- Recently, I’ve had the unique pleasure of working with Ray Hsu, featured in a September Globe and Mail article as one of “Vancouver’s most promising entrepreneurs.” Among other things (author, TEDx speaker, and university lecturer, to name just a few), Ray is the co-founder of Room + Board, an exciting new venture aimed at writers of all stripes and those who require their services. Room + Board is more than an online resource for writers. Envision a writers’ retreat- a boarding house, if you will, where writers can fashion their own writing space in which to work, reach out for valuable support and feedback from the community of subscribers, and find opportunities for collaboration and employment. Ray graciously took the time to answer questions about his latest project, and how his focus on the needs of his subscribers will shape what Room + Board becomes.
What was your initial inspiration for Room + Board?
- As a writer, I know how difficult the writing process can be. It’s tempting to romanticize the writer-in-a-garret cliché as a kind of noble suffering. I saw many friends I cared about have common feelings that they experienced in isolation, as if they were the only ones who felt it. They developed elaborate mechanisms and routines in order to just get writing done.
- I wanted to fix that kind of suffering. I spoke to Betsy Warland, founder of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, and we brainstormed countless ideas.
Could you explain why you are going with a “Lean Start-Up” model?
- Far too many people worship the cult of the Great Idea.
- Far too common is the story of the geniuses coming up with such a thing.
- Far too rare is the complicated work of modifying an idea, of testing it against the people whom the idea impacts and innovating. This is what the Lean Startup model wants to fix.
What benefits does this approach to setting up your enterprise provide you?
- Among writers, we have a saying: “Be prepared to kill your babies.”
- Writers like sounding shocking sometimes. But the gist is this: those sentences and lines that are most precious to you can hold your writing back.
- This writerly wisdom makes sense in business: don’t be precious about your Great Ideas.
- Be ready to revise.
Do you feel there are any drawbacks to this approach?
- The drawback is that people can practice it badly.
How does your working within the lean start-up model benefit the subscribers to Room + Board?
- A lean startup approach to something like ROOM+BOARD benefits different kinds of subscribers differently. If you’re an early adopter, then you get to see something like a zine: it’s new, it’s stapled together, it’s beautiful because you can feel its rough edges. You can feel how close it is to the people who made it. Based on these early adopters, we polish and shine until we end up with something that looks more like the perfect-bound book: it’s well-produced, it’s got a glued spine, and it sits nicely on your shelf. It’s got broad appeal.
- If we waited until we had a perfect-bound book before releasing it, we would have cheated our friends and early adopters from seeing ROOM+BOARD at its rawest, most newborn form. I want early adopters to care for their ugly duckling and watch it grow.
Has your initial vision changed since you began working on the project?
- Never. Because I have no vision. Entrepreneurs fail when they envision a product that becomes a fixation. The real vision is that of the customer.
Can you discuss how your diverse background informs your business ventures?
- Poetry and capitalism have more in common than you’d think: poetry, like much else about the cultural sector, is perfect training for global exploitation.
What do you enjoy the most about entrepreneurship?
- Capitalism has been incredibly powerful at capturing peoples’ imagination. Just think of an Ikea showroom and how tempting it is to imagine oneself in that scene. I have never been able to not follow my imagination. Once upon a time it involved writing books, but now it’s something else.
- Today’s Workshop would like to thank Ray Hsu for sharing his inspirational thoughts on business with us. Learn more about Ray at thewayofray.com, and check out how Room + Board is evolving at roomplusboard.com.