Imagine growing up in a comfortable environment two hours from the city with a strong sense of community. Generations stayed put and supported your hometown by starting small businesses, supporting manufacturing and volunteering time to community efforts and infrastructural projects.
And then after having success at various levels academically and athletically, you decide to move to Detroit after college to start with your first "dream" job with one of the largest global professional service firms as a technology consultant.
However, it still didn't feel a part of your life's plan.
So two years ago, you decided to change everything, including selling all that you you owned in the suburbs and move to downtown Detroit so you could follow curiosity and passion for the rebirth of the city.
In other words, you started the next phase of your life on a whim.
That's how Whim Detroit, a technology-based network focused on agile thought leaders solving complex issues leveraging digital solutions, started.
Lori McColl, an entrepreneur who left a successful career in technology, started the new year by launching her business earlier this month. I talked to McColl about her decision to move to Detroit and launch her business — on a whim.
Lee: How did you come up with your business concept?
McColl: I think the "why" is very important in the concept. I can tell you that my vision for Whim Detroit evolved as I spent the last year thinking about my next step professionally. As a consultant, you are constantly trying to solve your client's business challenges, so I was a naturally trained problem solver.
The concept was really developed as a solution to a problem that I faced, as well was some of my other talented peers and mentors. I engaged in the community, attended a number of events at TechTown and Grand Circus and networked with a number of people in the community to learn more about the startup activity in Detroit.
And I volunteered my way to close my own experience gap.
Yet despite 14 years of experience implementing and assessing large-scale technology-based transformations, the feedback I was receiving, as I tried to make an executive-level transformation outside of consulting, was that I didn't have enough experience in operations, leadership, lean organizations and failure. I hadn't failed enough in my career.
In that moment, I realized that there was a need to create the path that I wanted to achieve and develop a model to help others with a similar desire: to transform how we tell the story and how we align top talent with organizations that are looking for an innovative approach to transformation.
Lee: Your company is Whim Detroit. What's behind the name?
McColl: By definition, a whim is a pivot, a gut feeling and a curiosity. Personally, my whims over the last two years have changed my life in a way that I would have never predicted. My biggest "whim" or change catalyst was my move downtown two years ago. I think the best way to capitalize on a vision or a gut feeling is to educate your instincts and learn from others who have made similar moves.
As I look to the future, a lot of the agility and innovation will be dependent upon calculated curiosity with the ability to fail fast and pivot course as needed.
Lee: What's your mission for Whim Detroit?
McColl: My mission for the company is to leverage innovation to transform how we gain experiences that aggregate to an end-goal in a dynamic workforce, help companies align needs with value-based attributes to help accelerate innovation and leverage flexible collaboration.
There is also an element of giving back to the community that I am developing as well. In a couple of instances, I volunteered to support the community and to help build my experiences, so I envision a business model where that is supported within Whim Detroit as well — leveraging talents and capacity to fill some of our local nonprofit needs for simple digital solutions and data insights to help serve more people in an efficient manner is our mission.
Lee: After 14 years in corporate, why did you decide to leave to start a business?
McColl: Moving to downtown Detroit really shaped a lot of my inspiration for starting a business and it gave me an opportunity to connect and engage with some of the technology trends relevant for us. Many of us reach a juncture in our careers where the opportunity to take a risk becomes more challenging or there are strategic corporate changes that force you into that position. Change is inevitable, but uncomfortable despite how prepared you are for the transition.
For me, it felt like if I was going to execute on an idea that it had to be now, and I was going to adopt a new mantra that "failure is not trying."
Lee: As a 2017 startup, where's your focus been for your first month? Challenges?
McColl: My first month has been focused on applying the lean startup model to the development of the brand for Whim Detroit, as well as the innovation products. I have been focusing on building the infrastructure for the company, engaging with other technology-focused entrepreneurs and talking to as many local companies to build and test the proof of concept.
One of my other areas of focus has been balancing the creative discipline and focus that is needed, while managing the entrepreneurial anxiety or inner critic that can strike at any moment. Many entrepreneurs will joke that there are two emotions in the beginning stages of a venture, euphoria and terror, and those emotions can happen together within an hour.
As challenging as this transformation may be, I am building a model to help others through the transition, since action creates clarity.
Lee: You're focused on the gig economy. What is it and why?
McColl: This is a trend that I am experiencing personally and when you look at the mobility and workforce data you can see there will be an evolution in how we work in the future – perhaps even noticeable in the next five years.
Coupled with the speed of innovation in manufacturing and automotive, there is already a need for a more agile approach to solving problems and innovating with connected factories, vehicles and mobility. And there are known talent gaps in many areas within our industries.
Lee: Please define "agile talent" and why this target is important for your business.
McColl: I look at agile talent agents as a new category within the gig economy. Agile agents are experienced leaders in technology, engineering, accounting and data visualization space who are looking for a more creative and flexible space to advance and/or accelerate their careers while doing things that matter.
It appears that there is a barrier for agile leaders trying to transition outside of their current job title without being categorized as "big company" or not agile enough to transition to a different role or different type of organization.
Lee: You're working out of Bamboo Detroit's newly expanded collaborative working space. Why and what are the benefits? How are places like Bamboo supporting the gig economy?
McColl: If you think about the needs of a freelance or agile talent-based workforce in the future, co-working spaces like Bamboo provide the affordable and flexible infrastructure that supports entrepreneurs, freelancers and creatives as they grow. Each person can find value in different aspects of what they provide, but personally, I find significant value in the collaboration and community that they are creating.
In some cases, a convenient peer-to-peer network that is available to help you with small things like designing a logo to providing feedback on a strategy is critical to success in the early stages.
Lee: What are Detroit trends when it comes to technology and the automotive industry?
McColl: The speed of innovation and mobility transformations are significant as you try to transform cultures to shorten the development life cycle. There is also significant complexity in the supply chain that is hard for many outside of Detroit to appreciate.
I think there is value in how we customize the problem-solving cycle and teach more of a Detroit-based startup mindset. In many cases, the larger companies do not want to outsource their innovation and "thinking," so we are building a platform to help us learn to be more agile.