Pam Slim and her family (from right) husband Darryl, son Joshua and daughter Angela.
K’é Learning Lab – The Backstory from Pam
“What kind of world do you want to live in, and what are you building to contribute to that world?” -Greg Hartle
When I heard these words from my friend Greg Hartle three years ago, they made my heart skip a beat.
I have been a business coach for over 20 years, and in 2009 helped spearhead the movement of people leaving corporate jobs to start their own enterprise with my book Escape from Cubicle Nation. I have worked with thousands of entrepreneurs, helping to launch and grow many different types of businesses. I love this work more today than when I started.
Yet as I spoke with friends and fellow small business influencers, all of us were getting concerned that business owners were drowning in an ever-growing sea of information, online courses and sales pitches.
Despite more resources than ever, business owners were still stuck with the same problems.
In my partnerships creating content for cloud software companies that serve the small business market, I knew that they were also struggling to connect with their customers in a deep and engaging way. They would ask questions like:
- How can our brands stay relevant in a world with too much content?
- How do we prioritize where we spend our marketing dollars?
- How can we be relentlessly focused, as a small business ecosystem, on removing obstacles that get in the way of small business success?
I became obsessed with answering the question how do you provide solid, effective business advice in a way that actually solves the problems and builds the leadership capacity of small business owners?
So in the summer of 2016, I opened a brick and mortar small business incubator on Main Street of my home town of Mesa, Arizona. I spent a year engaging with the broader community, talking with business owners of all sizes and shapes and working with everyone who supported them from the city to the regional arts center, non-profits and small business consultants. I connected with peers on the ground in Detroit and San Francisco and New York and Austin and Fargo. At the same time, I engaged with my global audience of business owners, and those who support them.
The result of this work is what I believe is a truly innovative and collaborative project which is designed to support both the small business owners who want to succeed, as well as the companies, incubators, organizations and professionals who serve them.
What is K’é?
K’é is a physical space downtown Mesa that hosts the The Small Business Learning Lab, which is a global think tank. Think of it as the IDEO of small business for everyday people.
Led by author, business coach and small business influencer Pamela Slim, The Small Business Learning Lab is a deep community of small business owners and the companies that serve them. In the Learning Lab, we do the following activities for the small business market:
- Diagnose core business problems and identify key obstacles that prevent small business progress
- Engage a diverse, engaged local and global community of small business owners who conduct a whole series of “experiments” designed to understand and overcome these obstacles and report back to The Lab through an organized data collection method.
- With this insight, create new and innovative tools, frameworks and methods to help small business owners develop skills and leadership behaviors that will move them to the next stage of growth
- Share the insight, directly to business owners and through our sponsor partners, through multiple communication channels to make small business owners better, stronger and more capable
- Share the insight to all those who serve the small business market so they can improve their products, programs and marketing
Community members from a Grownup Navajo event, enjoy time together at K’é.
What does K’é Mean?
The name K’é (pronounced “keh”) is a Diné (Navajo) word, meaning “system of kinship.” It was chosen by Pam’s husband Darryl, to reflect the feeling you have when you are deeply connected to others, you feel your kinship, and you treat each other as family.
Pam and Darryl like all members of the community to feel welcome as they walk through the doors of K’é.
The Small Business Learning Lab Timeline
Phase 1: Indiegogo Campaign
June 2016 – July 2016
Once we got the key to the new space, there were a lot of physical renovations to complete. With our Indiegogo campaign, over 230 small business owners and our “Trifeca of Awesome” corporate sponsors Tuft & Needle, GoDaddy and Infusionsoft banded together to raise over $40,000 to make physical improvements including wall and floor demolition and repair, painting, and the acquisition of furniture and equipment.
Some of the amazing creative leaders we have engaged with in our Listen First phase of the Learning Lab. We will continue to work with these professionals as we move into the Activate the Experiments phase. (Photo by Sergio Photographer. Pictured, front row starting from left: Debbie Nez Manuel, Isha Cogburn, La’Vista Jones, Augie Gastelum, Chris Lee, Ita Udo Ema. Second row from left: Joshua Slim, Jared Yazzie, Christy Strauch, Stewart Jones, Bruce Nelson, Royce Manuel, Yolanda Facio, Angie Slim, Ivan Martinez, Eric Oso, Shaina Yazzie, Pamela Slim, Hannah Manuelito. Top row from left: Davina Lyons, Darryl Slim, Heather Lee.)
Phase 2: Listen First
September 2016 – October 2016
We believe that to be an organization that truly reflects the needs and wishes of its community, you have to spend time connecting with and listening to the community, before designing programs.
So in the first year that K’é was opened, we met with many members of the local community including city government, non-profits, small business owners, community activists and fellow small business service providers.
We hosted and participated in over 100 events, for organizations including:
Arizona to Rally Against Native American Mascots
Arizona State University Polytechnic
Downtown Mesa Association (DMA)
Freelancers Union Spark
Hispanic Leadership Institute
Mesa Arts Center
Main Street Prototyping Festival
Phoenix Design Week
Phoenix Indian Center
RAIL Mesa (Retail, Arts, Innovation and Livability)
Southwest Maker Fest
Startup Life Support
West Mesa Community Development Corporation
And scores of local small business owners artists, activists and filmmakers.
From these conversations, we envisioned a brand new, innovative model for small business learning and research, called The Small Business Learning Lab. In this lab, we will focus on developing creative solutions to core business problems, by conducting a large number of experiments by small business owners from all communities, economic situations and backgrounds in the small business market.
Phase 3: Gather the Data
November 2017 – February 2018
Before digging into the experiments, we wanted to gather rich, helpful data from small business owners. In partnership with the Cloud Software Association and over 100 influencers and organizations such as Guy Kawasaki, Mari Smith and the National Association of Women Business Owners, in November, 2017, Susan Baier of Audience Audit, Chris Lee of Purple CRM and I produced Crack the Challenge Code, a survey with over 2,000 small business owner respondents from the U.S. and Canada.
From this survey, we analyzed the data for some unique, academically valid research about attitudes small business owners have toward obstacles, their defined problems, what help they are looking for, as well as tens of thousands of points of data about where they are currently looking for information, what products they use to run their business, and who they consider key influencers, events and learning experiences.
This data is the basis for the fourth phase of The Learning Lab: Activate the Experiments.
Phase 4: Activate the Experiments
May 2018 – May 2019
In the next 12 months, we will take the top 5 problems from the survey (listed below), and dissect them in a consistent way:
- Define the problem fully from a creative problem solving framework, looking at all the inputs, causes and interrelationships
- Define set number of experiments to understand and solve the problem – processes, tools, templates to test and try
- Conduct and share experiments
- Conduct research on best practices
- Share findings and insight through the lab content channels
- Identify key areas to continue doing follow up research
- Summarize the findings in a report
The experiments will activate in the Learning Lab on the following schedule:
- Problem 1: How to get more customers: May-June 2018
- Problem 2: How to fund growth and manage cash flow: July-August 2018
- Problem 3: How to systematize operations: September-October 2018
- Problem 4: How to manage your workload: November-December 2018
- Tool development deep dives and custom research: January 2019
- Problem 5: How to scale your business: February-March 2019
We are in the last stages of finalizing our founding sponsors, and getting ready to kick off the experiments. If you have a question or comment, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also join our Facebook page here, for up to the minute news, events and updates: https://www.facebook.com/KeInMesa/