Editor’s Note: Thanks to the power of the internet, I came across Julian Shapiro who was writing an piece on his thoughts on the development of the Vegas Tech community. I told him I’d be happy to post his piece as a guest post on Vegas Startups once it was ready.
Julian is the founder of NameLayer.com, a domain name portfolio for tech entrepreneurs. You can follow him at @Shapiro.
For years, I’ve wondered what a city with a focus on community would look like if it were not the product of total corporate control. I’d love to be part of such a city if it were done “right.”
Fortunately for me (a tech entrepreneur), such a community would benefit greatly from a focus on tech, as it is a proven conduit to exponential job creation as well as localized innovation. Crucially important, however, is that the goal of downtown Las Vegas is not to recreate Silicon Valley, but rather to communally plant the seeds for an autonomous, living, and breathing city that will ultimately supercharge itself.
Only with this type of a platform can the next generational advancement in innovation be possible. If mankind is largely defined by innovation (not merely incremental adaptation) and social connection, then igniting social connections through a holistically communal approach will naturally amplify all the wonders of human ingenuity in the process.
The way you go about doing this is by simply connecting the dots. To do anything more is to not only overcomplicate the matter, but to unrealistically overextend oneself (as the communal seed planter). In the context of community building, “connecting the dots” translates to interconnecting passions instead of actively fostering passions: Instead of riling up individuals to partake in various subcommunities, you attract individuals with pre-existing, focused, and explosive passions that simply need to be given some kindling and a direction to head in.
The goal of this article is to raise awareness of the power of collective consciousness so that individuals are discouraged from simply waiting around for Zappos to “finish” executing its vision for its wonderful Downtown Project. After all, by definition, this is a community-wide undertaking.
1. Hope is not a strategy
Proactively educating and motivating
People won’t just serendipitously begin building and executing their businesses in ways that seamlessly benefit the community. No one is self-aware about absolutely everything they do. People need reminders; they need to be educated and motivated.
When businesses emerge with a collective knowledge and consideration for what’s taking place around them, you have the power – as the seed planters – to proactively replace certain outdated traditions with newer, more powerful ones.
Let’s take a look at a very small example: Why not educate all new restaurants about the latest web services and pitch them on the benefits of integrating an online table reservation and/or takeout system from day one? When this becomes a norm (a community-wide expectation) with clearly perceived benefits, it becomes naturalized such that incoming small business owners seeking exciting opportunities will begin thinking up ideas and technological co-ops on their own.
Imagine if you could walk down any block in downtown Las Vegas with your iPhone out and plan your entire lunch or dinner experience before you even arrive at the front doors of your office. Now apply that same power to the process of planning all of your work-related tasks for the day, and you start to realize how the big picture comes together.
Likewise, there are a lot of tech-related institutional practices that can heighten the efficiency and energy of a city when that city is being built upon a collective consideration for what’s going on around it. You leverage that consciousness by being vocal: If you have a soapbox and a slew of fantastic ideas, start getting discussions rolling. If you don’t have a soapbox, create one.
You can apply proactive education and motivation to so many aspects of city life:
- Biking instead of driving
- The proximity of crucial storefronts (supermarkets, doctors) to living areas
- Schools that employ effective and energized teaching methods – not simply what has come before them:
- Likewise, perform a nation-wide search for individuals who are gung-ho passionate about this way of teaching. Then, have those people get teaching degrees. In other words, you don’t have to start only with teachers who are already ingrained into the old system. Make your own rules.
- Prioritize the study of happiness – even starting at a young age. This isn’t a superficial attempt to appeal to Hsieh’s passions; it’s merely a response to the current educational system’s institutionalization of prioritizing career planning over the pursuit of genuine fulfillment.
- Giving storefronts tax deductions for each hour they stay open past 6pm:
- Why should enjoying life ever be constrained to society’s pre-existing notions, such as “work hours”? Life is so much more enjoyable with flexibility.
- Try to consider the hidden costs of everything. Yes, it requires a lot of thought, but its positive effects will be felt for centuries: As Kim Schaefer asks, “As Las Vegas has grown over the last 100 years, what are the things we’ve sacrificed to create the city that we now live in? There are the obvious costs, environmental and financial, of building a city in the middle of a desert, but what else have we lost along the way?“
A lot of great new people won’t just show up out of nowhere.
A jet link between Las Vegas and Silicon Valley is smart. It adds a level of sophistication and intrigue. But, more importantly, it removes a lot of excuses that people will have about geographical friction.
In what other ways can we remove friction? Well, let’s start by thinking about what the key elements are that keep people right where they are – the elements that convince people that packing their bags to go work a more interesting job in another city is an overwhelming undertaking:
- Not being around existing friends; losing touch with friends; having to make new friends
- Overwhelmed by new surroundings; feeling spatially and socially isolated in a new city
- Missing their home city’s unique culture; being intimidated by or uninterested in cultural change
Each one of these points should be proactively addressed by the “marketing department” of the destination community. With community already being priority numero uno to the Downtown Project, let’s just briefly focus on the third point:
- Cultural change: Unlike hiring for a company, you can’t vet for new citizens. However, just like a company, you can offer creative resources that show off what you’re about. I believe that every amount of energy and passion that went into accepting visitors with open arms at Zappos should be equally spent on having regular, clever, and strategically-planned tours around downtown Las Vegas. To take it a level further, however, it should be a “two-time commitment” on behalf of the visitors: At the end of every tour, each visitor should be told: “If you don’t plan on moving in the immediate future, we implore you to come back in 12 months – perhaps on your next casino vacation – and prepare to be blown away by how much this city has changed. You can also just check out the progress online!”
In other words, if there’s sufficient capital and drive to rapidly change downtown Las Vegas, this monumental momentum should be leveraged to evoke wonder out of those who are interested in relocating; use this massive differential as a marketing tool. Start by filming the current state of the downtown area: Peruse city blocks and showcase everything they have to offer. From early morning to late night, show it in its full glory and darkness. Then, every four months, have a film crew come back through and retrace their steps. Compile this footage into an ever-growing retro-comparison video walk-through for thousands to witness on YouTube. (You can even make specialized videos for the arts, community development, education, tech, and so on. Also, don’t forget to address factors like safety/crimerate, affordability, real estate value, climate, and public transportation.) When people see the changes being made, they’ll realize that moving to downtown Las Vegas is unlike moving to any other destination: The city is in a state of constant flux and growth. People would be relocating not just to experience a change, but they would be relocating to continue experiencing change. A living, breathing city.
2. Luck is not a factor
Methodology of approach
You won’t simply be stricken with the best of the best ideas – especially not for every type of small business that a city fuels itself on.
What will help is a strategy for systematically gathering and assessing ideas. This way, the best can naturally rise to the top where they will then be infused with individual vision.
As an example, let’s develop an idealistic approach for building a small business: Choose two or three thriving cities (anywhere in the world) that are as different from one another as possible – yet all of which reflect the lifestyle and communal foundations that you wish to infuse into your business and your community. With each of your chosen cities, repeat the following:
- 1. Visit Yelp.com (or the regional variant of Yelp).
- 2. Go through each and every business category.
- 3. Look at the highest rated destinations in each category.
- 4. Visit the top 5-10 of those destinations, per category, per city.
- Send a couple people who are very good at paying attention to not only the fine details in things but also the larger picture at hand.
- Have them take videos, pictures, and transcribed summaries on the pros and cons of each location.
- Have them compare the comments left in the Yelp reviews with their real-life experiences before synthesizing what the destinations specifically do that cause people to react so enthusiastically about what they experience.
- 5. Distill this entire collection of multi-city research into one master index.
- 6. (Optional) Repeat steps 1-5 for the worst rated destinations so that you can be reminded of what NOT to do.
- 7. Have highly energized brainstorming sessions about each business category, consulting the index as necessary.
The important thing to remember is that performing systematic research doesn’t detract from idiosyncratically and passionately pursuing development – it simply supercharges it. Research is the food that fuels the productive mind.
Attracting thought leaders
Keep it simple; just connect the dots. Don’t spend energy trying to woo 50,000 tech enthusiasts when you can spend 5% of that time wooing the people who the tech enthusiasts pay attention to.
What does someone like Tim Ferriss have that most of the top tech bloggers don’t? Influential, result-oriented clout. Yes, there are quite a few larger-than-life bloggers with lots of eyes on them, but someone like Ferriss converts those eyes into moving hands, whereas most just momentarily attract attention.
Do whatever you need to in order to get the Tim Ferrisses to not only whole-heartedly advocate downtown Las Vegas but to also relocate – at least part-time. After all, monkey see, monkey do; not monkey hear, monkey do.
For each industry, thoroughly research so that you always pinpoint the real thought leaders.
Regarding tech in particular, everything that can be said about attracting tech entrepreneurs has already been beautifully summed up by Rick Duggan:
- Respond more effectively to offers of help
- Give structure to those who prefer structure
- Ensure adequate supply of funding for deserving companies
- Facilitate founder speed dating
Just imagine living in a city that was home to the eclectic leaders in several dozen spaces, including yoga, music, arts, teaching, and so on. What would the vibe be like? How would such a massive amount of inspiration rub off on the community? Kids would grow up having leaders to admire in any space that they could possibly be passionate about. Consequently, success in their chosen field would always seem tangible – they wouldn’t know mediocrity.
This scenario might seem obnoxiously idealistic, but dumb it down a bit (if you must) and imagine applying it to all facets of inspiration. You’ll find yourself coming up with some very powerful ideas.
3. Fear is not an option
If you knew this development initiative was going to fail, leaving you to make the most of the little time and capital you had left, what’s the craziest – yet still incredibly clever and impactful – stuff that you’d try pulling off?
- You want to build a multi-block zipline? Why not build an aerial waterslide and sell waterproof briefcases at each end? When Las Vegas presents you with 117 degree temperatures, throw a waterslide in its face.
- You want to make downtown’s physical configuration convenient? Well, why not reorganize so that the downtown zone is a series of concentric “circles”? The outer-most circle is where the apartments are, then the next inner level would be the quick conveniences (groceries, haircut), then you have restaurants, then entertainment, then business, and finally a park in the middle where people can congregate. It’s like a sugary center to a multi-layered lollipop.
- You want to discourage driving cars? Well, why not encourage people to drive (road-certified) electric golf carts and go-karts all around the area? If everyone’s doing it, then the concern of being smashed to bits by a traditional car wouldn’t be too great…
It goes on and on. Don’t base ideas off of what you’re used to. Base ideas off of the most idealistic creations you can autonomously come up with. Only once you’ve done this should you then synthesize your ideal scenario with “reality” and make compromises.
Always start big.
Someone once passionately wrote, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” And what we’re talking about here is fostering the ideal environment for impassioned people to genuinely create themselves. That’s something I’d want to be a part of. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years. Throughout this time, the only concrete conclusion I’ve come to is that there can never fully be a blueprint – there can only be a starting point combined with good intentions and the genuine drive to see those intentions through.
The reason that there can never be a blueprint is that a community is not defined by its distinct subcommunities (because, divided, they’re just factions), but rather a community is defined by the spaces that naturally arise in between subcommunities. (Watch Zach Ware of the Downtown Project talk more about this concept here.) Those spaces filling themselves in is the sign of human ingenuity at work.
That’s where the greatest magic happens.