of my house and it was kind of tough, I missed being around people and I found myself driving over Hwy 17 to San Jose or San Francisco 2-3 times per week to network or attend events or meet with clients. I had sort of resigned myself to the fact that I was always going to have to go over the hill for that sort of thing because you know, nobody works here, they live here and commute over to San Jose or San Francisco for work. And then in August 2008 I read an article about NextSpace and I knew I had to check it out. So I got on my bike and rode from Rio Del Mar to downtown Santa Cruz and I knocked on the door.
I moved in that same month, August 2008 two months before NextSpace officially opened its doors, and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve even been in the same office, never moved. I chose this office after spending an entire afternoon with my wife sitting in each one (since they were all empty when I joined). I chose one that had a funky vibe, none of the walls are straight up and down, they’re all angled.
Q: Over the past 6 years how has NextSpace impacted you and your business?
A: NextSpace has kept me sane. Being able to go into a workspace and have somebody smile at you as you walk up the stairs, it completely changes your perspective. And the downtown location is really important to me, I’m a social person and its so great to be able to ask someone “hey, you want to grab lunch and talk about xyz?” Or if I need someone’s expertise or a different skill set I can just step outside my office and say “I’m looking for a programmer to help me with this project” and I can find people right there to help me. You can’t do that from a home office.
Q: How would you like to see NextSpace grow in the next 6 years?
A: I love having access to offices in San Francisco and San Jose but I’d love to see even more. I understand why it hasn’t happened yet but Palo Alto would be perfect. And if I could choose the first international location it would definitely be somewhere in Germany. Either Cologne or Berlin only because I travel to both places a lot for work.
Yes, you can start a business without NextSpace, but why would you? In the early days of my company, the community at NextSpace was part muse, part therapist, part cheerleader, and so much more. Though NextSpace’s physical spaces are great, it’s the community that sets it apart. I came for a desk and left with great friends and a business that was far better positioned for success due to the advice and support I received while at NextSpace.