Dec 10 2012

Paying It Forward Never Felt So Good

Guest post from Ben Barreth from Homes For Hackers, a 6 week old program to lure startups to Kansas City with 3 months of free living/working space and free Google Fiber.

Truth be told: I never wanted to actually do this idea. I wrote a blog post about it, thought someone might find it interesting, then promptly forgot about it. Three weeks later I found myself invited to a free lunch with Cameron Cushman & Nate Olson from the Kauffman Foundation.

Free lunch? I’m there.

They told me quite plainly, “We love your idea Ben. Now you just need to do it.”


That was a Monday. I launched the site Thursday morning.

It is quite possibly the ugliest site on the Internet since Craigslist. It’s so ugly, it drives right through the realm of being cool and out the other side to just being really ugly, all over again.

I told myself I didn’t want to put all this effort into something I had no idea would take off. As I’m learning more about startups, I realize now that I inadvertently created my minimum viable product. Not because I needed to get the product to market quickly, or get feedback from real life users early, or to fail fast. But simply because I’m lazy.

Here’s the idea: What if 10 generous Kansas City homeowners that have Google Fiber would let startups live with them, rent-free, for 3 months at a time? We could seed 40 new startups into KC in a single year.

People really started rallying behind this idea. Someone posted it on Hacker News. I was interviewed by ArsTechnica and a bunch of small business publications. About 20 startups and 4 homeowners registered in the first 24 hours. I felt overwhelmed, fearful and euphoric all at the same time.

Then suddenly Google Fiber released their rollout schedule.

None of the homeowners in my program were getting fiber until summer 2013. The startups wanted fiber and I didn’t have it. I truly believed in the potential of the program. I had received so much encouragement and support that I knew the idea contained true merit, not just my own fantasies of greatness.

On Wednesday, September 19th, I looked up from the computer and said to my wife: “You know, we could just buy a house… right in Hanover Heights where the fiber is coming first.” We both laughed (hard). What a ridiculous idea.

Four days later we put down an offer on 4428 State Line Road.

Crazed again by euphoria, it was a week later when I found I needed a 20% down payment (instead of only 10), because of the investment loan. So what does any entrepreneur do in a tight place with a cause they believe in? They calculate the risk… then they double down. I took another crazy leap of faith and liquidated a retirement account to fund the down payment.

I keep asking myself: How did I even get here? All I did was write a stinking blog post! People keep asking me: “Why are you doing this?” and I just stare dumbly. Then tonight I happened to read this:

“… entrepreneurial leaders follow a ‘give before you get’ philosophy: They have no idea what they are going to get out of providing this leadership, but they expect it will be more than they invest. In some cases, the results are tangible and immediate; in other cases the results are vague and take a long time to materialize. Regardless, the short-term emotional satisfaction of helping to mobilize, grow, and evolve a startup community is substantial.”   Startup Communities by Brad Feld, pg 33.

Thanks Brad, that really helps. Seriously.

In fact, I wish I had read all that before staring dumbly at a bunch of people this week at Thinc Iowa.

You know what the best thing is? The startup community in Hanover Heights is already way ahead of my Homes for Hackers idea. I haven’t even closed on the house yet and startups like Local Ruckus, Leap2, FormZapper and EyeVerify have already moved their operations into this new KC Startup Village of Hanover Heights. CHWC is looking to buy condemned homes in the area to fix them up specifically for use by startups. The Compute Midwest Hackathon is coming to the Google Fiber Space just 1 block away. Red Nova Labs continues to have great startup Meetups across the street from the neighborhood.

I can truly rest easy knowing that if Homes for Hackers died off tomorrow, this new fledgling KC Startup Village will continue to grow exponentially. My greater satisfaction comes from playing my small role in bringing this startup community to life.

Paying it forward never felt so good.

Ben Barreth
Cell: 816-332-9770

Enhanced by Zemanta