One thing about launching a charity, a social movement, is that you don't have any money. Usually because you have to give up work to do it properly and because no one with any money will take you seriously enough to give you any money.
And who can blame them, they've worked hard for theirs and as many companies and people have said to me in the last year, "we get lots of people approaching us for support, to talk, to meet and asking for money". So 'no' go away".
Having no money also makes you creative, agile and resourceful. It focuses you on what matters and what you really need.
So if you have to visit a city for business or pleasure do you really need to pay a lot of money to stay in a fancy hotel that, if the city is any good, you won't want to spend any time in anyway?
Four years ago, a redundancy was perfectly timed at the start of the summer holidays with a bit of a payoff, but we had a dilemma. Do we have a short fancy holiday or a longer, skimpy one? We took the latter option, packed the car with bikes on back, surf boards, on top, tent, fridge and over the 6 weeks we drove to Sardinia, via the alps, Corsica and back via Barcelona, Biarritz and Cornwall (like you do).
We combined week long camp stops in cramped dusty campsites with 5 star nights in accommodation like this - we opted to sleep in the Telly Tubby house with a fibre-glass donut door in the grounds not the Starship Enterprise-esque master house.
But it's not out of a fancy boutique hotel guide but off a website a very special website : www.airbnb.com.
A night in that amazing place cost us just €60, inc breakfast for 4 of us with homemade jams and bread that the owner had driven to the next village to get.
The house was built in the 60's by Antti Lovag, a famous French architect (who also designed Piere Cardin's 'bubble house' house in Cannes) for a Parisian hairdresser to host crazy parties. The current owner rents it via AirBnB as he feels a duty to share it. Mental!
In the last year I’ve been traveling around the UK visiting schools with my consultancy work to help launch ReadingWise (jump-starting reading for those who struggle). I’ve always made a point of staying with AirBnB to meet real people, to tell them about the work we’re doing with ReadingWise and also STEAM Co.
I’ve also been working for food. In return for a £1 discount off the price, I’ve been offering an introduction to coding for the family I’m staying with or a natter about what we're doing with STEAM Co. (That'll be #cococo : coding for cornflakes with STEAM Co - geddit?)
On a stay in Sunderland a few neighbours came round and sat in the front room and we had a cup of tea and talked about education, creativity and local schools. (By coincidence, one of our #inspirators, Dominic Wilcox comes from Sunderland)
When you connect within communities you realise it really is a small world. A week after that visit I got an email from a top chap in Nissan who praised our vision and told me how 60,000 people are employed directly/indirectly by Nissan in the North East and that 15,000 children have been on Nissan UK’s education programme. He told me about the amazing work they’re doing with their Monozukuri caravan education project.
Just last week I stayed with a family in Birmingham when I was working at the NEC at the Education Show (where I met up with Prof Guy Claxton and persuaded him to talk at our Liverpool event).
Their book shelf had a book called ‘Talk like TED’ by Carmine Gallo on it, which may yet come in handy (I downloaded a copy to my iPhone!) and it turned out their neighbour worked for the chap at a UK company who is about to be a STEAM Co. sponsor.
Last year I was invited to New York for the declaration of a global STE(A)M crisis by the New York Academy of Science at the United National General Assembly.
I managed to blag a flight and slept on a camp bed behind a curtain in a one room apartment in Little Italy for $29 a night.
The Polish land lady there told me how she was studying for a distance MBA at Harvard while working restaurants.
On a recent visit to Liverpool, I stayed in the cheapest room I could find which turned out to be a lovely cosy, warm room near Penny Lane for £20. I felt like a real tourist!
Fresh off the cheapest 22:26 VirginTrain I walked into the room I thought was mine to find a couple of Columbian backpackers in it.
They’d missed a bus and the landlady had said they could stay on at no cost. So I had the smaller room next door. No problem.
The next morning I went down to my all I could eat breakfast to find last night’s back packers had gone to be replaced by a couple from Peru. Of a three day trip to the UK, they’d had a day in London and two in Liverpool – on the Beatles and cultural trail.
One of Delta Taxi’s cab drivers summed it up. “It’s booming. It's the capital of culture. You'll never get a room in the city centre".
I gave him a STEAM Co SCOL1 flyer – like the other cabbies I’ve given them to, the augmented reality cover blew him away!
“I’ll have a few of them”, he said, “I get a load of teachers in the back of my cab”.
What an adventure. You can’t make this stuff up and the AirBnB strapline ‘one less stranger’ certainly strikes a chord with me – there are a lot less fewer strangers in my lives, not just acquaintances, but collaborators, maybe one day friends. They were certainly very friendly, and trusting. That’s AirBnB.
I saw a member of their marketing team who'd just joined from top job at a soft drinks company (before that, he'd been in the same firm I once worked for) describe ‘AirBnB as the world’s biggest community powered brand. If I were competitive, I’d say the race is on, but the Co. in STEAM Co. could stand for community, connection or collaborative. Or all three?
Either way here’s to AirBnB and STEAM Co connecting communities, to collaborating.
We've done everything we can to try to get them to talk to us to consider sponsoring UK wide community accommodation for the roll out of STEAM Co. our community powered brand but they say they're already sponsoring the Rio Olympics! The price of success for them I guess, at the cost of start ups like us.
Anyway, here's what Seth Godin says about connections, art, AirBnB and taking your turn, just like Brian, Joe and Nathan did, back in the day. #respect.
Now to check how many rooms AirBnB have in Liverpool as we’re going to need a few when we descend on the city for our first UK kick off event in Liverpool with Sir Ken Robinson.
Dec 2016 : Stayed at a lovely AirBnB in Bridlington, a very challenged coastal town in the North of England. Just my luck for the man of the house to be CEO of the Bridlington Ukulele Society and his wife an artist! Check the film out below:
Jan 2016 : AirBnB may still not be working with us but the serendipity certainly paid off as Nissan came along and supported the INVENTORS! STEAM Co. regional launch event in Sunderland with Dominic Wilcox (as seen on the Late Show).
And at the end of one of my talks at the BETT Show in London, a lady stood up in the audience to tell everyone how much she loved STEAM Co. - it was the lady I'd stayed with at the AirBnB in Birmingham above with the Union Jack pillows!
Sometimes I describe my life as "sailing on a sea of serendipity" - AirBnB has certainly played its part as a trade wind for which I'm grateful.