ActivateHub is now live in Portland, Detroit, Oakland, and just around the corner - Seattle. We doubled the number of unique visitors this month over last. We have our first paying customer. We have bi-weekly meetings and work sessions with our 6, rad, all-volunteer curators around the country. We’ve released several new features this month (the embed widget builder, drag & drop duplication clean-up, enhanced duplication detection and additional tools & processes on our curator & admin interface.)
And for the past three months I’ve been running this site from my tiny snow-clad efficiency apartment in a small mountain town, waiting tables and teaching children to ski.
Tomorrow, I move to Seattle to join Fledge “The Conscious Company Incubator”. Five other companies will participate in this ten-week long program, based in ImpactHub Seattle (co-working space for social entrepreneurs). For the first time ever, ActivateHub has some small amount of cash, and will be surrounded by mentors, advisors, and a cohort of other entrepreneurs experiencing similar growing pains and offering support.
Oddly, this move from the mountain to the city is a breath of fresh air.
It’s been a long time since I was in love with the place I lived. To the shock & dismay of many, Portland - the city closest aligned with my ideologies and with inhabitants most likely to be my compadres - has never sang to me. I’ve been in Portland 6 years - the longest I’ve lived anywhere since high school, and yet it’s never been home. Then I move to the mountain, the tiny town of Government Camp (population 150) and suddenly I feel home. The ability to walk out my door and onto trails and be immediately enveloped in snowy mountain bliss did wonders for my concentration, my capacity for productive work sprints and most notably, my stressed out head & soul.
But as friends were made and snow began to fall the call to the wild grew harder to avoid and I realized if I’m going to continue to burn both ends and grow this website, I must get back to a place where I’m surrounded by other driven individuals. It’s with a tinge of sadness that I leave the place I love for the place that I know I need to be. And it’s with exuberance that I leave my solo desk to immerse myself in a community of like-minded people at Fledge and Impact Hub in Seattle.
Never a dull moment; constantly a new chapter.
Tenacity. Resilience. A crazy belief in the mission.
External validation in the form of inbound sales inquiries, and dozens of e-mails and comments from strangers that sounded like: “ActivateHub? I love that site! What you are doing is so important!”
Oh! You want the nuts & bolts & actual steps, not what keeps the drive & spirit alive? Got it.
Short, romantacized version:
Hackathons. I attended a few with my team and several others joined us, some continue to contribute occasionally. I found the organization of these hackathons to be lackluster, so I started organizing my own and found companies to host them, invited supporters of the mission, and partnered with code schools to offer students some real world projects to hack on. Today we have a robust platform with sites live in multiple cities and inbound demand for a white-label version of our product.
I am still seeking co-founders, both a CTO and CFO with startup experience.
Longer, more nuanced version:
In 2010 I had never met a web developer before. I did not know there was a thing called tech startups. I was travelling the country speaking at screenings of a documentary I helped produce, when I kept hearing the same pain point again and again. Dozens of cities, hundreds of people saying “we are so impassioned by this issue - but can’t figure out how to get involved! Who in our community is working on this?”
So I started stepping up to podiums and standing on stumps and bar stools and talking about the need for an activist event calendar. We should be able to aggregate calendar feeds from a multitude of organizations and individuals and import into a filterable database of events and organizations in each community.
Someone said “Great idea! Can I see your wireframes?”
“I’m working on them.” And then I Googled to find out what the heck that meant.
For months I carried around a print out of wireframes and a site map in my pocket. I discovered the tell-tale traits of the elusive freelance developer, and found the coffee shops in which they hibernate. I’d peer over shoulders, see some gobbley-gook on a black screen and sit down and very dramatically say: “Hello. Are you a web developer? Do you want to save the world? Do you want to build THIS with me?” And I’d whip out the wireframes and sitemap I shoddily designed on a borrowed version of InDesign.
Instead, I should have learned to code.
One day I was volunteering and planting trees in the rain when someone mentioned he was a developer, Peter, and we were on. He was a Drupal guy, yet I had discovered a Ruby on Rails platform that was a great starting point. We went on a group bike camping trip, and met a guy who was just starting to learn Ruby and wanted a chance to dig into a little code, Eric. His girlfriend Alicia, loved the cause & donated her branding prowess. He helped show off her design by re-skinning the code base in Bootstrap. The two newbies at Ruby struggled through meeting my demand for affiliating calendar feeds with organizations and some other major UX requirements — and too many months later, we had a prototype. Not a particularly functional or beautiful one, but a prototype.
Then I begged borrowed & occasionally paid -using my student loan money for a feature or two. (I was a full-time college student at this point, in the irrelevant field of Environmental Studies.) Then I discovered the hackathon thing, lovingly romantacized at the top of this post. At one point, an upgrade to the latest version of Rails caused a malfunction that would prevent anyone from actually contributing to the code base, and in the 48 hours before that hackathon, Daniel swooped in like a knight in shining armor and saved the day. He has since managed our inbound and upstream open source contributions, created our calendar widget from scratch in CSS, added a host of administrative tools, improved duplicate detection, pays our server fees, and is otherwise a super hero.
I’m regularly contacted by people in other cities who want this resource in their city. I ask if they can contribute money or time. As it turns out, volunteers often flake out, so we really peruse the qualifications of those who offer to run a site in their city before we go through the effort of establishing the site for them.
One day Mark Dilley contacted me about a Detroit site. He is a constant source of inspiration, brilliant ideas and emotional support. His Detroit site is a thriving community with great content and engaged users. To date, he and have not yet met in person. xo
As a non-technical solo founder, it’s near impossible to get any sort of funding. Investors and incubators state up front they only fund teams of two or more. So we are pre-funding. We just secured our first paying customer. We recently launched a live Beta in 4 cities with a few thousands unique visitors each month. We have inbound demand for our product. We are growing communities and we believe our tool is a catalyst for progress and social good. Huge thanks to all the talented people who have secure paychecks and donate their time temporarily to this site. Now I’m looking for someone (two someones, preferably) to dive in and join me full time in this journey.