What is it that pulls us to a city? The food? Music? Weather? Culture? Whatever the draw, I’ve always been curious why folks grow roots in Denver. Jason and I had a conversation about this some weeks back. For me, it was school and my career. Simple. For him, Denver is his woods: a place where you have the time and space to learn, grow, and build. All without distraction.
Jason was dropping GEMS when we first talked about this. And this idea started to form that this needed to be a bigger conversation about Denver, being an entrepreneur, and finding your woods. It also felt important to get another perspective on Denver. Maybe a homegrown point of view.
So we sat down with Jevon Taylor, a Black entrepreneur, a friend of Studio J Lorne, CEO and Owner of Green Spaces, and the guy we pay every month for our office space haha. Green Spaces is a coworking/community marketplace in Denver and Jevon has it into a hub for collaboration and community. He also happens to be a Denver native. Homegrown.
This conversation between Jason and Jevon was loosely moderated by myself but largely dictated by a real ass conversation between two successful Black entrepreneurs talking about the woods…
It was key to kick off this conversation with an explanation of the woods. So I asked Jason to explain…
(JASON) “I say Denver is my woods because I can’t be distracted here. I used to live in Boulder, but I didn’t really come down to Denver. I was up there for work and to FOCUS. AND I couldn’t drive until I was 28 lol. It’s like some big movie you’ve been dying to see…you wait years for the premiere, you get all dressed up, you rent a limo, the whole nine JUST for this movie you’ve anticipated. Imagine doing all of that then…meh. I had hyped up Denver so much before moving down here and I was a little let down.
I thought this was gonna be like Philly, San Francisco, New York, or something like that. I thought the culture would jump out and punch me in the face…and it didn’t. I used to complain about it, but eventually I stopped complaining and saw the opportunity here by framing Denver as my woods. With no cultural or social distraction, this became a place where I could be rooted in my work and really build.
Shortly after that I met Jevon, rented out an office space at Green Spaces, and through him I realized I was wrong to think there’s no culture here. I’ve had to find really seek it out and find it through connections, but it’s HERE.
Jevon then gave his take on Denver. As a Denver native, he grew up here, left for college, came back, and has really built something. We were curious if it was his woods too…
(JEVON) “I think Denver is a place and a people to experience. It’s not like any other city. Denver is its own thing. You truly just have to be here. And growing up, I would say there wasn’t much in the city for me. And today, there may not be a lot of Black people in Denver, BUT there’s tons of opportunity for Black people in Denver. And we’re lacking the spaces. I think that was the gap that False Ego and now Green Spaces are trying to fill.”
Jason mentioned he has a theory that there’s, “something here”. In terms of culture, magic, creativity, potential…and folks might be guarding it.
(JASON) “If you look at modern world history, big cities and people of color in urban areas are the largest biggest contributors to culture and the zeitgeist. And then you have a city like Denver that doesn’t have an obvious, smack-you-in-the-face, contribution that comes to mind. While this isn’t really considered a hub for POC expression, like how you’d think of New York or Atlanta, I don’t think it’s because nothing is happening here…I just think people are guarding it. I have this funky feeling there’s something here the world is gonna latch onto.”
In very different ways, Jason and Jevon have found a way to do what they do while offering opportunities to folks around them they trust. Like the “He Ain’t Heavy” idea, right? So it’s worth asking, “Why have both of them felt so drawn to this, and how do you balance that with getting established as entrepreneurs?”
(JEVON) “It’s a purpose-driven thing. “Life is all about scaling walls. And everywhere we go, we bring a ladder. You can’t bring everyone with you, but you can offer a ladder (when it makes sense for you), and they can choose if they want to use it.”
(JASON) “I always go back to this old proverb from my friends at the Black Innovation Alliance: If you want to go fast, GO ALONE. But I want to go far, so I’m bringing some folks with me. I can’t do this alone, and I don’t want to. In school, I was groomed for toxic agency culture, a very solo/be the star or be nothing-minded paradigm. While you can get some good things out of those toxic agencies (skills, tools, thick skin, etc.), that type of toxicity is not the vision I have for myself or our people.
Our visions can’t be realized without the people. And yet, that balance that we find as entrepreneurs and builders…woo it can be hard to find. You want to give people opportunities, but some people can’t go where you’re going.”
Jevon was also curious to know how you make time and space to be a resource without being taken advantage of.
(JASON) “A word of advice: INK IT. The ink keeps us honest haha. Set some terms! Some people are worth stretching for, but most times, you gotta know where your line is and find what works for you.”
Aside from finding balance and establishing boundaries, what else has challenged Jason and Jevon about being an entrepreneur here?
(JASON) “I don’t have a least favorite part, but my challenge is just building a professional network.”
Jevon has been struggling with his professional network too, but in a different way. You would NOT believe the rooms Jevon occupies and the people he’s connected to. As he was building the concept for Green Spaces, folks were intrigued and very supportive. But it takes more than intrigue to build a business. He opened up about the journey he’s had with building Green Spaces and says that when he reached a point where he needed REAL resources, there were some crickets.
(insert crickets and awkward silence)
Make no mistake, there were folks who came through for him in so many ways, but he was disappointed that there were also some folks who didn’t. When we heard Jevon talking about the lack of support and lack of follow through from certain people in the community, and it HURT.
(JASON) “We help people fight against exactly this. That’s why SJL exists.”
Jason’s advice for entrepreneurs once they’re in these rooms…
“Your ask HAS to be clear, and it HAS to position your audience in a place of understanding.”
When it comes to positioning your product or idea…
“When you’re in these rooms, meeting these people, they may filter your reality to match THEIR perspective. And they might try to tell you who or what you are. To avoid this, you have to do two things…
- Through your action and words, if needed, accurately depict exactly who you are and precisely who you are NOT. As a human, as a company, all of that.
- Then you have to spin it. You have to explain it in a digestible way to your audience.
Take Coca-Cola for example. It’s literally a bunch of sugar, bubbles, and a bottle. But you gotta sell it to the football stadium, the thirsty kid at the store, and the folks running a movie theater chain. Those are three very different pitches. But the bottle?? The same. Accurately explain to people why they need your Coca-Cola. Bridge any potential gap in understanding by making your offering sexy, valuable, and mutually beneficial.”
Being in these rooms sometimes puts us face to face the “assimilation to survive.” And we talked about that. People don’t have to assimilate to make it here; Jason and Jevon are proof of that. But I wanted to know if they’d ever felt pressure to be something other than themselves…
(JASON) “I used to not be authentic and I used to justify it. Toxic agency culture groomed me to be a certain way. But I found my way out of that. The thing that really solidified it for me was something Jevon actually said to me (“Don’t spend all your time becoming when you’ve already become”). I used to think, if I can shift your mind, that’s my power. But knowing who you are and standing by it even when it’s hard? That’s ACTUAL power.”
Jason also pointed out that for a lot of folks, assimilation is about measurement.
(JASON) “How are we measuring ourselves? Because I feel like some people of color are measuring themselves against the wrong instruments. Folks have a perception that ‘white is right’. I’m not playing that game.”
(JEVON) “I think it comes down to being authentic. People are investing in ME more than my business. Credibility comes from consistency, working hard, and being confident. And that’s why it can be frustrating when some folks don’t follow through. But again, that’s just motivation and I know something good is always coming for me.”
Speaking to this journey as an entrepreneur he quoted a Hova lyric, “People know the price of everything but the value of nothing.”
(JEVON) “Folks aren’t always going to understand who you are or what you’re out here trying to make happen, but that can’t stop you.”
I told you there were some GEMS haha! Lastly, I asked about folks that might be entrepreneurs but haven’t found “their woods” yet. What’s some advice?
(JEVON) “Find your purpose. Wherever your woods are, you’ll find your purpose somewhere in there. And people don’t like to hear this, but the woods can be scary because it’s lonely. ”
(JASON) It’s scary being in the woods, but so what? Do it and figure it out as you go so you can build something that is uniquely yours. You can build community in the woods but you just gotta get outside.
Benny gets it.
Alicia is Studio J Lorne’s Social media coordinator, a prominent eco-warrior, and an aspiring lawyer that could probably cross you over on the basketball court.