As the holidays kick into full gear, and people start looking at a short sprint to gift times with family, I am offering a 30 minute phone consultation related to WordPress for $100. This is a great thing for someone who needs to figure out how to do something that may be unfamiliar for them or if they are just getting setup with WordPress and need plugin recommendations, or the like.
To setup your 30 minute appointment or to inquire about gifting that appointment, fill out this form. For the description, just reference this deal.
For longer term commitments or consulting engagements, including custom plugin development, I am booking clients for Dec and Jan, so feel free to ask about those opportunities as well.
This offer is only good today, Friday Nov 23, 2012 until midnight Central Time.
This offer is good through Midnight, Monday, November 26, 2012 – Cyber Monday.
I normally write articles that carry a bit of authority. I usually write what I know about and have a high degree of confidence writing. I don’t write often because I want what I do write to carry authority and be hard-hitting.
This is not really one of those articles.
I haven’t done what people like Alex Hillman has done in creating collaborative working environments for independent entrepreneurs at Independent’s Hall in Philadelphia.
I haven’t been an organizer and champion of city-wide entrepreneurship like Josh Baer has in Austin.
What I have done is work within the context of a thriving WordPress community of developers, users, consultants and advocates.
I have lived in a city that has made it’s name on entrepreneurship and arts in Austin.
I have helped and supported entrepreneurs in their quest to build products in DC and find ways of succeeding both with and without investment money.
Moving Back to Baltimore
For some weeks now, I’ve made it clear that I’ve decided to move back from Austin to Baltimore. In 2008, I left Baltimore because I saw awesome things developing in technology in DC. At the time, there were guys like Peter Corbett who was just beginning to do technology advocacy work in the Nation’s Capital. By 2009, iStrategyLabs would launch the first Apps for Democracy contest that challenged contestants to create web and mobile applications with civic intent. That would morph into similar contest like Apps for America, etc.
You would also see some organizations that would flare out dramatically because of business model, ideas, weak leadership, lack of community involvement, etc.
I would then move to Austin where I would see a city immersed in technology. Lots of money flowing. Lots of incubator action, such as the products and entrepreneurs who would be graduated from the Capital Factory incubator. I would see ATX Startup Crawl occur several times a year as guests would have the opportunity to move around town and visit some of the great startups like TabbedOut, InfoChimps, uShip and more. Thousands of people would come through these offices and see the great technologies and ideas being built, all while enjoying local Texas beers and eats.
I would see awesome projects like We Are Austin Tech highlight influencers in that community (including myself) come up.
And I watched Baltimore grow as a technology community to the point where DC entrepreneurs started paying attention to their up and coming little brother 45 mins up I-95. I watched from afar as Dave Troy would put his heart and soul into building Baltimore as a center of entrepreneurship and tech. I’d watch as Greg Cangialosi would build his Blue Sky Factory marketing firm out and have a successful acquisition, all while continuing to personally invest more in the Baltimore scene.
I even watched great tragedies like the systematic destruction of Advertising.com by Aol.
I watched this all over the last 4 years and realized Baltimore was coming into it’s own. It had successes. It had failures. It had investors. It had bootstrap. It’s still not entirely cohesive, but from my seat, it looks promising.
So I’ve decided to move back to my home and put my money where my mouth is and see if I can take what I’ve gleaned from DC and Austin and apply it here in Baltimore. I may be one of those failures. Or I may not be, but I’ve got to try.
What Makes a Successful Community?
In the last few weeks, I’ve had several conversations with Baltimore business owners and entrepreneurs, and I’m finding a common question and point of discussion: What makes a successful community? The answers and opinions are intriguing. Again, I can’t say my opinion carries any authority. What I can say, however, is I’ve been in a bunch of communities and witnessed elements of success.
Some folks think a successful business community requires investors who are willing to commit their time and money. Anyone who has gone through the fundraising process knows that hands on investors are the best kind. If a VC or Angel investor can help a portfolio company supplement resources (human capital or otherwise) through their network, they bring quite a bit of upside to a startup. Investors who wire money and never pay attention to their portfolio companies, expecting the founders to execute according to plan, are in my opinion bad investors.
So in this light, some entrepreneurs here in Baltimore find the lack of investment money or engaged investors as detrimental to the community.
On the flip side of the coin, some entrepreneurs seem to be thinking that the mark of a good startup community is going to be in the number of entrepreneurs who are able to successfully bootstrap. There is some validity to this claim as well. The more you can do on your own, the less of your company you’re giving away (as I noted in the “Valleyboys” segment of this article a few weeks ago).
However, there is also value in bootstrapping and taking money, if the situation is right.
My opinion is that a city startup community is built on all these things. It’s not money, really. Money will follow success. Perhaps Baltimore needs to have an IPO or high profile acquisition that allows the company to continue to operate and hire in Baltimore to put them on the map and in the conversation. I don’t really think it’s that, per se, but that certainly helps.
It would help if the State of Maryland was more business-friendly to small businesses, as Texas is. People come to Texas, and more specifically Austin, from California and New York because the environment is notably friendly to small business. More business would be created in Maryland with better business policy. It might even attract out of state growth.
Beyond that though, meetups are important but meetups don’t create value if the conversations end at the meetup. The idea of building something – a prototype – as you might get out of a Startup Weekend is good… if it continues afterwards from prototype to business product.
But I think the biggest thing that makes community grow is collaboration and the willing to share ideas without being defensive, sharing resources without being possessive, sharing physical space without being prohibitive. It takes more that an entrepreneurs flying solo behind his Macbook Pro in a coffee shop, but it takes less than structured office space with prohibitive managerial org charts.
It doesn’t take sacrificing lifestyle on the altar of work, but it does take entrepreneurs willing to gut out ideas by working with other entrepreneurs and customers and transparently sharing war stories of success and failure while helping to mentor others new to the space.
It does takes the karmaic “pay it forward” approach without fiefdoms and regional rivalries to ensure that a rising tide raises all ships. What you put in to other companies you have no direct stake in, but can help with informal advice (when solicited) makes for a circle of life that encourages a community to exceed expectations and move from one level to the next. Mentorship is not an ROI term, but it is critical to the ecosystem.
Google is really scary. On the other hand, Google brings the world closer together. And it’s with that idea that I’m going to take my readers on a little tour of my life.
I’ve move around a lot in life. Such is the life of a minister’s kid. Spent years in central Africa. Lived all over Maryland… twice (getting ready for a third time). Lived in snowy New York. Lived all over. Usually if I were to give someone a tour, I’d have them in a car and drive around through old neighborhoods, passing by old houses, telling stories.
I’m going to do that now because I’m in a reminiscing mood.
It started in Tonawanda, NY – a city-suburb of Buffalo. The very first home I lived in on Roswell Ave. Sadly, I don’t know anything about that place because I was too young to even remember it.
Lovejoy, Buffalo, New York
My first memories of life happened on Longnecker St in East Buffalo. I actually have a surprisingly good recollection of this place. I remember that it was in this place, my dad who was a line man for the power company, would come in with ice in his beard. I remember when he put in a wood burning stove into the house and built the chimney. Never have I felt a hotter heat than that.
I remember the milk machine on the corner of Lovejoy and Longnecker. Yes, we had milk machines back in the 70s.
I lived in the Lovejoy neighborhood, which was always a sketchy place to live but has become a terribly drug-ridden neighborhood today even since my earliest memories in the early 80s.
Kinshasa, D.R.C. (Zaïre)
In 1984, my parents moved us out to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaîre) where they were missionaries. I remember these days very well. How many American kids can really say they spent time growing up in third world Africa? Not many.
Sadly, Google Street View has not gotten to Kinshasa (and probably won’t for awhile), so I rely on what photos are available of the area nearby where I lived. Here is a photo of the Rte de Matadi, a “highway” that runs between the capital city of Kinshasa and one of the provincial capitals, Matadi. It, to this day, is one of the few usable inter-city roads in the country.
Bukavu was an interesting 6 months of my life. We moved from Kinshasa to the eastern side of the country to a provincial capital surrounded by rain forest. It was quite isolated. We lived in an old hotel that was turned into a sprawling palatial duplex with another American family living in the other side.
This estate sat on top of the highest point in the city and overlooked Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s Great Lakes that is torturously poisoned by methane gas from the volcanic activity in the region, and unsafe for humans, to the north and across the border into Rwanda to the northeast.
For the recent history buffs, during the genocide that continues to happen but began in Rwanda (Think Hotel Rwanda), Bukavu became a refugee camp for people streaming across the border. In fact, CNN reported on this development in the early 1990s from my front lawn. I did not live there anymore, but nonetheless… that happened.
Back in Buffalo
The time in Bukavu was short-lived as the entire family contracted a form of airborne Hepatitis. No, we were not all promiscuous, what with me being the oldest of 3 at 11 years old. It’s just life in a third world country and is the reason that, to this day, I cannot give blood – and never will be able to.
My dad was evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya for emergency medical attention and we all flew home to Buffalo for observation and testing shortly after that and lived there a year before we were cleared medically to return. During 1987, we lived in a little house in the Buffalo suburb of Depew. This is where I lived (I believe :P).
In 1988, we moved back to Kinshasa. Political forces that were the ominous clouds of what would ultimately come were brewing and after a year, we, along with several other American families, were ejected from the country. While some returned, we never would. In 1991, revolution would overcome the country as tribal hatred spread from Rwanda into Eastern Zaïre and would continue until dictator “President” Mobutu Sese Seko would overthrown and exiled by rebel forces led by Laurent Kabila. The civil war continues in parts of the Congo today.
This is a satellite view (again, no street view, but the satellite imagery is far better than when I looked at it last – nice work, Google) of a mostly American neighborhood named Joli Park. On our street, almost all residents were American and Canadian missionary and embassy workers.
The Move to Maryland
After returning from Zaïre, we moved to Maryland. Of all my U.S. experience at the ripe old age of almost 13, I’d never lived outside of Buffalo. I was not prepared for the intense summer humidity and change of lifestye. I learned how to catch crabs with just a piece of twine and chicken bait tied to the piers here at Hunter’s Harbor on the Magothy River in Pasadena, MD.
While in that neighborhood, I lived in this house for a year and made friends with my next-door neighbor, Tim, who introduced me to the finer things in life like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mega Man. It was also at this house that I encountered my first, and thankfully only “Warrior Turtle” – a three-legged alligator snapping turtle that looked like he had personally won World War II for the Allies and was looking to make sure someone paid for it.
Severna Park Troubles
A year later, we moved about 10 miles away to Severna Park where we famously lived in the sub-development next to Pat Sajak’s. It was also the pinnacle of my teenage rebellion where I suppose I may have had the brilliance to try running away from home. Literally, running away from home. With my dad on my heels running after me down the middle of the street. Did I think I could get far? Clearly I did. Do I laugh at myself now? Sure… and I know I could run faster than my dad now. :)
As a bonus, I played my one and only play in high school football at Severn School where, as a member of the JV squad (and mostly practice at that), I was sent in to play a route as a WR… I wasn’t going to get the ball. I was just going to run a route. As a defensive back by position, I was so nervous I lined up 7 yards off the line of scrimmage instead of on the line, as a receiver should, and the play was whistled dead for illegal formation, thus ending my illustrious high school football career.
Back to Pasadena
In the next two years, I lived in two more houses. I began my working life at first, beginning a job at Wendy’s 2 blocks from my house. To this day, I have a few people I keep up with. I hope that tomorrow, when Maryland approves Question 6 allowing marriage equality in the state, I will be able to attend my old boss’s, and current friend’s, wedding to his long-time partner.
In the second of homes in that time, I wasn’t actually home much. I got my first vehicle when I turned 18 and I liked to spend my time working or out with friends getting into trouble. I would finally leave home (and this home) to head to upstate New York in 1995. (It’s that house behind the tree)
Which leads me to Lima, NY and Elim Bible Institute. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a preacher. So I started doing what I was supposed to to become one. That meant enrolling in Elim, and moving north to the great one-stoplight town 17 miles south of Rochester – Lima, NY.
I never was good with academics, though, so this really only lasted a year. Also, my family moved up there too which put more pressure on me as a young adult trying to find my own way in the world. I’d leave after only a year on “The Hill”. At least Google got this photo on the one day there wasn’t piles of drifting snow.
I took my talents, in October of 1996, to Astoria, Queens where I would live for two years and fall in love with the City. I still love New York to this day. Living on a small stipend plus room, board and meals for free, I volunteered my time with an organization that worked largely with the homeless population in the city, the New York School of Urban Ministry (or NYSUM).
I owe the two years I spent in New York for my personal bias toward New York-style pizza, public transportation, and dangerously safe driving.
I also owe my time in New York to where my mind began to open up to more progressive, and non-traditional philosophical ideas, much to the dismay of the religious leadership around me.
Back to Maryland
In Oct of 1998, I left NYC and went back to Lima for a short time. It was a few months after that, that I moved back to Maryland in an old Chevy S-10 pickup truck my dad gave me since I was broke and couldn’t afford a car and he needed a new one anyway. In all rights, that truck shouldn’t have made it past the Village line, but in fact it got me to Baltimore and gave me wheels for a month or two before it finally choked.
I holed up in a Glen Burnie apartment where I worked multiple jobs and would eventually meet a girl who would become the mother of my son a few years later. Although we didn’t last, this period is somewhat memorable for me.
I would get married 22 months later and we would find the cheapest place we could afford, even if it meant living out in the country. That led us to a single bedroom apartment adjoined to a house on acres of land in the middle of nowhere, Carroll County, MD (for which I have no visual evidence).
When we moved again, to be closer to work, we’d hole up in a basement apartment in a private home. It was terrible.
In 2003, we bought a house on the Baltimore City/County line and lived there for 18 months, selling before the housing market imploded. It was in this house that we had our son, Devin, who is now 9. I was working as a contractor for the Navy in DC and had decided at the age of 27 to enlist. A long story why that didn’t happen would follow, but sufficed it to say, that never transpired. The house is bigger than what it looks like and wasn’t bad for a first home.
In 2004, we moved into a smaller apartment that was supposed to be temporary until I shipped for basic training and got my orders. Like I said, that never happened so what was meant to be a temporary solution ended up being home for several year. Essentially until our divorce.
I moved to Alexandria, VA to live with a friend for about six months in late 2008-09. I won’t post his home because he still lives there but then, it was back to Maryland. I was feeling the DC thing after Baltimore. I had begun to develop friendships with DC folks and as a newly single man, I like the opportunity for some level of anonymity while I explored my new world in a new city. It was really quite awkward, looking back, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I would live in Bethesda, MD from 2009-2010, almost 1.5y.
Google doesn’t take it’s car back there. I can only imagine that when they passed by, it was the 2010 #Snowpocalypse and they couldn’t get in.
Now I’m in Austin. I won’t show you these photos either, for privacy, and I’m moving back to Baltimore, God willing, in January. So the saga continues.
I really wanted to just share this stuff though. It makes me nostalgic and technology is both terrifying and amazing.