Give Day Tampa Bay: A Humbling Experience

Rarely in my life, some say too rarely, I have had the good fortune to experience something awe-inspiring, something that humbles me and reminds me how powerful community can be and how small I am in the big picture of the universe. Today, I experienced one of those moments. I’d like to share it with you.

Last Thursday, shortly after recording a podcast episode for Distilled (iTunes link), my co-host, Justin Davis, made a comment to Ned Pope that changed my life. Ned is president of Florida Next Foundation (http://floridanext.org), which supports the efforts of non-profit organizations in Florida. His office is on the opposite side of the building from mine. Justin’s is halfway in between. Before last week, we barely discussed much detail about today’s event, but we chat all the time about the various goings-on of our lives. Ned and I shared a stage last year at Karaoke for the Kure (http://becauseofezra.org/k/). He is a rock star in more ways than I thought possible, but that’s a story for another time.

Justin’s comment was a suggestion that we interview some of the folks running non-profits, as part of a live podcast during Give Day Tampa Bay (https://givedaytampabay.org). I think he meant to do it as an audio thing initially, but it quickly escalated. Sunday night, we collectively realized we had never done a video podcast, let alone a live video podcast. Monday was a scramble of “oh shit” moments, as we quickly surmised we did not have the capabilities we needed to achieve the goal. Cabling issues persisted until this morning around 10:45am, when Justin returned from Tiger Direct with the one cable we didn’t have. Quickly, things fell into place.

What happened after that was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I’ve walked away from a devastating car wreck uninjured. I’ve held my newborn child in my arms. I’ve built some products that captured the hearts of millions of free users and others that made over $1B in revenue. All of this pales in comparison to the magnificent display of collaborative problem solving and general excellence I witnessed today at Tampa Bay Wave.

We went from a whim to a high quality live video broadcast in under 48hrs with almost no structure at all. We tried two different cameras, only to barely succeed with a just-in-time cable purchase. We tried two different sets of mics because of background noise. We tried to green screen the Tampa skyline as a backdrop, but couldn’t get the software to play nice. We called an audible and stole (borrowed?) tablecloths to use as a backdrop. The only challenge we faced that we didn’t overcome was a Skype call-in for one of the ten guests we had scheduled. For that, we needed Just One More Cable™. The green screen was just a nice-to-have anyway.

Amazingly, nothing went wrong. People even started saying “nothing’s going wrong! this is amazing!” which almost begs for something to go wrong. But it didn’t. We coordinated video transitions smoothly. We showed supporting material when appropriate. The conversation was engaging and personal. We really had an opportunity to showcase some wonderful people doing great work for all aspects of the community. There were funny moments. There were tragic moments. Nobody dropped the F-bomb. For over three hours, we were a window to the world, empowering non-profit champions to tell their story.

This was an entirely volunteer effort. No one got paid to do it. And in the end, we raised over $1M for local non-profits in under 24hrs. That’s the power of community, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

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21st Century Business Development at Tampa Bay WaVE

I’ve been a strong supporter of the co-working concept for years. As someone who has worked remotely for more than 75% of my career, I’ve seen the persistent need for a space where free agents from all facets of the web-based business development community can converge in space and time to collaborate. In the multi-disciplinary environment promoted by the co-working atmosphere, the unprecedented quality and diversity of opinion and raw perspective allow projects to crystallize very quickly. Participants communicate freely, respectfully, and openly. Everyone walks away from the table feeling like they contributed something, helped others, and gained something themselves. Whether it’s the candid analysis of what can and can not be done from the engineers, the bold inspiration and influence of creatives, or the market awareness and pragmatism of business analysts, the key is getting a representative sample of all the players in the same room, so they can interact in real-time.

Tampa Bay WaVE is a non-profit organization devoted to providing web venture entrepreneurs with space to work together to solve the hard problems that have a real impact on the community. WaVE members work together to help each other overcome obstacles and roadblocks presented by the ever-changing ecosystem of technology-based businesses. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be a pioneer, an early adopter of this 21st century approach to business development. My latest challenge is to build a streaming media distribution, authentication, and e-commerce framework for Internet TV. As the VP of Engineering for Red Hawk Interactive, my primary directive is to push the cutting edge of what is possible, to set a new standard for quality and utility in the TV space. Thanks to the relationships we’re building by being affiliated with Tampa Bay WaVE, I have complete confidence in our ability to deliver an innovative solution by the end of this year.

The energy in the WaVE office is incredible. We’re really excited to be an early tenant, and we expect the other offices to fill up quickly. We started the week painting a full floor-to-ceiling whiteboard in our office. As of Friday, we’ve already nearly filled the wall with branding ideas, money-making strategies, and project plans. It seems silly, but there’s something about being allowed to write on the wall that inspires a level of playful creativity I have never experienced in a traditional office. We even used the wall as part of a video chat with our branding and marketing partners, Head of Lettuce Media.

Bottom line: if you’re building a web-based and/or technology business in Tampa Bay, you can do no better than the Tampa Bay WaVE co-working space. The energy and level of creative and technical expertise is awe-inspiring. The location – across from the Tampa Convention Center in the heart of downtown – is central to the region. The parking is free and ample. The only thing that’s missing is an in-house coffee/tea/beer/wine bar and café. Hey, a guy can dream, right?

New Non-Profit to Help Build Better Public Transit Systems

I’ve decided to take one of my hobbies/passions to the next level. Next month, I will start a non-profit to help communities invest in infrastructure that will reduce traffic congestion and use less fuel, thus reducing dependence on oil and reducing pollution. One of the startling results of the 2010 Census was that 75% of commuters drive alone in their car to and from work each day. If half of the single-occupancy drivers take on a passenger, we reduce total number of vehicles by 20%. That’s a lot fewer cars on the road and a lot less fuel burned, and the savings increase as the passenger-to-vehicle ratio increases.

The goal of this new organization is to promote carpooling, vehicle co-ops, and the motor pool concept. The focus will be on working with local governments to expand their existing public transit systems to support real-time point-to-point passenger transport. The vision is to offer an attractive alternative to individual personal vehicle ownership. By consolidating passengers into a medium capacity vehicle, we see significant savings in fuel, maintenance, and insurance costs, while also offering the passenger-centric model of a bus system. Passengers can enjoy the convenience of a bus without the need to conform to a fixed route or fixed schedule. They simply request a pickup and drop-off, and the best matching vehicle comes to them.

Since this is not an easy problem, the web and mobile applications required to facilitate this solution will be created as open source projects. This way, the developer community can collectively drive progress, contribute toward a common solution, and share the reward. As a result, local vendors can leverage the software solution to minimize capital investment required to begin offering a service to their respective communities.

There’s only one problem – I don’t have a name. Please help me get this organization off the ground by offering suggestions for a name. Once I have a good name, I’ll get the ball rolling with official filings and all that jazz.  I’ll be looking for suggestions in the comments of this post as well as the #namemynonprofit hashtag on Twitter. Please help and tell a friend!

ps. if you’ve built a non-profit before, I would love some help! please teach me what you know 🙂