Goals: A conversation with Anthony Maher of Benjamin’s Desk
The Build, Episode 2, Original Airdate 6/8/2015
Joe Taylor Jr.: I’m Joe Taylor Jr., this is The Build with Anthony Maher today, welcome.
Anthony Maher: Hey, thanks for having me Joe.
Give us a little quick 30 second bio.
Sure, grew up in Cape May County, New Jersey. Played college ball in Erie, Pennsylvania, turned professional soccer player for 10 years. Was in the mid-west where I met my beautiful wife, have 3 kids. Finally got back to Philadelphia where we can grow and launch Benjamin’s Desk.
Excellent. 50 goals on the pitch outside over 100 goals.
Man, you must have been on page 2 of Google, or something, Joe. I know that’s not on the first page. Grew up, my dad had us playing sports early on. My brother, Mike, played soccer. My brother, Matt, played soccer. We did all the sports and it was just fun. It’s something we put a lot of dedication and time into.
Tell me a little bit about the transition from professional athlete to entrepreneur.
Yeah, good question Joe. As I was finishing up my career, 9th and 10th year, wound up having a pretty bad injury with my knee and ankles. I started to think through, “How else am I going to provide for my family?” I would create little lifestyle companies around tournaments, leagues, academy and I was really good at it. As I was transitioning out I also wound up getting my coaches license and happened to be one of the highest licensed coaches in the country. I thought an easy transition would to also be coach professional players. As I was living with Mike at 3rd and Market, we started talking a little bit more about Benjamin’s Desk and what it could be, and what it could become. We got really excited, we always had an entrepreneur background and also had a real estate background. At the age of 23 I bought 4 duplexes and was a landlord and I enjoyed the landlord business and getting tenants a good experience as they’re renting out their properties. It was lucrative, we also bought some land in Virginia, and in Nicaragua. We were definitely on par with having a good real estate portfolio, hence Benjamin’s Desk.
Let’s back up for a second and tell folks who Mike is. You come from a really entrepreneurial family?
Yeah, at an early age we always felt like we could give people a cool experience with some of the tournaments, some of the camps. Some of the products we developed just based in the sports industry more than anything else. Mike would be my brother and co-founder of Benjamin’s Desk. He was always groomed as the leader and early on my father would invest in his leadership skills. Send him away to leadership training at a young age. Wound up going to the navel academy. Was lieutenant in the Navy and as he transitioned out of the Navy we always talked about running a business together. Not your typical family business but we were really intrigued with start-ups and really intrigued with really putting the work in. We felt like we had a high level of work ethic and we knew we had the drive. We just wanted to surround ourselves with the right people and go launch a business.
The business we’re talking about right now is Benjamin’s Desk which is a co-working network based in Philadelphia. This is the space that we’re in right now. Full disclosure, Benjamin’s Desk is a client of 2820 Press but this was not on our agenda. My talent coordinator said to me, “You got to have these guys on because this is a great story.” You’re a professional athlete, Mike is in the Navy. Jen, Mike’s wife, is an attorney, and you guys start to have the conversation about let’s open a facility where people can launch their own businesses.
Yeah, we always knew the way we worked together, me, Mike, and Jen, we always knew that we had complimenting skill sets. The idea was to create a company that would allow us to have autonomy to do something pretty special. Jen being full time at Pepper Hamilton, Mike being full time in the Navy, and myself being a full time professional athlete transitioning, we started to have these conversations. Everybody’s timeline was a little bit different and we’re always big believers that the right door opens at the right time. Mike was fortunate enough to find Katie Cohen who is now Katie Cohen Zahniser. She’s now a 2820 Press rock star, she was able to launch the business with Mike and Jen while I was finishing up my career. As I was transitioning my career we knew it was going to be a natural step to be more forward facing as the owner and operator of Benjamin’s Desk.
I want to touch on a little bit of that transition as well because at that time you’re also running a company called Philly Futsal.
Yeah, so as I transitioned out, as I talked about before, my last year of playing professional outdoor soccer was in North Carolina. My final year I got pulled up to LA to play with Chivas USA, an MLS team. The coach was very transparent he said, “Hey Anthony, I really like you. We think you can help us this year, but there’s really no upside. You’re 31 years old, we know you’ve had some injuries but we think you can make impact.” That really was a reality check for me and I was okay with it because it allowed me to get everything else in order. That began the process of how can I transition out of this sport the right way? As I mentioned earlier, I did get my coaching license and I also created a sport in Philadelphia that was non existent. I was a big believer in futsal and Joe pictured futsal as being a soccer on a basketball court where it’s smaller side soccer, a lot more touches. Kids are forced to be more creative, forced to have more touches on the ball, and they have a lot more fun while they’re playing. I felt like if kids can have more fun, they can have more touches, and they can learn to be more creative, not only are they going to fall in love with this sport but they’re going to develop as players.
Early on, a lot of the more traditional coaches and organizations, they didn’t really want to hear about it. Then, again, timing was on our side, 2 years ago, 3 years ago, there was an announcement by US Soccer Federation and even FIFA, which is the world governing body of soccer who said, “Every player needs to be experiencing futsal during the winter as another tool to develop as a soccer player.” That’s when our numbers went from about 200 players to about 1,000 at capacity. We got to really help kids fall in love with the game and it’s growing to be one of the largest futsal academies in the country.
Right now we’re looking at strategic partners to help us grow that as I focus here at Benjamin’s Desk. If I had some great managing partners and directors who embrace the fact that they can give back to kids, make them fall in love with the sport. You’re seeing now the kids that have been doing this 4, or 5 years that are making real impact and people are pointing back to their development stage and one of the point backs is Philly Futsal, so that’s exciting to see.
One of the things that I just heard you talk about was the idea that you’re at age 31 and having to reconsider what the long term career looks like for you. Is this something that’s effecting a lot of athletes? Do you see that happening more than maybe it used to?
Yeah, you know it seems like the athletes that are coming in line are younger, faster, stronger than ever before. There’s a real awareness that there’s talent ready to take over your position. I’ve always had a good perspective early on where that would not stress me out as much as it would my other teammates. I had a higher belief that certain things were going to happen for the right reason and the right door will open at the right time. That stress never really played a factor in me thinking that way. I always felt like I had a entrepreneur spirit in me at a young age. I was that young kid in elementary school that was selling gumball machines and selling airheads. I enjoyed having a little landscaping business in the summer and working for all the neighbors. I had real passion for providing really detailed service and making money. I enjoyed doing it. As I was transitioning on to 31 it was just a reality that man there’s so much more out there. I achieved my dream, which felt really good because every day I would wake up early, I would stay up late thinking about it. Then I was able to close it out the right way and transition into this entrepreneur background with Benjamin’s Desk.
I feel like, and I say this a lot, the type of CEO I want to be is very similar to the type of player I wanted to be. I wanted to be that hard working player that led from the front. I wanted to be a team player that would always surround myself with better people so we can have better success. I wanted to share the passion with others and really make a ripple. Those are the things that allow me to have success as a player and I think those are the things that allow me to have success as a CEO here at Benjamin’s Desk.
Were there a lot of folks in the business world, especially if you follow anyone on the speaking circuit? You hear a lot of motivational speakers and sports get used a lot as a metaphor for business success. You’ve actually been a player, a coach, a professional athlete, someone that’s developed talent on the field. How do you translate what you’ve done on the field into success in the board room, success on your org chart with talent that may not necessarily have come up with those same experiences?
Great question Joe. Before we get to the board room, I think how it helps me in the community, it’s almost like being back in the locker room. Making sure people feel comfortable as new people come through. Looking at people’s skills and seeing how you can connect them to the right people and just making sure the culture is the right culture to have success. I always knew that every locker room had culture. The great locker rooms had great culture and that took a lot of work. I was always looking at the guys who were steadily building that culture and investing in that culture. It was typically the leader that was either selfless, that was so bought in on making sure that this place was going to succeed that he put himself second and was always very decisive. The second thing that was a take away as a young athlete and as a rookie in second year pro, I would look at these leaders in very special teams and say man they’re the type of leaders that would show it on the field. They have a will to win.
In those game situations when you talk about … and you hear it in the Sports Center all the time about this player just willed the team to win. It’s those special leaders that can will a team to win and I think that kind of attitude here where I’m willing to do whatever it takes to push the ball forward. I love leading from the front, I’ll never ask anybody to do something I would not do. I’ve always liked surrounding myself with smart people and I think when people are put in their lane the right way you can have great success. Now, in the board room I’m very competitive. I like to position the team to have a win and I also have always been a great team player to say, “How’s this a win for everybody?” Looking at it in a way where I can show that it’s going to be a win win and really believe in it. Set expectations knowing we’re going to meet it no matter what it takes, usually is a good formula for success.
Let’s come back to something you said a moment ago, the idea of culture in an organization. We hear from start up founders a lot that say culture, culture fit, really important but what does it actually mean to have a good culture in a company?
Culture is just being thoughtful around people, caring about people. I think it’s as simple as that. I think being aware and being really tuned in to where people are, not only on the business side but personally, where they are comfort level wise. We talk about programming here and I’m always launching new programs here at Benjamin’s Desk and some of the things I’m conscience of of how do people participate. I engage with them on a personal level and say, “Hey, what were your thoughts around … Why didn’t you show up to the [inaudible 00:12:27] or the first Friday lunch?” There like, “I was nothing.” I like the fact, some of the feedback I would get would be from the members that they like the fact that they have the options for that programming.
It kind of changed my thinking around forced culture and growing culture the right way. I think the fun part is when you’re that engaged in people and thoughtful around people you start taking how they want to see the culture participate. You try to implement that as well. Culture isn’t built by one person and Joe you know that better than anybody because you help build the culture at Benjamin’s Desk as a member. It’s built through different lens of perspectives and being really thoughtful around how you can continue to evolve that culture because things change, people change. Where they’re at currently, personally, on the business level change and being conscience. Then on the opposite side I think there’s a real tangible side to it. I think there’s an experience side meaning when people first come through the doors what are they feeling. I think there’s an experience side meaning when people first come through the doors what are they feeling, what are they smelling, what are they seeing? That stuff plays a part in it.
I can’t tell you how many times in the professional soccer world I was with a professional team where the locker room itself, the physical locker room looked professional. It demanded a different type of professionalism from the players and also the people in the space. When I walk through the space and I see an empty space, that’s not good for culture but when I see people working together, collaborating. See rock stars like [inaudible 00:13:48] or Patrick Baines in the space, that gives you an aspiration that says almost anything is possible and I like being in that environment. There’s so many different dynamics to culture and building culture that I think it allows us to have a bit of a secret [inaudible 00:14:02]. I think we’re good at it, I think it’s not just one person or 2 people. I think it’s the leadership here at Benjamin’s Desk that’s really good at building culture. It’s also our openness to allow other members in Benjamin’s Desk to help us build that culture.
Along those lines, if we were having a post game conversation in the locker room and you’re a coach and you’re talking about draft picks and who you’re going to get in the next season. In many ways I hear you using similar language when thinking about the kinds of companies that you want to attract to Benjamin’s Desk as a collection of co-working spaces, as a network of co-working facilities. It sounds like it’s still important for you to have your hands on curating who actually comes to the space.
Spot on Joe. It’s one of these things where as we built out this network of spaces we want to make sure there’s continuity throughout all the spaces of not only the values that we want to instill but the culture. Every space will have it’s different spin on culture but they’ll be some strong fundamentals. Some of the strong fundamentals are that we are here to work, we’re here for companies to build and work hard, and meet the right type of people. We’re okay with that environment. It’s one of these things where the type of people we want in our spaces are the ones that are going to really build and want to be here, and have a work ethic that will go through the journey that they’re going to go through in a very successful way.
If we can facilitate by being … I always say that some of the best managing directors of our spaces and community managers of our spaces will be really good at 4 things. That’s being a cheerleader, being a coach, being a mentor, and being an advisor. 4 very, very different things but we want our community managers, we want our leadership here to have that type of skill where they can wear each one of those hats really well to provide value to some of the members in our space. That helps to build culture. Also, we have what we called an experience manager that’s going to make sure the place looking the right way, smelling the right way. Working the right way to make sure people are getting a first class, professional experience in their membership.
How do you determine who’s the right person to join your team? What makes a really good talent acquisition for you?
Good question. We’re always looking for talent, we feel like we’re in a great space for it. We get to see how other great leaders in our space run their businesses and how they grab and try to attract talent. We feel like our space is a great space that will allow talent to not only flourish but want to be here and work in this type of environment. I say I got one of the best teams around. I also say I have the best job in the world. That’s coming from living my dream as a professional soccer player to now being a part of an organization that other entrepreneurs are trying to knock down and achieve great things.
There’s no better environment to be in then being around someone that comes through today and say, “Hey, you know what I’m really looking to disrupt the airline industry. I really want to make a change in how people learn. That’s a fun environment to be in because you can see change. You can see the impact it’s going to have in the future. That’s a cool place for talent wanting to work. Our whole team is always looking for the right talent. We rely on the entire team to find and curate talent. I’m a big believer in going out and always being aware of who’s around you. If there’s talent that can be approached then we just let them know what we’re doing.
Describe for me a time when you’ve learned something unexpected after talking to a member of your team or a customer here at Benjamin’s Desk.
Sure. Almost everyday where we can talk to a member and get real feedback of how they’re engaging in the community. Where they’re at in their company, what are some of their needs. That type of feedback allows us to fine tune our engagement and fine tune that access that we want them to have so they can have more success here. From a team standpoint we’ve always had a best idea wins, so when we get together and Joe you know this as part of being on our team, we love that we can have a best idea wins attitude here. The different perspectives and the dynamic leaders that we have on our team allow us to get to a strong solution anytime we’re trying to figure out a problem or trying to figure out an intersection that needs to have a win associated with it. In regards to conversations with members it’s always around their experience, the engagement, and the access. The more we have take-aways that can plus up each one of those verticals, the better we’ll be positioned.
Like any good coach it hasn’t been non-stop wins, tell me about a challenge or failure that you’ve overcome personally or as a team.
Yeah, always speaking back from what I know being a professional player for 10 years there’s a lot of things that you couldn’t control. A lot of things from decisions from ownership, amount of money you made in your contract compared to other people making money in their contract to outcomes of games. I felt like at a young age it was built in both myself and my brother Michael that the one thing that we could control no matter what was our attitude and our approach towards what was coming at us. Early on I would always try to battle the situations whether it be a coach calling me a dime a dozen or a division one scholarship being taken away, or saying I was just a very average player. I used to try to battle that. At the end of the day when I came [inaudible 00:19:31] to say my attitude I want to have is to persevere through that and use that stomping block as stepping stone.
That allowed me to have success early on and I think that allowed me to have true success as a professional because I wasn’t bogged down by the so many moving parts and obstacles that can come your way as an athlete. From injuries to new talent coming into locker rooms, to new coaches being transitioned. To franchises folding and having to pick up and find another location to hang your hat and hang your jersey. Early on having the right type of attitude to approach any problem really allowed me to have success and I take that same approach here at Benjamin’s Desk as the CEO. Knowing that there’s so many different moving pieces, new demands.
When we hit capacity here at Benjamin’s Desk at 1701 Walnut we knew that we were needing more capacity, we needed more office space. We wanted to build out space that was complimenting to the space we had here. That was a challenge and space doesn’t come quick here in Philadelphia as far as knocking down new locations. Really knuckling down and saying no matter what I’m going to have the right attitude to approach this but I also want to have a game plan. I think some of the greatest successes I had early on is when we were most prepared. I can probably say that with most of the teams that I was with. When you prepare you usually have a good result.
I think there’s a Bobby Knight saying we say it here on Tuesday nights, we’re really trying to encourage more of our workers to stay here late night and encourage their team members to work late. We call it Late Knight, k-n-I-g-h-t, in honor of Bobby Knight the old Indiana Hosiers coach who talked about everybody has a will to win, that’s given. Especially at this level, but it’s the will to prepare to win that matters. The will to prepare to win. That always stuck with me and I think it says a lot. In an environment like this where companies are trying to knock down and trying to achieve, and trying to fund-raise, that if they continue to have that will that they’re probably going to have somewhat success. If we can facilitate that and encourage them to have some type of eternal drive, or eternal will to go forward, we can have some strong wins here.
You and your brother are probably the two people I know who used the term average as almost an insult. If average is better than at least half, why is average not good enough?
Sure, yeah. We can never get our head around baseball stats. A lot of our buddies are in baseball and they’re batting 300 and we’re like, “Isn’t that below average? You guys are having great success.” My father, I think a lot of credit goes back to my father. He would always talk to us about doing things with all your heart. If you’re going to go clean a park and give back to a community you better make sure it’s the cleanest park that exists. He said if you’re going to play this sport, or that sport, or participate in this group or that club. Make sure you stand out and be extraordinary. It’s one of these things where my father would sometimes quote something out of a book, and I forget which book it was maybe Charles Swindle, and would talk about you don’t beg average people to be phenomenal. You don’t beg good people to phenomenal, phenomenal people are just phenomenal.
That stayed with me as a young kid and always wanting to say let me put my best foot forward. Not that we had every skill, believe it or not I was never the best player on any team I ever played on. That’s from high school, college where I was a first team All American. Even pro where I was MVP’s of many teams. There was always more talented players around me. I think the intangibles of having the right attitude, having the perseverance, having the will to win is what kind of set me apart from some of my other peers that were uber more talented than myself. Faster, stronger, better technique, had a better understanding of the tactics. I think those intangibles of having a will to win. Pushing yourself to be more than average, always wanting to expand your comfort zone, not really stepped out of your comfort zone. I’m not good when I step out of my comfort zone.
There’s a guy that I work with at an ED Tech company named Josh Yarden who always talked about expanding your comfort zone and then I just learned about 3 or 4 years ago. I told Josh when I step out of my comfort zone I’m usually really tight and tense but he would always challenge me to say well expand it. If expanding it means being more prepared, being more educated, working on your craft like I worked on my craft as a young kid, then do that. Joe one of these things I’ve always liked telling young entrepreneurs and even young athletes is create this mindset that you want to be great. Do things, work out really early and as you’re working out think about it, there’s probably less people working out at 5 in the morning than there are at 8 in the morning. There’s probably less people working out at 11 at night then 6 at night. That mentality kind of built in me. Many times my roommates, my teammates that I was living with, would say Anthony why are you going for a 10:30pm workout? I would just say it’s easier to run, but in my head I was thinking because I think less people are working out. That would give me the competitive advantage.
One of the greatest soccer players ever to play in America is David Beckham when he came over to MLS. David was known as not only being one of the highest paid athletes in the world, but being one of the best soccer players in the world. He came to MLS to actually plus the league up and he brought it to a whole different level. A lot of my buddies who played with David say it was unbelievable to see a multi, multi millionaire. Someone with an unbelievable brand, be the first to practice and the last to leave. That spoke so much to that organization, to the league, and to young players like myself that what demand more out of everybody. I think when great leaders do that it rises everybody’s ability to be above average. Does that answer it?
I think that’s a great answer. The thing I want to call back to is the fact that you disclosed that you’re not necessarily the best player on a team that you are on. In some ways your brand of leadership is about elevating the talents of other people that are on the team. What advice would you give to someone who’s maybe making the transition from being a solo entrepreneur to a team leader? Someone that may be used to having to be the best at everything in their organization and now they have to wrestle with competition among their team members, or egos. Or concerns about someone’s getting paid more than somebody else.
Sure, now a great question Joe. I think building with the team is so important, it’s so different. Building with yourself and working on your individual craft and talent is one thing, but when you get into a team setting it’s so important as a leader to be aware of the team players. How do you get real buy in from the team? I think there was a big article in Technically Affiliated that talked about values over perks and I loved that article. You could throw bonuses, more money, special hours into anybodies contract but I think if you find the values that really drives them, put people in the lane where they’re best suited. Give people the feedback that they need and autonomy they deserve to help build toward the vision, that type of buy in is unmatched. I think the ripples that come off that from a team perspective is where every leader should be striving to be.
We fortunate here where we have team members that are … Our team is so dynamic man. From what you guys do Joe to help us at 2820 on the marketing side to [inaudible 00:26:53] Mercer on the strategy side. To Alana on the experience side, then of course Jen, Mike, and all of us getting together, and Ed on the real estate side, to get together and collaborate and build. I think what I do well is I can play second assistant coach or I can kind of show that I can take the lead and help out and have a point of view. Encouraging our team members to have autonomy and to respect their expertise, I think that’s where we get buy in and I think that’s where the ball gets pushed forward the best. Sometimes it’s hard because you have instincts and maybe not all the experience, but your instincts are saying, “I think that’s right.” Having the trust in the team members that you positioned to be in this company is important.
You brought up the example of David Beckham a few moments ago. A multi-millionaire out on the field, making it happen. Often we get comparisons with talent inside organizations. For you personally as a serial entrepreneur you could easily make the decision to kind of check out of this life and go be somebody’s Vice President at a large organization. What do you get out of launching and running companies that you wouldn’t get from just working for somebody else?
One of these things where a couple of members who I have good relationships they’re like, “Anthony you’re always smiling man. You’re always in a good mood.” I’ve always had that positive the glass is definitely full, not even half full, perspective. Probably because early on when you saw me as an athlete or a competitor I had a different look on my face. It was that look of I want to win, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. More fierce look, in fact it’s opposite when I think back on some of my team mates saying, “Anthony you never smile, you’re always serious. You’re always in this competitive attitude mode.” It’s so cool to see the second phase of my life where people are saying, “Man I love seeing you. You’re always smiling, always in a good mood Ant. What’s that all about?” What it’s about is I love being around other people that are going after their dream like I went after my dream.
I was fortunate enough to be the few who pursued a dream, overcome many barriers and obstacles to achieve it. To have a level of resilience to knock down a dream from when you’re 14 thinking about being a pro player, I get great joy in that. I get great joy in sharing that and giving people the ability to say, “Man that’s possible.” On the flip side of being a leader here, I love being a servant leader. I love saying, “How can we help? How can we connect dots in a really thoughtful way?” There’s no take attitude Joe, it’s more of a this is a great platform to give. This a great platform where I really enjoy, again, being back in the locker room, being the coach, the cheerleader, the mentor, the advisor, whatever roll I have to be in to see members succeed. I get great joy in that.
I can’t tell you how many times my wife has heard stories about different members in our membership that are doing amazing things. This attitude doesn’t just stem from me, you can see it on our social media how everyone of our team members is always cheerleading when one of our members do something great. We’re always the first to say, “How can we plus up the experience and the engagement, and the access here for our members?” That stuff means something, I think members can see that, I think they can see authenticity a mile away. I think that’s one of our pillars here of why we’re going to have such great success at Benjamin’s Desk.
As the CEO of a company that works primarily with early stage start ups and small to medium size businesses, like any good coach, your players aren’t always going to win. Your players aren’t always going to have unlimited success. What do you feel is the biggest mistake that you see founders making in say the first 6 to 12 months of their business lives?
Yeah, I think sometimes and you see it in the sports world to, you see people throwing money at problems, or not really looking at a stronger plan or strategy before going really fast. I was with a start up that raised money very quickly and I felt like we didn’t nail down the core value of what we wanted to knock down. Throwing money at a problem is not usually the answer or solution. I think really being prepared and slowing down that accounting of innovation. It’s almost like we all know start-ups got to move fast and throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Yet, if you can pause very briefly, Mike’s big on this. Mike, being the co-founder here at Benjamin’s Desk and our chairman, is very conscience about the little details. Mike’s always saying, “Hey Anthony, I love how fast you’re moving but be a little bit more thoughtful around the small details. Be really careful about making fast decisions. See if you can be urgent in making detailed, thoughtful solutions.” Which I think is well put by Mike.
That’s something I’m always pushing myself to do and I think a lot of the early founders need to do the same thing. I think smart for some of these young start-ups, right now Joe you know from 10 years ago, it’s so much easier to build a business today. It’s so much available. The resources, the people, the great angels and VC’s that are out there. Now we’re fortunate enough to run something here called the Veteran Council of Benjamin’s Desk where we just had Ellen Weber in. We had Holly Flanagan in from Gabriel Investments. We have a tight relationship with Ben Franklin. These guys make themselves available to give our fundraising early stage start-ups a platform to learn more and to engage, and have a touch point. That stuff matters, I think there’s a lot of resources out there for early stage founders to tap into, to plug into.
Hey look, there’s guys in our membership now that have gone through fundraising and have had wins and loses. Those are the type of people that we think they need to have access too. The sexy, let me give you access to the VC’s, and the angels, and the customers that’s really great but when we can provide access member to member, that’s when real wins happen. I think that that’s why a lot of start-ups are growing out of co-working spaces nationally because they can meet other successful start-ups and gain valuable pearls and lessons learned.
The technology funds that you just mentioned, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Robin Hood Ventures, the east coast Angel funding and venture capital culture is very different from what we see on the west coast. When you talk to folks like Ellen, and Rosanne, what are they looking for? What do they want companies to present them with to validate funding?
Every VC, I think, is looking for a home run idea but when they look at the leader and the team, I think that speaks volumes. The feedback we get from Ellen at Robin Hood or Holly over at Gabriel, Rosanne over at Ben Franklin is that they’re looking for teams that can execute. That have some experience of executing. It goes back to that question you asked earlier of being a founder and picking your team and your talent the right way. Talent that will run through a wall for you, but also talent that has been there and done that, that adds a layer of value. Especially when the VC, or angel, world that they’re looking for. Having a very complementing team matters a lot, but also having real concrete numbers and having maybe an MVP that matters and that’s been thoughtfully thought through and fine tuned. That matters.
I think when we took a group of start-ups from Ben Franklin and from own membership here it was tower view health bio bots, Spor, Star Chop. We took them down to DC as far as the 1776 down to Harrison’s incubator down there to pitch in front of their DC investors. The feedback I got from their investors because I asked was they really enjoyed the Philadelphia start-up mentality of being willing to do more with less and having real customers. Saying if I have to prove out more customers I will. Now it’s unfortunate because I have a lot of my buddies that are building start-up companies out west where they don’t really need to prove out as much detail, or as many customers as we do here on the east coast, but that’s changing. We’re seeing more innovation coming out of how these micro VC’s and angels, and VC’s are thinking through allocating funds.
I’m a big believer that things will change here, I’m a big believer of what’s happening in DC right now with Donna Harrison 1776 will create a big ripple hear in Philadelphia and will go all the way up and through Boston. We’ll have a pretty unique corridor, Boston, New York, Philly, and DC, and I think we’ll make real impact. I think we’re year 1 of what a 5 year unbelievable para-dime shift could happen out here on the east coast.
Does the work that entrepreneurs are doing here in on the east coast insulate them from the threat of another check bubble?
Interesting, I think so. I think so because right now, again, I think our entrepreneurs are doing more with less. I think they’re conscience of getting users and customers are all young. I think you’ll see that more collaborative spaces are coming to the market in our region will help facilitate more of our young start-ups and high growth start-ups. Even venture back start-ups have greater success. I think all the pieces are coming together at the right time where it will de-risk more of these start-ups to have success. Success sometimes has so many different layers to it right Joe? I think we all know that being the next hundred million dollar, billion dollar company, the numbers are against you.
Again, I never looked up to the players that were the Lebron James or the Kobe Bryant’s of the world. I looked at the players that were steady and consistent, and always growing and learning everyday. Improving on their craft. I think some of our start-ups that build amazing companies that may not be the next 100 million dollar company, might be a million or 2 million dollar company that creates the same amount of ripple for Philadelphia. Maybe not nationally but if they can make a ripple for Philadelphia, that’s another feather in the cap for the city, that’s another inch further that the city needs to go to have success for maybe the next great company.
Modeling success for entrepreneurs who are members of Benjamin’s Desk, other entrepreneurs in the community, you have a great wife and young kids at home. How do you manage to make the work life fit actually work?
Yeah, you know a lot of people talk about work life balance. I’ve always said I’m worried about life balance. Work life balance, work life play, live work play. I’ve always just believed in living your life the right way. I enjoy life, I’ve always loved what I do. I was fortunate enough to be a professional soccer player, I’m fortunate enough to do my second dream job here at Benjamin’s Desk. That’s not really work to me when you love to do what you do. My wife is a rock star, she’s a stay at home mom. She put aside being [inaudible 00:38:08] degree holder and to work more around people with body movements. She was a former college soccer player so she’s a natural mom at home but she wants to invest in our kids which is a great thing. My 3 boys have so much energy where they’re part of everything I do. Today at 12:00 I’ll go down to Written House Park. We’re fortunate enough to be a great location here in Philadelphia where we’ll have lunch together at Written House Park and then I’ll walk home which I’m right in graduate hospital area.
The balance of where I’m at makes a lot of sense and Joe at the end of the day I’m working along side my brother. I’m working along side my sister-in-law, Jen, there’s nothing better. We were forewarned by so many different small business owners that have family businesses. We will have success here as a so called family business because we’re really not a family business, we happen to be brother and sister that are building a company with other rock star family members that are related by blood. That are going after and have buying to go make impact here in Philadelphia. I guess my life is really good and I’m fortunate enough and really blessed to have a great wife at home to handle my 3 very important boys. Hey, Mike has 2 sons, or 2 kids that get together with our family. My other youngest brother’s in New Jersey. My family’s in Cape May County New Jersey, so we have a nice tight knit family that allows us to have more support. We’re fortunate enough to have a really good infrastructure to allow us to put a lot of time in.
Last question, the family over time grows, thrives along with the business. What’s your dream for this business? Where does it go in 5, 10 years?
I see Benjamin’s Desk being a network of spaces throughout this region. We want to be in the tri-state area, we want to have defined communities that look a little bit different than what this looked like at Benjamin’s Desk. We always look at 1701 as being that beta environment where we have tech, non tech, early stage, new entrepreneurs. It’s a true industry agnostic mix the best professional companies are out of this space. As I look at the network of spaces of Benjamin’s Desk, I see different communities with the same type of values and cultures that we want to build throughout that are of complimenting. We go from 200 members to 2,000 members. Now we create this engagement where again member to member will always be on our forefront of how we think through membership engagement and access. We’ll be able to facilitate that with technology and say, “How can a member in Philadelphia reach out to a member in Wilmington, or in Camden? In Northeast Philly? How does that play a part?”
All with the understanding of having a social impact play here at Benjamin’s Desk where we’re going to have these micro innovation centers throughout the city. They might not be 10,000 square feet that we want in our revenue producing models, but they’ll be 1,000 square feet in every tough area of Philadelphia and in greater Philadelphia that’s giving back to these young entrepreneurs. Giving back to the small business owners and their neighborhoods and giving a new aspiration to young kids that might be in tough areas, tough inner cities that might need a different aspiration then the Jay-Z or the Lebron James. They might be able to look at the Joe Taylor’s of 2820 Press or [inaudible 00:41:21] of Pig Up and say, “Man I can achieve that. That’s real.” That’s what the aspiration and the ripple that we want to provide, and that’s our network. That’s a strong network that is a network that gives and not takes.
Anthony Maher, CEO, co-founder of Benjamin’s Desk. Thanks for joining us on The Build.
Hey, Joe this was fun man. Thanks for having me.
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