I'm excited to say that this is podcast episode 25 of the Mobile, Alabama podcast! My name is Marcus Neto. I am Blue Fish a digital marketing and web design company based in downtown Mobile on Dauphin Street. I'm the host of Mobile, Alabama business podcast where we talk to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today.
In today's show I sit down with Todd Greer. Todd is one of the partners of Exchange 202 which is a co-working space located on Government street in downtown Mobile. For those of you that are not familiar with co-working, the idea is that you share space with other businesses. There is a community that happens that is pretty impressive. Anyway, Todd and his partners have spared no expense in the facility that they have on Government Street in the old Red Square space. If you haven't seen it, check it out. Let's dive right in with Todd Greer.
Marcus: Today I'm sitting down with Todd Greer, Todd is the ...
Todd: Chief catalyst.
Marcus: Of the Exchange 202 co-working space here in downtown Mobile, welcome to the podcast Todd.
Todd: Thanks Marcus, it is great to be on. It’s been a fun process to be able to watch you’ve been doing. To be able to build this out. It’s certainly our pleasure to be able to be with you.
Marcus: Awesome man. Most people probably aren’t familiar with Exchange 202 because this is a new project. Why don’t you give us an overview of what you guys are doing and where it’s located?
Todd: Sure. Co-working in itself is a new concept to Mobile and we’re pretty excited to introduce the community to it. Co-working really began about a decade ago in San Francisco and it’s grown throughout the country to the point that in 2010 there were only about 600 co-working spaces worldwide. Now there are about 6,000. We've seen that huge growth over the last 5 years.
We get really excited about the opportunities here. How do we take and how do we create a vibrant community for entrepreneurs and freelancers, for designers, for small business owners? For folks that are working in companies that they don’t have a local base here in Mobile and yet they want to have that sense of community. They're tired of working out of their house. They're tired of working in coffee shops while they love them, it doesn’t really fit that work piece. They're tired of just running around and feeling alone in this process.
For us with the exchange, we said, how can we create a community for these entrepreneurs to be able to be together? To be able to learn from one another. To be able to collaborate and to find that sense of community that really does help companies grow. We've been working now for about the last five months to make that a reality. We’re in the heart of downtown at 202 Government Street. Right across from the city county building, right in the building that used to be occupied by Red Square. A lot of people are familiar with Red Square. They're now across the street across from us.
Marcus: That’s just a phenomenal space. I've toured and I know you guys have made a lot of changes and stuff like that. Even to begin with, it was a great location. It’s great space, it’s got a great vibe. I know you guys have lightened it up a little bit because it used to be a little bit dark, no offence Rich. I dig it.
Todd: That was one of the exciting things to it. When we started exploring even co-working in Mobile, and that conversation really started about a year ago. We were looking and thinking about what place would be conducive to it? What has that vibe that you feel like people can come in and not feel the drudgery of the work is just overwhelming to them. We were asking a lot of questions and we kept hearing people talk about what about 202. What about the old Red Square building? Finally it was like, all right, somebody just show me this building. Let’s see what we can do.
Immediately as we walked through, I just fell in love with this space. I think as you’ve said and so many other people know, it was one of those buildings that … When they were building it out, 2007, 2008 it really was very forward thinking. It led to the opportunities for both that quiet space and that private office setting. Also the wide variety of collaborative efforts we have to have. It’s 2015, it’s how we work today. We want to be able to do that. It was a match made in heaven. Really we've just fancied it up, put some new lighting in. Made it a whole lot brighter, put a whole ton of furniture in.
Marcus: Lot of paint.
Todd: Lot of paint including a lot of dry erase paint because folks like me, we just like to write on walls and desks and that kind of stuff. Why not when you can play around right?
Marcus: Exactly. I think it’s cool. Now you say we a lot. Why don’t you tell us, I know you've got a couple of partners you're doing this with. Why don’t you tell us what's going on there as well?
Todd: When I talk about the we, it’s the sense that none of this happens alone. We started the conversation. The we that originally started the conversation back a year ago was myself, John Peebles principal at NAI Mobile and Elizabeth Stevens of the Downtown Mobile Alliance. Really that conversation began just as the exploratory of does co-working fit Mobile? Is there interest if we do this? That has grown and from a partnership perspective at Exchange 202 it’s John Peebles, Allan Cameron who is also principal at NAI Mobile.
Then over the course of time, we've brought in two other individuals that are working with us. One is Jeremy Neuner, Jeremy was the co-founder of NextSpace which is a nine space co-working company that was started in Santa Cruz. Jeremy has become of those key voices in co-working not only the US but across the globe. Jeremy has come on and he’s been an advisor with us for about five or six months. Then earlier on in the spring, we brought on Tre Copeland. Tre is a Mobile native who laughed and really spent a lot of time across the globe working for various companies. Spent some time in the Silicon Valley area working for a couple of companies that people might know like Apple. Spent some time there, did some …
Marcus: He’s just not a fan boy?
Todd: He’s not just a fan boy.
Marcus: I didn’t realize that about Tre. I didn’t know he had that in his background but he is fanatic when it comes to Apple products. Now I understand.
Todd: Tre has a pretty cool story in fact he was talking about it. One day he was presenting there at Apple and a pretty famous guy in a black mock turtle neck walked in and Tre enjoys that story. It’s a neat one, but that tells you a little bit about the where we've been. What we bring to the table. We’re not just doing at it, shooting from the hip.
Marcus: Absolutely and I've watched, we've only known each other for a couple of months. I've watched the process that you all have gone through. All the efforts that have gone into the building. I know that this is not, I mean come on. The property was in the market for well over a million dollars. This is not a fly by night project. You guys have invested a lot in this. Not just money but time and energy and stuff like that. I know you're very passionate about this. We’ll probably get a little bit more into the co-working space. I want to switch gears into talking a little bit about you. I know your story, you're nit from this area. You didn’t go to school here. Tell us a little bit, give us the two or three minute bio of Todd. Where he’s from, where he went to school, what his background is. Married, kids that kind of thing.
Todd: Yeah absolutely. Born and raised south of Detroit in Michigan. Grew up in the blue collar country. Ford was kind of in our backyard. We saw a lot of folks in that area. Grew up there, really with a hard work ethic. I think the idea that small things can be amazing. Really got excited for a lot of different stuff. Was very involved in politics from an early age. Ran two state rep campaigns in Michigan. When I was in college I worked for of chamber of commerce. The idea of making an impact in your community was one of those things that was very deeply ingrained with me from an early age. Went to school, graduated with a bachelor’s in communication from Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio.
Knew that, that was just the start, knew that there was more that I wanted to do. Started a master’s degree at Wayne State University in Detroit in organizational communication. Then taking a decade long detour into ministry. I did an masters in ministry but it was really in the process of working in ministry that I began to dig deep into what community looks like. Recognizing how important it is to bring together people who come from different backgrounds. Who have different skills sets, who have passion for different things.
To think about how does that work in the sense of community. That really was one of those exciting pieces was in Lansing Michigan for about four years. Then moved to Richmond, my wife did her PhD at Virginia Commonwealth University. Relocated with a 6-week old baby. How about that one? That’s a fun process.
Marcus: Sarcasm at its best.
Todd: No, no. Here’s a bit of a detour but one of those things that we recognized. If you can get all those knocked out in a very short period of time. It’s crazy but it makes everything else easier. Had been married for about 4 years. We left our house that we still own almost a decade later. We started a program in which I was leaving a job, she was starting grad school. I was already working on my PhD. We had a 6-week old baby and we left both of our families behind and we lived to tell the story.
That’s the fun thing, we lived to tell the story. Went to Richmond, finished my PhD in organizational leadership and again it was an opportunity to be able to dig deep into a new community. When my wife finished hers we were scouring the country thinking through, where do we want to live? What are places that we think are cool should be really exciting to raise a family. My wife was contacted by Springfield College here in Mobile. Came down for an interview and just fell in love with it.
I admit I was a little bit nervous at first with the idea of moving down this far south. The first time I visited I thought, “Man, this place is gorgeous.” To be this close to the water. To be in a place that, you really see a lot of people from a lot of different places that are here in Mobile. We got really excited quickly. I just threw myself into the work, what can we do? I had spent previous year working in nonprofit leadership. Was running a nonprofit out of my house. I got really fed up with being alone and really how do I find other people to connect with them was the thing that I started searching for.
Marcus: Yeah. I think it’s really cool. I mean, I've been involved in the tech industry. Travelling around the country for various conferences and stuff like that. I've been aware of co-working as an idea for quite a long time. There were a couple of years where as an early company we were distributed and I didn’t have an office. Because I can’t work at home. There's dishes to be done, there's laundry to be done, there's always something. The TV is on, it’s distracting.
Todd: The thing about being in the middle of being in a conversation with an important client and you got a delivery coming to the door, ping pong. There's something about that space, it’s just not conducive for work.
Marcus: I had at one point in time looked at doing something on a lower scale than what you all are doing. Just basically purchasing some commercial property. Having a couple of extra desks, finding some people to sublease basically those spaces. You guys have definitely taken that to the next level.
Is there an area of the Exchange business that you're putting a lot of effort into? I know you’ve literally just launched within the last week. This podcast won’t go live for probably another month. You will be underway by the time my people hear this. Is there an area of the business that you're putting a lot of effort into?
Todd: I think the biggest thing that we’re trying to do and I used the word community already a couple of times. Community is pretty much the foundation of what makes co-working work. That’s been a really important piece. Community looks like a lot of different things. Sometimes it’s simply allowing our vast and exciting business community here in Mobile. Letting them understand the possibilities. How do they connect with what we’re doing here?
How can we help provide whether it’s space or it’s ideas or it’s excitement that we can provide to them as well? That was one of the big pieces of that. Some of it is simply that educating the community. Another part of what we've been doing is really we call it making the Exchange. For us that’s really an important piece, it’s not just something we throw around. We talk about making the exchange happens in a lot of different ways. Some of it is, what you would think as a traditional sales process of, hey you’ve been working in your house. You’ve been working in a café, come make the exchange, come and join us in our place. Become part of our community.
The second piece to that is really making the exchange. It’s something as simple as Marcus, we’re sitting here and my phone is about to die. Can I borrow your power cable? That’s one of those things, you don’t do it in a coffee shop. I can’t be sitting in that Starbucks and, “Hey buddy, I noticed you have a…”
Marcus: No way creep, get away from me.
Todd: It’s just, we haven’t reached that level of comfort with each other that, that can happen. Its how do we make the exchange internally? The focus and it’s really of I'm creating that big picture along with my partners. To be able to think what is the big picture of a strong culture look like? Because when we bring people in, we want them to envision with us. We want them to create with us. We want them to be able to recognize that this isn’t a place that they come in to … We've got it all figured out.
They just come in and plug and play. Yeah there is that sense of come in work, we are fully furnished. We got a lot of things in place. We want to know, what do you want? We've got ideas about themes for months. We’re hoping that November is going to be follow your passion. It’s going to be as simple as, hi Marcus I know you followed your passion in a lot of different ways. I've heard your story a couple of times about how you got into Blue Fish.
Also how this whole podcast started. It’s that idea of, how do we start these? Whether it’s a side hustle or it’s a new venture, a nonprofit or it’s just something we want to do. We want to encourage people to be able to create that and know they’ve got community around them that can help support that. A lot of this comes into different ways of how do we give people space and let them create?
Marcus: I read something online the other day. It can’t be attributed to anybody but it was a meme that said the dreams are free parcel is sold separately. There's a lot of truth to that. If you have community around you, like here I have other people. We've got employees and friends and stuff like that that come in and get extremely valuable things.
Todd: Actually think it was an Abraham Lincoln that said that quote too.
Marcus: Of course, parcel was real big back in the day.
Todd: I mean, if there was ever somebody that embodied the hustle was probably Lincoln.
Marcus: If you were talking to someone who wanted to be an entrepreneur, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Todd: I think that’s a really tough question. I think the biggest thing that I would always ask is where is your support? It’s this beautiful picture for people to get and think about Steven Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. Somebody Blake Mycoskie at Toms Shoes where we have built up entrepreneurs to be like the stars. To make it seem easy and it’s not.
Marcus: It’s anything but easy.
Todd: It’s so hard and I think that’s the exciting thing. I was playing with the Teddy Roosevelt quote about the arena recently. It was one of those things that I just have to remember that it’s not easy. I want to ask, who are the people that are going to help shake you up to remember what was the passion that started this? I've heard people talk about, your own personal board of directors or even your family. Is your family on board with this? Or they look at you and go, “You're an idiot. What are you doing trying to make this happen?”
Marcus: Jared is that role in my life. Especially when it comes to this podcast.
Todd: You’ve got to have somebody that’s willing to burst your bubble when you're like, “Hey this was a brilliant idea.” They're like, “No that’s terrible. Don’t ever think about telling anybody else about that.”
Marcus: Let me give you a little, and this is valuable. I know you'll use it. I know you'll get something out of this. You mentioned things that you should never do. I was at a conference a week and half ago. Somebody told the story of Warren Buffett’s pilot. Have you heard this story?
Marcus: Basically Warren Buffet’s pilot went to him and threw, I’ll shorten the story a little bit. Threw a series of conversations, Warren Buffet basically told this guy that if you're still flying planes for me in 3 or 4 years, then I've failed you somehow. He said, "What I want you to do is I want you to go off and I want you to make a list of 25 things that you want to accomplish in your career." The pilot went away and did that and came back to Buffett and Warren was just like, "Okay, that's a great list. Now I want you to prioritize them 1 through 25." The pilot did and then came back to him. Warren Buffett said, "The first five things are the things that you should absolutely focus on. Number six through 25 weren't just things that you will get to later, they're things that you should never, ever, ever do.
Marcus: The reason why and you'll understand this, is because when you have those things that are priorities that you want to accomplish, they easily distract you from what you're true goals are which is that 1 through 5. Because they're somewhat aligned with your goals, they're very easy to justify. His point was, no, you should be solely focused on 1 through 5, everything else on that list are things that you should never accomplish. Now granted I would imagine there is some leeway like 5 years later if you want to reassemble the list and figure out, re-prioritize, then that would be somewhat okay I gather.
Todd: That's a really good point because I think we tend to struggle with focus.
Marcus: Yeah, absolutely.
Todd: You think how distracted we are in our culture and I think that's a great idea for the entrepreneur. It’s easy, we talk about in the nonprofit space, we used to talk about [inaudible 00:20:45]. It would be that point at which you will be following the dollars as opposed to following your mission. I think it’s easy for us to, oh squirrel and we start running after a squirrel and we forget what's our priority, what's our ambition.
Marcus: Yeah what did I set out to accomplish at the very beginning. They may seem like very worthwhile causes in the grand scheme of things, they are not. What are some resources that you found helpful recently? Any books that you've read or any websites that you're checking them on, on a regular basis?
Todd: You know me well enough Marcus to know books are constantly being thrown through. A couple of things that I had spent some time with lately, there is a really neat company out of Halifax Canada called Hustle and Grind. They are a really neat company. It was a guy who started writing about entrepreneurship. He's also really passionate about coffee. He took his two passions and he put them together and created a subscription based company for coffee and entrepreneurial wisdom. I really enjoy what Ross Simmonds does at Hustle and Grind. That's one that I take from. I'm a book guy and a magazine guy and so I spend a lot of time reading entrepreneur and Inc. and Harvard Business Review and various other business-esque magazines.
Marcus: Let me focus you in because I know you're an avid reader. If there was 1 book you could suggest somebody read that was starting down the business ownership or entrepreneur path, what would that book be?
Todd: Wow. 1 book ...
Marcus: Or 2.
Todd: You're really challenging me today.
Marcus: I'm going to push the envelope with you.
Todd: Yeah. Here’s one and I'm going to throw out some advice, I haven't yet fully taken myself. There's a book called Blue Ocean Strategy.
Marcus: Good book.
Todd: It’s a book that I'm heavily invested in keeping it in my bag and I'm not as ...
Marcus: Are you putting it under your pillow?
Todd: Yeah, osmosis process isn't working as quickly as I would like it too. From a conceptual perspective I understand some of the framework that's there, but it’s really about how do you create something where you're not going into what they call a red ocean. You're not going into some place that's there's already so many people in there that you're just really working for a market share that's 1 or 2%. You're looking to create an entirely new space. That's one that I would certainly encourage people to take a look at it, that Blue Ocean Strategy.
There's another one that's really, that's become a favorite of mine over the last probably a year. Part of it is because I know the author and part of it is just because I've seen so much of it come to play. It’s a book called Little Bets by Peter Sims. It’s an exciting one because again there are so many times in our lives especially as entrepreneurs that we get an idea and we want to run down a road. We want to run basically a marathon level of distance down the road before we check back to find if any of it works.
What Peter's idea is instead of doing one thing and going all the way down the road with it, lay out a couple of small bets or little bets and begin to see what the market will bear, begin to see what people actually want, begin to see what draws your passion. Begin to see those things and then you'll find where you need to go. That concept of laying little bets is one that sits in the back of my mind.
Marcus: Just as an example, I mean there are a number of people in our space that will put up a pre-order form for like a book or some sort of strategy. They'll use that as a little bet to see whether there's any interest in that topic or whether there's any clout that they have. If they have enough authority to actually get the sales, if they get some sales, then they'll actually write the book. I mean there's a lot of things that you can do to test whether there's a market for whatever it is that you're trying to do. What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
Todd: Free time. Remind me again what that is. No, in my free time I am a sports junkie. I've spent a couple of years whether it’s playing sports in high school in college or coaching, I just love sports. I've got about 6 fantasy football teams and yesterday was a terrible day, but life happens. I love to read which I've already mentioned. Then probably more important than any of it is my family. We spent a lot of time doing stuff together and really talking about what life is. Church has been a very important part of my life and our focus as a family. Really just being there and being present with other people are really an important part of free time.
Marcus: That's awesome. Where can people find you?
Todd: They can find me on the inter-webs in a lot of different places. They can find me at exchange202.com, they can find me down town at 202 Government Street, they can find me on Facebook, they can find me on my own Twitter account @teamworkdoc or at the @theexchange202 either of those places. I can be found in a lot of places. If you call, I will find you, I'll call back and we'll talk and we'll do lunch and have coffee. You never know, I may be sitting on your couch having a podcast with you.
Marcus: I know. There's an interesting story there. He’s hinting that though. Somehow we got connected on Twitter I believe.
Todd: I believe it was the Twitter.
Marcus: The Twitter.
Todd: The Twitter was how we connected
Marcus: Without really knowing each other, not really being introduced by any common friends, we just decided to meet up for lunch one day and its ended up being a very cool thing. I want to thank you for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you would like to share with the audience?
Todd: I think Marcus you touched on it before a little bit. One of the things that's been big and very helpful in my life is to think about what is your passion, what's the thing that really drives you. I really encourage folks to think about the intersection of three different segments of their life. It becomes a Venn diagram if you're familiar with that. It’s really what's your passion, what's the thing that gets you up in the morning that you want to do whether you're paid or not? Then think about the sense of what skills and abilities do you have? What are the things that people have innately told you, "You're really good at that Marcus. You should do something with that."
Then think about that 3rd piece which is opportunities. Are there opportunities for you to be able to go and do that?" When you find those 3 things, the intersection of those 3 pieces, then you find your passion, you find the thing that you can do and you can be really successful at it. That would be my encouragement to everybody is to find that piece that really drives you and gets you up. Think about how that intersects with what you're good at and what the opportunities are. Whether you have to create those opportunities or not, that's the thing I think will move people to be successful in any sphere of their life.
Marcus: That's awesome, that's a great illustration. I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It was great talking to you.
Todd: Thank you Marcus. It’s been my pleasure.