I love the idea of peer groups, networking associations, co-working spaces, team work-shops and unconferences. I really do. I go to all these events, try and help out, speak, give time, free consulting and even the occasional drunken rant. These are important things to get out and do. They’re good places to meet partners, peers and mentors, get ideas, voice concerns and often get a free drink. In a town like Tampa, its difficult to work in that “campus-like” community that you get in some of the big tech cities. Our organizations like Tampa Bay WaVE and Barcamp take some of the place that you’d normally see taken by a well tied-in university. WaVE is working on a co-working space, organizes mixers and meetups and Barcamp helps spread new ideas, lets people talk that “college” kind of idealistic nonsense that is what I live for. Ideas need places to live, they need other minds to infect and other ideas to interact with. These groups do a good job of giving us a place to do that.
However there does seem to be this prevailing idea in start-up owners I meet at some of these things that having a dedicated PLACE to work is a requirement for DOING work. I completely understand the requirement for getting out of your basement/cave/parents-house and getting some work done at the office/coffee shop/bus stop. Hell, I understand getting out of pretty much ANYWHERE your work – I often leave Sourcetoad’s comfortable offices with our ridiculously fast fiber connections and comfy chairs to go to a hookah cafe with spotty WiFi and metal chairs because the change in pace and place is useful in creative thought. But the skills required to be a good business are the same they’ve always been – hard work and grit.
How many million or billion dollar companies have been started in garages or basements or dorm rooms? What you need to be a good start up is long hours in front of a terminal in the dark to give you that blue-tan that venture capitalists respect. It’s pretty well understood these days that if you want next-round funding/space/love/etc you need to show up with a working model that works. Tech is too easy in this day and age that if you show up with a nice power-point and some mockups you’re not going to fool anyone. And the kind of work and time that is required to get there has nothing to do with where you do it. In fact, I’d say that the people who have time to complain about WHERE they’re going to work clearly are not spending enough time actually working. If you don’t have the grit to lock yourself in a bedroom, scam a library space or simply learn to turn off your TV and Playstation and just write code from morning to night, you’re probably not going to make it anyway, regardless of where you sit. It would be lovely to have a co-working space, or have some other company let you share their offices or have enough cash to rent someplace small, but it is not a requirement.
I think that some of the “incubators” that have sprung up are excellent examples of this lack of understanding, and opportunistic greedy bastards who don’t actually do anything for the community. We’re not talking about a small amount of cash either, some of these places charge New York prices to be in their fancy buildings. If you’re asking start-ups to pay for space, you are making a difficult financial situation even harder. It is understandable that once you realizes that start-up really want this “place-to-work” that you can take the idea of the West Coast incubators and create some sort of University sponsored profit center, but they end up being filled by businesses started on university IP, or friends of the board or whatever. They’re also heavily focused on bio-tech as apposed to the IT stuff that I normally come into contact with.
If your mission was first and foremost to help nurture and help the tech-start up community in Tampa Bay, you would take equity rather than cash for these spaces. Obviously it’s not a model that works when there is not a lot of cash around, but more importantly it is a model that does’t work when there is not a lot of belief around. If equity was what was traded, the backers would want pretty solid ideas, business plans and management teams to fill these prized free spaces. In order to get there, you’d need a group of folks who were knowledgeable and experienced enough to evaluate the merits of the plan and the team in order to make a wise investment of the space. But these people don’t exist in Tampa, or they do, but they’re too busy doing what they’re doing that would make them good candidates.
My point is that if there were a ton of really great and successful start-ups that had come of the community here, our incubators would be more like the ones out West, but they’re not. It’s the same reason we’re not having to beat venture capitalists off with sticks down here. We need to do it ourselves. So either donate some cash to WaVE or one of the others, or get back to work and stop wasting time reading blogs.