Spotmojo’s in Baltimore!

Several months ago I was talking with Dan Cohen about Spotmojo.  Dan and I worked together at Pageflakes where he was CEO.  He’s originally from Baltimore and sort of in passing he mentioned that when he visited Baltimore recently it improved so much since the time he left in the late 90′s.

We were already thinking of other cities to test Spotmojo in and since I’m a huge believer in serendipity, along with what I knew of Baltimore and what Dan said about Baltimore was interesting, so I decided to dig deeper.

I started out with a similar approach we’ve taken so far by contacting people in the city’s Economic Development department.  It’s a good way to get a sense of the climate there, which neighborhoods to look further into and to start building relationships.  The supervisor I spoke with there gave me lots of great info and also in passing she mentioned a website called Slumlord Watch run by Carol Ott.

The purpose of Slumlord Watch was to put pressure on owners of abandoned homes that are plaguing Baltimore so they would fix them up, rent them out to working people, and gradually revitalize these broken neighborhoods.  This effort got her coverage on CBS News, The Atlantic, and many other media outlets.

Her goal of revitalizing neighborhoods by means of residential properties shares a lot of the same goals as Spotmojo’s goal in revitalizing neighborhoods through commercial properties.  So I decided to give her a call.

We hit it off really quickly and started to figure out a way to work together.  She started out by introducing the concept of Spotmojo to David Warnock of the Warnock Foundation. He also got it right away and he featured her in the Baltimore Social Innovation Journal.  She was invited as a guest speaker on WYPR (Baltimore’s local edition of NPR) to talk about Spotmojo.  Then she began to work in the Charles Village and Old Goucher neighborhoods which The Baltimore Sun covered.

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So we’re off to a great start in Baltimore and hope we can help it get it’s ‘mojo’ back.

 

Hi San Francisco

We have a few extra posters so here you go.

We love Oakland!

This week we put up some new posters in Oakland, one of our favorite cities.  One of our strongest allies in the commercial real estate world is Ben Weinstein of Citrine Advisors, a family-owned brokerage and development company based in Oakland.

Ben is working on a new space in Jack London Square that was the former Kimball’s Sports Bar.  This space is gigantic.  It has a massive dance floor, a huge bar and lounge area, and then a full kitchen, and another dance room on the other side.  It’s over 20,000 square feet.

Since it’s so big we wanted to put a really big poster.  Since the large posters need to be custom printed Ron took this opportunity to experiment with a new poster design.  He maximized the size of the message by getting rid of the margins.

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This space is pretty much right in front of the entrance to Jack London Square and next to Yoshi’s and The Fat Lady.

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We also put some posters on a smaller space on 17th Street and Webster.  This is in Downtown Oakland and next to one of my favorite lunch spots, Stagg’s Lunchette and across the street from another great restaurant, Spice Monkey.

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New Landing Page

This week we released a new design of our landing page as well as a better design for our content pages (pages like “What is Spotmojo,” “About Us,”, etc.)

The motive here was to tell the story better, what we’re trying to do, and do it with better design.

Anyway, take a look if you haven’t already:

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New Feature: City and Neighborhood Page

Last week we released a new feature where cities and neighborhoods (in the US) have their own pages.  The problem this feature solves for us is previously if users from outside the SF Bay Area came to our site, since we didn’t have any open spot listings or many users there, those users would basically see a blank map.  There were ways to suggest ideas, but it wasn’t very intuitive.

So Catherine suggested, instead of waiting to install posters and adding open spots to Spotmojo all over the country we can let users suggest ideas on wherever they are, regardless of open spots.

In fact, when we first started Spotmojo we envisioned it being used like, “I live in North Oakland, and I want a Scuba diving shop.”  And then the realtors and businesses would figure out exactly which space to put one in as long as it was reasonably close.

This feature also makes it easier for us to work with neighborhood non-profits like volunteer led neighborhood associations and business improvement districts.  These groups have been important partners for Spotmojo, but previously working with them required a lot of cooperation with commercial property owners.  This feature gives each of them a dedicated page that they can use as an ongoing way to collect business needs for their neighborhoods.

Here’s an example of New York City’s page:

nycAnd then the Chinatown, NY Neighborhood page:

chinatown-nycWe imported over 30,000 cities and neighborhoods from Wikipedia and we’ll be adding ones it missed as we discover them.  We know the text from Wikipedia is very basic so another feature in our roadmap is a way for users to edit the content on these pages.  This could be members of the neighborhood association, business improvement district, or just a resident.

And yes, we also have plans on adding cities outside the US as well.

 

We’re bringing a brewery to Alameda!!!

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It’s official.  Alameda Island Brewing Company is coming to Alameda and Spotmojo was instrumental in making it happen.

Last year, shortly after we launched the first version of our website, one of the first properties we worked on was Park Vista Square in Alameda.  One of the top suggestions for this space, and for Alameda, was for a brewery/brewpub.  Almost a year later (these transactions take a while), we’re thrilled to announce that we’re helping to bring Alameda Island Brewing Company to Alameda and to this exact building, Park Vista Square.

Shortly after we launched I contacted Bill Phua for a smaller space he has on Broadway in Oakland.  That space didn’t get much feedback but then I asked if he had other properties he’d like to try this on.  He then mentioned Park Vista Square, a new development in Alameda that converted an old car dealership into about 40,000 square feet of retail space.  I installed three posters there.  At that time, Bill was in early discussions with Alameda Island Brewing Company along with a couple other businesses.

I wrote a blog post in the Alameda Patch to reach people online and it started a very lively discussion.  The post received right under 60 comments (which is really high for Patch) and there was this interesting tug-of-war between people who wanted a salad bar and a Korean restaurant.  However, many people suggested & voted for a brewpub and there didn’t seem to be much opposition to that idea.  I was even tempted to weigh into the comments and tell people there’s plenty of room in this building for more than one idea.

After we collected the results on this building and some others in Alameda, I sent the report to Bill.  However, he said talks fell apart with the brewery.  Their investor backed out and the deal was dead.

I really wanted to make these suggestions a reality and started to look for a brewery on my own.  Coincidentally, I happen to know one of the partners at 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, Nico Freccia, pretty well.  I’m good friends with his brother, Tobias Freccia, and we all get together a couple times a year to play poker and sip on craft beers that Nico would bring.  He was actually actively looking for a new location, but he was looking for a large brewing facility.  He considered the former Naval base in Alameda, but he couldn’t find the right space.  I then contacted a couple craft beer industry associations and one of them was very nice and included my pitch in their weekly newsletter.  We got some response, but nothing concrete.

Some time went by and then I learned that the deal with Alameda Island Brewing Company was alive again.  Turns out, the data we provided Bill convinced him that this venture could be a big hit in Alameda and he decided to step-in and help with financing!

This is a big win for craft beer lovers in Alameda and for Spotmojo.  It proves that our users’ voices do matter and Spotmojo is helping to make their ideas a reality.

When we learned about all this A.I.B.C. had an upcoming hearing with the City of Alameda for their conditional use permit.  There have been some issues before when Bill Phua applied for it for the space before he had a signed lease so A.I.B.C. setup a Spotmojo Business Page so users can vote to show support for them and to help them get their conditional use permit from the City of Alameda.

The Spotmojo Business Page is designed to gauge demand and garner support for a business as well as a way for a business to start having a dialog with their customers way before they even open.

One of the problems Spotmojo is trying to solve is businesses currently make a huge investment upfront building out their space and setting up their business before they even start marketing.  And then they open their doors, start paying rent, while they slowly start marketing and getting customers.  A typical business can easily take one or two years to even reach cash flow break even.  We want to help businesses start marketing their idea well before they start the buildout or even sign a lease.  The hope is to have a customer base ready to go and lined up around the block on your first day.  In the case of A.I.B.C, we have over 300 registered users on Spotmojo that either voted for them directly or suggested a brewery in Alameda.  We’re still working out the details, but we plan on having a special grand opening event for these users.

A.I.B.C. was granted their conditional use permit last Tuesday and they’re on their way to Alameda.  They plan on opening around mid-2014!

Added 14 Languages & Branching Outside of Business Suggestions

Burrows Pocket Park Page

We’re working again with one of our first user groups, the Portola Neighborhood Association (PNA) in San Francisco.  When we first launched our website, the Portola Neighborhood Association was one of the first groups that adopted Spotmojo.

We’re excited to be working with them again, but this time on a new area we haven’t done before.  The Portola neighborhood holds a sort of mini-festival in their Burrows Pocket Park and they want to use Spotmojo to hear their residents’ ideas on what type of activities they want to see in this mini-festival.  In addition to branching outside of business suggestions, we added a way to use Spotmojo in 14 different languages.

Burrows Pocket Park is a small park at the beginning of Burrows Street at the corner of San Bruno Ave.  This area was previously used as a dumping ground but this year they cleaned it up, planted some trees, and turned it into a nice pocket park.

The Portola neighborhood has a large group of Chinese and Spanish speakers and one of the goals of the PNA is to include everyone in the discussion. While brainstorming with Jack Tse, corridor manager of the PNA, he suggested we look into Google’s Website Translator plugin which we weren’t aware of.  It made translating a website a cinch.  There’s now a language dropdown box on the right corner of the website and Google’s Translate service will automatically translate all the text on the page.

This translation isn’t done by a person so it often translates things a bit strange, but we hope it can at least translate the basic ideas so everyone can join the discussion, even with the bad grammar.

If you’re a resident of the Portola neighborhood, suggest what types of activities you would like to see at Burrows Pocket Park here:  http://www.spotmojo.com/openspot/burrows/

Coworking for Neighborhood Revitalization

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Several users have suggested coworking spaces on Spotmojo, including a space we’re working with in Oakland.  I’ve been thinking about this concept and am starting to think coworking spaces may be a great way to revitalize certain neighborhoods.

What is Coworking Space?

Coworking space is a shared work environment that can be rented by the day or even by the month.  It provides an alternative to working in coffee shops and most have many other features. Some provide shared tables, some provide dedicated desks, and some even have dedicated offices.  Many of them also provide WiFi, meeting rooms, printers, coffee, a cafe, lounge areas, etc…

Some of the people who utilize coworking space are telecommuters, but many of them are entrepreneurs.  Beyond the amenities, it is a great way for entrepreneurs to network.

You’ll find coworking spaces in a range of places.  I know of several in the Financial District and SoMa district of San Francisco.  Those areas are prime office real estate so you’ll be paying about $35/day there.  That’s much more than a few cups of coffee.  If you’re looking for the networking features, that may be worth it, but if you’re looking for a reliable place to work regularly, it’ll need to compete with the price of a few cups of coffee.

Where it might work

I did some rough estimates of how much you could pay for space to keep prices competitive with Starbucks (approx. $20/day) and concluded that the space would have to be pretty cheap for it to be a worthwhile venture.  But to find cheap space, it would have to be in lower tiered markets.

Then I started to wonder if coworking space would work in these sort of “transitional neighborhoods.”  It made me think of that Oakland space where I used to live right around the corner of.

This neighborhood was historically a lower-income residential neighborhood with some light-industrial commercial spaces.  However, during the housing boom they started to convert some of the old industrial spaces into condos.  If the housing boom continued the redevelopment probably would have also, but we all know how that went.  So  now you’re left with this incomplete redevelopment project.  People living in nice condos but the neighborhood is lacking a lot of basic things.  Businesses have been very slow to move in to this neighborhood and that particular space has been vacant since it was built in 2006.

But that space, and spaces in similar situations, I think would be great for coworking space, and here’s why.

The housing boom and smaller ones before it brought in a lot of tech workers, entrepreneurs, artists, and creative people into these neighborhoods.  Of course not everyone that lives there fits that description, but many of them do.  So there’s a good chance the customer base is there or in nearby cities like Berkeley, Oakland, or Albany.

Because this neighborhood isn’t Class A, you could possibly get a lease rate that would allow the operator to charge a competitive price.  I also think some of the owners of these properties would be interested in some sort of partnership with the coworking space operator.

How Coworking Space Could Revitalize Neighborhoods

Although the housing boom brought in residents with more disposable income, they’re not there during the day.  I suspect many of them commute to San Francisco and get back pretty late in the evening, probably too late to get dinner.  That only leaves the weekend for them to go out to eat or spend money in their neighborhood which probably isn’t enough to convince someone to build a restaurant in that neighborhood.

One common solution to this is to have offices in or near those neighborhoods so you have a daytime population.  This particular neighborhood isn’t setup to be a downtown type office HQ.  It could work for small retail offices like an insurance agent or doctor’s office, but that might not bring in enough workers to solve the foot traffic problem.  And these businesses might not be comfortable with opening in this type of neighborhood given its condition.

But a coworking space could fit in these retail spaces and they could bring more foot traffic to the area.

This is an assumption based on my experience, but I believe people who would work in coworking spaces have a bit higher tolerance for a little scrappiness.  Some of these spaces aren’t in the most polished neighborhoods, but I think coworkers might be more accepting of that especially if they can save some money.  For example, the SoMa district in San Francisco was in much worse shape ten or fifteen years ago.  There are still many dirty streets, but its gotten a lot better and I don’t think many will argue that the many tech startups that moved there had a lot to do with it.

However, I am not at all suggesting we put these in dangerous neighborhoods.  I’m also not suggesting that coworking space is the first step in neighborhood revitalization.  But I think it fits really nicely in the current state of neighborhoods like that North Oakland/Emeryville area where crime is mostly under control, there are seeds for revitalization, but it’s not to the point where new businesses and shops feel comfortable about opening up there yet.

Having more workers in an area, filling up the daytime population, they’ll need places to eat, places to have a drink after work, and so on.  So, I think coworking spaces could be an interesting element to revitalizing certain neighborhoods and at the same time fill a need for people to work and meet.

 

Spotmojo’s in Newark (CA)

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Last week at the Oakland Koreatown Northgate Broker Open House we met Aziz Khatri of KW Commercial.  He’s the listing agent for Balentine Plaza in Newark, CA which has several vacancies that he’s trying to fill.

Aziz actually learned about Spotmojo by running into one of our posters in Alameda and when he ran into me at the open house he thought it was a great idea to involve the community to help fill some of the retail vacancies.  So today, we installed several posters in Balentine Plaza.

Balentine Plaza is an older shopping center with several businesses that cater towards Indians but also has stuff for everyone  The two main traffic generators is a big Indian restaurant, Chandni, and Food Maxx.  The shopping center also has businesses like TOGO’s, UPS, nail salons, dentists, sushi, etc…

There are five vacancies where four are setup for general retail and one was a previous dentist office.

To suggest something for Balentine Plaza use this link: http://www.spotmojo.com/openspot/balentine/

Spotmojo in Oakland’s Temescal

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At the KONO broker open house we met Ben Weinstein of Citrine Advisors.  They’re a boutique commercial real estate consulting firm that owns and manages property in Oakland and other parts of the East Bay.

I heard Richard Weinstein, also from Citrine Advisors, talk at a breakfast forum earlier in the week and I really liked how their focus is less on attracting national chains, but to embrace the uniqueness of each city by seeking smaller businesses: independently owned businesses or smaller, regional chains.

Today we put some Spotmojo posters in their vacancies at two of their vacancies.  One is at 4001 Broadway and the other is just a block up at 4101 Broadway.  These are in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland.

At the 4101 Broadway space, True Burger has signed a lease and is building out that space.  There’s a small space left on the 41st Street side.  The 4001 Broadway space is a nice corner location that was once Temescal Produce Market.

To make a suggestion for Temescal use this link:  http://www.spotmojo.com/openspot/temescal/

You can also text in your suggestion with: (510) 379-7100