I’ve sat down to write this post a few times. For someone who’s written a 55k+ word book, you’d think I’d be able to easily write a simple blog post about where I live. Nope. What I’m about to explain is complicated and difficult to put into words. Here goes . . .
A year ago, my team and I packed up our bags and our hashtags. We moved our company, and our lives, to Las Vegas. Not only did we move out west to Sin City, we moved to “Old Vegas.” (Have you ever seen the movie Casino? Yep. The MOB museum is a block away from our office.) And yes, by the way, people actually do LIVE in Las Vegas. I’ve been asked this question numerous times since moving here. Someone has to turn on the neon lights and clean up after all of the tourist’s shenanigans.
So a year ago, we were the new kids on the block. There was one restaurant we frequented in our neighborhood and a pocket full of vision for this thing we call “The Project.” For the past year, the majority of my team and I have both lived and worked in Downtown Las Vegas. If you’re not familiar, there’s quite a bit of change going on here. The private budget is $350 million and wishes are being granted quicker than tourists get tipsy. You can read about the lofty goals and mission online. In fact, let me Google that for ya. If you’re not up to speed on how Digital Royalty ended up here, take a peek at this.
I realize there’s been plenty of national, international and local press about this “project” so I will refrain from the details, which you can read by the fancy publications who have (hopefully) done their fact checking on numbers. Thus far, 483 jobs have been created as a result of The Project (not including construction jobs). A year ago. The Project toured about 40 visitors each month and now we’re touring about 700 folks each month.
My goal is to lend an insider’s lens – my own. This isn’t a Downtown Las Vegas rah-rah cheerleader post and it’s not a Downtown Vegas hater post. It’s just what I’ve personally experienced as an entrepreneur who moved their business, team and life to the “epicenter of sin.”
If you’re considering visiting the “project”, moving yourself or your company here, or if you simply don’t get what all this new hype relative to “Old Vegas” is about, hopefully the following bullets help. I tend to think in bullet points, because they dare me to keep things brief. Often times these bullets turn into paragraphs but that’s okay, bullet points comfort me.
My lessons and observations after living and working in Downtown Las Vegas for the past year:
There’s no room for judgment here. That’s one of my favorite aspects. It’s not uncommon to be standing on a corner downtown next to a tourist from Nebraska with a yard of beer, a VC, Tony Hsieh (the project’s visionary), a start-up entrepreneur, a celebrity or Spiderman (walking to work at the Fremont Experience). Flying Elvis? Yes, we have flying Elvi too. It’s a beautiful mixture. When we mix things that don’t typically get mixed, innovation combustion occurs. Living here is a cross between a rad retirement community, college and Vegas. Imagine if Walt Disney ran Silicon Valley but everyone lived on the set of Cheers. It’s a little like that but with a few other indescribable twists which pop up daily.
Pre Project Days, about four years ago, Tony Hsieh and I were on the corner of Fremont St. and Las Vegas Blvd. We were leaving Michael Cornthwaite’s Downtown Cocktail Room (aka, DCR). Tony mentioned that he wanted to build a nacho bar at the corner right there. Turned out, he couldn’t get the space but it turns out he took over City Hall instead and created what I call SerendipCity. Eventually, he did get the space and The Inspire Theater is going to open soon. This community is a place where thinking big is encouraged and reverse engineering your dreams into reality is actually possible.
When I first moved here, I was informed that the goal is to “accelerate serendipitous interactions.” We call these “collisions.” So we’re on a mission to speed up serendipity. Sounds like fluff, eh? Turns out, this is real. If you bring a group of like-minded people in a condensed area, they will literally run into each other and create collisions. Because the people have like-minded personal, professional and social roots, these collisions become quite valuable. Fluff. Restaurants, street corners and elevator are the home of high-volume, equal value exchange. (Translation: Sh*t gets done faster when people who are like-minded actually like each other and are placed in condensed spaces.)
If you build it, they will come. Right? Nope. This experience has already proven that if you bring the right people, they will build it.
The people in this community aren’t here to gamble. In fact, rarely does anyone I’ve met here actually gamble. We’re in it for the experimental community experience.
This is the land of over-stimulation. If you let it, SerendipCity plus Sin City (the strip) can be overwhelming and distracting, especially to start-ups. Shiny Object Syndrome originated here. There are 97 tempting and entertaining things going on each night. Focus. (Thank you again, Captain Obvious.)
There’s this email list called The Ogden Peeps. It’s a list of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who live in a building at the epicenter of The Project, called The Ogden. I’m pretty sure there are many folks on the list who don’t actually live there (like me.) My first memorable encounter of the type of communication exchange that happens on Ogden Peeps was someone who was making pancakes on floor 15 and had leftovers. Then someone needed a ride to the airport, someone who lost a dog, then someone who found a dog, etc. The other night this happened. This email list is a blessing (it’s a wish granter) and a curse (the “reply to all” committers get annoying).
“The Project” is not just a tech start-up scene. Tech is only $50 million of the $350 budget. Peanuts! I kid. Seriously though, Music, Arts, Education, Small Businesses, Fashion and other things that haven’t been invented yet are being equally funded. For example, First Friday each month brings 20-30k people together in one night to celebrate art, music and food.
Recently, The Project has become bigger than Tony Hsieh. A year ago, I don’t know if I could have made this same statement. Tony was the major brain and heartbeat a year ago. He’s still the visionary at this point, but the community has developed its own heartbeat, which grows in strength daily as new serendipitous DNA moves in and we’re fueled by the momentum of our energy and passion.
It’s not called Lost Wages by accident. This city doesn’t stop. I had to learn to run my own race. If I try to keep up with the tourists who visit for 48-hours and head back to reality, my world will be a losing reality. Pace yourself. Things don’t close here and the neon show will outpace you. The house always wins, especially if you don’t make it back to your own house before the sun rises.
Downtown makes you smarter. We have this forum, which started in construction trailers and we loosely called the Speaker Series. People come and give talks. People like inventors, futuristic 3-D printer gurus, astronauts, Lady Gaga’s manager, etc. This past Friday, David Copperfield was interviewed by Kevin Rose in our Learning Village. These gigs are free to attend. Speakers from all over the world donate their time to come in and talk to the community, learn and share what they’ve learned. Talent is gravitating this direction for the right reasons.
The area where this community is forming is a work in progress. It’s not exactly Nantucket (yet) and it’s not uncommon to hear sirens, helicopters, and bears at night. Okay, no bears yet, but common sense has a strong ROI in SerendipCity.
It’s hot here. Really hot in the late spring, summer and early fall. I cannot tell a lie.
There was one-ish restaurant, that I considered an option, when we moved here. ONE. Now, there are more than 10 options which means there’s a strong demand for running trails (which are on their way). Many of us gained a few pounds and had to realize we’re not back in college. (The bottomless beer and no closing time doesn’t help. Leapfrog my mistakes, snag the heavy lessons.)
Intent is the only dictator in SerendipCity. If your intent isn’t in the right place, you won’t stay. Not only will you not want to stay, but also you won’t feel welcome. (Because politely, you won’t be even if you have the next brilliant “Facebook” idea in your pocket.) If your intent is to contribute and participate in the community, you will instantly gain a large group of friends who care about you, which is priceless.
I wish it wasn’t called “The Project.” That sounds so temporary and has sterile tendencies. I’ve told Walt Tony about this and he’s not really into naming things. He figures people will see them how they see them. (That’s partly why he’s so brilliant, yet I’d personally like to rename the Project “SerendipCity”.)
Not sure if Elvis didn’t like to jog through parks or what but there’s a lack of Mother Nature Downtown at the moment. We’re working on it though. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Lake Las Vegas, and Lake Mead are not far away. At the moment, this is my biggest challenge.
Sometimes people get frustrated with the intentional lack of intense formal systems and procedures with The Project but it’s been designed that way. There are guard rails in place to guide us, but they don’t suffocate.
The State of Nevada ranks near the very bottom of U.S. education lists. Downtown Las Vegas is the home of some of the lowest literacy and graduation rates in the country. That doesn’t change overnight. A new school has been built and the City is working on improving the existing schools, but it’s still a challenge.
Downtown is pet friendly. There are lots of animals down here. (No pun intended.) No parks yet, but there’s a dog park coming soon which means Yappy Hours are also on their way – Yay.
As I mentioned, wishes are being granted. There’s a wall in Tony’s apartment in The Ogden where the Downtown tours begin. The wall is plastered with sticky notes so when people tour through they can submit their ideas of what they’d like to see created in Downtown Las Vegas. If you have the passion and are willing to put in the hard work, anything is possible. I’ve literally seen it happen on many occasions.
Construction – There’s quite a bit of construction going on Downtown. It’s equally annoying and encouraging. As soon as you get fatigued by the equipment you’re served delicious chips, salsa, and margaritas by the new establishment a half a block away.
So 483 jobs have been created and we’re touring about 700 new folks each month. In the next 90-120 days the following will happen: the Zappos Headquarters (a few thousand people) will move from Henderson, Nevada to downtown Las Vegas, 80k people will be entertained in the heart of downtown thanks to the two-day Life Is Beautiful festival, a new school will open, the Inspire Theater will open and the Container Park will open.
If we fix the cities, we fix the world. Right? Yes. If we can create a Start up city in the most unexpected place in the world known as Sin City, we can do it anywhere. Anything is possible
So please don’t tell anyone about Sin City’s little secret known as SerendipCity. We’re overflowing. Wink. If you do find yourself in our neighborhood though, feel free to schedule a tour and reach out to us!