Hello Goodbye dojo4

This entry is crossposted from dojo4.com.

I remember that first meeting. It was Jeff, Dave, me and Ara. We were on a rooftop bar in Boulder. It was fall. The leaves were changing and the sun was angling down. We were all ready for something new. Not a job: Something different. We would do it together. First we would name it, and then we would work it. It couldn’t fail. We were smart and strong.

Ara found the spot, a tiny joint behind Ted’s Montana Grill. It was trashed: No flooring, terrible paint, an awful dirty unfriendly bathroom. Naturally we rented it, and I think Jeff started sleeping there immediately. He was up all night painting for a week straight. All four of us helped when we could, but Jeff was there every single day. And within a few weeks the humble space had become dojo4.

dojo4 was the first name that nobody protested. It was short and easy to remember; it held a secret mystery, something admirable and maybe dangerous. Or vice versa. dojo4 beat out “Death Ninja Squad”, which I protested because I didn’t want to try and market death to my straightlaced customers. dojo4 also beat out “The Mulberry Club” — I have no idea why I thought that one was good.

dojo4 was going to be a coworking space. Invite only, like a speakeasy with Macbooks. We would charge people to join the club. They’d get a door code. Once we decided this, I got busy writing regulations and policies while Ara and Jeff argued about decor and Dave hacked on mobile apps. Amazingly, in that first month we convinced some folks to sign up to be members!

Well, it didn’t take long before we realized that our 3-square-foot bathroom/kitchen combo would never adequately serve a crowded coworking space. And furthermore, we couldn’t see how coworking would ever pay for itself. And meanwhile, people kept walking in the door asking us to build things for them. Web sites. Custom applications. Stuff like that. So we quickly pivoted and became dojo4, the “one chop shop”.

From that moment things moved very quickly. We hired people; we brought on another partner, Corey; we lost Jeff to San Francisco and Dave to Splick*It; we hired more people. All the while we turned out bespoke web applications and sites for enthusiastic entrepreneurs. We generated enough caffeine demand to light up two new coffeeshops on the east side. The nature of our work, our brand and our team were subject to constant change. It was wildly dynamic.

It’s been said many times, so I will merely echo it: The Boulder community made our business possible. People came by at all hours, from the first day until the present day, just wanting to spread cheer and offer a hand. They brought beer; samurai swords; fertility idols; jobs; friends; advice; opportunities. Boulder is awesome. All together we are the caretakers of something special.

One of dojo4’s earlier web sites was built around a single enigmatic declaration: “What we do and how we do it is who we are.” That’s terrible marketing, but it’s true. dojo4 has always been primarily a collection of smart people willing to devote their attention and energy to interesting projects, no matter the nature of the work. At one point I fielded an inquiry from someone who wanted a chicken coop built. I tried to get the work, but we were outbid. Their loss.

I love that about dojo4. I’m a generalist, equally as comfortable in a late night vi-git-cap loop as I am teaching of a crowd of nontechnical people about search engines; just as happy writing marketing copy (most recently on Collective Intellect’s new site) as I am writing Javascript (recently for ultrarunner Scott Jurek’s blog and calendar). Working for dojo4 meant I could do any of it, any day of the week.

Being a generalist often means doing whatever needs doing. And at a small business, that often means being the CEO. So since 2011 I’ve been dojo4’s first CEO, working with Corey and Ara to build a vibrant little business that we’re all very proud of. I’ve never had a more challenging or rewarding work life. In this role I’ve met entrepreneurs from all around the world; I’ve built and launched things way out on the cutting edge of technology; and I’ve worked with a remarkable team of people, too many great folks to name here. It’s been wonderful.

But today I’m leaving dojo4. This is the time of year for change: The sky is changing, the leaves are changing, dojo4 is changing, and I’m changing too. My lovely wife has a wiggly baby on the way. Right away I’m going to spend some time learning what it means to be a dad. And after that I’ll also be looking for some new interesting work to do, something that needs a generalist like me.

To the good people I’ve met down at the dojo: Let’s meet again. Seriously. Email justin@dojo4.com right now; let’s go get a coffee or a beer (I’ll buy) and let’s talk about what’s next. Thank you all.

We came to a place called The Grotto.

We drove up a red dirt road and rolled into a bare dirt patch in our blue Toyota Corona station wagon. We went because T-roy wanted to go. There were a few other cars parked and a few people standing on the edge of The Grotto.

The Grotto was just a steep stony sink with a green pool at the bottom. A high stone wall, taller than a house, contained three sides of the grotto. A stand of scrub closed the fourth side.

We crept down a steep path. Some girls were climbing out; their dad waited at the top of the wall and watched us. T-roy changed into a tiny swimsuit like European men wear on the beach. E-thang and I stripped to our boxers.

J37 / Scène de vie : The Grotto, un jardin d'Eden

We swam. It felt so good after driving in the desert. We were all tired, sunburnt, dehydrated, hung over. It had been days of driving, months for some of us. We jumped in and splashed. It felt great.

After some time just swimming and laughing, we saw a giant snake coiling at the surface of the water, swimming like a sea serpent, disappearing and reappearing.

Australia is not safe. It is surrounded by great white sharks; its rivers and coasts are home to giant, toothy amphibian lizards that eat more than a few people each year; it crawls with spiders that kill; signs on the beaches warn of jellyfish that kill; and in the grottoes swim snakes that kill.

We climbed onto the rocky shore and then up the path with our bare feet, clothes hung over our shoulders and shoes in hand. Ours was the last car. The sun was way out over the Indian Ocean and a baked plain separated us from the coast. Small trees cast long shadows on the land. We wiped the sand off and drove on toward Darwin.

The Line In Between

Our ladyfriend took me and the dog for a walk yesterday. The dog and I took turns pretending to lead. We guided her down the alleyways of the college town where we live.

This “alley walk” is one of our favorite autumn activities. In October, the serviceberries are ragged in plumage and rich in fruit. As an alleyway interloper munches on sweet berries or overripe fenceline grapes, he can see backyards through bare branches. And backyards tell the stories of the people who mow them. Are there children and are they spoiled? Where do they prop their ladders and bikes? What sort of arrangement do they have for after-dinner smoking? For stargazing? All is visible when the leaves are down.

If the leaves are not down in October then they are robust and jammy, like dessert wine. Muscat golds and port purples trickle down rights-of-way that only raccoons use, most days. People don’t celebrate alleyway foliage, notwithstanding its pluck and splendor. Nobody trumpets the accidental creeper, which suits the creeper just fine.

Alley In October by davezilla

Many of the alleys in our town are unpaved tracks, fenced by century-old garages, outbuildings and arbors. The dwellings alongside alternate between restored and ignored: Here an ornamental vine is carefully trained along the trellis, there a water-bloated ping-pong table has leaned against the wall for three years. The aggregate effect is charming. Decay and renewal tuck close to each other like lovers.

I have occasionally encountered other alley walkers on my explorations. These men live on the streets or in some halfway home, and usually are far, far away from the economy I inhabit. But sometimes they demonstrate surprising knowledge of some subject dear to them—oil politics, say, or ten-year-old tabloid exclusives.

I stopped recently to read a poem written on butcher paper and taped to a window. As I finished reading, a gentleman approached me and asked about the poem. Before I could answer, he demanded to know whether I smoke cheba-cheba. I demurred. He persisted. I insisted: I don’t smoke cheba-cheba, for it disrupts my peace of mind. He laughed, spun wildly, and staggered on.

Some years ago I met two fellows in an alley who called each other God and Jesus. They were regulars down that way, passing sometimes on foot and sometimes on bicycles. God had a full head of white hair and a long white beard and piercing blue eyes and a clean hoodie. Jesus was unshaven, skinny, pale and a little shifty. He always asked for a cigarette or matches, and God was fond of saying that Jesus was the god of cigarettes. I thought it was generous of God to cede that little smoky corner of the firmament to frail Jesus.

I walked one October night with a friend down an alleyway where leaves danced beyond the cones of light on the street corners. The wind stalked us like a cougar, trying to make us run so it could chase us down and tear us apart. Everything seemed wild and dangerous.

In the middle of a dark block we suddenly noticed a barnwood shack with a door far too small for any modern human. It was sized for a child, but it was too rough, and in too rough a location, to be a playhouse or fort. A weak light shone through a filthy window. The wind tossed our hair and the sky tilted as we gaped. Someone inside moved! We moved, too: Away, away with the wind at our heels!

I have been to the same place since, in daylight. The shed is unoccupied now aside from a half dozen cats of varying temperament. A worn, handpainted sign above the door advertises “Dorellian Motors”. Nobody approaches from either end of the alley. The fallen leaves are thick, and so is the graffiti. Where mystery was are only questions now; but on windy October nights these questions rise to haunt the alleyways.

Here is an exercise: Flatten a map of your city on the dining room table and look for the alleys. You will easily find their starts and their ends, which are known points along official routes. But what about the line in between—the alley itself? It is probably not marked on the map. The back ways are known only to those who take them. And, realizing this, you may be the sort to consider other, more engaging exercises than looking at a map on the dining room table.