Evan Dobos
by Evan Dobos in Deployments

Madrid (Weeks 1 & 2): Very Far Out of the Building

Already a third of the way into the program, and I just now feel like I’m wrapping my head around how this is all going to work.

After landing in Madrid, there wasn’t much time to get acquainted. I only had 3 hours in between baggage claim and my first session at Madrid Smart Lab. In between that, I had a subway map to decode, an AirBNB host to meet, and all of the confusion in between. Regardless, I was determined not to be late for the first session. The Madrid Smart Lab chose me out of 60 competing submissions from 12 different countries, and I have six weeks to show them they chose correctly.

What is the Madrid Smart Lab?

Their website says "Madrid Smart Lab is an initiative to launch innovative ideas and projects in the field of urban services in the city of Madrid."

My experience thus far is just that. I have been given access to a very cool workspace where myself and the other winners set up laptops for hours as well as attend sessions presented by experts in the various fields that entrepreneurs need to be savvy in. We are also given direct access to City Council where staff is essentially on call to provide any support we need. That may be connections to other people, permission to access information, setting up meetings, etc. We are very well supported and I intend to take full advantage of it.

The Challenges Showed up Early

Immediately, and naturally, the language barrier is an opposing force. Plenty of people here speak English, but because it is a second language, I’m unable to translate the tone in someone’s voice, for example, and that is a large part of communication. This issue is magnified as I speak about technical details of my software. I often wonder if what I said was truly understood, or even understandable.

I decided to put my focus on the project so that I can quickly reach a point and say “here it is”, and have them “hold it in their hands”. But at this point, I am weeks away from that. I wonder what it will be like in the meantime.

Very Far out of the Building

CivicLift plane ride to work on community development in MadridWhile at reSET’s Accelerator, there was a lot of talk about testing your assumptions and “getting out of the building” to do so. I found a lot of truth to that, and their encouragement to do so has proven it’s value again and again. Today, I am writing from a coffee shop in Madrid. I am two weeks into a six week pilot program to deploy CivicLift for Las Tablas, a community in a northern section of the city. If only being further out of the building meant a greater chance for success.

There are parts of me that are unstoppably confident, and other parts that are downright concerned, anxious, and worried. I am currently facing an important and pivotal assumption that I tried to account for and test as best as I could; that CivicLift will work in communities regardless of my being unfamiliar with them. I thought it was confirmed because after all, our deployment for Kent CT is succeeding and I knew very little about that small town. New Milford, CT - same thing. However, each of those communities are within a short drive from where I live - a very specific place on Earth that operates in ways I have grown accustomed to. Two weeks into my trip to Madrid, and I'm starting to see how naïve and narrow sighted my conclusion was. I was assuming and assumption. Yikes!

The Many Unaccounted for Factors

It’s all becoming clear to me now just how many factors I did not account for.

  • Not knowing anything about Kent, CT isn’t the same as not knowing anything about Las Tablas (wow, just saying that out loud is appalling me that I didn’t see it coming better).
  • Just how difficult the language barrier would be. I was told I would have an interpreter so I assumed everything was going to be fine. I do have one and he is doing his job perfectly. However, the delivery of speech is different as is the tonality, so there are many facets of communication that simply aren’t there. It is hard to put my finger on it, but it is definitely limiting.
  • The time it would take to get myself to a normal living standard. Find my way around effectively, get food in my refrigerator, buy the electrical outlet adapter that I forgot I needed, etc. If I am going to be traveling as part of my business, there is a lot of time smoothing over these rough edges that I would have to account for in the future.

Today VS. 6 Weeks from Today

This is the best test I could possibly ask for to confirm CivicLift’s concept. Even if the model won’t work as is, six weeks is a great amount of time to identify how I need to pivot and shift it so that it will work - anywhere! Today, my tail is in between my legs. I feel humbled, embarrassed, silly, foolish, etc. but after six weeks I will be up to pace and the experience will multiply my, and CivicLift’s, readiness.

Also read:

Evan Dobos

Evan Dobos

I started CivicLift because the communities I love – and the reasons why I love them – were impossible to discover online. Since my background is in web design and digital marketing, it bothered me to think about the missed visibility for the local businesses and events. After launching a few prototypes and witnessing the impact, CivicLift stole my heart and my team and I grew the idea into full scale software.