This is not how you embrace startups and entrepreneurship.
The ridiculous thing is I know everyone involved and it’s a straight-up case of the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law.
Backing up a second. On Monday, the Raleigh News and Observer ran a spotlight article on dejaMi, the makers of WedPics, who will be presenting at Startup Summit at the Convention Center in Raleigh next week. I’ve known founder/CEO Justin Miller for a few years, and he’s been a player in the startup community and is one of those folks who consistently drives from Raleigh for the ExitEvent Startup Socials in Durham.
He’s raised money, had success, put on a music festival to promote his product, and we’ve done a couple articles on him, including one that mentioned his basement setup in his Raleigh home. I also know that he and his team work like demons, and usually go from very early in the morning to very late at night. An 80-hour week at dejaMi is not out of scope. Nor is it an anomaly.
But Justin is a clean cat, a serious businessman, and, most importantly, a nice and generous guy.
Yesterday, the City of Raleigh sent an inspector, on an anonymous tip, to tell him he had 30 days to undo said basement setup which was in clear violation of city zoning laws.
Let me first state without hesitation that I get this. I’ve run several companies out of my home, and in fact the mailing address of ExitEvent looks suspiciously suburban (if we had a mailing address, which we don’t). But I know the zoning laws. I’ve never so much as taken a meeting at my house. That’s what Tyler’s is for.
I also recently moved from a neighborhood where a guy on the corner had a business that had customers show up at all times of the day and night. That had to stop and, oddly enough, neither town officials nor the police ever did anything about it. It might still be going on.
The City of Raleigh was a client of my consulting firm for years, so I know a bunch of the people there including Mitch Silver, the City Planning Director, who recently hired the Downtown Raleigh Alliance’s Derrick Minor into an official dedicated entrepreneurship-based role.
Who, as it happens, has been working with Mary Ann-Baldwin from the City Council to help build and shape Innovate Raleigh (not a government entity), which is putting a huge focus on fostering startups in the area.
What is looks like is talk and action getting into a room and action beating the snot out of talk.
You have to ask yourself, is this what you want someone from out of the area and considering a move to read?
Again. Yes. I know and agree that Justin has to break up his shop and find another way. But if the City wants to be connected to the startups, and is already going through so much effort to get there, the way to do it has to be handled differently.
The City is going to have to start operating under the uncomfortable notion that things have to be handled on a case-by-case basis. I’m not saying that Justin gets a free pass, but a show-up-and-kick-out with resulting press coverage, let alone what’s going to happen on the Twitter, is not congruent with the City’s desire to attract startups.
There is a solution. There are resources in place for this kind of thing now. I suggest using them. I’ve made some calls. And if anyone else has ideas for an amicable solution, well, I’m sure the lines are open.
Update 11/1/12: This story has a happy ending and that ending is here: Evicted Startup deja mi Will Relocate to HUB Raleigh.