Hi. I have a plan to create 50,000 jobs in the Philadelphia area over the next 10 years.
Do I have your attention?
Last time someone said they were creating 50,000 jobs somewhere, it was Jeff Bezos, and he got the attention of millions of citizens, governments, business owners, and the media.
I noticed it too, of course. I didn’t weigh in the public discourse very much (except for a single panel discussion in November 2017). But in 1-1 and small group conversations, I consistently made my position clear: job creation is good and our city needs it, but a single source of 50,000 jobs is the worst way to grow jobs in just about any modern ecosystem.
That level of dependence on a single employer is brittle at best and dangerous at worst. And that single source of 50,000 jobs being Amazon, who is notoriously one of the most ruthless businesses in the world, is the WORST worst way to generate those jobs.
Some people asked me what would be better, besides “anything?”
I answered with simple arithmetic:
- 5 companies with 10,000 employees
- 10 companies with 5,000 employees
- 20 companies with 2,500 employees
- 50 companies with 1,000 employees
- 100 companies with 500 employees
- 200 companies with 250 employees
- 500 companies with 100 employees
- 1,000 companies with 50 employees
- 2,500 companies with 20 employees
ANY of these options would be objectively better than a single employer (especially Amazon) being responsible for 50,000 jobs (and the power that comes with it).
And of course, a healthy ecosystem includes a diverse mix of business sizes and cultures and industries and…..
Because healthy economies, healthy cities, and healthy business ecosystems are interdependent, fueled by entities who are individually resilient and networked, depending on each other.
When people ask me why I started Indy Hall, they’re often shocked to hear my answer. Instead of hearing “I had the idea for creative people to share an office” they hear the truth.
“I was lonely.”
But I didn’t really think about it until PhillyWho host Kevin Chemidlin pointed it out: in 2006 being a full-time freelancer was relatively weird. Not unheard of, but not nearly as common as it is today. I didn’t really know more than a few people who had freelanced or were actively freelancing as a web dev then.
Now I personally know…hundreds? Thousands? One colleague of mine runs a thriving newsletter for tens of thousands of freelancers. New York based Freelancer’s Union claims 375,000+ members in their reach.
And the population of freelancers & solo-preneurs continues to grow.
Even with the privileges I’ve been granted and advantages I’ve earned, I’ve been the most successful as an Independent when I’ve been Interdependent and part of a community of people who are invested in our mutual success, and never too dependent on a single source of support or power.
This kind of success and the freedom that comes with it should not only be for the fortunate, or the Independent.
People need jobs. Good jobs. Interdependent jobs created by resilient, Interdependent businesses.
And entrepreneurs create jobs, so we need more entrepreneurs, right? Well, yes. But also no.
Not the kind of entrepreneurs we’re used to seeing on the cover of Inc, Forbes, and Entrepreneur magazine, lauded for their singular genius and pursuit of winner-take-all venture funded growth.
We need more of a more considerate, more human-scale kind of entrepreneur.
Over the rest of this article I will lay out:
- the importance of Interdependent business ecosystems filled with small, solo-entrepreneurs, and why I believe so many people overlook this path entirely
- my call to reframe entrepreneurship in a specific way that makes it more accessible to more people for whom entrepreneurship could be a possibility
- the remaining barriers to people thriving in business, and what we can do to remove or reduce those barriers
- a calculated 10 year plan to create the first 10,000 jobs, then to turn those first 10,000 jobs into 50,000
- a call for collaboration towards these goals across the entire Philadelphia ecosystem
This article serves as a public entry and public snapshot of my thoughts and many conversations I have had over the last 18 months.
⏰ And yes, this thing is long.
It might take you 20-30 minutes to read the whole thing.
What you are about to read is both a personal declaration and an invitation to collaborate on developing and executing these ideas, if our North Stars align.
And most of all, it’s a call to people of the city I love with an offer: I see you, and I believe we can succeed together.
But first, we must fix our cultural expectations of entrepreneurship
As someone who grew up on the internet, I have strange feelings about the internet of today and a large part of that is because of how the internet has influenced entrepreneurship.
That, and the bullshit peddled by Inc, Forbes, Entrepreneur magazine.
Thanks to the kinds of internet entrepreneur success stories that make up the bulk of the “pop entrepreneurship media” the definition of success has been warped into parody.
- If your business is not making (or raising) millions or billions, you must not be successful.
- If you are not employing hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of people, you must not be successful.
But I’ll be honest with you–most people aren’t emotionally cut out to run a 100 person company let alone a 1,000 person company or bigger.
Hell, some days I wonder if I’m cut out to have employees at all, and lots of folks consider me a “successful” entrepreneur.
But I have also observed that because so many people believe that success in business looks like a constantly-growing team, many people who would start a company don’t start at all.
There are many parts to this problem of not starting in the first place. While all are worthy and need attention, some are easier to address than others.
At the very difficult problem end of the spectrum, rising healthcare costs are probably at the top of the list for why people don’t pursue their own own thing, or why they return to “traditional” employment after attempting to strike it out on their own. This problem does need to be addressed to make entrepreneurship accessible to more people. That’s a fact, and I’ll come back to that later.
Other reasons include:
- people aren’t comfortable being responsible for other people’s livelihoods.
- people don’t have the leadership or communication skills needed to build a team.
- people don’t believe they have the skills or ability to grow a company.
And I’ll come back to these points in a moment.
But first I want to start by sharing my personal definition of entrepreneurial success.
You are an entrepreneur when you create a sustainable job for yourself.
You can create jobs for other people, be it 2 people or 2,000.
But if you want to be an entrepreneur, you must create a sustainable job for yourself.
It’s like you’ve heard a million times during the in-flight safety briefing that you’ve probably ignored: please put your oxygen mask on before helping others.
Best of all, creating a sustainable job for yourself is achievable by mere mortals.
- It can be done without taking on debt or serious risk.
- It can be done with skills that anyone can learn and practiced without specialized degrees or education.
- And, in many cases, it can be done fairly quickly (within 6-12 months).
I know this because BOTH of my businesses afford me a front-row seat to thousands of others who choose this set of paths to independence. In my personal life, too, I’ve watched proudly as my wife and best friend left long, successful careers to create jobs for themselves. It’s contagious.
I get to see a wide range of ways people earn a living. That, in itself, is another privilege.
Unfortunately, most people have only seen a limited range of what “entrepreneurs” actually look like. How they really work. How much money they really earn. The lifestyles they’re really able to live.
With such a limited view, it’s no surprise that most people believe that:
- successful entrepreneurs look like young, white men.
- entrepreneurship is risky.
- entrepreneurs work all the damn time.
- entrepreneurs either make NO money, or ALL of the money (but nothing in between).
- entrepreneurs live a freewheeling lifestyle, or a high-stress lifestyle (but nothing in between)
Obviously, this is nonsense when you see it all written out, but these beliefs are everywhere because these are the stories that get told.
Yes, these are versions of entrepreneurship, though they are in the vast minority.
The thing that breaks my heart is seeing how many people who could successfully create a sustainable job for themselves.
Who, exactly? For example…
- Students and new graduates who haven’t found a company that “fits” their goals.
- Working professionals whose hard work goes under-appreciated or unrecognized by their employers.
- People who struggle to be taken seriously by employers after a career transition.
- Women and minorities who are systematically discriminated against in traditional employment environments.
This tiny list barely scratches the surface of people who I believe could create a sustainable job for themselves.
I’m not just talking about technology careers, either! Pick a profession, any profession. Once you learn the fundamentals of business and the wide range of ways that other people make a living, you can turn almost any set of skills into a business.
But so many people don’t even consider it an option because the versions of entrepreneurship they have had exposure to are so limited.
And even if you DO choose to do your own thing, odds are that it’ll feel a lot harder if you don’t have a community of other Independents you can turn to for support and guidance.
Many, if not most, Independents struggle in complete isolation from one another.
I started Indy Hall after starting my own freelance practice as a web developer. But I never could have predicted how running a coworking space over the last decade would give me a unique perspective on why people succeed and why people struggle.
The truth: most people doing their own thing shouldn’t do it on their own.
99.9% of the problems every newly minted Independent encounters are not new, not unique to them, and could be resolved quickly and easily.
The bad news is that at the “job-for-yourself” scale of a business, the most likely thing to kill your business is a mistake that YOU make.
The good news is that almost all of those mistakes are fairly easy to avoid.
Most of the time you just need someone who’s a few steps ahead of you to say, in business terms: “hey, watch out for that last step, it’s a doozie.”
Many other times, it’s the confidence of seeing someone who is like them do it and being able to think “if they can do it, so can I.”
This is why communities like Indy Hall are so important. It’s why so many of our members directly attribute their successes to being active in our community. They never cite a single big thing, but instead all of the small (sometimes even invisible) interactions that helped them along the way.
Remote Work is another new kind of Independence, with familiar challenges.
When Indy Hall started, remote work was a luxury only available to elite tech workers. I remember when companies like GitHub regularly made headlines for their weird (and later, provably problematic) distributed company culture. Not only did they have no managers, but employees didn’t even have to come into the office. Everything happened in chat rooms.
More than a decade later, jobs where “going to work” means signing into a chat room are increasingly normal and for more industries than ever before.
And these remote workers–whether they be regional transplants or newly-minted employees thanks to a new job–tend to join Indy Hall for one of a couple of reasons:
- “I know I won’t be able to get any work done at home, too many distractions”
- “It’s nice to know I don’t HAVE to go to an office, but I really miss human contact and support.”
It turns out that the problems we originally found in entrepreneurs and freelancers–isolation and lack of human contact–are alive and well in the remote work community.
Among the good parts of this shift is that unlike when it was just the tech industry, we see a much more diverse remote worker population as more industries allow, encourage, or even demand that their teams interact online instead of in offices. More women and other under-represented groups seem more common in our community as remote work widens beyond programmers.
Another positive change is tied to how historically, where you worked played a huge role in where you lived. Now, with remote work, “location independence” can take on new meaning. Remote workers can choose to live where they want to live, independent of where job opportunities are centralized. People can factor in the cost of living, quality of life, career moves, personal and family priorities, and more.
In fact, a very common pattern I’ve noticed occurs when one partner in a couple gets a new job in a different city.
In the past, this usually meant a complicated, sometimes stressful dance of a partner waiting to get a job in the new city before moving out to meet their spouse. And I’d say that’s a best-case scenario compared to many alternatives.
Today, many Indy Hall members have moved to Philadelphia in support of a partner’s career…and continue working remotely for their employer.
In some cases–like moving from NYC to Philadelphia–this even means earning a higher income while enjoying Philadelphia’s lower cost of living.
But I’ve noticed another set of problems inside this new set of solutions.
Remote work is often viewed as possible thanks to technological advances. Web-based chat tools and video chat are more reliable than ever before.
But as the tech advances, the cultural problems within remote teams remain largely unsolved.
- If you can work from anywhere, that also means you can work from any time. How do we teach remote workers and their employers how to set useful, productive boundaries?
- Remote work is lauded as creating highly productive employees, as it removes the opportunities for coworker interruption. But what is the cost of this isolation? How can we better balance effective communication and collaboration with critical heads down focused time?
- It’s slowly being understood that regularly changing environments can have a significant impact on your mood, creativity, productivity, and more. But I have yet to see a single employee training guide to help remote employees dissect and analyze their work into smaller units than “entire work days” and more finite types than “working” and then encourage/help them figure out which environments they could choose to match their needs.
- How do you figure out the ideal rate and style of communication between managers and their employees? Micromanagement isn’t ideal, but letting people wander through their workdays in isolation isn’t right either.
The good news is that companies of many sizes, and their employees, are experimenting with answers to some of these questions.
But there are only a handful of organizations that are both successful and vocal about their experiments and the results. Sometimes this is on purpose because companies believe that this is a kind of “secret sauce” to modern companies and frankly…they might be right!
But most of the time, it’s simply because they’re busy running their business and figuring out how to support their team and talking about it all publicly on their blog or on podcasts or at conferences just isn’t a priority.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that there are so few ways and opportunities to really study and understand how these companies’ decisions and patterns impact their Location Independent employees, for better and for worse.
Except, in coworking spaces, where we could be doing a much better job of studying and understanding how to make life as a remote worker more sustainable.
So let’s start to put these pieces together.
- We culturally overvalue “job creation” when it looks like a big firm, and undervalue everything else.
- Many people who could become successful entrepreneurs - and eventually job creators - either fail or don’t start at all because of perceptions & expectations around scale
- Similarly, many people and especially women and POC who could start a business don’t in part because they have limited access to people who look like them and have similar lived experiences.
- Many, if not most, freelancers and solo business owners struggle because they work in complete isolation from other freelancers & solo business owners.
- While different in many ways, Location Independent workers who live in a different place (or places) than their employers have similar struggles with isolation, plus an entirely new layer of challenges to solve.
For the next 10 years of my career, my north star is going to be guided by this specific set of problems. First and foremost in our communities here in Philadelphia. Then beyond our city limits.
Jeff Bezos claimed he was going to create 50,000 jobs within 10 years with Amazon HQ2?
I have a plan to beat that number. And my plan doesn’t require a $5.7 Billion injection from the city and state.
The Modern Plan to create 50,000 Jobs.
Did you ever stop to think about ribbon-cutting ceremonies?
When a startup or corporation opens a new office, they invite their employees and the local business community to an event. At this event, you’d usually hear the CEO speak. You might hear the mayor of the city or town speak. There is applause.
A literal ribbon is cut, often with strangely giant ceremonial scissors that do a better job of showing up in photos than actually cutting the ribbon.
Champagne and snacks are served. Then everyone goes back to work.
For me, this style of celebration is illustrative of a previous generation’s view of work and job creation.
During the century that these ribbon cuttings became customary, they symbolized job growth.
- A company comes to town, opens factory. Jobs!
- Local company outgrows HQ, moves into a big fancy skyscraper. Jobs!
- 1000+ headcount company can’t be contained by the skyscraper, builds suburban office campus. JOBS!
In this previous generation, “jobs” are only delivered in factory and skyscraper and campus shaped packages; in units of 100, 500, 1000+ jobs.
Cutting the ribbon is a symbolic way of “unwrapping” the delivery.
This doesn’t make sense in 2019. Jobs don’t (only) come in these big bundles anymore.
“In 2018, the total number of independents rose 2.2 percent to 41.8 million from 40.9 million in 2017.”
Jobs start small, and increasingly, good-paying jobs can start with (and for) a single person. Thriving job markets include Interdependent networks of Independent small businesses, often with 0-5 employees.
And that’s where my plan begins.
50,000 jobs starts with 10,000 Independents.
Remember this spread?
- 5 companies with 10,000 employees
- 10 companies with 5,000 employees
- 20 companies with 2,500 employees
- 50 companies with 1,000 employees
- 100 companies with 500 employees
- 200 companies with 250 employees
- 500 companies with 100 employees
- 1,000 companies with 50 employees
- 2,500 companies with 20 employees
You can see how this math would run to a logical conclusion:
- 50,000 entrepreneurs
No no no. We’re still talking about creating jobs. We need a certain kind of entrepreneur focused on sustainable job growth - starting with creating a job for themselves.
Let me start breaking my 10-year plan into two phases.
Phase #1: 10 year plan, initial focus on years 1-3.
Phase #1 Goal: Help 10,000 people create a sustainable jobs for themselves by 2029.
That seems like a big number at first, in the same way that 50,000 jobs from Amazon seemed like a big number.
But once you examine it with a dose of reality, you realize that it’s not that big. Especially when you realize it’s spread across 10 years.
It’s 1,000 people a year. Or, if we’re smart and spread it out:
This approach lets us start small year one, learn how different kinds of people really need support. Earn buy-in from collaborators and the wider community. Gather and share success stories.
To me, it’s important that these numbers are ambitious but they’re attainable. Success begets more success. Small wins add up to bigger wins. Resources from each year help us accomplish more the next year.
With smart collaborations between organizations across the city already working towards similar and complementary goals, I actually think these numbers are low in terms of what’s possible.
How exactly do we hit these numbers?
I believe the recipe is a careful mix of the following:
- The intentional showcasing of a wider variety of paths to (and definitions of) success
- The intentional development of professional communities of practice.
First, we must help people see more versions of what is possible.
Within the Indy Hall community alone, I get to see and learn from the many ways that hundreds of real people make a living every day.
12 years in, I still meet people with jobs I never imagined would be possible.
Beyond our little coworking microcosm, I consult with Independents and small business owners around the world to help them with their businesses. I get to see the reality inside other coworking business, service businesses, product businesses. I get to see the reality inside modern careers, including remote employment. I get to see inside the real lives of people from a wide range of ages, backgrounds, disciplines, and cultures.
Do I get to see everything? Of course not, just a small fraction. But even within this small fraction, I get to see 1000x more real examples of how people make a living every year than someone who only gets to see from their friends and family.
Imagine if we were to intentionally showcase a wider variety of paths to success; from an even wider variety of industries; and from yet an even wider variety of people walking down those paths.
In the same way that the startup tabloids have curated a single narrative that most people will never experience or attain, we too can use this approach for good.
And we can do so intentionally, with the goal of reaching people in communities that have the least exposure to the many paths they could take.
This is something I literally can not do myself.
Remember, I’m still meeting people and learning about new stories/examples after a decade. I’ve barely scratched the surface. No one person can reach new voices and new stories on their own.
In order for this effort to truly represent our city and its diversity, this must be an intentional and collaborative effort from the start. I’m actively looking for collaborators on this effort from all corners of the city.
Sound like something you’d like to be a part of? Drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the goal of helping 100 independents become truly sustainable in the next 12 months, we will be looking to build our first cohort of ~30 people very, very soon and reaching a representative group of applicants is a top priority.
I warmly welcome ideas and support for reaching folks who can benefit, including those who often do not get these kinds of opportunities.
Second, Communities of Practice to help people get better.
Let’s say you want to earn a living as a writer. You wouldn’t write your first essay or article or book and expect it to be good enough to sell. You’d learn the fundamentals, and then you’d practice those fundamentals to get better over time. Right?
And this is how you’d get better at almost ANY skill, not only creative skills.
Meanwhile, most of the people I’ve seen start a business do not fail because their core skills (whatever the core service or product they offer) are inadequate.
Most people fail because they treat business like a “black box of numbers” instead of a skill itself worthy of practice, and mastery.
- This is why freelancers live through feast and famine periods of income.
- This is why aspiring entrepreneurs spend months or years building products that nobody wants to pay for.
- This is why creative people go through life thinking “If I create something good, it’ll market/sell itself.”
It’s also not enough to just “pay the bills” to be sustainably Independent.
You need to be able to afford the rising costs of healthcare, especially if you have or are starting a family.
You need to be able to save for the future (including retirement). Or to save for a house.
You need to be able to take time off when you’re sick or need a vacation and not worry about making rent.
You need to be able to invest back into your business.
Too many Independents see these things and think “someday” instead of learning how to make it possible. Too many Independents live one bad month away from being forced to go back to get a job they don’t really want.
The thing is, these problems are not endemic of business itself. These problems are endemic of inexperienced entrepreneurs, and each of them is tied to learnable, practice-able skills.
Meanwhile, there are lots of ways to learn about business but there’s only one way to learn how to be good at business. And that’s practice.
The trouble is, when you’re on your own, you have no idea what to practice, or if your practice is actually making a difference. It’s not useful enough to have “feedback” especially if it’s from peers who are just as clueless as you are (sorry peers).
Most importantly, you need a structure and support for deliberate practice. These rhythms and rituals encourage you to push beyond doing what you’re already good at and truly get better in the direction of your goals.
When you join a small, intentional community of practice, you find people you can trust and have a similar goal but varying experiences. People you can be sure won’t judge you because they’ve been there too.
For many years, our Indy Hall community leaned heavily on “accelerated serendipity” to connect people with each other in a just-in-time fashion. But more recently have been experimenting with a highly performant model for organizing communities of practice that takes place almost entirely online, which is perfect for people who are busy and don’t have the time/energy to come to Indy Hall’s coworking space.
These communities of practice can also provide clear and accessible on-ramps to new entrants. Professional communities often exist but are undiscoverable. Or if they are visible, they are socially impenetrable.
Even without a specific physical space, we’re able to establish a community of practice as a way to get started in an industry, and a way to continue progressing upwards among your professional peers.
Independents often don’t have a clearly established “career ladder”–a community of practice can help an Independent create their own path in a way that feels right for them.
After 2 years of experimenting, our facilitation format combines a combo-move of deep problem-solving plus structures for practice. Think of a mix of group coaching + show & tell + rituals for setting and reaching goals.
Nobody is on “stage” telling you what you should do (unless you specifically ask for it). We practice together and we grow together.
We’re calling these communities of practice Juntos, named after Ben Franklin’s “club for mutual improvement” by the same name and with a generous nod to my Indy Hall co-founder Geoff DiMasi’s Junto Retreat.
Maybe most exciting of all, we are launching our first three Juntos this month:
- Freelancers Junto
- Podcast Producers Junto
- Leadership & Management Junto (a.k.a. The Boss Junto)
Each Junto is customized to the community that it serves, but also includes access to a special private online community space, multiple web-based events per month.
And by running our group sessions and events primarily online, you can even participate in group conversations from a smartphone and anywhere with an internet connection. This has the potential to be a game-changer for people whose physical location and/or personal circumstances have them feeling isolated from their related professional communities.
Of course, all existing Indy Hall members will be able to upgrade their memberships to join a Junto (or even more than one, as we all contain multitudes).
But I’m also incredibly excited for Juntos to be a path into the Indy Hall community for people who’ve always wanted to join but don’t need a place to work.
All of our founding Junto members will get Indy Hall’s “online community membership” included for free, which connects you to hundreds of people that work in wide-ranging industries and makes sure you know about the many ways to learn from, share with, and collaborate.
Medium and long term, our plan is to roll out more Junto communities: writers, agency owners, marketing, SEO, educators, retail, real estate…
And since the Junto facilitation model is something that we can teach, we’ll be looking to recruit Junto leaders from within communities and pay them a profit share from membership for their effort.
Maybe there’s a Junto you’d like to see or lead? Drop me a line: email@example.com. And to find out when we launch more Juntos, sign up at the bottom of this article for free updates about our progress.
There’s more to do, but this is a start and I don’t want to do it alone.
So that’s the two-part approach to the first 10,000 Independents.
- Inspire more people to consider the path of being an Independent. We do this by finding and sharing the wide variety of success stories that already exist in our city. We help more people see people like them going out in their own, inspiring the thought “I can do that too.”
- Help people who have already chosen a path of being an Independent reach long-term sustainability, where they earn equal to or more than they could in a full time job. It’s not enough to be able to pay the bills, you need to know how to grow your business (even if you choose not to). Internet-based communities of practice make it possible for busy people to get the support they need from people they can trust.
In case it’s not crystal clear, my goal is NOT for Indy Hall to own all of these efforts.
In order to succeed, I know that we need collaborations with community and business leaders across the city. It’s critical to me that these initiatives represent the true diversity of our city: women and people of color MUST be a part of these efforts from the very beginning.
I cannot do this alone but I will not be afraid to ask for help. I do not see this as a prescriptive formula, but a set of tools and ideas that can be adapted to fit the communities they serve.
I know that there are already people leading efforts in the city. I know who some of you are, but I also don’t know who I don’t know. If my goal of 10,000 Independents by 2029 resonates as a shared goal, the best chance of success will come from figuring out how to track our successes together rather than separately.
If any of what I’ve said so far sounds like it aligns with you or your organization’s mission/goals, please drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Especially if we haven’t met before, I’d love to learn what you’re up to.
Phase #2: 8-9 year plan, starting 1-2 years into Phase #1.
Phase #2 Goal: Turn a small % of 10k Independents into Employers, creating 40,000 jobs by 2029.
With the foundation goal of helping 10,000 people creating sustainable jobs for themselves, we’re already 20% of the way to creating 50,000 jobs.
I’m a firm believer that the first goal of starting a business should be serving your customers, and that hiring employees is not and should not be the goal of starting a business unless it’s in direct service of the first goal.
But by putting our energy into helping people build thriving Independent businesses, we’re increasing the % of people who are in a position to start hiring if they choose to.
Note: for the sake of clarity around “jobs”, I’m not including Independents “hiring” other Independents for skilled contracts like lawyers and accountants and virtual assistants, nor subcontracting work to people with other complementary skills. These economic exchanges should be counted towards the overall economic impact of the pool we are building, but I’m going to save that for a future phase #3.
Let’s say that of the 10,000 Independents from Phase #1, 75% of them never hire an employee.
That’s okay, we have still created 7,500 sustainable, high-paying, high quality of life jobs.
What if the other 2500 take a look at their business and think, “hm, if I hired an employee or two, we could serve more clients” or better yet “we could serve more clients better.”
That’d be a great start, but there’s a new problem to solve.
Most people have no idea how to hire, manage, or delegate.
If learning to build a sustainable business is undergraduate education, learning to hire and run a team is masters or Ph.D. level work…but many new employers treat it like a side project, a means to an end for doing their “real work.”
As a result, hiring processes are opaque and inhumane. Management processes are often awkward at best, commonly stifling, and straight up offensive at worst.
I believe this mess of human miscommunication is a solvable problem, largely because I’ve seen it solved when people actually take their time and give a shit.
It’s hard to take your time (and give a shit) in a company where growth is the #1 mandate. That’s not an excuse - speed and scale are never excuses for bad behavior.
But because of these dynamics, our 10k Independents (or rather, some 2500 of them) are an ideal pool of candidates to cultivate a more transparent, humane, and high-value hiring and management culture.
Learn to help other people with their oxygen masks
Phase #2 continues the “help yourself so you may help others” metaphor, and again, we accomplish it by starting small.
Rather than teaching people how to hire with speed and manage complex teams, which most people will never need or take the time to master, we start by helping people hire their first full-time employee and master management of themselves + 1.
I hired my first employee about 18 months into Indy Hall. I made so many mistakes. I’m sorry Dana.
But the experience of hiring Dana (and Dana’s patience, for which I’m forever grateful) gave me a clear path for the goals that I’ve held for over a decade:
- Hiring someone is a responsibility
- If I do a good job as a boss, they leave the business in a better state than when they started.
- If I do a good job as a boss, the employee leaves in a better situation than when they were first hired.
Adding employees to the mix of your business is complex and weird and confusing and emotional. Have I talked you out of hiring people yet? :)
The Formula: 2.5k Independents -> 40,000 Jobs.
For the next little bit, I’m going to get fancy and do math (lol uh oh I’m horrible at math).
BTW, if numbers and math make your eyes glaze over you can jump down to the “Job Creation Summary” below.
So we have 25% of 10,0000 Independents who I haven’t talked out of hiring their first employee.
In the simplest mathematical equation, we have 2,500 small businesses employing 16 employees each. (Which, by the way, is still a WHOLE lot better than 1 giant company employing 50,000 people.)
But remember that we didn’t magically materialize 2,500 Independents in year one, we started by focusing on just 100. And then 200 in year two, and 500 in year three. We’re growing slow so we can get it right.
And imagine that out of 100 first year “graduates” who have grown their Independent business to true sustainability, let’s say 25 want to hire their first employee during year two.
Statistically, a good experience hiring your first employee makes you more likely to hire a second employee.
(How much more likely? I’m working on parsing these growth stats from SBA data. If you’re into digging through this kind of data to do some cohort analysis, hit me up.)
- That means that by year three, some % of the original year one cohort is ready to hire 1 more employee.
- Also in year three, another probably smaller % of the original year one cohort is ready to hire 2 or more additional employees.
Some of these Independents may never hire more than one employee, and that is okay.
- Because by year four, we’ve helped 1800 Independents create sustainable jobs for themselves. In just a few years, the 25% indy-to-employer ratio means there are now 450 prospective employers in the pool. 450 employers to share a 40,000 employee goal.
- Two years later, we’ve helped 3800 Independents create sustainable jobs for themselves. The same 25% ratio means 950 employers share a 40,000 employee goal.
- By year ten, we’ve helped 10,000 Independents create sustainable jobs for themselves. 2500 employers now share the 40,000 employee goal.
This is the “dumbest” version of the algorithm, and again, still easy to understand how our small numbers quickly add up to create a large pool of jobs
Except that along the way, some of the single-employee Independents will hire their 2nd employees.
- And some of the teams of 2 employees have turned into 5.
- And some of the 5 person teams have grown to 10.
- Some of the 10 turns to 20…some 20 turns into 100.
And the beat marches on. While we are helping cultivate more sustainable Independent businesses, and strategically helping some of them hire their first employee, some % of the ones that hire will continue to hire.
- In the giant pool of 10,000 Independents building their businesses, it’s not outrageous to think some of them could even grow to 500 or 1000 employees.
- And maybe, just maybe, there’s even a homegrown 50,000 employee company somewhere in there.
Job Creation Summary
The thing is, with this independent and micro-hiring approach, we don’t need to focus on 500 or 1000 person companies to create 50,000 jobs.
Here’s how a hypothetical spread of total job creation might look:
Again, these are hypothetical numbers only to illustrate potential. ACTUAL numbers would help us measure up to local and state averages, to see how we’re either outperforming them or falling short.
Even if only 25% of the Independents start hiring, and if only the BIGGEST among them hire 100+ employees over the next 10 years, we smash past the 50,000 employee goal.
Throw in the “Vegas odds” of one person turning their experience running a solo business into a 50,000 person company, and we have a total number of 136,000 jobs created.
That’s math, baby.
We don’t need Vegas Odds any more than we need Amazon.
Among my favorite parts about this plan is that we don’t need someone to pick us.
We don’t need permission or even government funding.
Would it be helpful and valuable to have our local and state government on board? Absolutely! And just like everyone else they are invited to the table as collaborators, contributors, and supporters.
There is always a seat at the table for anybody, and that includes government officials & policy makers, etc whose goals and values align. And to get more concrete about the long term potential that I see:
- I believe that our efforts could result in things like friendlier small business policy across the city & state.
- I would love to see new government support programs that are designed to celebrate and support single-person businesses as much as they support high-growth.
- We need to figure out viable solutions for Independent workers to get affordable, quality healthcare. I have a few ideas about this, including lessons learned from my friend Ashley about developing a national insurance plan specifically for members of coworking spaces across Canada. Federal and state law doesn’t currently allow for this sort of program, but I can see real momentum for policy change.
Ambitiously, I would love to see Philadelphia become THE city that people choose to live in when they choose to be Independent, because they know they are valued and supported.
And I think that’s possible - but it’s not the starting point, it’s just a potential result of the next 10 years of working towards these goals.
Speaking of odds: Failure IS an Option.
You might be shocked to see a note about failure in a 7000+ word diatribe about ambitious goals and economic success. But I bring it up for a very specific reason.
Let’s say we fall short of the goal of 10,000 independents, and 50,000 jobs.
WE STILL CREATED JOBS. Sustainable, high-paying jobs.
For context, our local tech industry has paced an average of 1,600 jobs a year for the last 5 years. We could theoretically match that growth while still missing the goal by 70%.
I’m not anticipating failure. I believe this specific framing of goals is attainable.
But I also care more about the communities we serve than brute-forcing our way to a made-up goal. If we find a way to serve them better and “only” create 20,000 jobs, I’ll allow it.
10,000 Independents is a mission of sorts, but I also view it as a barn raising.
A barn raising is a collective action of a community, in which a barn for one of the community members is built or rebuilt collectively by members of the community.
Barn raising was particularly common in 18th- and 19th-century rural North America. A barn was a necessary structure for any farmer, for example for storage of cereals and hay and keeping of animals.
Yet a barn was also a large and costly structure, the assembly of which required more labor than a typical family could provide. Barn raising addressed the need by enlisting members of the community, unpaid, to assist in the building of their neighbors’ barns.
Because each member was entitled to recruit others for help, the favor would eventually return to each participant.
Our business community may not need barns in 2019, but we do need structures in our lives that allow us to build businesses and create jobs.
And like barn-raisings of the past, the primary impact is the ability to conduct your business but the secondary impacts are much greater:
- relationships which far outlast any particular season of work
- exchange of institutional knowledge between generations
- stories that will be told and re-told
- a shared sense of accomplishment
- a deeper understanding of the people with whom we share our city, including those who are so often overlooked and feel excluded
This barn goes up together.
Like this document, the plan is the first draft. If you see something missing from this plan, I want to hear from you.
As detailed as parts of this plan might appear on the page, the fact is that there’s so much implementation and strategy left to develop.
And if I’ve learned anything through my work at Indy Hall, it’s the importance and value of sharing unfinished plans so you can finish something together.
This is the beginning.
Sign up to follow along, join in, or maybe even become an Independent yourself.