Using Interviews to distill meaning
Last time, we were talking about how to “Think Like a Reporter“. My goal was to convey the importance of asking good questions in order to figure out how things actually get done and what the critical elements are in your business.
Today, I’d like to take it one step further and showcase an interview I was fortunate enough to secure with Cheni Yerushalmi, the managing partner and co-founder of Sunshine Suites in New York City. In the interview, I’ve tried to apply the principles of good questions in order to create an environment that’s conducive to storytelling. Then, getting out of the way and letting Cheni tell his story.
The other key point I would like to offer up as a takeaway from this experience for all of you is to stay alert for opportunities to expand your networks and your knowledge base. This interview would not have happened had it not been for: 1) Cheni’s willingness and his courage to put himself out there, 2) the enterprising, public invitation from Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of Wine Library TV and author of Crush It, and 3) my recognition of the opportunity and taking action. These are all voluntary actions. How can you ever bottle up this mix of bravery, curiosity, inquisitiveness, openness, and indeed playfulness that’s required to create something out of nothing into a “formula” or a “job description”? This stuff doesn’t show up on your desk with a neat little bow on it, conveniently labeled and packaged for consumption. You have to create it and I think that’s a useful lesson.
Instead of existing in a constant state of “beware”, move into a state of “BE AWARE”.
Back to the point, we are talking with Cheni Yerushalmi from Sunshine Suites in NYC about business, entrepreneurship, recognizing opportunity, and the critical measures that determine success within the business.
Sunshine Suites NYC with Cheni Yerushalmi
What is Sunshine Suites?
Sunshine Suites is an office community in New York City specifically designed for entrepreneurs to get out of the house and network with other entrepreneurs in a cool environment. Sunshine has 2 locations and houses roughly 600 businesses and 1400 entrepreneurs at any one time. Far from being just another co-working site, Sunshine is serious about creating community! In addition to a place to work they offer mentorship, events, gym memberships, affordable healthcare, and even access to a timeshare in Vermont’s ski country!
The types of businesses incubating within Sunshine runs the gamut, “every company under the sun”, as Cheni and his partner Joe will sometimes say.
What motivated you and your partner, Joseph Raby, to start the Sunshine Suites?
Sunshine Suites was the result of the frustrations experienced, as an entrepreneur, with the lack of both affordable office space and community support available in the city. It was the realization that “there must be a better way”.
Leveraging each other’s strengths, as all good founding partners do, Cheni and Joe took the initiative to create the tool that they wished they had when starting out.
So, what would you say to people unfamiliar with the NYC start-up scene?
Historically, the NYC start-up environment has been difficult but it’s improving. During the heady days of the Dot-Com’s there was interest from investors and lots of money flying around, but not much of an infrastructure to support the companies. Since the bust, it has been a slow process of building that infrastructure and creating an environment better suited for start-ups.
The message coming out of New York right now is innovate and build partnerships because right now nothing is being taken for granted.
How do you measure success at Sunshine?
Feedback from the community is most important. Of course, we keep track of revenue and occupancy rates, but these numbers don’t provide any context that we can act on. Obtaining real feedback from members through regular surveys provides a more accurate gauge of whether or not Sunshine is living up to customer expectations and provides direction that’s actionable. Fortunately, entrepreneurs don’t tend to be shy about sharing their opinions so we know exactly where we stand. It’s particularly important for the ongoing success of the business since 70% of new memberships are created through referrals.
How do you balance the qualitative elements relating to feedback with the quantitative numbers side?
The business model itself isn’t very complicated. We know the model works and, being a “for profit” business, we need to keep track of the numbers. But, revenue is not the overriding consideration and the numbers can be misleading. Our success is more accurately measured by the happiness of our community. We like to think of this as a place where we help each other to succeed. For us, it’s better to look at something like, how many companies have we been able to graduate from Sunshine? We also work with entrepreneurs who want to be more active in the management of the programming. We call these guys “Shiners” and it’s this level of engagement that tells us we’re doing something right.
You mentioned companies “graduating” from Sunshine Suites; is that a formal process? Is there a ceremony or what?
It’s funny you mention that. We’re working now to create a more formal process and you should see something in Entrepreneur Magazine about it in the near future. Entrepreneurs who have “graduated”, our “alumni”, tend to stay active at Sunshine, providing mentoring to other entrepreneurs. As well, we provide workshops, panel discussions, and bootcamps.
What do you see for Sunshine Suites in the future?
We are looking at expansion. We would like to expand into other cities, but we want to be careful. Every city is different. They each have their own ecosystem and it’s important to know the environment and the people in order to provide something of value.
Distilling the meaning in relation to Indicee
So, how do we relate what Cheni told me to what we are trying to achieve at Indicee? Simple. The most important performance indicators for the business DO NOT come from the financial reports.
We all know the requirements for financial reporting. A full set of financial statements are crucial for dealing with banks, tax authorities, and investors; but it’s like Cheni said, these numbers lack the context that’s needed to guide meaningful actions on the part of managers.
Using Indicee increases the contextual meaning of your numbers and guides action in that way, beyond the financial statements.
Your customer’s happiness is not an Income Statement line item. The path to knowing your customer comes from looking at operational measures; things like behaviour, feedback, distribution, and consumption. This requires building the additional dimensions into your reporting structure to capture these things.
Final thoughts and random words to live by
Working within a start-up environment and having worked for start-ups in the past, I fully appreciate and applaud what the Sunshine Suites community is doing. I would also point to other great examples out there such as TechStars, YCombinator, and our own local BootupLabs and Network Hub doing great work incubating companies and providing mentoring in order to tilt the playing field a bit in favour of innovators and disruptors who will create the next generation of market leaders. You could even look to mainstream media and programs like Shark Tank in the US and Dragon’s Den in Canada and the UK as a means of educating and illuminating what goes into building companies. You have to look past the TV-silliness, but it’s there.
During our conversation, Cheni told me about when he and Joe were last in Vancouver. The two of them flew into YVR with 2 bicycles in boxes, they assembled the bikes in the airport, then rode from Vancouver all the way to Tijuana, Mexico. He went on to tell me that he never buys a round trip ticket when he’s on vacation. He buys a one-way ticket in order to stay open to the opportunities that present themselves. I think there’s a great lesson in that philosophy and it exemplifies what being an entrepreneur is all about.