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.

Hello Goodbye dojo4