$300,000.00.

That was the grant we were awarded this week from Lilly Endowment, Inc.

$300,000.00.

That is more revenue than the first 3 years Nine13 existed. It’s more than what we brought in for the entirety of 2016.

$300,000.00.

That gets 20,000 new Kids Riding Bikes participants over the next 2 years.

This is about the future. A future that looks a bit more stable for Nine13. A future that allows us to look out over the next two years instead of the next two weeks. A chance for us to continue to make an impact and change, to continue to strive to make Indy a little bit better.

Simultaneously, this has been five years of hard work to build this thing up. Unless you have been behind the scenes, you won’t ever truly know how many days it was so very close to burning to the ground. My commitment over these next few weeks is to put together a post about what behind the scenes looked like, mainly so I can appreciate where the past has brought us.

I got the call on Thursday at 3PM and Friday I found myself in the office before 7AM prepping the equipment orders and logistics. The celebrations have been plenty, but the hard work has just begun.

I feel like I have had a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as we have spent the last year working directly on this project. It got accelerated and advanced back in January and we had known for the last couple of weeks that the final review would be on Thursday. I’ve been one big nervous ball of energy all week as I waited for that call. Fortunately, I was surrounded my friends as it came in. The hug from CK, the first one who got to me after I hung up the phone, was one that I look forward to returning when he wins the Indy 500. I realized that in that moment, this was my version of the Indy 500.

I wouldn’t be here without my team. And it’s one hell of a team. Not just my actual staff, but everyone who has played a supporting role on this journey. I often try to find a word besides “humbled” when it comes to describing the entirety of this journey, but I can’t. I am so constantly overwhelmed by what you all have done for me. The amount of times I have to take a breath and compose myself or sit in my car for 10 minutes after I park to process life in a quiet setting would make you laugh.

My Banker told me to make sure I was enjoying the moment. To not jump into the process of what is next/what has to be ordered/what next deal is on the horizon.  I laughed a bit. She was right, enjoying the moment isn’t my strongest skill. I will forever be moving fast, breaking stuff, asking for forgiveness instead of permission; but this moment has been so overwhelming that for once I can do nothing BUT enjoy it.

My COO and I have a weekly Friday afternoon meeting over beer (our C-Suite meeting) that has become one of my most sacred chunks of time every week. It is where we decompress, talk about the past and the future and what needs to be done. It is where we have spent the last 6 months since we started the weekly meeting dreaming about this day. Friday afternoon we had it and we sat there and looked at one another. Took a sip of our beer. Laughed. And processed what had occurred over the previous 24 hours. We both were emotionally exhausted. We both had fought like hell to get here. The silence of that moment was the first time I processed what the meaning of all of this meant: We did it. We survived. And we’re better for it.

And guess what? There is more coming down the pipeline….this party has just begun…

 

Cheers,

-th

My goal has never been to be in the public spotlight.

And I’ve honestly struggled with that at times over these last few years as the organization has continued to grow and I’ve been privileged to have a broader presence in the media and public forums.

My goal has always been to do what is best for the youth we serve. And, to make a difference. And while I feel fortunate to be able to have the reach and audience I do, I still try to fly under the radar with certain projects.

One of those things is what I’m writing about today. And I’m sharing it, not because I want praise or commentary; I’m sharing it because I want to inspire you to think big, even if sharing this makes me a little uneasy.

Earlier this afternoon I took a homeless gentleman to lunch. Let’s call him “Mike” for purposes of this blog.

I was so angry after reading about the bomb threat this morning at the Indianapolis Jewish Community Center that I decided I would complete a personal challenge I began back in September of 2013. Back then, just beginning the process of getting divorced and figuring out what and where my life was heading, I decided that at some point before I died, I wanted to take 25 people to lunch who I met on the street who were down on their luck. It was a pretty straightforward concept I laid out with some simple rules:

  • I had to do it spur of the moment and couldn’t put it on my calendar in advance.
  • I would take them to wherever I was already planning on going.
  • I would make it clear that this wasn’t part of some religious or church program (and often would joke about how I’m just happy I don’t burst into flames when I go to church on Christmas Eve).
  • I would offer to buy them anything on the menu except alcohol.
  • I would ask if they wanted to order another meal to go.
  • I would ask if they wanted me to introduce them to the manager and see if they were hiring.
  • I wouldn’t ask about their past or how they got to the moment in time sitting across from me.
  • I would listen.
  • I would be raw and real about my past, present, and future.
  • I would typically give them what cash I had on me, or buy them a gift card for food in the future.
  • I would sit at a table with them instead of my usual preference of sitting at the bar (more than I can say for most relationships I’ve been in).
  • I would never pressure them into joining me, instead I would simply lead with, “my name is Tom. I’d love to buy you lunch right now if you’re willing to sit down and talk with me for the next hour or so.”

Mike joined me for lunch at a quick-serve establishment. I had seen him in the parking lot on previous occasions. I asked if he wanted to join. He lit up at the opportunity more so than most with a big smile and a firm handshake. We went through line, ordered, and sat down. He started the conversation with what I have learned is pretty standard, “Why are you doing this?”

“Because, I can. Because I love this city and everyone in it. Because I don’t know you, but I know that we aren’t any different. Because, we are all residents of No Mean City.”

He wept a tear or two away. He began to tell me about his life, growing up here, losing his home after his wife died a few years ago and how he just stopped going to work. How they didn’t have any kids and he had felt forgotten by his siblings. How he had started using drugs while he still had his house after his wife died and that’s why he stopped going to work.

It was my turn to wipe a tear or two away.

We chatted about his past and my past. I shared with him my losses and loves. I shared with him why I love Indianapolis. We laughed about the Colts. We talked about the neighborhood he grew up in. He told me he has bounced in and out of shelters for about 2 years now. He said he has been sober for a few months now and recently reconnected with his sister who lives in Pittsburgh and she was saving up to get him a ticket out there.

I asked how much he thought the ticket was. He told me.

I asked if I booked it for him, would he use it.

He said yes.

So, I booked it.

The reality is that I’ve had this one last lunch to buy to hit my original goal of 25 people joining me stalled and was stagnant for more than 6 months because I just hadn’t gotten around to making it happen. There was exactly 1 person who knew about this project of mine and that was only because I ran into her out at lunch one day with a stranger she had never met and she had some questions for me after the fact.

It has been an adventure. I’ve walked into a place where I was told that the gentleman had previously been asked to leave for asking for cash from customers and had to vouch to allow him to be seated. I’ve had to lend a sport coat to a guy who joined me at the Club so he met the dress code. I’ve sat at my usual spot in my usual places and made introductions between the manager and my guest. I’ve had the guy who really wanted to teach me the ways of religion and was very angry at me that I didn’t go to church regularly. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried. I’ve had a series of relationships that only lasted an hour.

And.

I don’t know what the current status is of any of the 25 people I’ve shared a meal with. Maybe that’s selfish of me, I know I’m at capacity with my schedule and life and I don’t have more capability than lunch and conversation. But, for that hour or so I’ve spent with these individuals, I’ve been able to share in raw discussion without filter. We don’t always agree on politics, religion, the city, schools and education, but the conversation and discourse is a process that carries a tone of respect with it from both sides of the table.

This is about our city, our community, our people. I don’t write this about me, I write this to ask you to find your way to do something good. It doesn’t have to be something grand, but I am sure there is something out there that you already do that you can modify in a small way to serve others.

Just do good. Be you. Embrace what our city is and the culture we have here. Represent No Mean City.

 

Cheers,

-th

The past month has been a brutal pace for me and the entire Nine13 team. If you’ve followed us on social media, we were fortunate to be part of a grant contest that had two rounds to it: a public vote for the final 10 to be narrowed down to 5, and an employee vote that engaged their staff and let them decide who got what grant amount.

First place: $125,000

Fifth place: $25,000

Everything else, somewhere in the middle.

We’re a small and scrappy nonprofit, it’s our brand, it’s my motto. To me, this time, this year, this grant, it was personal. $125,000 will get 10,000 more Kids Riding Bikes. It will allow us to grow programs and serve the backlog of 250+ schools in Central Indiana. It will provide additional stability for the success and future of our operations.

We worked with mayors and mascots for the public vote to help spread the word and over the course of the last week, either visited or called hundreds of stores as part of their retail operations.

It’s been a challenge, in addition to getting 1,200 kids on bikes in Central Indiana this week, my Communications Director was dialing 250 stores in dozens of states. I spent my Thursday and Friday on the road to talk with stores in Ohio and Kentucky. The rubber-band that keeps us together as an organization was stretched near its breaking point. Tempers have been short. Days have been long. The alarm has gone off way too early time and time again as I lay there trying to get what little sleep I could in the midst of the stress and strategy and focus. 

one of the 15 stores I personally visited.

But, it has also been one of the most rewarding things I have done recently. Being out in the field, talking with their staff and being able to genuinely thank the managers and retail operations team that helps make their support possible created dozens of conversations that reinforced why I do what I do. Being able to put a face to our brand and share with them the impact they have is something that I hope will ultimately help their internal team continue to reinforce the message on why their corporate philanthropy is important.

Simultaneously, I’m cooked. This has been a commitment above and beyond. We were motivated, and while I never mind dancing/dialing/begging for my dinner (my description of what I actually do when it comes to fundraising and being CEO of a nonprofit)….damn, this was hard.

As I was spending the final hours of my Friday night calling stores on the west coast with my communications director, I had a bit of an epiphany.

This effort is what sets us apart from the rest. This is what makes Nine13 special. We’re relentless, we don’t take no for an answer, we have spent 5 years fighting to get where we are today and I’ll consider us a failure if we ever stop being the scrappy, non-traditional, aggressively positioned nonprofit. We could have been passive and hoped name brand would carry us. We could have shrugged our shoulders and said “it’s all about luck now.”

Instead, we kicked ass. I won’t find out till April 11 on where we finished. We’re privileged for any amount we receive, yet we made a case on why we should have a fighting chance at the top.

Business shouldn’t sound this personal, right? Most CEO’s don’t get so involved in a project like this.

This is personal to me. This is my life. This is my passion. This is my vision. There is no separation between work and personal for me. This is where I have spent the last 6 years of my life. This is the only head-space I know. We’ve had a hell of a lot more losses than victories. I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. But the victories, the wins, those special moments where everything comes together even when I was told time and time again that this would never work—those victories are just so sweet.

All I know is that when I climbed into bed at 1AM this morning I knew we had given it everything we had and we left it all on the field. If we lose, we simply lost.

And if we win? Hell Yes. Because it means more Kids Riding Bikes.

 

Cheers,

-th

photo from IBJ Forty Under 40. February 13, 2017

Thoughts I’ve had during the last few weeks….

“Sink or swim,” is really just a crafty way to say, die or live.

“Survival is my best revenge,” is just a snarky way to say, you underestimated me, joke is on you.

“Fake it till you make it,” is the justification of entrepreneurs that translates to, not really sure where rent is going to come from next month.

“There is no such thing as too much positive press,” is really just my communications director telling me, quit complaining about being in the spotlight and feeling so overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed. That’s the best and only way to describe the last few weeks. And I’m humbled.

I won’t rehash it after the social media stuff this week, but landing on the IBJ Forty Under 40 list is the biggest recognition of my professional career, especially after just turning 30.

I’m moved by the outpouring of support, kind words, congratulations, and meaningful conversations that have occurred over these last weeks. Since Saturday, my phone hasn’t had a fighting chance to make it through the day on a single charge. You are all simply wonderful.

It’s weird to be sitting down and writing again. Looking back, I realize the tone of my public writing is almost bi-polar in nature, from dark and raw to living and loving on my favorite city. But, that’s an accurate representation of the last 16 months or so. It’s authentic, even if it has not always been pretty.

For the last year my progress with the book has been nonexistent as I’ve worked on more pressing life things. My public posts have been as infrequent as my personal writing and most of the ink I’ve put on paper over the last year went to the thank you notes and written correspondence I am so fond of sending these days.

In a layer of total transparency, I’m sure my lack of writing has had to do with my desire to feel like I have control over something and can dictate what I choose to share. I’ve been making the effort to carve out time for me, protect the few pieces of my life I like to keep out of the public eye, and have been making the effort to spend time with my genuine friends and not just working 24/7. The feverish pace of the last five years got me to this exact moment in time and I wouldn’t change them, but to survive the pace of the next five years I know I need to be better about looking out for me.

And in looking out for me, I need to get back to writing.

So, here’s the deal, my commitment is to get back to writing and posting something on this blog once per week between now and April 1. I’ve blocked out some time on my calendar to work on various writing projects where I can have a clear head and get my words down. You’ll see something from me somewhere between Monday and Saturday every week. Writing grounds me, centers me, and makes me realize when I’m taking myself too seriously/being too arrogant/selfish. My goal is what it has always been, to be authentic and dive into the bad just as much as the good.

Looking forward to giving you more to read.

cheers,
-th

It’s been a year since I said goodbye to Denver. Since we had our last conversation. Since I held her hand for the final time.

It’s been a year since I lost my best friend, my confidant, my trusted advisor, my partner-in-crime.

It’s been a year and the heartbreak is still raw. The pain still so very real.

It’s been a year.

How the hell has it been a year?

Monday, tomorrow or today depending on when you read this, marks 366 (thanks Leap Year) days since she peacefully slipped away surrounded by friends and family.

It seems like yesterday. It seems like 10 years ago. It still seems unreal she isn’t here.

There are a dozen things a week that happen that make me instinctively want to go to Denver regarding advice. There are a million moments where I think “she’d be really proud of this,” or, “she’d tell me I was doing something incredibly foolish.” Reading that sentence makes me sound selfish, and oftentimes I wonder “did I give her as much as she gave me? Did I move her world like she moved mine?”

I think I did. I hope I did. It’s why I think we made such a good team.

I think this photo was just to prove she had fully adopted the Hoosier state

I walk into Chatham and look at the table we always used to sit at (it was one of the few with access to a power outlet for our laptops…because, you know…entrepreneurs work out of bars…), and I walk into the Speak Easy still looking for her at her old spot at the main table or glance at my original perch where we had our earliest conversations and where I fell absolutely head over heels for her. 

Those moments still take my breath away and hit me in the gut. Hard.

This community has been amazing, both how you all cared for her when she was alive and how you’ve helped honor her in death. From awards to memorials to a beautiful brick at the Speedway; it’s been a community effort that has allowed her legacy to live on.

This week, we’re going to collectively celebrate Denver’s legacy in a way that I hope will carry on for years to come. We collectively have some tricks up our sleeve, because if you know Denver, you know she loved surprises. And she gave us all one last big one…she outdid herself one last time. 

The appreciation I have for the Hutt family is immense. We’ve navigated the last year together, grieved collectively, and are connected in a timeless bond. The people Denver left to take care of me, the ones she knew I would be in good hands with, have helped me navigate the lows that make it hurt that much more and have helped me celebrate the highs of the last year in a way that she would approve.

Denver-I miss you. And I wake up in the morning with a goal to make you proud. I strive to represent this city with the same passion you did in your time here. I yearn to help finish what you started. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have Nine13, I wouldn’t have found a belief that I could succeed when nobody else expected me to do so. You kicked my ass, you pushed me to think big, think differently, challenge norms, blow up the status quo and (occasionally) be politically correct. You showed me how to be a better man, a better partner, a better friend. You helped me find me.

But you never taught me how to lose you.

And I never wanted to learn.

In all fairness.

You never learned how to ride a bike.

And I wanted you to.

So I guess we’re even.

I hope you’re proud of me. I know I’m so proud of you. Every. Damn. Day.

I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart.

 

Love. Forever.

-th

 

I’ve had enough.

Enough of the people saying that “Indianapolis is just too humble,” and, “We’re just afraid to admit we’re cool.”

I’m a Midwestern kid with Midwest Lake roots, and I love the low key nature of my fellow natives.

But, we’re doing damage to ourselves. We’re holding our city hostage by not being willing to say “Indianapolis is the best damn city in the country.”

That laid back attitude has been why it’s taken so long for Indy to start to be recognized across the country in various surveys and articles. The Humble-Hoosier mentality is great when we’re all out together on a Friday night, but I’m begging you that when you start talking to people from outside Indy, brag about how cool we are.

Don’t lead with, “well shucks, the cost of living is low, and the young professional scene is friendly, and every May the Snakepit is a lot of fun.”

How about, “we have a great culture of arts/food/sports/young people kicking ass/it’s a fun place to live, work, play…and it’s only getting better.”

Yes, it can seem a little tacky and forced to have to lead with the fact our city is the gem of the Midwest. But, here’s the thing, NOBODY else is going to do it for us. We’re not even faking it till we make it like so many startups do–we’re already hot and fun and have turned this from a one night stand into a long term relationship of awesomeness.

Seriously. Drop the Hoosier-Humbleness. Just stop.

Ever talk to an Ohio State or Notre Dame fan? You know in the first two minutes that they’re fans and that they think it’s awesome, and they’re awesome, and everything about their passion is awesome. I’m not saying go all scarlet and gray on me, but find some middle ground. For once, I encourage you to be a bit like those fan bases. Proclaim loudly that Indianapolis is awesome.

Sure, we have our issues (who doesn’t?) and I can look at our young leadership in Central Indiana surrounded by rural county thinking and understand our desire to be quiet and reserved so we don’t rock the boat with fellow Hoosiers…but you know what? The successes we have here continue to carry the weight of those other counties even when they don’t like us because we’re equality supporting/want to buy beer on Sundays/risk taking/risk tolerant/public transit craving young professionals.

This is a bottom-up movement. The kind of thing we need buy-in from the mid-twenties crowd. We need to enable and encourage those young professionals who both grew up here and showed up with their bags for their first job out of college, to embrace the representation when they travel, to be an evangelist for Indianapolis, and be damn proud of what this city is. I can shout it from the rooftops, so can my age, industry, and community peers…but we need buy-in from the youngest of the professional base to represent the truth about this great town.

Think I’m right and you want to stand behind this with me? I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and we can plot.

Think I’m wrong and think I’m an idiot and Indianapolis is just a Cow-Town? I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and you can tell me why I’m wrong.

Make your 2017 resolution to be a champion for Indianapolis. Share it with those you talk with. Post about it on social media (and use the always awesome #NoMeanCity hashtag). And find other ways to get involved like IndyHub, JCI, Forte, Leadership Indianapolis, and many more.

And, if I ask you over coffee what your favorite thing about Indy is and you say “cost of living”, I apologize in advance for the comments that will come out of my mouth.

 

Cheers,

-th

This is the place I stand
These are the boards I pace
Walk ‘em with graceful steps
The show will go on and on and on and on

-The Get Up Kids

It’s been a few months, eh?

As I sit here this morning, contemplating all that has happened in 2016; it’s hard to process all that has occurred since January.

I’ve written love letters about this city. I’ve penned my heart and soul for public consumption. I’ve navigated dating and relationships. I’ve said goodbye to those I’ve loved. I’ve held the hand of a loved one as they took their final breath. I turned 30. I found success. I experienced failure. I celebrated new professional developments. I was recognized with some cool awards. I was told yes by lots of corporate partners. I was told no to lots of my business pitches.

Most importantly, I survived.

Consider it moral pride, foolish bravado, but this will go down as a year of survival in the midst of all the good and the bad. Mourning, shattered, stressed, it took me the better part of 2016 to find myself again. It happened in August on a houseboat. It was the grounding point in an otherwise chaotic year.

I’m fortunate. And I thank you for that. You helped me get here and navigate the ups and downs along the way. You helped remind me to cherish the victories and learn from the losses. You showed me what it meant to be loved by a community.

I’m humbled. And I can’t tell you how much I look forward to getting to work every morning to be able to serve our youth. I’m honored at the recognition that has been bestowed for the dedication of my entire team. I’m in awe of the talent that has asked to come work for Nine13sports.

I got an email from a friend in January that simply said, “Tom, the entire city has their arms around you right now. I hope you know that.” Thank you Britt for that email. Those few words have stuck with me all year.

My relationship with my mentors have grown, and without their gentle guiding hand I wouldn’t have been able to navigate to where we stand today from where I stood 12 months back. They helped me walk with grace along the way.

This year will mark the year my parents began to make their plans for what is next in their lives and that includes moving to Central Indiana in 2017. I’m excited and ready for the positive change that will come from living in the same city as them for the first time in 13 years.

I wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you has been a driving force for me. I hope you take pride in what I’ve been able to accomplish. I beg you to know that you are why I stand here today. This will only continue in 2017 and beyond, and I will attack every day with the goal of making you proud through the impact we can collectively have in this city.

You. All of 2016 has been possible because of you: the family, the friends, the significant other, the partner-in-crime, the family of my partner-in-crime, the enabler, the naysayers, the relationships I’ve said hello to, the relationships I’ve said goodbye to, Jim’s legacy, the corporate partners, the foundation partners, the business relationships that have become friendships, my staff, my friends that have become staff, my staff that have always been friends, SKL family, my board, the ex co-founder, the ex-wife, and of course, my three awesome dogs.

You’re all incredible, and in some way shape or form, I love you all because you’re a driving force in my world.

The best is yet to come.

 

Love,

-th

Time to write has been a fleeting thought recently. It’s been a nonstop barrage of program sites, meetings, pitches, phone calls, after hour events, and what felt like a 3 week birthday celebration all since I last wrote.

I’m sitting here in the new Speak Easy space a week before it opens to the public, amid the smell of freshly painted walls and newly laid floor mixing with the scent of old brick and history. It’s a place that immediately feels as much of a home as the original Speak Easy did when I walked into it on March of 2013.

And it’s this perch at this bar in the middle of this empty room that has me reflecting on the lifetime that has been lived since I walked into the Speak Easy that first day.

Professionally, I’m so happy with Nine13 and where’s going. It’s beyond my wildest dreams from the early days of my dysfunctional startup idea, and it’s all happened despite being told time and time again that it would never work and I would fail. Deals never get done as quick as I want, but if that’s our biggest hurdle, I’m sitting in a good place.

But, I’ve been feeling a little restless. I feel like I haven’t had a good battle in a while. I feel like everything has been going too well. I feel myself apprehensively looking over my shoulder wondering about when the bottom is going to drop out. I cringe when I see a text or phone call come across from a sponsor or donor worried that they’re going to pull the rug out from my bliss. I’m cautiously hopeful on these last few deals we are wrapping up for 2016 and already beginning to focus on what the second half of 2017 will bring and the what if’s that go with that.

Basically, I feel like things have gotten too easy for me. It’s an odd place to be standing given what the last decade has brought where nothing was easy; but I’ve always known I play the role of outsider trying to break in better than genuine insider.

And just like when I joined the Speak Easy back in 2013 with the goal of disrupting the archaic nonprofit industry in some small way, my goal and re-commitment as I sit here today is to never settle, to not rest on what I’ve done and what we’ve accomplished, on who I’ve pissed off and been able to defeat.

I’ve been on a punk rock kick (….for the last 18 years) and in the words of the Descendents in their song When I Get Old, I’m reminded about what’s important in the days, weeks, months, and years to come: “Will I still want to be someone, and not just sit around?” / “will I still kiss my girlfriend, and try to grab her ass?” / “Will I do myself proud, or only what’s allowed?”

and that last one, “Will I do myself proud, or only what’s allowed?” is my favorite.

And that’s my motto for the foreseeable future, to make sure that I’m pushing boundaries that I think are there to be pushed, to use my position to further my vision of a better Indy, and to collaborate with all the amazing people I have in my life.

So, let’s rock.

-th