Jason Saltzman is a seasoned entrepreneur with a background in sales and marketing. As the CEO and Founder of Alley, Jason advises and invests in a variety of early-stage companies and is a mentor for the Techstars Accelerator Program where he offers real-life practical application and creative marketing advice.
Jason has published content for CNN, The Wall Street Journal and is a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine.
What is Alley? Can you tell us a bit more about your company and its history?
Alley is a post business incubator and shared workspace for entrepreneurs. It's a community platform that provides office space and services for early-stage entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
Ever since I was 17 years old, I became interested in mentoring and the sharing of information among amazing people who are all growing their businesses. From this came the idea to create a platform for people to support and connect with one another on top of office space. We wanted people to get personal and business value through connections instead of just focusing on physical space.
Our goal is to create an environment where we can curate people properly and get everybody in a room together to help each other. In doing so, were able to get the attention of amazing strategic partners like Entrepreneur magazine and companies like Verizon to grow. We want people to know it’s “your space, your alley”.
Give us a screenshot (summary) of what your average day entails. What are your key tasks?
As a CEO of a growing company, I wear a lot of different hats. People think it’s very structured, but the reality is I do a bit of everything! From cleaning to manning the front desk, I spend time in all different roles within the organization. This helps me grow and gain an understanding of all the teams' tasks and lets me know what resources are needed.
My day is a mix of investor relations, business development, member management, and team alignment. I work at maintaining an always changing environment in terms of enhancing member experience and value, as well as ways to improve Alley’s culture and keep it as agile as possible to meet the growing needs of the team.
If you’re the architect of a vision and have a team that believes in that vision, you have the responsibility to give management and insight to the team so that they continue to iterate and build on their own.
My team is the Most Important part of my business. I have a lot of trust in the growing team and I let them create their own culture in their own departments.
What kind of advice would you give to anybody pursuing a career in this field?
In any business, prepare yourself emotionally for the up and downs of the job. The media makes entrepreneurship seem so programmatic and linear, but there are a lot of emotional effects and realities of entrepreneurship. The best day of your life could be followed by the worst day, look at it like a science experiment and try and take out the emotions from the job.
If I had to go back and talk to my younger self, I would say: take a cold hard look at who you are and say you’re great no matter what. You’re going to fail, but when you start looking at failure as a lesson, you’ll be that much further to being prepared for to do something like this.
Don’t let failures define who you are, and don’t let successes define who you are either!
In my opinion, the lessons you learn from the problems you solve is the beauty of life. Time is a precious commodity, so make sure you enjoy the here and now because no matter how much you prepare, some outcomes will be unpredictable. This may sound super spiritual, but the reality is if you get kicked in the face enough, you have to look on the positive side of life.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of your job, and what keeps you coming back?
The best parts are what I'm naturally good at like marketing, branding, business development, and deal-making. The hardest are things I’m not good at, but what I have to do so that I can gain knowledge of who we need in that position. Things like financials, operations, and understanding where the pieces have to go to actually make a business work are not my strengths, but I push myself to do it anyways.
Do you have any industry insights to share (good or bad) as a result of your experience?
If you’re just trying to build an office space, build an amazing office space. But if you’re trying to build something special, focus on the experience that you are offering people.
Coworking space is a very fast growing industry and environment. Just like different brands of sneakers, there are different understandings of what Coworking is, the whole experience is different from one to another.
Take a good look at what you can iterate about your company and make it different from other companies. Competition is a good thing because it forces you to innovate what you’re offering and give a better product to the end user which in turn makes a better world for everyone else.
What are your thoughts on hiring and how are you involved in the hiring process?
Hiring the right people is key! An insight from a podcast I really like is to look at every hire in a bizzaro world; would you work for them if your positions were reversed? If I was going for their job, would I work for them? If you would, then you respect the vision of where they’re going to take you.
Team members are extensions of you, they’ll be representing you and what you believe in. If you feel hires can enhance your company’s vision, carry the torch and make it better, then you have the right people! It’s trial and error, but like the saying goes, “Hire slow and fire fast”.
I get involved with the managers but I let the managers hire their own and develop their own team.
What kind of skills do you look for in your new hires and employees
First and foremost, can they do the job? Do they have necessary skill sets? I’m really into first principle thinkers. In situations where you don’t know the answers, what do your ethics and moral fiber telling you? What would the brand do? I look for candidates would follow our core values and think of the best thing to do for the company, the brand, and the people.
To test for this, we give candidates a task and see if they can do the job, but also to see the thought process that potential hires go through. Sometimes we’ll throw a loop or puzzle into the task.
For example, when hiring for program and event managers, their task is to throw an event and have X amount of people. They can pick any subject matter but have to show value proposition for Alley and the people involved. We look to see if they have the margins, but also if they go above and beyond to help people and represent the brand. (i.e.- got someone hired or made some network connections)
- What does work/life balance mean to you? Do you find it a challenge?
When you’re growing your business, there’s a blurred line between work and life. I mean, work is my life! It’s part of me and what I do, the projects I’m working are interesting to me. The things I do in my off time or the people I interact with often revolve around what project I’m working on, and I enjoy it!
I don’t like labeling it because personally, I don’t see the difference between work and life. I love the work and am intrigued by the growing process. When I’m at home, I'm not thinking “I have to go into the office tomorrow”, I’m thinking “Let me do this right now cause it’s challenging and I want to get it done!”
What is some career advice you’d like to share with our readers?
Look at business as a project. Don’t look at obstacles as a problem and look at the obstacles as a lesson. Failures are going to happen, so just accept them as feedback from the world on what you’re doing. Buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Tell us something fun about yourself that not many people know?
2 things: I’m addicted to sparkling water! I’m a sparkling water connoisseur trying to find the perfect Sparkling water. I’m also on the search for the best Chicken Lo mein on the planet.
What’s the last thing you watched on TV or book that you read and why did you choose to watch/read it?
I just watched the Tick remake, which I think is awesome! He’s got this dope invincible suit and it is excellent.
I actually read multiple books at the same time, but I’m currently reading Marcos Aurelias’s “Meditation”. One of the Emperors of Rome and considered the most pragmatic emperor. It’s a diary of the lessons he learned along the way and is used as a guide for stoicism.