StepUp Event Recap: Students, Ideas and Lessons in Collaboration


Students Rolplaying thr

A couple of weeks ago, I was a judge for Step-Up Achieve’s High Tech Innovation Day. The daylong event, hosted by CoCo, brought students from the Greater Twin Cities area together to create innovative solutions to difficult problems like summer melt, financial literacy, access to clean water, and food deserts.

Students are broken into groups, and spend the day developing ideas and working on a presentation to communicate those ideas. Basically, a daylong group project.

If you’re anything like me, you look back on the group projects of high school and college and remember how much they sucked. And yet, in today’s working world — almost everything happens on a team (aka a group project). Which has made me wonder: how is it that we get so little out of group projects in school, but accomplish so much on teams at work? And how is it that high school group projects felt so torturous, but all of my best work experiences have been as part of a team? And…how can it be that High Tech Innovation Day — which appears to be an all-day group project — creates the awesome results of teams and not the annoyance of group projects?

Here’s what I’ve come up with: there’s a critical difference between the group projects of school, and the project teams of work and that is: choice.

In High School and college — outside of the fact that you are all in the same class, you usually don’t have a connection to your teammates. You’re stuck with each other. You may or may not share common values or expectations. You may not even share the goal of getting a good grade or even getting the project done. There’s always that one person who doesn’t do any work, that other who won’t shut up, and a handful of heads-down kids who get stuff done. And then, in the final insult, everyone gets the same grade.

In the real world, projects go better than they do in our teenage years because there is something shared — work values, personal investment in the organization, and mutually beneficial skills. We get to choose our workplaces in a way that we don’t usually get to choose our high school, or our classmates. We’re assigned the people we work with in high school. We choose the people we go to work with.

So why am I saying all this? Because Step-Up’s High Tech Innovation Day is a rare program that shows high schoolers what the real world is going to be like and truly builds one of the most critical skills for being successful at work: collaboration.

The Step-Up students choose to be there. They value the Step-up culture, they value teamwork, and they chose to spend time on a sunny Saturday thinking about difficult, big problems and how to solve them. They chose it, and so they were all invested in it.

They went through real world processes, too. They were presented with a problem, expected to find a possible solution under time pressure, and then had to sell their ideas to the judges. They had background information to keep them focused. They had mentors to keep them on track. And they had free food when the day felt long (and everyone knows the value of free pizza on a stressful project!). This cycle of problem —> solution —> presentation is built in to nearly every job in technology and experiencing a simulation of that experience while still in high school is rare, and absolutely invaluable.

As always, I was grateful to be a part of this event. The students were fantastic, the ideas were spectacular, and I couldn’t be more impressed with the balance of rigor and fun that the Step-Up students get to experience.

Posted in Event recap, Google for Entrepreneurs, Innovation

You Guys are Like, My Muses

COCO Uptown
COCO Uptown

COCO Uptown

In the center of Uptown, in an old automotive garage, our community and collaborative co-working space is nailin’ it. New ideas and progressive work are busting up past ideals of business culture. Neck-ties are facing extinction as CEOs mingle with seasonal interns and attorneys chat with theatre producers. I’m pretty sure even the dogs are enjoying The Sex Pistols playlist. Feeling altogether too hip, the following buzzes around us:

  • Pots, and pots, and pots of fresh coffee being tapped
  • Fresh friendships born of cute dogs
  • Members acting as sounding boards for any and all projects
  • Declarations of job titles you’ve never heard of
  • Food from last night’s event on the free-bar
  • Meetings running late
  • Happy Hours starting early

It is my job to “manage” this community, but mostly, I listen and watch it nurture itself.

Madelin Snyder, COCO Uptown Community Manager

Madelin Snyder, COCO Uptown Community Manager



The walls are filled with an eclectic range of professionals who show up not only to get things done, but to remember they’re not alone and to make connections with others who can keep up. I get to hear so many tales every day and I’m dying to share them with you.

You may read about a business or two. Or perhaps about a member’s bulldog. Or their side project. Or coming from the corporate world into this anarchist-cluster where people have to put their own dishes in the dishwasher.

This column is about people’s stories.

Posted in COCO Uptown, Collaboration, Community

DreamCast Episode 13: Davis Senseman

Davis Senseman, Founder of Davis Law Office

Davis Senseman, Founder of Davis Law Office

Can you be fully yourself in the business world and still be successful? For those who doubt, we submit Exhibit A: Davis Senseman, an attorney who fled the partner track at a large firm to start her own practice, Davis Law Office, which focuses exclusively on small businesses.

Since she launched in 2011, she has added two staff attorneys and countless fans in CoCo and beyond, who are eager to tell their non-lawyered friends, “Do you know Davis? She’s the coolest attorney you’ll ever meet.”

Show notes: selected links from the episode:

LinkedIn: Davis Senseman

Twitter: DavisLawOffice

Blog: Davis Law Office Blog

Facebook: Davis Law Office

Business Website: Davis Law Office

Links and people mentioned:

Emily Buchholz

Joseph Levitt

Lindsi Gish

NY Times Article: The Moral Bucket List

Bradley Laborman’s DreamCast

Interview Transcript

Don Ball [DB]: Welcome to another CoCo Dreamcast: Celebrity Edition.

DB: This time we have a true CoCo celebrity – I may have said that in the past, but those were lies; this time for real. We have the one and only Davis of Davis Law Office. Are you still called that?

D: Yeah, we are.

DB: Okay.

D: We’re still called that.

DB: You’re not gonna change that anytime soon?

D: No, I think we’re gonna stay with that.

DB: Okay. Does Davis still ‘mean business’?

D: Yes, yes.

DB: Okay.

DB: You’re goin’ softer.

D: Nope, we still mean business.

DB: We only have notes of things I want to ask about on this podcasting, typically, we’ll ask people about their journey, which–

D: Um-hm.

DB: We may get into that.

D: Okay.

DB: I was thinkin’ about, Okay, we’re gonna go talk to Davis – what really is Davis about? And the thing that came to my mind was that you seem extraordinarily self-possessed; you’re comfortable in your own skin; you’re comfortable in different situations; you seem to have – I don’t know whether you were minted in this fashion, or if you have actually, you know, had a series of experiences in life–

D: Um-hm –

DB: . . . that got you to the point where you go, ‘Alright, I’m makin’ it.’ So, that’s what I want to know.

Why do you generally seem to excel in the art of ass-kickery? Or, as I think I e-mailed: you seem to give, on average, fewer shits that the average person.

D: Yes.

DB: So tell me about what is this mode that you’re in? Is it even something that you acknowledge or recognize?

D: I guess it kind of ties into my journey because, you know, I went to grade school and high school and did well; and then went to college; and then was planning on going directly to law school out in California; and got out there and was kinda like, Oh, I don’t really want to be out here. I don’t know that I want to be back in school already. So I moved. It was the first time ever that I wasn’t doing things in the order you’re supposed to do them.

DB: And you had been fairly orderly up until that time?

D: Yeah. I went to school, I got good grades, I went to college. And I was the first person in my family to go to college, but pretty much just because of circumstance; not because of – like, my father would have been an excellent student–

DB: Um-hm.

D: …but just kind of had to do other things. So I was pretty much – This is what I’m supposed to be doing. And then just decided, This is not what I need to be doing right now. I moved back to Pittsburgh, much to the surprise, I would say, of a lot of a lot of people – ‘cause I hadn’t really lived there since I’d been in college – and then just spent a year kind of working for a big law firm; a small law firm, just kinda doing assistant-type stuff; making sure that that’s actually what I wanted to do.

And then I moved to New York and lived with a bunch of musicians, and audio-type, engineer-type folks. They were all in bands, but they all had some other type of job. I think there was where I knew – when I moved to New York, I was in the day program – there was kind of a day and an evening program at our law school – and then got offered a job by one of our professors, who was also the president of the ACLU. At first, I just worked as a research assistant for her. And then one of her full-time staffers was graduating, and so probably about mid my first year in law school she said, ‘Do you want to work for me full time? You’d have to switch to the evening program. Now it would be – instead of graduating in three years, you’ll graduate in four years.’

I think that was the first time I kind of did my own thing and didn’t do what I was supposed to; leaving law school on the West Coast. The second time was thinking, Do I do want to work for you full time? So, I left the daytime program, got into the evening program, found it much more – I mean, the people in that program had kinda lived lives; they weren’t the people who had gone from high school to college to law school with no semblance of What’s a job like?or How do you live not on student loans? So I just met really interesting people in that program.

We had some radical professors who were kind of activists in the cop accountability. We also had students in our class who were NYPD cops, who would say, ‘Let me actually tell you…’ So it was really interesting, and it was far more – just way more engaging. And more, I think, more telling of: This is what lawyers do… So I did that for a while.

Then [I] had decided I didn’t want to live in New York forever; ‘cause it’s super exhausting, even when you’re like 23. And I was, like, I can’t be tired like this all the time. So, I knew people out here in Minneapolis and decided I was gonna move here after I was done with school. Then September 11th happened, and so I moved. Our school was like four or five blocks from the World Trade Center, so it was closed for a couple of weeks. And the State Bar in New York said, ‘We’ll just waive the hourly requirements,’ because they didn’t make that time up. I thought, maybe they’ll make us go over winter break. But they said, ‘No, we’ll just waive those requirements.’ So I said, ‘Is Minnesota gonna do that, as well?’ And the answer was: ‘We don’t know.’

So, I came out here to visit again and I decided, This is as good a time as any to move. So, I came out here and enrolled at Mitchell, which also had an evening program. I had a sort of non-traditional background . . . I mean, when I was in New York, I figured; I’ll graduate; I’ll work for the ACLU; I’ll work for maybe an immigration firm, or some sort of firm, doing – well, I moved out of here and it was like, I just need to work during the day; I don’t have a job anymore during the day.

I ended up in an IP firm and met a bunch of patent attorneys who were actually more interesting than it sounds. They kind of taught me a bunch about what they do. Then I was just pre-open, once I got to Mitchell, about like – I have no idea what I’ll do next year, and then kind of fell into my old firm, and they said – I liked the people, they were super progressive, and they said, ‘We have a job in our Corporate Department. Would you do that?’ And I thought, I don’t really want to litigate, so I guess that’s what I have to do. So that’s kind of how that happened.

Then I feel like, for a period of time, once I got that job, I was back in, like – this is what you’re supposed to do; you’re supposed to be an associate at a firm, and then be a (Inaudible) associate and then become a partner . . .

DB: So there’definitely a – there’s a trap there.

D: Yeah, there was definitely a trap there, and I was kinda on it. But, the nice thing about the size of my old firm is they were just small enough that you – we could still have startups; especially when you were a younger attorney and you were bringing in your own stuff, because your rate was low. So they were just small enough that we wouldn’t turn away single-person businesses, or brand-new startups.

Then I really clicked with those businesses and realized – all the advice I was giving them, like, Make sure that you really want to be in business with the people you’re in business with; Make sure that this is happening – started to resonate with me. And I realized, Although I’m on this really clearly set-out path, I feel like there’s kind of a better way to do a lot of this.

So I kinda worked internally for a while and tried to – you know, I was on the marketing committee at our firm, and on the hiring committee, and it’s really hard to move something as big as a law firm, though; lawyers are just – they just hate change and they hate technology, and they’re fearful of everything. And, really, I was getting to a point where . . . ugh. And they kind of saw that I wasn’t exactly fitting into their track, either.

DB: Uh-hm.

D: So it was a lot of, ‘Well, if you’d just be here, sitting in your seat for us to see.’ And it was like, ‘When I’m not here, I’m actually doing things that will bring more work to us. I’m not, like, swimming in a lake.’

DB: [Laughs]

D: [Laughs] It was just so traditional. And I just realized, this is – I often tell people: they bent as far as they could to the left to kind of deal with me, and I bent as far as I could to the right, and then there was just this unbridgeable gap–

DB: Yeah.

D: …that I just realized. I left right before – the year before I would have been voted on to be a partner. And pretty much everyone at that firm makes partner when you get that far. It was a terrible – it was 2010, and law firms weren’t hiring people. People were just like, ‘This is probably the dumbest thing you’ll ever do.’

DB: [Laughs]

D: When you hear that enough, and when you think, Gosh, maybe this is the dumbest thing I’ll ever do–

DB: So it looked like a bad idea from–

D: Yeah

DB: . . . from the outside, I guess.

D: Yeah.

But inside – was there any choice in [leaving the firm], really?

D: No. Inside I was just like, I don’t want to work here anymore.

DB: Yeah.

D: I had had one of the partners tell me, ‘You’re just not like a lot of the pa (?).’ I was like, ‘No, I’m not at all.’ – first of all, a woman; second of all, not a very feminine woman. And, ‘No, I’m not like you guys at all, and that’s what you should be looking for.’ So, yeah, I just got to a point where I thought, This is what I’m gonna do, then kind of just had to do it. So I made the choice and then left very quickly.

DB: Yeah.

D: And started out with a small handful of clients who had needs every now and again. From that point, I just realized: everything that I didn’t like about what it was about being in a law firm the way you would spend months redoing a website only to get pretty much the exact same website–

DB: [Laughs]

D: . . . that still looks like every other firm. I just wanted to do everything differently. So I told my web designer at the time, ‘Don’t even look at other law firm websites, ‘cause I don’t want it to look anything like that. We look at something creative and let’s get ideas from there.’

DB: Yeah.

D: That was kind of the start. Then I just found myself, instead of just saying – there’s a little bit of when you start out – ‘Oh, I guess I should have a numbering system for my files’ or ‘I guess I should…’ But then, at each point, I would think, Why? Why does it have to work this way? I think I spent enough time in a firm that I was confident that I – subject-matter-wise – I knew what I was doing; I wasn’t gonna do anything outside of business and corporate stuff.

DB: Yeah.

D: I spent enough time there to know, substantively, I knew my stuff, and spent enough time there that I didn’t – when going out on my own – I didn’t necessarily think you have to just do what every law firm does.

You still had the ability [on your own] to reimagine how you could approach the different things that you had to do.

D: Yes. And I think I was lucky, because I also worked with a lot of those messes. So…I didn’t turn to the bar association; and I didn’t go to a continuing education about, like, ‘setting up your law firm’, which I’m thankful now. I mean, at the time, it was like, Is that what I should be doing? But now I’m really glad, because I feel like if I had, I would have–

DB: Um-hm.

D: . . . it could have turned out a lot different.

What is it that draws people to – and I don’t mean this pejoratively – but draws people to convention, and draws people to following steps that somebody else has set up? And maybe not feeling like you can forge your own path? What is that?

D: That’s a really good question, ‘cause it’s so prevalent in the law.

DB: Um-hm.

D: Maybe it’s somewhat prevalent in other trades. I’m trying to think – accountants, I assume, are somewhat like that. But not even – I think lawyers are so much that way. And maybe it’s because – I mean there are a lot of rules for lawyers that you have to follow… but they’re not so antiquated that they don’t – they’re looking at those rules all the time to say, ‘Well, hey, sure. Maybe you can work in a coworking space,” or maybe you can – I mean, it’s not existing in a vacuum, but…I think it’s law school.

I was speaking in a class once, and I said, ‘I feel like law school just teaches you to be afraid of everything’ – because it kind of points out everything you’re dealing with; every single case you ever read it’s, like, ‘And then something went wrong.’

DB: [Laughs]

D: And it’s like, [Laughs] ‘And then this person took a risk, and look what happened.’

DB: Yeah.

D: I mean, it just makes you so risk averse. When I talk to law students, normally the first thing they think when they hear we work out of a coworking space, and we share our very small space with an accountant – there’s all these ‘What ifs’ that are bad. I think law school really kinda teaches that – ‘Look at all these bad things that happened; your job is to prevent the bad things from happening, so take no risks and make no change.’

DB: Yeah. And your job’s to anticipate all the bad things that can happen.

D: Yeah.

DB: So, the better you are at spotting potential liabilities–

D: Right.

DB: . . . the smarter you are, and–

D: Right.

DB: . . . you get more cookies.

D: As I dealt with higher-ups in bigger companies… you got to a point where nobody wanted to make a decision, because they were afraid, like, ‘If I say we should do this, yes or no; if something bad happens, then they’re gonna come back to me.’

DB: Um-hm.

D: Everything would just sit there, because no one would want to make a decision.

Does that affect the kind of advice that you find – or the way in which you find – yourself giving advice to the small businesses and start-ups you work with?

D: Yeah, because when I was working with bigger companies we could just say, ‘We’re not gonna accept any risk. And whoever we’re dealing with, as long as you’re smaller than us – or you need us, or you need this deal – we’re just gonna keep saying “No.” And this negotiation may take literally over a year, but we’ll just keep saying “No” until you give up.’

DB: Um-hm.

D: And small businesses – a) they normally are the smaller one in the relationship, or, b) they need the piece of business, and, c) Sometimes I can’t even get them to wait like a week – they want to get it done, and get this deal closed, and get that business in the door and then move on.

So, yeah, it’s – with us – kind of breaking the mold and saying, ‘We’re gonna step outside of…’ – I think we still do a good job of spotting the issues for them and saying, ‘Look, this is worst case scenario; here’s what could happen.’ But then, also, I’ve practiced in this area long enough that I can often say to them, ‘This is what could happen, but here’s what often happens.’ ‘Here’s where the real risk is.’ If someone’s entirely risk averse, generally, they don’t start a business. But they certainly shouldn’t start a business.

DB: Yeah.

D: And I see that sometimes with clients. I just want to say, ‘You are not cut out for this–

DB: [Laughs]

D: . . . You are far too nervous.’ But, you just gotta be ready to just say, ‘Oh, we’ll deal with that later.’

DB: Yeah, If your attorney is less–

D: Yeah, risk averse.

DB: . . . less risk tolerant than you, then boy, there’s – that’s somethin’.

What kind of businesses do you find yourself working with, overall?

D: A lot of creative. People often say, ‘Oh, God, those tech people would really laugh if you called them creative.’ But, I think of creative as businesses that kind of create something that has some type of intellectual property. So, really, service providers of any sort.

DB: Yeah.

D: We work with a lot of those.

DB: Do they tend to be people who started the business out of some personal competency? Or, like crafts people of sorts?

D: A lot of times, yes.

DB: Writer, designer, coder.

D: Exactly. A lot of times they often will have [a] similar back story to the way our firm started. So I think they’re drawn to it a lot, like, ‘Oh, yeah, you got fed up with the way the system worked in your area, and I did the same thing in my area.’

DB: Yeah.

D: We work with a lot of clients who are really good at what they do, which gives me confidence. Because I always think, These people are really smart, and they’re really good at what they do. If they have confidence in us, then… And that’s what I tell Emily and Joe, who have been with the firm – oh, geez, like over a year now, like a year and a half – I always tell them, ‘I know it is so easy to second guess yourself when you’re a younger attorney, and we haven’t seen everything as often as I have. But these people are all really good at what they do, and are smart enough to seek out other people who are good at what they do.’ The quality of the work that our clients do, I feel, gives us some confidence in like, Hey, these people who do really neat things choose to work with us.

DB: It sounds like there’s almost, maybe, a psychological profile; or a pattern to that kind of founder of a practice.

Do you tend to see the pattern in where [your clients] need legal help?

D: Yep.

DB: You can almost predict like the three things that they’re gonna be talkin’ to you about?

D: Yep. There is… I think there’s psychology behind that. Sometimes people think, I don’t know enough to do this on my own. I don’t know enough. But most of the time you do. And a lot of the businesses we work; it’s just one founder. But if there’s more than one founder, a fair amount of the time we’ll run into – especially if there’s more than two – we will often run into the point at which it becomes clear, They’re real founders and they’re in this for the long haul. And this one – or two, or however many other people – they have along with them; they’re dead weight.

DB: Yeah.

D: So, a lot of times – and we often joke that when people come in and there’s more than two of them – we’re like, ‘One of you probably won’t be here in the next few’– I mean,

DB: Yeah, a sure thing.

D: . . . not a lot of businesses that have more than two real founders from the early beginning.

DB: Yeah.

D: So there’s that dynamic. And we often – we try and make sure that clients have everything in place so that there’s as little conflict as possible when, and if, it’s time to get rid of that person; or they want to leave. But, you can write whatever you want in a contract; but how the other person’s gonna react . . . So that’s one of ‘em: dealing with finally having to bring somebody on; either as an employee, or independent contractors. That’s another one, because most of these clients that we work with – they’re craftsman, they’re good at what they do, and they reach capacity quickly.

DB: Yeah.

D: So that’s another one.

DB: That first employee’s always–

D: Um-hm.

DB: . . . really big–

D: It’s a huge deal.

DB: I’ve noticed that the people who are those crafts people are usually good at a number of things; not just one thing.

D: Yep.

DB: And so they’ve been able to hold down; they’ve almost acted like multiple employees, as the founder.

D: Um-hm.

DB: And then they go to make the first hire – Well, which one of your many personalities do you want to replace?

D: Right.

DB: ‘Cause you can’t find too many people who can do the multiple things you do. So it’s really hard just from a which-bet-do-you-want-to-place? kinda standpoint.

D: Yep.

DB: But then…how do you do that and not think you’re gonna get sued?

D: Right, or run into trouble with; Did you pay your payroll taxes? or Do you need worker’s comp? I mean, there’s a lot of stuff, and there’s no one place – like, the state doesn’t provide one place where you can click and say, ‘I’m hiring an employee, here’s all the things I need to do.’

DB: Yeah.

D: So that’s a thing we often see with them. And then, the longer you’re in business, the more likely that, at some point, someone’s not gonna pay you; or they’re gonna get upset about something that’s been done. I mean, we actually don’t run into too many – we’re careful to make sure that all our clients’ documents kinda say, ‘If you don’t pay us, we do come after you and we can charge you interest; and you’ll pay our attorney’s fees.’

But that one actually doesn’t come into play as much. I think it might be because we’re lucky to kind of sit in this . . . community where almost all of the people know each other. So it’s almost a matter of, ‘If you don’t pay this person for what they did, then nobody else is gonna.’ It’s really short-sighted . . .

DB: Yeah.

D: . . . it’s like nobody else is gonna want to work with you.

DB: Does that get into contract stuff?

Do you have clients that come to you because they’ve finally been presented with the need for a major contract, or a master services agreement – that kind of thing?

D: Yeah. Sometimes they’re working with someone big. We have a ton of huge companies in Minnesota and if you’re around long enough, one of ‘em’s gonna hire you for something.

DB: Yeah.

D: So often they’ll get a really big contract and a lot of our job is just making sure that what it says in there about them is true, you know?

DB: Yeah.

D: …They have the insurance it says, etc., etc.

DB: Yeah.

D: But, yeah, sometimes they realize– some of them have the opposite situation where their clients always have a contract and then they realize, Oh, sometimes I’ll be working with someone who doesn’t… Again, I think it goes to the fact that a lot of our clients work with each other; we always try to draft ‘em pretty fairly, so that it’s like, ‘Listen, everybody’ll understand what it says.’ Nobody’s gonna say, ‘This was so one-sided, it was’–

DB: Yeah. So the spirit of it is not trying to help somebody have some unfair leg-up on the other party?

D: Exactly. And I feel like it used to – you know, when I was in a bigger firm – that was really what we did. I mean, that was what the clients wanted. They were just, like, ‘Make it as one-sided as possible.’

DB: Yeah.

D: I mean, sometimes we have to push our clients and be, like, ‘No, you don’t need to be that fair; they can negotiate for themselves.’

DB: Yeah, right.

D: …‘They can go hire a lawyer.’

DB: [Laughs]

D: [Laughs] …‘You don’t need to give it all away.’

I remember one time it seemed you’d read that there were tons of people going to law school, and that they’re minting lawyers all the time. Is that still the case, or has that died down somewhat?

D: It’s definitely down a lot.

DB: Is it?

D: Yeah. In the past, like, three – I mean, really, right after I left my firm, and kind of the years after that – attendance has been way down. It’s down so much that Hamline is looking to merge with William Mitchell.

DB: Wow.

D: It was kind of a situation of either: This is gonna happen or One of these is gonna close; and Hamline is smaller. So, yeah, it’s really changing. And, you know, I think that’s a good thing; you don’t need that many attorneys – just so many attorneys billing so many hours.

DB: Um-hm.

D: I think it has kind of shifted itself. For me, it was when I decided to hire someone like a year-and-a-half ago; I meant to only hire one person, but then ended up with Joe and Emily.

DB: Was it a BOGO? [Laughs]

D: It was. [Laughs] So I put a call out for resumes and, literally, there were probably hundreds of them.

DB: Wow.

D: And, you know, they all looked the same; they all had a similar cover. I was, like, ‘God, these people.’ Just another example of law students doing, like, We are gonna be good cookie-cutter lawyers. So I didn’t know what to do. Then, Emily just happened to e-mail me out of the blue; she was practicing in a different area at the time, but wanted to leave, and was doing research about . . . let me find some lawyers who seem like they like what they’re doing. So she just came down here to CoCo and we had coffee, and I said, ‘Bring a resume, ‘cause I’m hiring.’ We talked like one more time and she quit her firm and came to work for me.

Then Joe had been – I teach a clinic at Mitchell – and Joe had been in my first class of students I taught. So he had applied in that giant resume avalanche, but was smart enough to e-mail me and say, ‘Hey, I applied. I’m sure you got a lot of them. If you don’t remember, I was in your first class.’ And I did remember him, because I always thought he actually acted like he needed to earn that client, even though they got them assigned and the work was free. So I said, ‘I think I’m hiring this other person to come in, [but] let’s talk.’

Then Emily said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m gonna have a baby in a couple of months.’ So, I said, ‘Joe, you can work part time, and then when Emily goes on maternity leave you can work full time. Then when Emily gets back, we’ll see how busy we are.’ So that’s what we did. And then we were busy enough.

DB: That’s great.

What do you do to market yourself?

D: I’ll give presentations and stuff; Joe does that, too. And we go to things; we’re kinda just around. But most of our marketing is either referrals from other professionals, like, ‘My accountant said I should call you.’

DB: Um-hm.

D: Or from existing clients. Because, I think, for business owners, they don’t have…for lawyers, there’s the Lawyers Board…but business owners don’t have a governing body to tell them, ‘Here’s help for whatever.’

DB: Yeah.

D: I think they seek each other out.

DB: Yeah, word of mouth is – I can imagine where they (Inaudible) – it’s a big shortcut to somebody you want to talk to. It strikes me that you have a different approach, and that you . . . I mean, maybe even more so – I think about people who are like marketing consultants – they’re supposed to all be creative and different.

D: Right.

DB: Right? Because–

D: Right.

DB: . . . that’s the purpose of marketing: to stand out. I’ll have to say that for you to be self-directed, unconventional, and seemingly confident in that direction, it’s a bigger deal – it’s kind of a bigger departure from what is, you know?

D: Yeah. I think a lot of it went back to leaving my firm and realizing,The world is your oyster in how you want to be a lawyer.

DB: Yeah.

D: And people like dealing with people who are totally themselves, you know?

DB: Yeah.

D: There’s some people who start a business ‘cause they think they’re gonna get rich and make millions of dollars. But most people who start a business do it because they just can’t do anything else anymore, you know?

DB: Yeah.

D: They’re just like, I have to do this even though it seems crazy. And they are finally being themselves…when they’re not working for somebody else. I think they really appreciate that fact about me – and about Joe, and about Emily; all of us are really just who we are. And with Emily and Joe, I had to train it back into them, like, ‘You don’t even have to wear a suit every day. Wear what you’d wear if you were working on your couch.’

DB: Yeah.

D: …‘‘Cause everybody here is,’ you know?

DB: Yeah, that’s true.

D: When I left my firm – for a while there’s the whole, I could go back and work – there’s a period of time where you could go back and work for a firm again. Then, after a period of time, you just become completely unemployable.

DB: [Laughs]

D: No one’s ever gonna hire you because you–

DB: Yeah.

D: . . . you’re never gonna be an employee again. And when I was still in the – well, I could just go work for another firm or when I talked to people, three, six, nine months after I left, and they’d say like, ‘So-and-so is hiring,’ I really didn’t want to do that. Because I had watched a lot of business owners be kind of one foot in and one foot out of owning their own business, and those never succeed.

DB: Nope, they don’t. They don’t.

D: ‘Cause–

DB: Who wants to hire somebody who’s not fully in–

D: Right. Who might just go get a job, and–

DB: Yeah.

D: I realized, I need to really connect to them. That’s actually when I got tattoos below my elbow, because I thought – Tommy, my son, was two at the time, and had said I should get a choo-choo train tattoo–

DB: [Laughs]

D: . . . on my arm. And I was, like, ‘If I do this, I really will be un-hirable.’ Because, at some point, I need to roll up my sleeves and a senior partner – if previously, they told me, ‘God, there’s somethin’ about you that’s weird,’ they would literally have a heart attack.

DB: [Laughs]

D: So I thought, I’m gonna do this, and this is gonna be, like, ‘This is it.’

DB: The point of no return.

D: ‘I can’t go back.’ So I told Joe and Emily,‘Once you guys have visible tattoos, I’ll know you’re really in this. But [Laughs] until you do’–

DB: [Laughs] That’s the best.

D: But Joe’s Jewish, so I guess he gets a religious exemption.

DB: Alright, this time. [Laughs]

D: [Laughs] But yeah, that was kind of my realization that, like, You have to be in this.

DB: There’s just somethin’ about how you show up to other people and how they perceive you when you’re just – there is no other incarnation. You’re like this–

D: Right, yeah.

DB: Yeah.

D: Part of that was due to the fact that I worked at a firm where I could wear ties to work and that was okay. And a lot of queer attorneys go to big firms, because they love recruiting them. ‘Cause they love to have that diversity page on–

DB: Yeah. [Laughs]

D: . . . their website where they can be like, ‘Look at all these people . . . here’s our dark one and here’s our medium-skinned one, and here’s our gay one,’ [Laughs] and they’re all ambiguous; no one’s clearly any specific ethnicity; they’re just, like, ‘That person could be whatever I want them to be.’

DB: [Laughs]

D: I got recruited by some firms. When I was at my old firm, they would call and basically say, ‘Will you come in for an interview?’ And I’d go in and meet them and it was always like – they pay you a lot of money, having you around, and you give them kind of like an ‘in’ to these different… – But none of you seem like you’re really all that happy, you know? And it was like looking at, obviously, butch attorneys; attorneys wearing ladies suits. And I was just, like, I don’t ever want to be–

DB: [Laughs]

D: . . . in this position. I think that being at a firm where I felt – queer attorneys in smaller firms, or medium-sized firms, are often looking to go to a big firm because they think, I’ll be able to be myself there. But I was like, I already am – this is not a selling point for me, because my firm already gives me about 90 percent of what I need to be myself. Having had that background I realized, Now nothing’s stopping me.

DB: Yeah.

D: And people appreciate it. And, frankly, when we used to work with smaller business owners who had built really big companies, they often would say, ‘Now, don’t come in here’ – especially when they were gonna sell their business – ‘don’t come in here wearing those lawyer clothes, because I don’t want my employees to worry.’

DB: Yeah.

D: Whenever the lawyers show up, there’s something to worry about. So for a lot of business owners, it’s like they feel more comfortable when you’re professional, but not intimidating–

DB: Yeah.

D: . . . unapproachable.

I’m pretty sure that the couple times I’ve made referrals to somebody it’s been like, ‘Yeah, Davis, she’s a lawyer; she works with small businesses and she has tats.’

D: [Laughs]

DB: And that’s a selling point, you know?

D: Right, yeah.

DB: That just says it all right there – ‘Oh, she’s one of us. She’s normal,’ you know?

D: Exactly.

DB: So that’s cool.

D: It’s been nice and really – I didn’t think when I went out on my own, I thought, This is what I’m gonna do; and I’m gonna be super happy doing what I’m doing; I’m gonna like being a lawyer again and that’s it. But, once I hired Emily and Joe, it was like, ‘Now…we can basically find other attorneys who we think, Yeah, you’ve got a personality…you’re smart enough. We could teach you what we do. And basically bring ‘em in and say, ‘You’re never even gonna believe how much fun you can have.’

DB: That’s awesome. It’s the Island of Misfit Toys . . . strategy, yes.

D: Exactly – that’s exactly what it is.

DB: That’s great. Okay, one question for ya. I don’t know if you saw the piece that David Brookes wrote that’s been makin’ the rounds? He’s a New York Times columnist – he’s talkin’ about people who almost have a life from inside. He realized…with his life of external ambitions – in meeting some people who were living lives that were entirely in service of other people – he said there is just somethin’, a selflessness and a peace and something coming from them – [he realized] I have all the career heights that I could want; I don’t have that.

It sent him on a path to look at what lives do people live who get to become that. He said even if he couldn’t follow the path, he wanted to find out what the path was.

I thought [David Brookes’s piece] was interesting to read just because it brings this question, in a way, whether it’s a conflict, or a dance between ambition and happiness. I’m just curious, what’s your take on that?

D: I feel like in the beginnings of setting up your business, and going it alone, it’s hard to play those two. And it’s really easy to either fall completely into ‘happiness’ – I’ll work when I want to work; or, I’m gonna work 24 hours a day. For me, I have kids; they are pretty good at telling me, ‘I am gonna need you to focus on me right now.’

But, also, I think it’s easier for me – I mean, when I left my firm, I knew I was gonna make less money. Now, I probably make around what I was making with them, but, probably less. But you don’t need as much; I don’t have to buy fancy work costumes; and I don’t have to park in the middle of downtown; and there’s a lot of tradeoffs that you don’t need to pay for. As soon as Joe and Emily came in, I realized – it’s almost like when you have kids; you realize everything you do, you’re modeling.

I hate wearing a helmet on my bike, but I’m gonna do it. ‘Cause even if Tommy’s not with me, what if I see him somewhere and he sees me not wearing a helmet, and everything I’ve said ever is a lie? I feel like…when you bring people into your business, you model for them what the work ethic’s gonna be.

DB: Um-hm.

D: ‘Are we gonna answer e-mails 24/7?’ For me, it was – Emily had said, ‘Listen, I’d love to be able to stay home one day a week,’ ‘cause she has really small kids. And I was like, ‘That’s fine; you’re an efficient person, and I know if we need you on one of those days, you’ll figure it out.’

It was just probably last year, around the holidays, I realized I wanted to turn off notifications on my phone when I’m with my family for a long time. So then I just told Joe and Emily, ‘This is what we’re gonna do…I want to model it for you; that we should have a balance, but I also want us to model it for our clients. Like, rarely does something happen that it can’t be dealt with the next day . . .

DB: Yeah.

D: . . . at 9:00 in the morning. And never are we going to have a better reaction the night of than we will the next morning when everybody’s had a chance to calm down.’ So, I feel like we model that for our clients, too, like, ‘We’re gonna show you we’re really trying so hard to achieve this balance, even though work is with us all the time, and we want you to do the same thing.’

I feel like that’s always in my mind: Remember how stressed out you were when you were, you know, quote/unquote, ‘on the right attorney track? And I’m not gonna miss things anymore. I’m not gonna be like – sometimes it will be a super busy time – but on the whole, I feel like I need to be modeling for my employees. And I want them to be modeling for our clients: there can be a balance.

DB: Yeah.

D: And they hire us because we’re fun, and we’re happy, and we like what we’re doing; and if we just become like other stressed-out attorneys, who maybe…dress better–

DB: [Laughs]

D: . . . that’s not gonna be enough to set us apart. I mean, they’re gonna–

DB: Yeah, yeah.

D: . . . they’re gonna lose the reason that they want to work with us.

DB: That’s cool. Your answer also suggests that you discovered a purpose you hadn’t anticipated when you hired–

D: Yep.

DB: . . . because now you go – it’s not just about you anymore.

D: Um-hm.

It’s interesting to think about; what if you do grow over time and are able to attract more people? You’ve now created an alternate universe. An alternate legal universe than what’s being offered out there. Who else is doin’ that, you know?

D: I feel like we can do it because our clients model it for us, too. So many of our clients are doing things that it’s like, That’s not even a thing, yet.

DB: Yeah.

D: …You’re creating that as a thing.

DB: Yeah. Well, you think of so many fields where that happens, you know?

D: Yeah.

DB: In Minnesota, Summit was the first one to do craft beer; at that time, a few people were clamoring for it.

D: Right.

DB: So they had to kind of model it, and go, ‘Here, we’re gonna make it, you taste it. Do you like it more? Then ask for it.’ But now you think – people nowadays probably couldn’t imagine a time when craft beer didn’t exist, but it sure as hell didn’t exist in the early 80s . . . until they introduced it. It’s interesting – creating things that don’t exist, just because you have the foresight and the conviction, I’d say, to think that this deserves to be a way that people do business.

That’s very cool.

D: Oh, yeah, it’s fun, so.

DB: Alright, so we need to cover the dates, and – of course, because we also do things out of order at CoCo – we’ll actually talk about your business officially at the end of the podcast instead of at the beginning.

D: Okay, makes sense.

DB: [Laughs]

So whoever’s made it all the way through can now know – What the hell does she do? Alright, so your firm is Davis Law Office, right?

D: Yeah.

DB: And, where can we find you online?


DB: Okay, good, I’m glad to see that–

D: We still ‘mean business.’ [Laughs]

DB: . . . you’re still here, yeah. Do you also have social accounts that you use?

D: Yeah, we’re on Facebook. It’s just And we have a Twitter; davislawoffice. We blog on the website, and folks can kinda sign up to get our newsletters, which I’m behind in sending.

DB: This one’s installed, I’m sure.

D: Exactly. But we’re in the process of a re-brand. So if you go to the website, it’s gonna be different soon, and that’s been really fun; getting that together with a team, rather than when it was just me saying, ‘Make it not look like a law firm.’

DB: Yeah.

D: And in person, people can find us at Downtown or Uptown CoCo.

DB: Where do you tend to hang out more, so people can stalk you?

D: I’m Downtown more, but I feel like every time I say that, then I have a week where I’m [in] Uptown three days.

DB: Yeah.

D: And, right now, we’re in the process of trying to sell our home, so I can take the dogs to Uptown, so . . .

DB: Bonus extra.

D: I might just move them in there, just 24 hours.

DB: Oh, you–

D: That’s fine, right?

DB: We’ve been looking into a kennel business as a sideline.

D: [Laughs]

DB: [Laughs]

D: They barely bark

DB: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for sitting down with us.

D: Yeah, absolutely.

DB: I know a lot of folks are gonna enjoy listening to this because you do have a lot of fans, and I think it’s just ‘cause you live life a way that people admire.

D: Well, thanks.

DB: That, alone, has a big impact, I think.

D: Awesome, thank you.

DB: Well, thanks for listening to another CoCo Dreamcast. This was a fun one with Davis, and there’s more fun ones –you just have to go to to find them.

Two weeks ago, we spoke with Brad Laborman – Brad TV – who is now, since our interview, is now some sort of huge celebrity on Periscope, and has like thousands of people watch him while he live casts his entire life. He had 6,000 people actually tune into his sleeping about three nights ago. Nobody understands it; I don’t get it at all, but he’s really a fascinating guy, so that’s a good one worth listening to.

We’ll keep adding ‘em as we go. We’re really open to suggestions for new people to interview; we’re even considering stepping outside the hallowed halls of CoCo, and finding people in the community who would be interesting to talk to. So your suggestions are welcome.

While you’re on the site, you can sign up for our e-mail newsletter, which goes out mostly once a month; definitely once a month if I can get my butt in gear for this next issue. You know, we publish it when there’s enough news to fit, right? Why make stuff up?

We really appreciate your listening and we’d love to hear from you, too, if you have been enjoying some of these. Occasionally, somebody will stop me and say, ‘Yeah, I listen to all of ‘em.’ I go, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’ ‘cause I never get any feedback, so I have no idea; we just kind of put these out there. So, if you have any comments – good, bad or ugly – please send ‘em our way. Thanks so much – see you next time.

About the CoCo DreamCast 

Our goal for the CoCo DreamCast is pretty straightforward: we want to talk to CoCo members, find out what makes them tick and learn how they’re living out their dreams. Look for another episode soon!



Posted in CoCo DreamCast, Community, Entrepreneurs, Startups, Women

Seven reasons why you should coach for next year’s STEP-UP Achieve High Tech Innovation Day

Caitlin Headshot newestThis past Saturday I had the delight of volunteering as a team coach at STEP-UP Achieve’s High Tech Innovation Day, held at CoCo’s downtown office in Minneapolis. High Tech Innovation Day is a one-day experience for high schoolers interested in careers in technology where they hear from a career panel as well as a speaking coach before inventing and presenting pitches of their own.

If you’re a current CoCo member I highly suggest that you consider coaching a team next year. Here are seven reasons why:

1) Support the work of STEP-UP.
STEP-UP is a job readiness and placement program that has placed thousands of teens and young adults in paid internships in the Twin Cities over the past 5 years. It’s an amazing program. Aside from hiring a STEP-UP intern at your workplace, coaching is a great way to get involved as a local professional.

2) It’s ridiculously fun.
Our team was brainstorming electronic shock collars for spending, robots that sit on you and dollars that melt. There’s a lot of laughter in the room.

3) Free lunch.
We’re not talking PB&J, we’re talking Pizza Lucé.

4) Low time commitment.
Coaching is just a one-day gig. Maximum fun with minimum long-term obligation.

5) You don’t need to be a tech specialist.
As a coach your main role is to be a friendly adult facilitator, helping to guide your team as they invent hypothetical solutions for specific design challenges. This isn’t about hacking or soldering, it’s about helping the team formulate and prepare to share an idea from scratch. And handing out Post-It notes.

6) Get Inspired.
The energy and enthusiasm in the room is contagious. Speaking of business opportunities: If you could bottle up and sell the mental effects of volunteering with this group, you would be set for life. (Feel free to steal that idea!)

7) And of course, the incredible young people.
Each of these youths has a story to tell. I met a nineteen year old girl who had just immigrated from Yemen in January. Another student I met was one of 22 siblings. You’ll meet young people interested bioengineering, law, medical technology, game creation and who knows what else.

These teens are ambitious, talented, passionate, smart and hilarious and if you’re lucky enough to get the chance to spend some time with them, you won’t regret it.

Caitlin Rogers is a CoCo member and co-founder of Next Day Animations and Simplicity Metrics.

Posted in Collaboration, Education, Entrepreneurs, Event recap, Google for Entrepreneurs, Innovation, Minneapolis, Startups, Technology

DreamCast Episode 12: Dan Phan

Dan Phan, Founder of The Late Majority

Dan Phan, Founder of The Late Majority

If you were the only person in your department to survive a layoff, what would you do next? Most of us would thank our maker and cling desperately to the paycheck.

Unless you were Dan Phan, who after surviving “a round” promptly gave his notice.

Dan has since launched a training and consulting business that specializes in a huge but much neglected market – late adopters to technology. He has also plunged right into membership at CoCo. I first met Dan when he attended Jump! Day and am proud to call him a Jump! success story (although he came to class with the idea pretty much formed in his head). Give this podcast a listen and you’ll hear the voice of a motivated entrepreneur who learned a lot on the job and is now taking that expertise to market.

Show notes: selected links from the episode:

Twitter:  DanielPhanMpls


Links mentioned:

Jump! School

Diffusion of Innovations

Monkey Island Inc


Interview Transcript

Don Ball [DB:]: Welcome to another CoCo Dreamcast. Today we have a special guest – a Jumper, someone who’s jumped. And whether there’s people holding a net below is yet to be seen, but Dan–

Dan Phan [DP:]: Um-hm.

DB: Dan Phan. I was really happy to hear that you had split where you were workin’ at Target Corp, just because you had attended Jump! Class and you had a really cool idea.

DP: Yeah.

DB: And then it seemed like no time had pass[ed] that – other than Garrio said – that you were on the outs. And I–

DP: Yeah.

DB: . . . was like, “Wow.”

DP: Yeah.

That’s fast. What I was hopin’ is – could you tell us your jump story?

DP: The timing was just right. So [I’d] been at Target for about 10 years, and over the past three months I’ve been doing digital consulting and education on the side with a lot of the vendors that I worked with at Target. Target’s been in the news lately for some not-so-fun things, like layoffs, and we had some big re-orgs. And so I was kinda rethinking: Do I want to stay at Target? I still love Target, it’s – but I think the timing was right.

I went to Europe a few weeks prior to the class just to kinda decompress, be off the grid. But not totally off the grid, ‘cause I think that’d kill me if I unplugged everything. So it was nice being seven hours ahead of everyone ‘cause I wasn’t checking social media all the time. But just to make sure – Could I do this financially? Because, you know, I haven’t saved up a lot of money for that, and this is not an industry where you get investors or anything like that. So, [I] figured out, yeah, I could do this, not become homeless. And then I attended your class; and then all the messages just came through; the timing was right; and I think it was the week after I put in my notice and said, “Why not?”

DB: Then there’s a weird thing about the timing, ‘cause I remember you were in the class and all the talk that week was of the Target layoffs. And you were like, “Yeah, I’m the only one left standing.”

DP: Yeah, yeah.

DB: So you hadn’t even been back to the office yet to see what was, like, I think–

DP: No.

DB: . . . you had said that you were–

DP: It was the day after the layoffs, yeah . . .

DB: Yeah.

DP: . . . that we had the Jump Class.

DB: You were the only one of how many people in your department?

DP: Well . . . it’s seven, the way that we were orged out is a little different; it wasn’t everyone in my whole pyramid or division, but everyone on my immediate team, yeah.

DB: That must have been crazy.

DP: Um-hm.

DB: So you’d kind of made up your mind already, though? Or at least had a real strong leaning, huh?

DP: It was a strong leaning. I wouldn’t say I was 100 percent there, yeah.

What’s the idea that you had cooked out in your head at that point [after leaving your position at Target]?

DP: Well, so what I did at Target for the past years was lead digital education and consulting. That is something I became really passionate about, because I love being a lifelong learner, and always learning new things. And in this industry you could read everything and be really up to date on some new tool, or some new process, and then Twitter might announce something, or Google might announce something, and then you have to go back to the drawing board and reread it again. I wanted to continue that work, and I would say that’s what I wanted to do. And there wasn’t a place for me at Target at the time to do that, so I did it on my own.

DB: What are you calling the business?

DP: It’s called The Late Majority.

DB: The Late Majority.

DP: Yes.

DB: It has an interesting idea behind it.

DP: It wasn’t really well thought out. When someone asked if I had a company, and I said, “Yes, let me send you all that information,” so I quickly made a website and I had to figure out what to call it. But, in the diffusion curve of innovation, we start with the innovators; then we go through the early adopters; then the early and late majority; then, finally, the laggards. What I noticed is that the industrial giants, like a Proctor & Gamble, a General Mills, or Target – they can really buy their way up to that innovation curve, to the front of that. So they can be the disrupters – they spend a lot of money on fancy consultants. I noticed a lot of my friends who were at small to midsize businesses, or owning a small business themselves – they couldn’t pay, you know, $4,000 to go to a fancy conference, or hire a team of consultants. So I didn’t really think that was fair that just because you’re a big company you can buy your way up to the front of that innovation curve. I wanted to create access to everyone to really understand how the digital world works, how business is changing, and how we can thrive in it together.

DB: Do you think that’s a function that – is it just money? Or is it also, like, if you’re running a small business, do you have the time to be–

DP: Yeah, it is – I would say, number one, it’s money; two, could be time; three, I also notice it’s a sense of belonging, or intimidation. If you pull up some similar companies, their websites, there’s a lot of pictures of hipsters with their macbook pros coding – a lot of my colleagues in the retail industry, they don’t really associate themselves with that. So it might be even intimidating to take a class like that.

DB: Yeah.

DP: I wanted to bring these people out of the late majority, who don’t necessarily need to be the disrupters of the industry; they just want to move forward.

DB: That’s really cool, and it’s really…it’s kind of empowering. You’re–

DP: Right.

DB: . . . already telling people, like, “This is for you, too.”

DP: Yeah.

DB: That’s really cool. Were those a lot of the people – the people you were training in Target – were they also people who needed to kind of catch up?

DP: Yeah. You think of Target as a really innovative company, and we certainly are, but business has changed a lot in the past 10 years. There needed to be that understanding, and I needed to bring people out of their comfort zone to change. ‘Cause change is very, very personal.

DB: Um-hm.

DP: And really understand why. ‘Cause a lot of new companies have a great digital strategy, or a great omni channel strategy. But if they don’t have the culture to support it, that culture’s gonna eat that strategy alive.

DB: Mmm, um-hm.

So when you figured out that you could do this, I mean…‘cause you say you didn’t have a lot of savings. Do you line up early work? What did you do?

DP: I do have some existing clients that will basically keep me from not going homeless.

DB: Gotcha.

DP: So I’ve been in full sales – sales rep mode right now. But one thing I learned working in the business was different than I think you and I were trained growing up, on how to manage finances. I noticed that a lot of us had to – or the – the way that we are trained to manage money was set a budget, and then at the end of the month you look at how did you compare. A lot of us would overspend our budget and not track it along the way, and then have to readjust, and we kinda had the “Oh, crap” moment. Well, being in merchandizing at Target, I learned how to look six months, a year, 18 months in advance; and what levers I could pull, doing a lot of
what-if scenarios. That’s what I went to Berlin for; is to make my crazy Excel grid of looking out in the future to think, Okay, what would I have to do to not be homeless? What would I have to do to maintain my current lifestyle? What would I have to do to grow? Coming out of that, and then attending the Jump Class where we did that activity of, you know, 10 times or 100 times, I thought, Wow, I could really, really do this. And it’s not as scary, then, when you really lay it out.

DB: Yeah, you kinda demystified it somehow.

With the way you have it set up; will it just be you doing training? Or do you end up bringing people into it?

DP: No – that’s a good question. I would love to have all the money to hire, ‘cause I would love to provide new opportunities for others. But right now I just have contract speakers. So when I have a client or a workshop that I’ll need support on, I’ll contract them out.

DB: Yeah.

DP: So I have a mighty team of four right now that will help us on different topics.

DB: Okay. But that could scale, because–

DP: Yeah.

DB: . . . then it’s not you having to be the presenter, or–

DP: Absolutely.

DB: . . . the instructor at the time.

DP: Um-hm.

DB: That’s awesome.

DP: Yeah.

DB: And is the money decent in that field?

DP: I think it is. Some of the feedback that I got – because, you know, I wanted to open this up to everyone and not charge an arm and a leg – but then I have some of my old colleagues saying, “You’re way too cheap,” or “You should charge more.” I really have to pay attention…I don’t want to say what they’re willing to pay for; but how much value would this provide to them, as an organization? Then we can work something out. I don’t ever want to deny someone this opportunity because they can’t afford it.

DB: That’s interesting. So…something you’ll be figuring out over the next weeks and months–

DP: Right.

DB: . . . how elastic that pricing can be.

DP: Yeah, absolutely.

DB: That’s awesome. So you – you came back from the class . . .

DP: Um-hm.

DB: . . . it sounds like you – they were trying to figure out where to put you.

DP: Yeah.

DB: Like, what do you do? Then you come back and there’s nobody. Their boss is gone, even?

DP: Yeah. So I got put on another team. I was meeting with my new leader – which, I’ve worked with her before – and it was really great. We were just kind of chatting and she said, “What would you like to work on?” At that moment, I said, “I think I’m gonna put in my notice.” [Laughs]

DB: [Laughs]

DP: And she didn’t really believe me. It was a Friday I believe….I sat there – Well, think about this over the weekend, we’ll come back and revisit this. And they knew it was time, and everyone’s very happy for me, too. They’re sad, but they can’t be sad for me. I was just blown away by the level of support, too–

DB: Oh, that’s cool.

DP: . . . by my team there.

DB: You had some good colleagues it sounds like.

DP: Um-hm, yeah.

DB: How would you describe the – one thing I’ve always thought was interesting is, you know, Target – while you might say that they’re an innovative company…and certainly in some of the things where they do need to be innovative, you know, in the brands that they associate themselves with, and the lines and things like that… But to run an empire like that, you have to have people who are like – you’re not hiring ‘em for their craziness; you’re hiring ‘em because they can rock spreadsheets–

DP: Right.

DB: …and figure out risk ratios and all sorts of things like that, right?

DP: Yeah.

Overall, what was the culture of that organization [Target]?

DP: I think the culture is very, very good. I still love the Target culture because it is – you have a lot of general athletes who can manage a spreadsheet, or manage risk and – or manage processes. Because when you’re a big machine, you do have to have the people to make it happen, to execute.

DB: Absolutely.

DP: And especially at the store level, too, where most of our employees are. I think that’s part of – that was my job at Target for the past two years; is bringing the culture to a point where we didn’t really understand what consumer changes were happening to that – okay, now I get it, now. Or we saw that we made 40 percent margin on every single thing that we did, now, in this new ecosystem that’s affected by the digital world – What does that mean? Am I okay to put money in this area where it might be a little bit riskier (knowing that we’re gonna get by on our customer lock-on in a different way)?

DB: So sounds like they had to be careful not to play it too conservatively because–

DP: Right.

DB: . . . it’s–

DP: Right. And the toughest thing for a big Fortune 500 company that’s public, too, is shareholders.

DB: Yeah.

DP: How do you educate them? How do we transform while we also perform, too?

DB: Yeah. I don’t envy them that–

DP: Yeah. It was time.

DB: . . . to be in that spot – it’s pretty tough.

DP: It was tough.

DB: Do you imagine that they’ll come back?

DP: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And I would go back to Target in a heartbeat, too. Yeah.

DB: Oh, that’s–

DP: I didn’t pull my stock out yet. Let’s just say that, yeah.

DB: That’s a big endorsement. [Laughs]

DP: Yeah.

When you were startin’ to tell people that you were leaving, besides your colleagues, did you get anybody – you know, relatives – who [were] like, “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea”?

DP: No – and that was the really surprising thing: the level of support and energy , almost more confidence than I had in myself, which was – people were bigger cheerleaders than I was on myself. I thought that was really – I was just extremely grateful. And, you know, people coming out of the woodworks on LinkedIn to say congratulations. Now I have a lot to prove.

DB: Yeah. [Laughs]

DP: Which – which is good, yeah.

Going into this, what do you feel good about?

DP: I feel good about where I’m at in my career. I’m really thankful that I had those years of experience at Target; from running a business to running training programs across the organization, and building up my network there, too. So I feel good about having the connections, the business knowledge, and then also the passion for learning – that’s one thing that is, I would say, second to none at Target: everyone is a lifelong learner there, and always challenging themselves. And…I would say just knowing how to learn.

DB: Um-hm.

DP: And constantly being open to challenge.

DB: Is Target a potential client for you?

DP: They could be.

DB: They would hire out for this kind of thing, perhaps?

DP: Um-hm, they would.

DB: Okay. Now that’s not a bad strategy.

DP: Yeah.

DB: I remember when I first quit my corporate job – my first and really only corporate job – I ended up doing a lot of work back into the company I had left.

DP: Right. Which is sometimes–

DB: It’s not a bad way–

DP: Um-hm.

DB: . . . if you suspect that’s a possibility, you know, no guarantees, but–

DP: Yeah.

DB: . . . at least it increases your likelihood that you’re gonna have a soft landing.

DP: Absolutely.

What do you think is [going to be] challenging in the next few months?

DP: I think it will be getting back into that sales rep mode. I’ve been used to having projects handed to me, or at least direction given to me. Now, I have to pick up the phone, or I have to e-mail a lot of people and constantly tell them what I do. And sometimes I can’t explain it simply, so that makes me revisit – Do I really understand what I’m doing well enough? I thought it was gonna be the motivation part of getting up every morning. I mean, I’m only on day three right now and I’m still waking up at the same time, so hopefully that’ll continue.

DB: [Laughs]

DP: But I’m really glad I have resources at CoCo, too; actually having a place, so I’m not sitting at home every single day in a lonely environment. ‘Cause I was always one of those people who had to study in a crazy environment. I like doing solo work, but I need background noise around.

DB: So you still have a work routine?

DP: Yes.

DB: And people to ignore.

DP: Yeah, um-hm.

DB: You know what I mean?

DP: Right.

DB: It’s why coffee shops work for some people.

DP: Yeah, absolutely.

DB: ‘Cause…you’re not goin’ to interact with anybody, but the fact that they’re there and being noisy helps you kind of focus in.

DP: Yeah.

How do you approach sales? ‘Cause, for some people, that’s a dirty word.

DP: Yeah. People are generally interested, and I wouldn’t approach someone if I didn’t think it was the right fit. There’s people that I’ve said, “I don’t think this is right for your business right now, so I’m not gonna take everything just because it’s a dollar in my checkbook.” It’s reaching out to people on LinkedIn, and Twitter, and, first, just telling them what I’m doing.

DB: Yeah.

DP: And seeing what their response is. And not really selling them on anything. Then also just asking them some questions to see how can I help.

DB: What’s the shortest description you have of your shortest pitch?

DP: Oh, gosh. I have different ones for different people and different industries.

DB: Sure.

DP: I would say it is focus on transformative change within organizations and individuals to really understand the new consumer mindset.

DB: Um-hm. We have a robot makin’ an appearance here – [Laughs] the Garrio-bot. Have you been comfortable with sales conversations? Does that go fairly well for you?

DP: Yeah, I have because I never – well, one thing is I don’t have a set number that I’m gonna go in with at all. And, number two, I – all of my meetings have just been asking questions: How can I help? Is there opportunity there? – Let me give you some advice. Maybe I can help you. Or maybe someone else I know can help you. Because, you know, even if it’s not a sale at the end of the day, they might know someone in the future that will help me out.

DB: Yeah, you know, one thing I like about your idea is…it’s almost like you have both a mission and an audience built into your – just the name alone.

DP: Yeah.

DB: You know? You’re like, “We’re not serving these two other groups, or–

DP: Yeah.

DB: . . . or this certain group at this end”; it’s this one. And built into The Late Majority is the idea that there’s a need to catch up; or to know more than people in that group would typically acquire. So it’s almost obvious what the game is.

DP: Right.

DB: It’s like “We’re gonna have to catch up.”

DP: Yeah.

DB: Or learn what you’ve been missing out on.

DP: Yeah. That’s why I opened up classes – I’m hosting some at CoCo, too – on not just focus[ing] on corporate clients; I mean, that’s where most of my revenue will come from. The open classes are open to individuals who normally couldn’t afford a big training program, as well. So that’s not gonna be my moneymaker; that’s just supporting the mission of expanding this knowledge for everyone.

DB: The open secret, which you might have figured out here, is that while not every CoCo member would make an ideal client for you there’s a lot of people here who are one step away from somebody who could be.

DP: Right.

DB: So you could find some really good referrals out of this.

DP: Absolutely.

DB: The guys at Monkey Island have done this really well; they give away a lot of their information on like search engine marketing; they even buy the pizza.

DP: Okay.

DB: I’m aware of a couple of referrals, at least, that they’ve gotten out of that. So it’s like, man, not bad.

DP: Yeah.

DB: You give it away and then, you know, it helps that it comes back to you.

DP: Um-hm.

What are some things that you don’t know about that you’re gonna need to figure out? Is there anything that scares you?

DB: Taxes?

DP: Taxes, for sure. I’ve met with my friend who’s a tax lawyer, and I think I probably get one more free phone call with her until she starts charging – which is fine, that’s what she does. I would say taxes, and then I would think how to build an organization; like my own organization, but, you know, not be a manager.

DB: Yeah.

DP: That’s something that we talked about in the last session, too, where you gave examples of people who realize they grew too fast and they weren’t doing what they set out to do in the first place. So how do I balance that? That’ll be my next learning.

DB: So…you love the craft that you do, obviously.

DP: Um-hm

DB: So the ideal is that you don’t suddenly wake up and go, “Shoot. All I’m doing is managing other people.”

DP: Right, right.

DB: Boy, I remember havin’ a – one of my businesses where I had a realization where it was like, “I only have five people and I have politics”– [Laughs] “…this just doesn’t make sense.”

DP: Yeah.

DB: I was not a great manager, so that could have been entirely my fault.

DP: Um-hm.

DB: Since then, I’ve come to realize that managing people’s not what I should be doing in life.

DP: Okay, okay.

DB: You might be much better at this. It’s good to know one’s strengths and weaknesses.

DP: Yeah.

You got your website set up and everything?

DP: It’s all set up, yeah (Inaudible) been good, yeah.

DB: Easy enough for you, I suppose.

DP: I actually – so I do know HTML, but when I was doing it quickly, I went to WIX, because I had, like, two hours to do this before I sent it over to a prospective client, and I just actually stuck with it ‘cause it was a lot easier.

DB: That’s great.

DP: [Laughs] So I stuck with that. I have business cards printed out. I’m a sole proprietorship, so that’s filed with the Federal government in the State of Minnesota business, all that; business checking account, so all that – I’m ready.

DB: You’re pretty much good to go.

DP: Um-hm – um-hm.

DB: That’s great – that’s great.

DP: Yeah.

Just in case anybody hears this and might know somebody, or might be the somebody: How will I know I might want to call you?

DP: I would say if your company is going through some sort of change right now, mostly, or if it’s strategy or a culture change that’s needed, give me a call and we’ll talk about what that means.

DB: Okay…You might help them conduct sessions in which they will deal with some of these changes?

DP: Absolutely. We can bring their whole team in together, or it could be a train the trainer; bring a few leaders in, and how do you learn from your leaders, as well. Or just sending a few people to some open workshops so they can spread that knowledge.

What website can we find you at?

DP: It is

DB: Alright, very good. Twitter handle?

DP: I have been using my personal Twitter handle, ‘cause that’s where I have my most
followers – I have 14,000 plus, so I thought that I have more clout on that. My Twitter handle is DanielPhanMPLS.

DB: Alright, great. Wow, 14,000. Wow, you–

DP: Well, I forced a lot of people at Target, through an activity, to follow me [Laughs] when they were getting on Twitter, so that’s good. I’ve given some big speeches, too, at other companies.

DB: Oh, that’s awesome.

DP: Yeah, um-hm.

DB: Good for you. Well, great. Thanks so much for joining us today.

DP: Yeah, thank you for having me.

DB: I mean, congratulations–

DP: Thank you.

DB: . . . on making a big move, and I wish you good luck. I will, but I feel like you kind of already have your own energy.

DB: Thanks for listening to another CoCo Dreamcast. It was particularly cool to hear Dan’s story just because he came through Jump School; we hadn’t met him before that, and it seemed to be like the last straw that got him out of, you know, out of what he was doing, and jumping into his own thing. If any of you out there listening to this are thinking to yourself, Yeah, someday I’d like to jump and do my own thing; do something maybe a little more bold than what I’ve been doing, I really encourage you to give Jump School some consideration. You can learn more at

The class we have right now – each month we’re holding what we call Jump Day, and it’s just a day-long class where we move you through three concepts; we teach the concepts, then apply them through some exercises; and there’s also some kind of group feedback you can get from other class members.

We talk about Alignment; finding an endeavor that really is aligned with who you are and what your values and your motivations are. We talk about Audacity; trying to think about how you can play big as opposed to playing small. And then, finally, Action; so, instead of waiting for something – you know, for the stars themselves to align – that you actually start making moves right now; and there’s a whole bunch of things you can do to start taking action in life. So that’s what we teach at each class, and the feedback we’ve been getting has been really good.

Some people say it’s just great to have a day to focus on yourself and your goals, and not what you’re doing every single day to make a living. So, [I] encourage you to check that out, again:

And in case you’re looking for more podcasts, we’ve been interviewing some really cool CoCo members, and even a couple people who are not members. You can find more podcasts at Thanks for giving us a listen. Really appreciate it and look forward to hearing from you if you have any feedback for us.

Recommended Book: Screw Business As Usual by Richard Branson

Recommended Book: Users, Not Customers: Who Really Determines the Success of Your Business by Aaron Shapiro

About the CoCo DreamCast 

Our goal for the CoCo DreamCast is pretty straightforward: we want to talk to CoCo members, find out what makes them tick and learn how they’re living out their dreams. Look for another episode soon!

Posted in CoCo DreamCast, Innovation, Jump! school


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