Building a mountain lodge in Western North Carolina

Following the sale of GuildQuality, I’ve turned my attention to a handful of ventures that have been on my back burner for a long time.

The first new endeavor is the development of Big Ridge, a mountain lodge in Western North Carolina. Big Ridge will offer family and friends a simple and gracious home away from home, opportunities for convivial fellowship and quiet reflection, and a home base from which they can enjoy all the bucolic pleasures the mountains have to offer.

For those who are curious, here are a few answers to some obvious questions:

Who is Big Ridge for? Ultimately, there will be around forty owners. If you love the outdoors, time spent in front of a good fire, and the idea of a gracious and comfortable “summer camp”-type setting for families, it will probably be your sort of place.

What will be there? Pastures; woods; trails; a pool; a small lodge with a big kitchen, a dining hall, and a handful of hotel-style bedrooms upstairs; about five tiny two- and three-bedroom cottages; and two full-time caretakers. I expect we will also have gardens, bees, chickens, and more. And, of course, we’re surrounded by the North Carolina mountains and all of its delightful offerings. You might think of Big Ridge as a bigger version of the kind of place you’d like to have in the mountains, but with someone else taking care of everything.

Where is it? Big Ridge is in Glenville, NC about 2.5 hours from our house in Midtown Atlanta. It’s about thirty minutes from Highlands, NC, just outside of the wonderful mountain town of Cashiers, and up the mountain from Lake Glenville (the highest elevation lake East of the Rockies).

Where do things stand now? We’re interviewing general contractors and tightening up the architecture. We’ll soon be underway with construction documents. My plan is to break ground in the Fall, recruit the management team while construction is under way, and complete construction in late 2020.

Most of the work that’s happening right now is on paper and in meetings and not much is happening on the property itself: The apple trees are dormant, the woods are quiet, the grass in the pasture stopped growing in November, and Big Ridge is spending a decent amount of the winter blanketed in snow, with turkey, deer, and an occasional bear leaving tracks here and there.

How can I learn more? I’ll share more here from time to time and will share a good bit more at grahamdev.com. We’ll also host a proper unveiling in Atlanta in a few months. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your reactions and will happily answer any questions, so please reach out.

P.S. Here are some pictures of the property, along with a few videos. This one is my favorite (volume up).


Meaningful milestones

Some milestones that receive too much attention:

  • Closed an investment round
  • Cleared 100 employees
  • Leased new office space

Some milestones that receive insufficient attention:

  • Closed the first customer
  • Closed the 100th customer
  • Closed the 1,000th customer
  • First profitable month
  • First profitable quarter
  • First profitable year
  • 1st distribution to owners
  • 100,000th dollar distributed to owners
  • 1,000,000th dollar distributed to owners
  • Etc.

Cultivating a culture of empowerment (podcast interview)

Earlier this year, Victoria Downing and Mark Harari interviewed me for the Remodelers Advantage’s PowerTips podcast. Though PowerTips is intended specifically for owners of remodeling businesses, Vic and Mark were gracious enough to let me spend the entirety of the interview discussing leadership philosophy (one of my favorite topics).


Unintended Consequences of Land Use Regulation

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Typical development pattern prescribed by zoning. Anything else is illegal. (photo via Brookings Institute)

Arguably, land use controls have a more widespread impact on the lives of ordinary Americans than any other regulation. These controls, typically imposed by localities, make housing more expensive and restrict the growth of America’s most successful metropolitan areas. These regulations have accreted over time with virtually no cost-benefit analysis. Restricting growth is often locally popular. Promoting affordability is hardly a financially attractive aim for someone who owns a home. Yet the maze of local land use controls imposes costs on outsiders, and on the American economy as a whole.

From The Brookings Institute comes an excellent description of the insidiousness of land use regulations. There’s a tremendous amount of negative that has trickled down from these regulations, and what benefit there has been accrues overwhelmingly to the large landholders and real estate development companies that either have the political clout to influence them or can sustain the overhead necessary to navigate them.

HT @jimmyardis


GuildQuality Crew: Highlighting the talented people in the building industry

GuildQuality Crew.001

For the last year, the GuildQuality team has been building a new product called Crew. Unlike our core offering (which is for companies—specifically remodelers, homebuilders, and home improvement contractors), we’re building Crew for all the people who work in the field—skilled laborers and trades.

Our plan is to give every person working in our industry a free profile with which they can post pictures of their work, share their skills, and check in to job sites. Importantly, they can also endorse others and receive endorsements, and show up in location and skill-based searches.

We want to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals working in our industry, make it easier for them to be found by prospective employers and clients, and make it easier for them to find work.

While Crew is certainly a service that homeowners might be interested in, we intend to focus on serving professionals, i.e. general contractors who are always seeking talented workers and the skilled trades who are looking for work opportunities.

To give you a better idea of what Crew looks like, check out my own profile. Interested in finding a carpenter in Atlanta? Or a painter near Washington, DC? Try searching on Crew. And very soon you’ll be able to post jobs and respond to job postings.

The skilled labor challenges in our industry are painfully acute right now, and we’re working to ease that pain by shining a spotlight on the work of the best skilled laborers and trades out there. Moreover, by highlighting their great work, we can make it more obvious to ambitious young people that a rewarding career awaits them in construction.

I’ve loved watching the GuildQuality team build an entirely new product. They’ve accomplished a lot, and have a ton of great stuff in the pipeline. If you work in the building industry, sign up for Crew here and follow along with our progress.

The Four Types of Decisions

Some members of our team (me included) were recently stuck on a decision, and that led to us getting stuck in a discussion vortex. After a couple weeks, we found ourselves scrambling to choose a path in the face of a looming deadline. We got it resolved, but that kerfuffle reminded me that there are always only four types of decisions.

From less to more involvement of team members, those decision types are:

1. Command – leader takes charge, asking no questions and just directing (mainly used in crisis);
2. Consultative – decision maker gets individual feedback from team members, then makes a decision;
3. Collaborative – team has a discussion, after which decision maker makes the call; and
4. Consensus – everyone has to agree or majority wins. This is only used for things like where to go to lunch.

90% of decisions are either #2 or #3. #1 through #3 require decision maker to be named before launching into the process.

Staying mindful of the four types is empowering for everyone who participates. When we aren’t mindful of which type of decision we’re making, frustrations can emerge. For example, people might think something is a consensus-driven decision, but others actually understand that it is really collaborative. Then people become upset because the decision maker simply made a decision without calling for a vote or without consensus being reached. But when we are mindful of the decision type, each person knows their role to play, and instead of trying to get their desired outcome, they are more apt to focus on fulfilling their role (giving thoughtful counsel).

Trust and a clear understanding of who is ultimately making the decision are big requirements for us to make good decisions and for everyone to feel good about the process. The participants need to trust the decision maker’s judgment, and also trust that the decision maker will thoughtfully consider their input.

Within a trusting team, choosing a decision maker is almost always easier than reaching agreement.

Thanks to Craig Johnson for introducing me to this idea.


Five not-so-business books that informed my perspective on business

Jaywalking came up in conversation recently, and reminded me of a wonderful book that devoted an entire chapter to the subject: James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism. That got me reflecting on all the other non-business-y books that have informed my thinking about business.

The Valve Handbook for New Employees

Through their employee handbook, Valve introduced me to the idea that an empowered work environment can work at a large scale.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, Matthew Crawford

A recovering philosopher and disillusioned think tank executive director decides to start a motorcycle repair shop. The book articulated an important idea that I now reflect on nearly ever day: extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation.

Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play, James Scott

Scott shares six short stories of how anarchy (I’ll define anarchy as “emergent order without authoritarianism”) guides the overwhelming majority of human interactions. The book was a great reminder to me of the danger of top-down and the virtues of bottom up.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

This book probably has the second largest number of attacks and dismissals penned by people who have never read it (the Bible holding the top spot). Rarely have I come across a critic who has ever opened it. Atlas Shrugged is a story about creativity, what it means to be creative, how that affects the world, and what would happen if we lost our creative people.

The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono

This very short and beautifully illustrated book follows a French shepherd named Elzéard Bouffier, from the eve of WWI through the end of WWII. It’s the story of what happens when vision meets consistent and deliberate action. Setting out to plant a garden is aspirational; Setting out to plant a forest is visionary.