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Chelsea Koglmeier

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Empowering an Island of Misfit Toys

Posted: 12/12/2013 10:28 am

When I look at our Roadtrippers team as individuals expected to build something together, I'm surprised we lasted over a year.

I thought we'd have ground to a screeching halt when we grew from five people to 10, 15 to 30. One of the newest members of the team described us as "an island of misfit toys." I can't help but agree. We are the square pegs who never quite fit into the round holes. The big foot hunters, bronies, trombonists, travel geeks and culture nerds.

Rationality leads me to believe that diversity on the team means more good ideas. Good ideas fuel growth. Growth commands the need for process, and process often results in the stifling of creativity. Despite the odds, we aren't facing these problems that, they say, accompany growth. We have been able to maintain the core faculties of creativity and respect that drove our company into existence and are allowing our diversity of individuals to push the company in a positive direction to make a real impact in our city: Cincinnati, OH.

And that makes me wonder -- as a startup team, what makes us continue to grow?

On the Fringe

The Roadtrippers office is an old brewery. It was shut down during prohibition, opened again as a porcelain factory, and then abandoned for years. It's huge and it's beautifully ours. Cincinnati has been going through a rapid revitalization of a downtown area called Over-The-Rhine. OTR is where our office is located and where I live in my small, but wonderfully historic, studio apartment. Although some would see our brewery building as being beyond the "fringe of development," in my eyes, we're pushing the limits of revitalization and funneling jobs into a neighborhood that deserves to thrive.

Inside the building, we're re-vamping the space piece-by-piece. When our team grew to over 25 people, we built out another floor and moved in. When I say we built it, I mean that we literally stained the floors, busted out widows, painted walls, constructed desks and picked light fixtures. The floors are wooden, walls are brick, and the spatial energy is palpable.

We "own" the office space in every sense of the word. Our office space grows with our product, becoming the physical manifestation of our company. This personalized, positive work environment helps us work toward our common goal as a company. The visible availability of more space to expand into helps us envision our potential (and put in those extra hours on nights and weekends).

The Present

"Happiness is a present tense emotion" is one of those personal mantras under which I try to live my life. I really believe that happiness only comes from existing in the moment and feeling in the now.

I've had stints in different jobs with nonprofits and corporate giants, done independent consulting work and more. It's different for everyone, but for most it seems that happiness stems from who you work with, how much you work, and the level of fulfillment you get from of your work. My happiness at Roadtrippers far surpasses that of my other jobs and it's due to the environment of respect that runs the team.

Our CEO, James, is a visionary. He harnesses detail, creativity, balance and a respect for people that is rare. His thoughts are objective, sincere and always straightforward. Most importantly, he's created the culture of respect on our team that is making us plow forward, appreciating the present, while still thinking into the future.

A Ripple Effect

The media circulates fantasy stories of startups on the coasts, and it makes me feel like every startup is equipped with Ping-Pong champions, unicorns making your lunch, a craft brew hour (daily at 11 a.m.) and a four-hour work week. These things don't close the loop of happiness. They're relevant pieces (especially the unicorns) to creating fulfilling jobs, but they're just pieces of the puzzle.

People need to feel valued, opinions need to be heard, feedback needs to be plentiful and small tasks need to be linked to a broader vision. Roadtrippers has created 30 (soon to be more) jobs in Cincinnati where people can feel that type of significant, empowering job fulfillment. To me, impacting 30 people's day-to-day lives is just as important as creating a startup powerhouse that will someday take over the world. It's a temporal, present tense, real impact that's felt outside of the brewery walls.

Roadtrippers.com -- misfits wanted.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Venture for America, in conjunction with the Venture for America Innovation Fund. Right now, seven teams of VFA Fellows are competing for access to $20,000 to get projects off the ground and make an impact in in Detroit, Providence, Cincinnati and New Orleans. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about Venture for America, click here.

 
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