Last night we kicked off the first Creative Somerville Series, the first of our talks designed to highlight local creatives and entrepreneurs through intimate ‘fireside chats.’
We, of course, had a nice fireplace up on youtube roaring away—but aside from our fake fire’s hipster cred–it was really a symbol of how this series is different: The Creative Somerville Series is not your typical power point and Q&A. Our fireside chats are about getting to hear someone’s story, to learn about how they think and create, and to share creative energy and ideas in an intimate setting.
Making Aeronaut Happen
Pulling off a dream means patching together resources, promises, hopes, commitment. There’s always the ‘What I didn’t know before I started,’ such as, ‘Oh wait, we need to have staff to serve customers’ or ‘Cash registers….right. Gotta have those and know how to use them.’
I’m always interested in the moment when things get hard and it seems like it’s not going to work out. From a psychological perspective, what makes someone move past that point? Ben and Ronn spoke about the struggle to get the funding they needed–potential investors they approached were used to funding more dematerialized ]tech startups which needed less tangible assets and therefore can bring in higher return on their investment. At one point, the company had $5K in the bank (“depending on how you look at it” it was $5K or in the negative… Ben charitably pointed out) but they were spending at least $25K a month. They were still raising money while they were setting up for the launch and it was a complicated dance.
One of the keys was going all in–including quitting their jobs for some. “It was clear we were serious about what we were doing because we had no other options,” said Ben. Their fundraising success rate dramatically improved over the course of four months–and by the end investors were approaching them asking to invest. They now own only 75% of their company’s equity, but retain the creative control.
Designers’ Tip: Be Santa Claus
We were lucky to have Aeronaut’s designer, Ryan Habbyshaw of Loyal Supply Co., a designer and builder who worked with Aernoaut (he built the bar!) It was fantastic to get insight on the launch from someone who wasn’t in the founding team but was key to the launch process.
Ryan spoke about the process of designing the space at Aeronaut, building the bar and generally trying to give a huge space an identity on a small budget. Who knew chairs could be so expensive? (I learned this hard lesson too, sourcing the chairs for Black Trumpet. I lost many good hours of my life to scouring the internet for cheap but nice-looking chairs.)
Ryan told us about his tip for getting clients to sign off on your design. He’d just stay up at night (this was his side gig on top of a day job at IDEO so that’s when he was free anyway) and build. Then Ben, Ronn and Dan would walk in the next day and see an entirely new space and fall in love with it.
In an endearing exchange, Ryan, Ben and Ronn revealed their different perspectives when it came to their opening event–where they launched a lawn chair lifted by helium balloons. Ryan cut off an engineering discussion about how many balloons you really needed to lift a chair (you only need a few if they’re rated for higher weights) and insisted on many for visual impact. As Ben and Ronn spoke about their journey, its clear that they each have their strengths which they’ve employed in building Aeronaut, but they’ve also become fluid in onboarding the strengths of others.
I was struck by something I heard from both Ronn and Ben–brewing beer is something that allows them to work the way they want to. It’s not that they’re not passionate about their beer–they’re passionate about every aspect of beer and the process of making it and they could have talked about it for hours–but they have found a way to build something that’s more than a brewery. It’s a place for science and real-life experimentation, it’s an incubator, it’s an event space in which community members are creating experiences the team would have never dreamed up themselves (last night Aeronaut was hosting square dancing as we spoke.)
The team intends to keep growing and building and changing every year–last night Ben spoke about their vision for Aeronaut becoming a lab space that can partner with universities and other efforts afoot.
Ben said that what ultimately drives their work is “the quest to see adventures come to fruition. That’s why their space has become one of my favorite spots. That excitement to make something awesome is what drives me. It attracts other folks with ideas and creative energy. That’s what makes me feel excited about living and working here, and that’s what’s behind the Creative Somerville Series.