The Charlies

Self-Titled Debut Album

The Power of Place

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Which skyrise do you prefer?

Which skyrise do you prefer?

I have been told that in the U.S. one’s “twenties” are about finding yourself and finding your place. This summer I have explored new places with a new team. Assetmap has taken me from Providence to Chicago and across the path of the gold rush to San Francisco. I have slept on sofas, in closets, and along riverbeds on the way to this foggy city. But even with long days in the car, and prolonged hours in coffee shops I cannot say that I have found myself. On the contrary, I have found myself lost more often than found (lots of one way streets and mountainous streets in the Bay). When I landed in the Mission district of San Francisco, the dynamic and diverse community overwhelmed me. I quickly retreated into my work and into my new home, trying to find myself in this new place. Yet after weeks of sitting behind my computer working in cafes, I was no closer to knowing my new neighborhood or myself. The self-awareness I had sought was not forthcoming.

Last week, with work in a whirlwind, the team at Assetmap decided to take a few days off from the café hopping to begin our search for a more permanent home. This brought us to spaces I never expected to find: law office, co-working spaces, and tech incubators. Through the process of office hunting, seeing new communities, I realized why I was lost in reclusion. I was only going to “find myself” when I “found my place” situated in a larger community. The right community could provide a sense of belonging and meaning, new opportunities, and a safety net in hard times.

The three options that we explored revealed unique ways of creating a sense of place. At the small office space we could build something totally unique from the ground up. In a co-working space we had the opportunity to embed ourselves  in a young community with upward trajectory. Lastly, at the tech incubator we saw the chance to enter a robust and deep network.

I never expected to land a corner office in a lawfirm. Our first visit was in an old attorney’s office with all the amenities I had seen on the set of… “The Office.” The next-door professionals were dressed in drab business casual, a rare site outside of the financial district. The neighborhood was nice, and it would give us the opportunity to create a name for ourselves, but it was not our space. This was apparent, as we would have taken the spot for another start-up doing design for social businesses, who had clearly worn tired of making a name in a place they did not fit.

Alternatively, co-working spaces were a new and enlightening phenomenon. There were open offices with round tables for small business owners, designers, programmers, and entrepreneurs to share in a collaborative work environment. Our favorites, Citizen Space and Parisoma, are coffee shop-esque spaces with printers and conference rooms. Both host community events multiple times a week, and members are expected to contribute to other members work a few hours a week. Joining this community would be an opportunity to build a name for ourselves and support our co-workers.

Lastly, we drove through the San Francisco fog monster into pristine Sunnyvale CA to be wowed by Plug & Play, a tech accelerator and incubator. This bustling international office had over 200 companies as well as satellite workspace from every major university (a Brown space was conspicuously missing, despite alums throughout the building). Although a new community, Plug & Play already attracted the smartest minds from technology, business, and investment to accelerate the growth trajectory of nascent tech companies. To say the least we felt like a small fish in a big sea. This intensely competitive environment, with dozens of companies in “stealth mode,” clearly drives innovation if you have what it takes.

We settled on a hybrid route. Our new space is in the heart of the mission in the skeleton of a failed dot-com: evidence from the gold rush of the new millennium. But our new home is no traditional office space, we are working in a room that includes base camp of The Hub (a co-working space for social entrepreneurs about to open in Berkley), the organizers of Social Capital Markets (the premier U.S. conference for social entrepreneurs), B-Lab (a design firm building a ‘good’ focused product line) and Good Capital (a premiere investment fund for social enterprise), organizations we are passionate to be working around. This quasi co-working space is a dynamic work environment with big ideas constantly bouncing off the walls. More importantly we have found a community to build real meaning and new opportunities, and if we get off track our new friends will act as a compass to set us straight (it also doesn’t hurt to have a view of the entire city).

We have emerged from the coffee shops where writers and programmers type ferociously on their computers, rarely taking time to even notice each other. Seraching for a working space and a new community  has set me and Assetmap on the right course. This reaffirms my belief that I can only know myself when I am a part of a dynamic and supportive community. Not only do I have more to gain, but I now have more to give. Surely this is only just the beginning.


Written by Charlie

July 30, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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