To read the Green Pants Chronicles from the beginning, click here.
Act 2: Launch
Recap of the Inception Phase. No Axe Murderers.
Alright, so let’s recap… It’s fall of 2010. Brad and I had an idea that crapped out (BuzzBox), then circled around for the next one (RFMConnex). Adam Covati called me a coward, only in not so nice terms (don’t worry Covati, I’ve got nothin’ but love for ya baby), which forced me to confront the fact that I had to just jump if I was ever going to be an entrepreneur. Lovely wife, Laurie, supports me in the decision to recklessly throw myself into the abyss.
Scot met Brad while looking for an “in” at Bronto, they geeked out about the fact that RFMConnex was in theory close to what Scot and his former boss, Chris, did at LSSIData, just in a different industry, and that in contrast to Brad and I, may know how to actually build this thing out. We all had lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill at Southpoint, where Chris turned up the heat and grilled us cheesy sales guys more vigorously than the cooks were working the bison burgers in the back, but came to the conclusion that Brad and I were probably alright and the idea wasn’t half bad. We wrestled our way through the founder’s equity conversation (which I now call the “Hearts and Wallets” talk) and declared our corporate values, culminating in a family dinner to make sure that none of us or our children were axe-murderers.
Ask, the Worst They Can Say Is No
This next bit is one of my favorite parts of the entire journey because it speaks to the generosity of the human spirit, and the tendency of big hearted people to pull for those who are up against the odds. As “day zero” approached, I knew I was going to need a place for us to work. My boisterous and lovingly-lived-in (read “shoes all over the place and crumbs on the floor”) house wasn’t going to be conducive to the effort. So, I invoked a lesson that my [best ever, number one, one in a million] Mom, Carol Chelette, incessantly drilled into my brother, John, and I throughout our trajectories:
“Ask…. The worst they can say is “no.”
I just started asking everyone I could think of if they knew of free space. I got a bunch of “no’s” (which didn’t bother me at all), but within a few days, I’d generously been given two “yeses! “
Free Office Space
The first was Adam Klein who was working at the Durham Chamber of Commerce at the time, and who was passionate about stoking the fires of entrepreneurship in Durham. He was going to square away an empty cube or two for us in the Chambers offices, and I was so appreciative. The second was Michael Kerr of Edge Office. I’m not sure how I even got connected to Michael, but the net of it was that he had sublet the middle third of the 1st floor of the Penny Furniture building (owned/renovated by none other than the talented and ambitious Cynthia Hill), and was using it as his Downtown Durham showroom. It had internet, nice office furniture that could seat 6-8 people, a conference table…. The works! He met me at Beyu Caffe (whose founder/owner Dorian Bolden is now a good friend) and after chatting for a few moments, said that he had been involved in a few startups, knew what the grind was all about, and offered to let us use the space, and the furniture, and the electricity, and the internet…. For free. No strings attached.
Just Don’t be a D!&k
As he led me across the street to the office, I remember feeling a little dumbstruck, and in awe of this guy’s easy generosity. We’d just met. He didn’t know me from Adam. Well, not the Adam that I just mentioned. Nevermind, you know what I’m saying. He didn’t know me at all, and he was about to let me use the space for free.
As he gave me a key and showed me the security code, I asked… “do I need to sign anything?” to which he replied, “No, just don’t be a d!&k.”
I’m mostly good at not being a d!&k (although I’m sure Laurie would say I have my moments). So, I giggled a bit (not very cool) and confirmed that I could live up to that expectation, and away I went. Full office cubes, awesome rolling chairs, and the spottiest internet Frontier had to offer in Downtown Durham at the time. Beggars can’t be choosers.
(Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Michael had the sublease through early summer, and by then we were rocking and rolling, so we eased into a shared lease as we went through 2012, and in 2013 we took on most of the sublease but then let him continue to use our space. As we later moved into the American Underground in mid-late 2013, there was a competing furniture group that had everything locked up, but we insisted that Michael get the furniture contract for our space as we moved in, or we wouldn’t do the deal. Generosity begets loyalty. Michael took a chance on us when he didn’t need to, and helped propel us forward at a time that we had absolutely nothing, and for that I’m supremely thankful. If you’re reading this, and are in the Triangle, and need office furniture, please contact Michael and tell him that I sent you. Much love, friend.
So, the next thing was that we needed to park somewhere. While parking was significantly easier to find in Downtown Durham in 2011-2012, it wasn’t free, so the team and I scouted out all the little side streets and actually documented on our intranet where you could park your car all day for free within 2-3 blocks of the office. Those days are long gone, but it spoke to the hustle.
We were going to figure out how to launch this thing, and do it on the resources we had. It was the true definition of scrappiness.