Adam Segal is the founder of Cove, a startup that operates a network of cheery, modern “productive spaces” in nine of D.C.’s unique neighborhoods.
Somewhere in between the informal atmosphere of Starbucks and the buttoned-up traditional office environment, Cove’s productive spaces allow members to study quietly, collaborate, hold meetings and even connect with other members of the Cove community through the startup’s companion smartphone app. Adam sat down with The Hoya to talk about Cove, superheroes and finding your passion after college. This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed for print.
At Georgetown, there is a lot of pressure to go into careers like banking and consulting, directly after graduation, and a lot of students find it hard to leave those careers once they start. How did you find your way to entrepreneurship after graduating college?
I did something similar to consulting and research, also sprinkled in some banking. It really was a succession of having done a number of different jobs in different types of environments and realizing personally that it just didn’t align well with me. Really being a part of building something in an iterative and creative process was what really attracted me to entrepreneurship. There was a certain realization when I was like, I’m just going to start something.
How did you come up with the idea for Cove and what were the first steps that you took to turn this idea into the reality?
I came from having worked in a more traditional office setting, as well as having worked from home, and I never really meshed well with either.
So I liked the mobility factor of being able to work from a coffee shop, being able to work from your home, so Cove was really created with that mindset in the sense that we’re mobile. When you need places to go, it doesn’t have to be the same place every day. So that’s why you see a network of locations.
In terms of how we got here, I was in graduate school at the time and wrote the business plan for Cove. Harvard has an incubator system that they just started, and so I was part of that for a spring and a summer after graduation, and then spent about six months researching it. Then when I really felt comfortable enough to put it together on paper and felt like I had done enough research on it, then I pitched to angel groups.
That process took about five months, starting in January, and we closed on our seed round in May. Then we opened our first location in September 2013.
How did you go about raising this funding, and what advice would you give to entrepreneurs trying to raise funding for the first time?
Yeah, so there’s two things on that. One, feel comfortable that, if you’re going to sit down and ask someone for their money, you’re asking for not only that but also for their time. Largely they value their time more than their money. If the person isn’t interested in the idea, they’re not going to be a great support system for you, so there’s not as much value there. So come in really prepared. You’re never going to be 100 percent there in terms of understanding the market or the idea but just being comfortable with knowing that you’re 75 percent of the way there and working to learn what that extra 25 percent is.
Second is really looking at your funders as partners. They’re really in this together with you. So if you take that approach, it’s going to be far more effective in terms of the communication line.
Cove has a great social component and really seeks to bring people together at the different locations. What is a collaboration or a project that has happened at a Cove that you find really interesting or exciting?
What’s really cool conceptually, for me, is you have a lot of different categories of people that work from Cove. You have a big student population — whether that’s undergrads but largely more graduate students working on anything and everything. Then you have people who have traditional offices. You have people who work from home.
Everyone has their own little niche, and so we have different crowds. People who come here during the day and then leave, a new crowd at night — largely those are the people that are working on side projects and that have a traditional office. I think that’s the most exciting part for me and then hearing the excitement with which people talk about that.
How would you describe the Cove community at large?
I think it really is reflective of the neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhood. What I love is that we have eight locations — we have a ninth opening on K Street — but each one has its own personality. So you’ve got Georgetown, which has probably a fairly different feel. It does have the exposed brick.
Each location has a local artist who is from the neighborhood. Georgetown has an artist who has a studio on M Street. It’s little things: it’s consistency in terms of the branding and the color scheme, and we try to as best we can to facilitate an interaction with the neighborhood.
What do you look for in a new hire?
We are hiring! That’s the number one thing, if we can get something out of here.
When you’re a small team, each new addition is so important, not only to that person but to the team as a whole and to the organization. People who join Cove now can really have a fingerprint in how we develop, in the culture.
We spend a lot of time on hiring, and it takes away from some other things, but I think it’s really important for us because it will really facilitate and fuel our growth. Ultimately at the end of the day we all want to derive meaning from something and hopefully we can align that with people’s interests. So we look for three main categories, in terms of what we looking for: fit, competency and experience.
What advice would you give to college students who aspire to start their own business?
If it’s something you’re interested in, and you have an inkling and a desire to do it, it’s definitely worth exploring and doing it. We have tons of failures here all the time, but if we kept being brought down by those failures, then we wouldn’t continue to grow. Feeling comfortable with that failure can be super important, not just from personal growth, but also professional growth.
I think you create these very traditional buckets, and people from successful schools go to certain employers or certain types of industries. Starting something and failing at it is by no stretch of the imagination a downside.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
You always have that debate whether you want to be Batman or Spiderman, so I think I would go with — I can’t stop thinking about Spiderman.
He kind of has slight powers, but he’s just such a regular dude — I really like that. It would be awesome to have some sort of subtle power but then just being really normal.
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