Roy van de Water, Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and special guest Trey Keeler discuss the some common questions we get asked about how Gangplank works with municipal governments.
Jade Meskill: Hello and welcome to the DangerCast where we talk about Gangplank culture and design. I’m Jade Meskill. Today, we have a special interview with Trey Keeler. He was asking us some common questions that we get asked about how we work with local municipal governments. We thought it would make a really great podcast so we recorded the interview. We thought our listeners would be interested in hearing some of the answers. Hope you enjoy it.
Trey Keeler: Cool. I guess the biggest question I had for you is, I was talking to Gangplank RVA. I met with these guys at that day. I talked to a guy named David Walizer. Usually nice and I spoke to him about what Gangplank is all about. It was really awesome, because Gangplank is new to the Richmond area, so a lot of people are just kind of learning about it right now.
We’re visiting a lot of different coworking spaces because we’re doing this project on different coworking models. I spoke to him and the project that we’re working on is with an organization that has city government funding to do sort of a similar idea. At least the mission or the goals they have are very similar to sort of what Gangplank has already done.
I was kind of picking his brain and he had mentioned that Gangplank in Phoenix had some sort of relationship with the local government, or somehow interacted. I don’t know at what levels.
Trey: That’s why I was calling you guys to figure out how that works and how that all started.
Derek: Yes, perfect. So, I think there’s a couple of different ways that we’ve done Gangplanks. Maybe I’ll just go over those, and one of the second two would probably be one that would be applicable to what you’re talking about from a government relationship perspective.
The first way was the way that Gangplank was originally funded, which was really the altruistic model or the benefactor model. Where a company has extra space or extra resources and really wants to invest in their community. So they give time, and/or space, or resources to the community and say, implement a Gangplank in our space. I think that’s the current model that Richmond is going under. They have a provider, a space, a company that’s got some extra spaces letting them use that space in exchange for being around smart, creative people.
The second model that we operate under is doing a service‑based agreement with a municipality of some kind where we provide a number of services. It’s a service contract just as any other service provider would do. They then would pay us for those services. Those services would be put directly back into the Gangplank in that location. So, what normally happens there is a number of services are created in a contract that says we will deliver these 20 services or these 50 services.
A lot of those services are the things that Gangplank natively provides whether that be brown bags, entrepreneurship programs, coworking space, maker space, all of those type of things. Then, the funding that is created goes back to basically pay for the rent, the Internet, the electricity. And then, what we do is we basically give all of the resources away at no monetary cost, but the people that participate in the programming, we ask that they give back through social capital to basically provide the services that we’re under contract for.
So it’s like the city kicks‑starts or the municipality kicks‑starts the program by providing the building, and in exchange for that building they get a bunch of services back. And what happens is all of the programming is provided by the people who are freely partaking in the services, right?
So, instead of charging for those services, we say the only way you can pay for them with is your time, which actually connects people back more deeply that of the community which is kind of the whole goal, is to basically jumpstart communities.
Trey: Exactly, so in the past when you were talking about the city or the municipality paying for services. Traditionally, that has been through allowing you the use of the space or building, or has it actually been monetary?
Derek: So, the second way that I was talking about just now was that’s through monetary. Maybe the municipality doesn’t have an existing structure, or an existing building that they can put a Gangplank in, but they do have budget. So what they’ll do is they’ll say, “Hey, we’ll allot this budget, and the budget is pretty much magically equal to the amount that it costs to rent a space, and to provide electricity for a space, and provide Internet for a space, and in return we get these services.”
The third model that we have is a model where a municipality or a government organization actually has physical space, where they own the space. They say, “Hey, for a dollar‑a‑year rent, or a dollar‑a‑month rent, what we would like to do is provide you this space, we’ll provide you the electricity, the maintenance, the physical property to basically run your programming out. And in return, you’ll offer these services for us.”
When it comes to working with local government, we can do it either one of those ways. We can either do it as a you don’t have a space and you’re providing funding, and we take that funding and we basically rent the space with that funding. Or, if you have physical property we can just do it in exchange for that physical property. We do it both ways.
Trey: I guess the case I’m working on that is a organization that has the physical space and probably lacks the resources and the human capital.
Derek: Right, so that’s perfect for Gangplank. That’s what it’s made for.
Trey: So in a case like that, how do you guys keep the culture of Gangplank a Gangplank, and how does the municipality feel like they’re actually benefiting from it? Cause municipalities as always like to take credit for things and kind of toot their own horn. How do you sort of create that balance?
Derek: I think that’s the beautiful thing in Gangplank. One of the things that cities really struggle with is being dangerous, right? Like they have to do everything by the book which is totally anti‑entrepreneurial, totally anti‑place making, What happens is we enter into a relationship where pretty much they’re able to say Gangplank go do the stuff we’re not necessarily allowed to do, or that our PR is not necessarily comfortable doing, and if it works and it’s awesome, we’re going to share in the credit.
We’re going to say, “Hey, we fund that. We do that. That’s part of us. Aren’t we cool?” And if it’s something where it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know. That’s a little too dangerous for us.”
They can easily go, “Oh, that’s those Gangplank people that’s not a city thing.” It kind of gives, especially politicians, it gives them a way to adopt the wins, and distance themselves from the things that are maybe scary to them.
What we find more often than not, maybe they don’t embrace something because it’s scary but it actually turns into a win and they adopt it after the fact. For us, we don’t care. It doesn’t matter to us. We just want good stuff to happen in the community. We don’t care who gets credit for it. I think that that is one of the biggest benefits that we give cities, is we give them an ability to be like a startup without having to go through like a bunch of pomp and circumstance every time they want to do anything.
Trey: Very cool. So you guys I guess are on paper more or less a tenant and then if things work out beneficially for the city then they can sort of jump in.
Derek: Yeah, we’re a service provider. So it’s if it’s not working out they can fire us just like they can fire any other service provider.
Trey: OK. Very cool. I guess the next question I have is that the entity that we’re working with is, when you think about the coworking, obviously people think about coders, designers, more of the creative class or I guess what popular culture decides what the creative class is. Have you guys ever worked with somebody that has a small business in the classic sense of a small business? Say somebody is a plumber, or a contractor, or somebody has an idea to sell ribs on the side of the road. Do you get to that sort of granular level or is everything have to be sort of trendy‑business business?
Jade: [laughs] We’re not interested in being trendy at all. What we’re really interested in is that cross section of people who are creators. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the creative class, it means that they are really interested in doing things, making things happen, trying new things. Like Derek said being dangerous.
We’ve met plenty of people who are chefs, or running a restaurant, you know doing these very mundane things, but they’re doing it in very unique and interesting ways that makes them part of that Gangplank culture. You don’t have to be a hacker to be here, but somebody who probably has taken on some of the that hacker mentality and applied it to whatever it is that they’re doing, they’re going to fit in very well with the Gangplank culture.
Derek: We’ve seen everything from somebody who was really inspired by Gangplank and how it works and likes the collaborative nature of it. They were really into baking cupcakes, and cakes, and pastries, and they actually went out and started the equivalent of a Gangplank that was for bakers. Where they would share kitchen time, and they would create things, and they were basically starting businesses around cooking or baking.
We’ve seen things like that launched out of Gangplank. We’ve seen one of our current companies that is in Gangplank Chandler, great example, is they’re a coffee distributor, a coffee grinder. One of the things they do is they actually are in the business of investing in coffee refineries in third world countries, teaching them how to grow coffee, process coffee, and bring it back and then distribute it here.
That’s about as non‑high tech as it gets, it’s almost farming. “Chow Locally” is sponsored out of here, which is a way to get farm to table type of stuff why that’s kind of a trendy thing that’s happening right now, it’s certainly not what I would consider your normal high‑tech artsy incubator type of stuff that’s happening.
Jade: We have another group that’s involved in social services. They’re trying some new interesting things and they fit right in.
Trey: Very cool, very cool. In the past the Gangplank models that have partnered with government entities, what sort of a process been you as approaching them or they approach you, and how does that relationships ever grow?
Derek: I think to date they’ve always approached us. I think we do two things as part of that. The first thing we do is, are they a good culture fit for us, because we’re very culture‑driven. We look at cities or municipalities that will be strong partners and let us be who we are, and really jumpstart their community. So it’s usually municipalities who say, “We want something radically different and we know we can’t. We know our culture will eat us alive if we try that, but we would like to partner with you so that you can be the culture we want in our city without us having to change our entire structure.”
Which is I think is a big upside when they approach us. It means they’re ready to have those kind of conversations opposed to if we’re approaching them. I think once that’s in place, I think the next thing is we assess is the community ready for it. Meaning, do they have a community leader that’s willing to really promote and move forward, because there’s no paid positions in Gangplank. It really is like bootstrap, raw, community‑driven stuff.
Do you have people that are hungry enough to build a city and build a community within a city that they’ll invest their time in doing it? If they have those two things, it’s usually pretty easy. We’ve done this enough times that we’ve got boiler stuff that’s city‑approved. Multiple cities have done it, so we can usually give that to a legal team and say, “Here’s a start point, mark it up. However, you need it to be to fit with your organization.”
We can usually put them in a touch with a number of mayors, council members, and economic developers, at places that we’re at who they can talk to and get their questions answered at a very real level. I think, once the matchmaking part is done, the execution of it is usually pretty easy to do.
Trey: Very cool. What city, what Gangplanks are using this sort of private/public partnership right now?
Jade: There’s a couple others exploring, they’re in the early stages of going this direction.
Derek: Yeah, our Sault, our branch in Ontario, who also is currently undergoing. They’ll probably finalize something here in the next 30 days.
Trey: Cool. This is all really, really awesome.