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Intro


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Intro


Building a home for soloists.

The Solo Project provides inspiration, ideas, tools, and community for the country’s most ambitious soloists. We’re a media and research company, launched by the people who helped create and lead the Inc. Magazine and Fast Company brands. Here’s what we’re making:


The Quarterly

Coming soon: The Solo Quarterly, a 200-page print edition designed as a stunning owner’s manual for soloists. The Quarterly’s premium content will be distributed on newsstands and through the channels of select partners.

the daily

Our new website — to be launched alongside the Quarterly—will feature podcast and video channels exploring the lives of soloists, their smartest practices, and the new world of work they’re creating. The site will also feature a dedicated channel documenting the growth and evolution of the solo movement globally.

solo live

We’ll convene events, gatherings, and local membership groups to offer opportunities for soloists to network with each other, share experiences and practices, and help each other do business.

Research

In partnership with the Knight Foundation, we’re currently conducting the Solo City national research inquiry into the drivers of the solo economy, and what political, corporate, university, and social-sector leaders can do to support thriving populations of independent professionals and creatives.


Our job: Document the new world of work...

We’ll profile the people of the solo movement, photograph their workplaces, identify the tools and gear and technology they count on, and bring to life the ways they create the teams and peer communities that enable them to do their best work.

We’ll document the business models that make them money.

And we’ll report on the personal operating systems (the solo OS) that soloists have designed to drive their lives — the practices and habits, strategies and tactics that fellow soloists can learn from and put to use. 

The StudioMates shared office space in Brooklyn, New York. [Photograph by Julia Robbs]

The StudioMates shared office space in Brooklyn, New York. [Photograph by Julia Robbs]


...and supply soloists with what they need.

Alison and Alphonzo Cross, founders of The Boxcar Grocer in Atlanta

Alison and Alphonzo Cross, founders of The Boxcar Grocer in Atlanta

We’ll search out the solutions soloists create to solve the hardcore challenges that indie work presents:

  • creating sales and materials
  • organizing a workspace
  • finding trusted advisors
  • getting a loan (any loan)
  • managing office tech
  • getting paid on time
  • getting paid, period
  • balancing work & life
  • securing a financial future
  • identifying prospects
  • cold calling
  • negotiating
  • pricing
  • closing a deal
  • creating contracts
  • protecting IP
  • invoicing
  • doing quarterly taxes
  • building a website
  • creating a name
  • evaluating a partner
 

Solo will help you build a back office that keeps your business humming so you can get on with the work that drew you to the solo life in the first place.

keep scrolling for more examples of our people and ideas.

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MY SPACE


Casey Neistat
Commercial Filmmaker

MY SPACE


Casey Neistat
Commercial Filmmaker

Casey Neistat knows exactly where everything is.

The Soloist  Casey Neistat, freelance commercial filmmaker

Turning Point  Takes entire fee for Nike commercial and spends it on 10-day trip around the world with buddy. Films the trip. Edits the trip. Hands it to Nike. Nike ponders, then posts it. Outcome: 8 million views

Neistat’s Solo HQ  The most utilitarian studio possible, in Tribeca. Its mission: “Remove every obstruction that exists between me and completing a job,” says Neistat. “Anything I ever need to make one of my videos I should have right here, whether it’s a camera or a chainsaw. [And] every second I have to spend looking for something is a second I could be using to produce a video.” In Neistat’s HQ, everything has its very precise place. Call it one expression of two solo desires: an ardor for ordering the world, and a craving to invent the place where you love showing up every day. (Put Neistat’s workspace-design checklist in play to create the perfect Solo HQ of your own.).

For traditional employees, every facet of the work space is manufactured by the companies they work for. Soloists get to invent the spaces they inhabit, down to the smallest details.

 
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my first gig


Sara Noble
Executive Recruiter

my first gig


Sara Noble
Executive Recruiter

Work/life balance solution #4: retool your business model.

 

The Soloist  Sara Noble, executive recruiter in the thought-leadership industrial complex. Formerly a media exec and editor at Time, The Atlantic, Inc., and the Harvard Business Review

The Work/Life Solution  Mid-career, Noble was starting a family and wanted to take more time than a corporate maternity policy would allow. The solution: go solo to create a company where she determined the HR policies. But as Noble’s exploration of indie business options reveals, getting work/life balance right means not just figuring out which kind of work to pursue, but the right business model for pursuing it. (Does your model need retooling?)

 

No surprise, the quest for lifestyle flexibility, control, and better work/life balance or family friendliness is a major driver of soloing. Adept soloists design their businesses to customize the right mix of conditions: schedule rigidity, boundaries, labor-intensity, location flexibility, and operational complexity.

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SOLO HQ


The Jane Hotel
Boutique Hotel

SOLO HQ


The Jane Hotel
Boutique Hotel

The first solo hotel in America.

 
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Solo Habitat  The Jane Hotel, New York City

When  Any road trip whose itinerary includes Manhattan 

Why  $79 a room, for starters, smack between the West Village and the Hudson, not to mention a thousand hotels charging five times as much. Of course, what you get is not exactly a “room.” More like a sleeper on the Lakeshore Limited — a berth, more like. But in the new age of covering one’s own expenses, The Jane is both an oasis in the Manhattan desert and evidence of an industry sensing a market. And every soloist filling its sunlit breakfast café knows it. (See our list of more Jane-like soloist-loving habitats.)

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a solo life


Nancy deSantis

Therapist

a solo life


Nancy deSantis

Therapist

Show me the meaning.

The Soloist  Nancy DeSantis, equine therapist, cofounder (with former Green Beret Rick Ianucci, also her husband) of Cowboy Up!, a program to help post-911 combat veterans re-acclimate to civilian life. Should be easy to raise funding for work like that, yes? Well, in fact, no. So DeSantis developed a method for attracting the interest—and capital—of benefactors. Here, she shares it. “Meaning” is just the start.

briefs

Solo HQ  Crossed Arrows Ranch, 15 miles outside Santa Fe, complete with bunk house and chores. Illustrates how to merge an admin operation with the work. You don’t need one of those apps that remind you not to sit too long.

The Work/Life Solution  Ride, says DeSantis. In high country, if possible. DeSantis and Ianucci quote Churchill: “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Brand-Building  Imagery is powerful — but DeSantis learned, via misstep, that all imagery isn’t powerful in the same way. She describes how to discriminate.

 

Many solo lives are born of the hunger people have for work that’s meaningful but that also makes them a living. Soloing is often a path to resolving that tension.

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MY OS


Dan Cederholm
Technologist

MY OS


Dan Cederholm
Technologist

It’s the Project Economy, stupid.

The Soloist  Dan Cederholm, technologist, designer, author, co-founder of Dribbble and the late, lamented Cork’d

Operating System  When Cederholm found himself on web teams in the early days of the Internet, he discovered that all his education and training to date had left something out: No one had ever taught him how to thrive as part of a project team, much less how to lead one. So he devised his own individualized method for driving projects to completion. Follow him as he decodes that project-management system in action today — all 21 steps of it

The entire management canon has been about how organizations get work done. Solo is about how individuals get work done. (Every soloist designs an “operating system”—a personal “solo OS.”)

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PLACE


Samantha Finigan
Shopkeeper

PLACE


Samantha Finigan
Shopkeeper

Location. Location. Location.

The Soloist  Samantha Finigan, cofounder with business partner Whitney Swaffield of Gus & Ruby Letterpress

The Plan  Finigan always “knew that I wanted to craft and create my own career” — she just didn’t know what that career would be. She did, however, know where it would be: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a red-brick-and-clapboard colonial town on the New England seacoast, a place she discovered was thick on the ground with “really cool people doing really cool things in very small ways.” Not to mention it was beautiful. Not to mention it felt, almost from the moment she visited it, like home. So she did what so many soloists are doing: she designed her intentional worklife by sorting the where part first, and the what part second.

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a solo life


Richard Saul Wurman
Information Architect

a solo life


Richard Saul Wurman
Information Architect

The science of failing forward.

 

The Soloist  Richard Saul Wurman, TED founder, creator of the “information architecture” discipline, and author of 83 books. Wurman’s formula for outsized success is simple: spend sixteen years failing at everything you do, then start over. From scratch.

briefs

Philosophy  “Sell your ignorance, not what you know. Once you do something well and start repeating it, you’re toast.”

My OS  Wurman walks us through a day in his work life. There is no detail so small that it hasn’t been designed as carefully as a TED talk.

Prophecy  Five years from now we won’t talk about education, we'll talk about learning, and there won't be teachers, there will be guides.”

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findings


Findings
Insights on the solo phenomenon

findings


Findings
Insights on the solo phenomenon

The five pillars
of a sustainable solo life.

The Research  What attributes predict success as a soloist? According to ongoing research by The Solo Project, they’re not the ones you might think. The strongest predictors are these:

  1. Tolerance of ambiguity. (And by “tolerance of” we mean “hunger for.”)
  2. Adequate professional network capital.
  3. Mastery, but not of everything. One highly leverageable competency trumps versatility.
  4. The ability to fall in love easily (but mostly with ideas and projects).
  5. A sense of “calling” — or at least the feeling that your work is more authentically interesting than you can reasonably resist.

Research about the solo phenomenon is core to The Solo Project. How are soloists and small teams changing entrepreneurial ecosystems? How do they influence taste and trends? What does it mean that they’ve become R&D labs for large established companies?

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a solo life


Eryn Erickson
Social Entreprenuer

a solo life


Eryn Erickson
Social Entreprenuer

Test and learn. (And apply.)

The Soloist  Eryn Erickson, social entrepreneur, recording artist, clothing designer, founder of So Worth Loving. As Erickson pursued her social mission by creating a constellation of offerings around it, she developed her own version of what might be a core solo competency: How to extract lessons from the last gig and apply them so they transform the prospects of the next.

briefs

My Team  Erickson knew she needed mentoring, psychic support, and tactical advice. Here’s how she built that support not by turning to her personal network, but by tapping followers and customers instead.

Road Trip  How to conduct customer research, do grass-roots marketing, jazz your web site with visual content, and replenish your personal juice — all at once. (First: rent a van.)

Business media ignores solo professional life — depriving soloists-in-progress of models whose experiences and know-how can inspire their own design thinking. A Solo Life, an ongoing series by The Solo Project, will bring those models to the fore.

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TREND


CoCo Minneapolis
Coworking Space

TREND


CoCo Minneapolis
Coworking Space

Welcome to the (reimagined) neighborhood.

The HQ  CoCo, a coworking space housed in the former Minneapolis Grain Exchange, built in 1881

Entrepreneurship can be lonely, no form more so than soloing. Coworking spaces re-create the “community” that is a part of working in an established company at its best. CoCo goes further, dividing much of its space into intentionally diverse mini-neighborhoods — seeding what become self-forming social networks. Jane Jacobs would feel right at home.

 

The rapid expansion of the coworking industry is one example of the new products and services emerging to serve the solo market.

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a solo life


Marc English
Designer & Teacher

a solo life


Marc English
Designer & Teacher

The reluctant soloist.

The Soloist  Marc English, Driftwood, Texas (most of the time). Online educator, graphic designer, speaker, explorer — twenty years a soloist and still wrestling with the fact. Candid about the core solo challenge of building a team when there’s no organization automatically surrounding you with one. “I always wanted to be part of a band,” says English.

briefs

Lyrics Matter  English’s touchstone: “‘I was alone, I took a ride, I didn’t know what I would find there.’ Revolver. Pretty much covers it, no?”

My OS  As a designer who teaches design in online grad programs, English is constantly writing critiques of student work. It’s helped him “articulate design ideas sharply, a huge asset when later dealing with clients.” His operating-system tip: practice explaining your ideas in writing.

Gear  Google Earth. “I use it as some use porn.” Examine topography, choose back roads, open photos people have dropped, and get excited about new places to go. Applicable to any journey. Doesn’t hurt to have a motorcycle.