There’s something to be said about being brutally honest in just the right situation. A couple of weeks ago I got a little email suggesting I apply for the European Creative Hub Network and their “How to start me up” workshop, to be held in Madrid, Spain. Well, yes, of course, thank you for the information and I will get on it in the next two minutes ago. I spent two hours of intermittent screen-staring and walking around the room, to then go for a snack, come back, stare at the business questions — “How long has your organization been operating for?” and at the available options “One year. Less than one Year. Five years.” — and then stand up, walk around, do yoga, watch YouTube, answer two questions; yes, I’ll get back to the others in a bit, just answer what I can. Damn it, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this!
Nearly three hours after starting to fill up the form, I found myself standing on top of my dad’s roof. It was a blistering sunny day, and I was barefoot on metal, making sure I stepped on beams, not empty space and collapse the roof, simply sweeping leaves off the zinc ceiling. As you do. By the time I got down to clean the gutter, I began to talk to myself. “You know, Ian, it is a Start-up workshop,” I said, as I crunched mud and a lot of insects in my hands. “They probably want people who are starting up and know very little.” I kept talking to myself, thinking through talking. I stood up, suddenly, and got spooked by a baby iguana staring at me from a nearby palm tree. I said hello to the green friend, monkeyed my way down the roof (who needs a ladder!) and sat down in front of my computer and wrote honestly and realistically: no I had no experience owning a business, my organization is just an idea, I have no employees and just some seed capital. All I have is a dream, a need to learn and work and please, please, please let me into your workshop because I really need any and all support I can find.
Form filled, I waited.
At the time I was in Panama, on a holiday/crusade to acquire seed capital for Ffangai, as well as tying up some promises for freelance contracts. The latter didn’t go anywhere, the former was 40% a success. It was waiting time to see if I got into the workshop. Two voices in my head, one saying that I wouldn’t get it, the other saying I would. Prepare for failure, plan for success, I told myself next time I stood on the roof. I booked a flight back to Cardiff giving me enough time to be able to go to Madrid with a little time in-between. I would be ready for the call, and if not, well, I would be back home and back to work.
The excitement that coursed through my veins: adrenaline and hairs standing up and restless legs and grins. Oh, I got in!
Then it was time to simply wait.
A couple of weeks later and after four flights in 24 hours I was in Madrid. A little disoriented, I walked on old cobblestone and brick roads in what was once a slaughterhouse and now was a massive cultural center. In Panama, such a space would’ve either become a shopping mall or would have been destroyed. Oh, I would’ve loved to walk around that place for ages but, nay, I had no time. I mistook one door for another, and after turning around on the spot for a while I found La Casa del Lector, where an unflattering photo was taken, in which I am all hair and little else.
Instead of describing every little sessions and conversation, I will describe the most personally useful events to me. I will also try to compile all my note into visual PDFs to be shared sometime after the publishing of this article. There’s just too much to look at, to understand, to be aware of, as events like this are want to give you. These events are sowing ground: every conversation a seed, every titbit of information a fertilizer, every presentation a fresh sprout. In these spaces, ideas are formulated, so many ideas. But like any plant, only a select few will survive; care and hard work and a lot of luck nurturing the plant to maturity.
In terms of business planning, the sessions provided me with information I was solely lacking: the very type of insider information that you can’t even begin to look for properly if you don’t know it exists. Through Dr. Carlos Osorio’s talk, I learned about the academic side of innovation and the metrics of start-ups. How many set out to succeed, and how 90% of them fail. I learned about things involved in previous innovation markets, such as Kodak’s rise to power and its own slow, blinded decline. He pointed out something interesting about most start-ups, and that was how they all start at the wrong spot: the idea, the sixth step of the seven steps towards start-ups that he has summarized as Challenge, Latent Needs, Understanding, Observation, Discovery, Idea, and Prototype. I am simply just listing elements here, to be honest. There was just too much, and my notes do it little justice. The most important piece of information, however, was the existence of business models specifically designed for creative enterprise. These methods and disruptive ways of thinking simply opened my eyes. It felt like being given a knife as I was a fifth of the way into bramble: not the best tool, but it was a tool nonetheless.
It has been a couple of weeks now since this event, and there’s still a lot for me to digest through and get on with. Ffangai will exist, and that is a matter of time, effort and support. But when it does exist as an established entity, perhaps it could make use of another facet of Dr. Osorio’s talk – that of future-proving oneself. As Sebastian Olma describes in his book In Defence of Serendipity, any congregation of the creative industries will result in talks about innovation. And any talks about innovation will, eventually, lead to talks about what will disrupt the current models we operate on. For me, as a young start-up, this boils to a question of: is what I am doing right now at the beginning, middle, or the end of a modus operandi? I don’t know. If the much smarter, much more experienced folk at this Workshop couldn’t come up with an answer I do not think I would. I do have to say that I did get the feeling, throughout every session, that the operating system of innovation and the creative industries, while extremely optimistic and powerful, is like a metal pole on the beach. In Olma’s book, he also criticizes the current models of innovation and the creative industries as not only stifling innovation, but doomed to either crumble through unsustainability or to be replaced through its own navel-gazing obsoleteness.
So much to think about, and digest. A cacophony-turned maelstrom churning in the recesses of my mind. Originally I was going to go on about how one has to prepare for collapse and plan to rebuild. But so many weeks later, and with the prospect of Ffangai to be launched soon, there’s just the fact that there’s a billion ways things could go. No one in the business of creative hubs, as far as I’ve been able to garner, knows exactly how things are done. Success sort of happens after a lot of work and testing. It might be a case of the boiling frog for them – so wrapped were they in the making of their own spaces that they didn’t see the tested methodologies they employed. But I have to agree that in every case study presented, from the Finnova Foundation, to Factoria Cultural and Conexiones Improbables, it was so apparent that their particular contexts (the factors that went into creating them, unique to their locales) made the whole thing happen.
After the two days, I came to realise that Ffangai wouldn’t happen as I was thinking it would. I need help, and I need to plan a lot more, as well as just jump into the deep, dark abyss.
The help has arrived, I hope. We are tying the bungee cords around our waists as I write this, and soon we shall jump into the unknown.