One of the most rewarding aspects of running a coworking space is that you get to watch peoples’s lives grow and evolve over time. In the short three years that we’ve been open, we’ve seen businesses outgrow our space and open their own offices. We’ve seen members marry, move, and have children. We’ve watched our members accomplish amazing things, from book festivals, to PHDs, to new business ventures, podcasts, and everything in between.
Of course, these changes can sometimes feel bittersweet, as in the recent news that legendary member Doug Lane is moving. Doug has been a part of the Groundwork story from the very beginning– in fact, before we even opened our beta space, we had a Google Hangout with Doug.
When Doug started showing up to Groundwork almost every day, he motivated us to start acting like a real coworking space. That first customer is a turning point. After Doug, we never looked back.
So today we celebrate Doug, and all of those bold innovators who are willing to take a chance on a coupe of founders with a business idea. In true form, Doug graciously agreed to answer a few questions and reflect on his time at Groundwork. I hope you enjoy– this interview goes down as one of my all-time favorites.
You were our very first member in the small “Beta” space. What has it been like watching a brand-new coworking space grow and evolve?
It’s been amazing to watch Groundwork and the community around it take shape. Even in the very early days, I knew Groundwork would be successful as a coworking business. But I’ve been amazed by how much more than that it has become. It’s become a major arts center. It’s become a place for government officials to connect with businesspeople. It’s a center of activity for EforAll, which is creating new small businesses and new jobs. It connects local college students with the business community. The Groundwork blog has turned into a go-to source of information about what is happening in New Bedford. It’s been fun seeing the space and membership grow, but watching Groundwork’s impact extend beyond the facility itself has been the best part.
You’ve also worked at Workbar and other coworking spaces. Are there characteristics that all spaces share? What makes Groundwork! different from the others?
Coworking spaces in general tend to draw in friendly and interesting people. A simple smile and “hello” can go a long way when you’re a remote or independent worker who would otherwise be working in isolation.
But one thing that really sets Groundwork apart from any other place I’ve worked is the authenticity of the community. All coworking spaces try to foster a sense of community, but the Groundwork community feels very organic.
It gets a nudge here and there from the Groundwork team, but it really has its own personality and energy source. I also love the fact that the Groundwork membership isn’t just made up of technology workers in the way that big city coworking spaces often seem to be. It’s fun to see people talking about everything from urban planning to gardening to whiskey to shoes.
You mentioned EforAll, which is something you’ve been involved with since the South Coast program started. What is your favorite part about working with new entrepreneurs?
The EforAll process itself is really fun and inspiring to experience, but the best part of it is seeing past EforAll entrepreneurs thriving “in the wild.” Seeing things like a GotChew billboard and the Noodle Bowl storefront in Downtown New Bedford makes me smile. I was driving through Warren, Rhode Island last week and saw The Peyton Co. setting up a new storefront. I then stopped at a nearby cafe and saw products from two different EforAll alums, Bootblack Brand and Enjoyful Foods, on the shelves. It happens all the time now.
I also really love being exposed to businesses that couldn’t be more different from the technology bubble I live in most days. Through EforAll, I’ve now spent time thinking and learning about things like floral arrangements, electric motorcycles, and chicken farming. It’s really a two-way learning experience between the mentors and entrepreneurs.
Have you noticed any shifts or changes in the South Coast culture in the past three years? Are we starting to catch up to larger cities?
One big change I’ve noticed is a greater willingness to seek out and celebrate the positive things that are happening in the region. The mindset seems to be shifting from trying to catch up to places like Boston to “running our own race” and amplifying the things that makes the South Coast unique.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times where criticism is called for, but even those types of conversations seem more constructive as opposed to complaining about shortcomings of the area.
Groundwork plays a big role in this, since it seems to be a magnet for people who want to support and promote positive change in the region. Many of the good things going on the area have been happening for a while, but it feels like the dots between them are being connected more.
You did product marketing for a startup while working out of Groundwork! What can you share about startup culture?
Startup culture has changed quite a bit over the last decade or so. It used to be that the arc of a startup would play out over the course of a few years. Now, even the successful startups often take five to ten years to reach maturity. That means it’s more important than ever to find a startup situation where you can enjoy the journey and be less focused on the outcome.
If you enjoy what you’re doing and the team you’re working with, you’ll be happy regardless of the outcome. Some of my favorite memories at startups have been dealing with very difficult situations alongside people I like and respect.
On the flip side, if you have to use the promise of theoretical startup riches to motivate yourself to get out of bed everyday, you’re probably on a path to disappointment.
Tell us about your new venture, Axalane.
Axalane is a small marketing team that helps technology companies define, launch, and market their products. Many technology companies have a gap – and sometimes even a tension – between the technical people developing products and the sales and marketing teams that are responsible for driving business results. We help product teams package, price, and describe their products in a way that is easier for salespeople, partners, and customers to understand. Then, we take that foundation and work with the sales and marketing teams to design marketing materials, lead generation programs, and the other tools they need to find customers and close deals.
You’ve made some successful shifts in your career since we’ve known you. What advice do you have for people who are contemplating a job or career change?
My number one suggestion is to put the things you do everyday under a microscope and really try to identify what you like and don’t like doing, right down to the task level. In my case, I always aspired to move up the ladder to more senior roles at the technology companies I worked at, but the higher up I went, the less time I was spending writing, making videos, and doing other types of hands-on work that I really enjoy.
Another important thing to do if you’re considering a career change is to really get a good handle on your personal finances and budgeting. After many failed attempts, I finally got a very good family budgeting system in place a couple of years ago.
For most people, including me, there is never a risk-free time to make a big a career change, especially if you’re trying to solve for day-to-day happiness versus maximizing income.
But the fact that I knew exactly what I needed to earn in order to keep my family afloat gave me the confidence to make the jump to self-employment. Those first couple of weeks with no steady paycheck were still terrifying, but the fact that I can easily measure whether I’m on track really helps.