Think about the last time you spent in a coffee shop working. Perhaps you had a quick meeting with a friend or potential partner, perhaps you haven’t made the leap to coworking and call Starbucks your office; regardless of why you were there, picture the laptops around you.
When I arrived in Austin, TX, I was struck by the extent to which stickers appear on laptops – I spent far more time coworking and coffee shopping in Austin than I had in Silicon Valley and never paid attention before (I’ll leave Austinites reading this to comment on the extent to which they are or are not present). It wasn’t something I ever really noticed in California as everyone, it seemed, turned their Macbooks into NASCARS.
It was after my move to Austin and a trip to Dallas that I noticed a stark difference from one city to the next, and in the years since, I made a point of asking others, in other cities, whether or not people seem to populate their laptops with logos.
The disparity struck me. What might the presence or lack of stickers on laptops suggest about a community in which entrepreneurship hopes to flourish? The sociologist in me encourages you to think about it.
Transparency to information enables the use of that information
People work from coworking spaces and coffee shops to be in the presence of other people. Admit it, aside from the really exceptional coffee, you could be at home in your underwear. Yet on laptops in such spaces, we’re heads down; we’re there to work, and while happy to network, it’s not easily fostered as no one knows who you are, what you do, and why they might care. Why would such professionals not take advantage of that and give peeping toms some insight with which to strike up a conversation?
I had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend and peer today, Andrea Kalmans. Upon seeing the stickers on my laptop she remarked that she recently took the opportunity to introduce herself to one of Austin’s brightest entrepreneurs, a newcomer from Houston, Marc Nathan, because of the clarify sticker on his Mac.
A connected, cohesive, collaborative ecosystem has few barriers to entry and freely flowing information. How would you determine that you might benefit from time spent at Capital Factory or coworking at Orange Coworking if you don’t have any information about it? How are individuals to know if they can help you and that you might be able to help them, without transparency to what you’ve done and why they might strike up a conversation?
Thinking of the implications sociologically, stickers on laptops aren’t just a means of fostering connections and efficient collaboration, they are an indication that your culture, your city, embraces that transparency. Your laptop is a billboard and if people are using it as such, they want to connect, collaborate, and communicate.
So powerful is such potential that there are startups, like Coffee Shop Freelancers, dedicated to the idea that stickers should be more than logos; custom designs to drive engagement with you. Brilliant.
Startups Fail. As an entrepreneur you will fail. You might succeed, but you will fail.
Transparency to information though means opening yourself to the bad as well as the good. It’s the embrace of this mantra about failure that most believe fosters a true culture of innovation and helps startup ecosystems make the leap from mere business ownership to disruptive ventures. If you aren’t trying hard enough that you are more likely to fail, you probably aren’t inventing but replicating from what others have already learned. Recognizing the inevitability of, and even celebrating, failure encourages everyone to strive for greater ambitions.
But not every culture is comfortable appreciating failure. What might badges of honor, emblazoned across a Dell suggest about an individual? Not only does it show off wherein they have been, and perhaps remain involved, inevitably as startups die, failures will remain displayed. Are entrepreneurs where you live comfortable showing off those failures? My good friend Joe Milam, founder of AngelSpan, suggests that laptop stickers are akin to college football helmet stickers, worn with pride to celebrate, and what intrigues me about startup logos is that over time, you’ll have some that you might want to remove. Do you?
I’ve come to believe that if your ecosystem embraces company loyalty and career and the spit polished resume, you’ll find stickers lacking. People therein are trained to put their best foot forward and a clean laptop is a professional laptop. We have to look good in front of clients after all. Such cities build successful businesses, partnerships, and good corporate citizens – don’t misunderstand my point as saying that no stickers = bad – but generally speaking cities without stickers fail to foster real cohesion and innovation in entrepreneurs, at least it seems, to the extent that cities where stickers are prolific – Why? Failure isn’t celebrated. Collaboration isn’t as easy.
To look at the back of my laptop now, I have Cospace, which closed over a year ago, and Moodfish a music venture that shuttered well before that. I was there, I was involved, no they aren’t around any more. Yes, I know the people that were involved.
I learned a lot – lessons which I’m happy to share with you to help you avoid the same mistakes.