In August 2005, I formed an LLC and started doing freelance work on the side of my full-time job.
In August 2008, I quit my full-time job to pursue independent consulting and self-employment.
In November 2008, I became one of the first members of New Work City and started growing my career through the coworking community.
As of October 2010, I have a new milestone to add to the list. I’ve been alluding to it on Twitter and bursting at the seams waiting to officially announce it here. Now is the time.
Two weeks ago, I joined Loosecubes as Product Experience Lead.
Loosecubes is a New York-based startup that matches independent professionals with companies that have extra office space. We are expanding our mission to be a community for the self-employed, and I am tasked with leading the product strategy shift and site relaunch. It couldn’t be more obvious that this is a perfect fit.
To answer your first question: No, I am not giving up self-employment. I am still 100% independent and will remain so. Being a consultant is a major part of my identity, and having the freedom to work with a variety of companies, however I wish, is extremely important to me. Despite my W9, I am a fully integrated member of the Loosecubes team, as “real” as every other member of the team (who are mostly all consultants as well). We are building a new kind of company.
Loosecubes was founded by Campbell McKellar, a fellow member of New Work City and first-time Internet entrepreneur. Previously she helped build hotels in TriBeCa, worked in the real estate division of Goldman Sachs, and co-founded a non-profit that supports non-profits. She also has a bachelor’s from Princeton and an MBA from Stanford. Yeah, wow.
Campbell and I have known each other since the beginning of the year when she joined NWC, but we never spoke more than a passing kiss on the cheek. We were both always busy. But an amazing thing happened on the last Tuesday in September: I was sitting on the couch during an epic email catch-up session at NY Nightowls, and Campbell sat down next to me, super stressed and needing to vent. She was nine months into developing her product, had hundreds of feature ideas, and wasn’t sure how to move forward. I asked if she knew what User Experience was; she said she knows that’s what I do, but not much more than that. So I stopped my email spree to show her some of my deliverables.
The idea that I might one day work with her never crossed my mind. I swear. I just thought that learning about some UX techniques might help give her focus. Midway through my spiel, she pulled out her iPhone and said, “Mind if I take notes?” Six documents and 30 minutes later, she asked if I’d be willing to chat with her team. In the spirit of sharing, the ethos of coworking, I said of course. In two years at New Work City, I had done this dozens of times before. We set up a meeting for two days later.
Thursday rolled around and I was rushing between meetings. I had no more than an hour to spare. Campbell had gathered her interim CTO Cody Robbins, community manager Anna Thomas, and designer Jesse James Arnold. As far as I can remember, all I did was walk them through a pretty standard UX process: user interviews > personas > scenarios > feature prioritization > sitemap > wireframes. I thought it could help to provide some structure for moving forward.
That night I had a glowing email from Campbell saying that I had re-energized the team, and she had been compelled to pause all development on the website until a product strategy had been created. Would I do it?
I wanted to, but it was going to be tough; I just so happened to have the following week, and only one week, available due to a rare and unexpected opening between client projects. I decided to try an experiment: research and strategy in just five days. I was clear that this was a process that I normally conduct over 2-3 months, but if she was willing to improvise, I was willing to give it a try. So we did.
In two years and two months of independent consulting, I had never before: a) worked on-site with a client for more than one day; b) worked on a single client project for five days in a row; c) worked at New Work City for five days in a row. And despite catching the cold that was going around on Day 2, it was the most fun I’ve ever had doing client work — and I’ve had a lot of fun doing client work.
This felt different. Calling Loosecubes a “client” just felt wrong.
At the end of each day, after 10+ hours in a small, stuffy room together, we went home to write each other love notes about how much fun we were having. I was sad to see the week end. Friday night we all went out for beers with a few NWC peeps. Yes, we wanted to spend more time together. Saturday night I invited Campbell to join me for the Food & Wine Festival’s grand dessert tasting. We laughed the night away with chocolate and wine, and as we stumbled out hours later to catch cabs home, she stopped me on the street and admitted that she wanted me to be a permanent part of Loosecubes. And I admitted that I wanted it, too. It was like falling in love.
The whole following week, I was walking around in a daze. I asked my closest friends, friends with startups, if they’ve ever felt high all of the time. “You’ve caught the bug,” they all said. They were right.
So here we are, a few weeks later and we’re full steam ahead. I’m building a design team and helping to recruit the best developers to work with Cody. We developed a product roadmap and I’ve built out a schedule to get it all done. I have a contract with Loosecubes through launch in mid-Q1 2011. Having an identity as an independent poses some constraints, and a short-term arrangement is what I’m most comfortable with — even though I know deep down that Loosecubes is now partially mine and I’m in it for the long haul.
This isn’t just about helping to build a company or having the latitude to build a product from the ground up. It’s the concept of a sandbox for the self-employed. I don’t just want to create it, I want to use it. In the last 2+ years, I’ve dedicated my time to helping others go indie, stay indie, and grow indie — a role I never expected to have but that has been sort of thrust upon me given my visibility in the community, and I’ve welcomed it with open arms because of what I believe it means for the future of this country, for the world. Helping people take control of their professional destiny, blurring the line between professional and personal. Removing the roadblocks that are in people’s way: fear, insecurity, and lack of direction. Encouraging people to embrace the overwhelming freedom, and define their own version of success and fulfillment. That’s what I’ve come to realize is how I want to define mine.
The vision of revolutionizing the modern day workforce (in a way I personally experience), the indescribable team I’m surrounded by, the opportunity I’ve been given to finally bring together my disparate skills and interests — it’s simply a dream. Am I scared? Hell yes. I want this to succeed more than anything else I’ve ever put my mind to; I’m completely consumed by it. But it’s the journey that will change me forever, not the destination. I can’t predict what it will be. But I have high hopes, and all the signs seem to be pointing the way.
I look forward to taking you along with me.
Please share your ideas, questions, concerns, visions, oppositions, and deepest darkest secrets in the comments. I can’t wait to hear what you have say!
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