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NewCity Labs

By mehera o'brien on July 12, 2010

Categories: Conferences

I'll get off the UnConference topic soon enough, but there was just so much great information!

So another great seminar I attended at the conference was hosted by David Poteet, who runs a company called NewCity in Virginia. With the aim of keeping his team inspired with innovative, pet projects but also focused enough to keep his revenue in the black, he and his team developed a 'Labs' model. Four days a week, the office did their work work. One day a week, they got to spend the day experimenting. Either everyone would work on one experimental project, or the group would divide across a few different projects. But there was some focus, so the day wasn't just a play day for everyone in the company to be unbillable and browsing the interweb for cool stuff.

This approach led his team to the idea for the Nomad Mobile Guide, which has been so successful that they've actually spun this project off into its own company! The concept (I paraphrase) is a "make your own guidebook" that allows its users to download relevant chapters to their phones when touring a new place. So – if you're in a city but don't want to carry a guidebook, or more importantly you really are only interested in one part of the guidebook (for me, it would be local information on great, organic restaurants) – you can just buy that part. And as you travel, you can collect other chapters and other destinations. Users pay for their chapters and NewCity (well, now Nomad Mobile Guides) gets a cut via a revenue share model. 

The night before the UnConference, I had spoken at a SheSays event in which I was asked to talk about three jobs of the future (they're really present jobs, but not necessarily popular outside of uber-digital shops). I happened to extend my topic into three areas in which I think we'll be working as well. My hypothesis was that hybrids are our future. I'm biased as I consider myself a hybrid. And naturally, hybrid talent does well with hybrid subject matter. Obviously, we're seeing an integration of traditional and interactive. Next, I talked about digital and physical (we can thank R/GA for moving the needle way forward on that one). The last one I talked about was design and business entrepreneurship. Personally, I find my attention seduced these days by briefs that look at how design, and design thinking, affects business change. From product and service design to new revenue streams or cost-savings. So to meet David and learn that he managed his team from a project of the heart to a successful, independent business was pretty amazing to me. I guess for some people, putting together business plans and raising capital comes naturally. For me as a designer, it's completely foreign.

David said to be creative in designing your business model. To think of the cost of time not as an hourly rate, but as a product that multiplies over time. He suggested checking into Angel Investor groups. And I suggested people check out Kickstarter (more on that in another post).

When asked how they made the leap, David answered so beautifully that there came a moment when they had to decide if they'd go for it or not. And he said to himself – I need to know how this will turn out. Even if it doesn't work out, I'll regret it if I don't know.

That's actually the reason I took my job at AKQA. Lars Bastholm offered me a job on a silver platter. To come to NY from my cushy life in Amsterdam and just build something. And I was intrigued. And I had to know what would happen, whether it succeeded or failed. And, it's turned out ok. For NewCity, it proved to be a huge success as well.

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