Gary Chou prefers not knowing what's going to happen next. It's not necessarily a career route he'd recommend for all, but it's helped him create a spot that's part boot camp, part co-working space, part idea incubator and all about building networks.
"What I realized was, at the end of the day, time is all you have," he said. "Whatever accolades you win, or how much money you make, all that stuff--one, it's random. At the end of the day, the only thing you have control over is how you choose to spend that time."
That motivated him to open Orbital in Kickstarter's old space on Rivington Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He took over the lease with no real plan. Again, not necessarily the best move for your average entrepreneur, but he knew himself enough to know it was the right move.
He'd already worked as GM for the Union Square Ventures Network and had a degree in molecular biology, with additional studies in computer science and photography. He'd been a product manager, strategist and a bunch of other roles he barely details on his LinkedIn profile.
"I initially thought, it'd be fun to take it over for a month or two," he told me. By the end of his first call with the landlord, he'd verbally agreed to sign a two-year lease.
"I am the best example of someone who wants to maintain a lot of optionality in all aspects of my life."
While about two-thirds of the denizens of Orbital have a job (Chou describes them as those "who get a salary from somewhere"), another third are using the communal space, spread over three floors, to figure out if their ideas have legs.
The overarching mindset behind Orbital is what Chou calls "collective agency in a networked world."
We've always had our networks of friends and alumni and co-workers. But those networks took a lot more work to keep active, because we didn't have social networks to keep these networks in front of us at all times. It's hard to wrap your mind around this phrasing, "collective agency in a networked world" - but what it really means is that when we work together and help one another, we are able to achieve things greater than we would have alone.
"We help buffer you from going a little bit off the deep edge," he said. "There aren't a lot of spaces for groups of people to come together to launch ideas where you're not locked into this idea of building a high-growth startup that is eventually going to be venture-backed."
That's how and why Edlyn Yuen ended up at Orbital. Yuen has been working on Prompt. A single word or phrase is emailed to subscribers each day, and they respond anonymously. Is it going to be a business? Could it ever be profitable? Maybe not. But the Yuen wanted to explore the idea and see where it took her.
"I think Gary Chou has created a place that emphasizes the importance of the creative process, rather than just the outcome," she told me. "It's a place where people ask questions that make you think about your intentions, what you are putting out in the world, and why. What are you learning from building? What are you observing? How do your observations inform your work? Where do you go next?"
That's the part that's missing from so many products and companies now, Chou believes.
"Whenever we think about creating anything with bits and pixels, we default automatically to calling it a startup."
That can be good, of course. When talking to others about it, whether your parents or potential partners, they have a basic idea of what you are referring to.
"But it can have negative effects too, because you're just trying to put this idea out there and see what happens. So why place so much weight on this thing to exist?"
It all sounds rather existential, but the fact remains that we are more networked and have more ability to work collectively than ever. While many bemoan the "filter bubble" we have built on our social networks (usually emphasizing Facebook), we're actually exposed to more people of different backgrounds than we ever have been.
So take your ideas and see where they lead. You don't even have to quit your day job to do it.