“What we learned and where we go from here”
When we launched our first project, 1351 H Street, we did not know what to expect. Crowdsourcing real estate development is a relatively new idea and although we believe in the process, we knew it would take some experimentation on our part to learn how to best engage with and involve the wider community.
Real estate by nature is not transparent; both tenants and landlords tend to be very secretive about any potential plans and normally fear community input. More often than not, the community is unaware of what businesses will be opening in their neighborhood until after the decision has been made. When we decided to ask people on the front end: “What would you build here?” we did not know if we would get a single response, much less thousands.
The 1st lesson: We were not clear enough in communicating with users and small businesses about what to expect from their involvement and how the process works.
How does the Popularise process work?
Popularise is NOT a contest. Popularise is a community engagement platform that can be used as a research and planning tool for gathering ideas, learning about local demand, and finding potential local business partners. Each member will use the platform differently depending upon the specifics of their project.
At 1351 H Street, our process was the following:
Step 1. More People = Better Information: After launching 1351 H Street, our goal was to reach out to as many local businesses and residents to submit ideas for what they would want to build on H St. The first period was about gaining as much local input as possible, so that the amount of data could be considered statistically representative of local demand.
Step 2. Analyze the Data: In sorting through the ideas, we tried to identify potential ideas that fit the physical constraints of the building, as well as viable businesses that had the ability to execute their plan. Not all ideas worked. Some popular ideas did not produce any real operators interested in opening a location on H Street. Many of the businesses suggested did not make sense for the building; the space is too large for just bagels and too small for a real gym. We also wanted to balance the popularity of a single idea vs. the fact that several similar concepts were posted multiple times. Lastly, focusing on what the locals wanted was important, although Popularise is an open platform, we wanted to give more weight to those who live, work, eat, & play in the H Street neighborhood.
Step 3. Combine Popularity + Financial Viability: Finally, we tried to combine the popularity of an idea with other traditional factors including economic viability of the business, track record of the operator, construction issues, long-term neighborhood potential, and most importantly the ability to execute on the idea. In a handful of cases, National bank and fast-casual chains expressed interest in the property, which may have produced a greater financial benefit, however (while this speaks to the growth occurring on H Street) we did not feel it was an accurate reflection of the popular demand.
How did we make our decision?
In looking at all the information received, we believe there was clear broad-based support for 3 popular ideas——daytime retail, a local market, and quality dining options—that the community felt would help expand H Street beyond a largely nightlife driven corridor. For example, a local market was submitted three times in different forms — Green Grocery & Bakery, 39% Produce, and Our Organic Market.
When DURKL first approached us with interest, we agreed that stand-alone retail faced many challenges and may not be viable on H Street today. Our solution was to find a partner that would help create critical mass and a destination, drawing customers beyond the traditional shopping times. Maketto, the collaboration between DURKL and Erik from Toki Underground brings together two local operators with strong track records; the concept combines all three ideas—-fashion, restaurant, and a market—-into something that we believe is both unique in Washington, DC and will be cutting-edge nationally.
What’s next for Maketto?
Both Erik and Will are committed to building something with and for the local residents and their supporters. As a way to engage with their future customers, they started the Maketto Mood Board, posting pictures of their favorite cuisine, fashion, and design as they look for inspiration and ideas in building Maketto.
We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about the Popularise process, our decision-making, and Maketto to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always excited to hear from our users.