By Carter Crockett, Ph.D.
Any entrepreneurial ecosystem requires a place for people to gather, share ideas, and physically engage with generous advisors and like-minded colleagues. As such, event spaces and co-working environments have an important role to play. San Diego is fortunate to have a number of these spaces specifically catering to the needs of social enterprises, and the argument could be made that Moniker Group has been at it longer and on a bigger scale than any. In this Impact series, this is the second ‘feeder’ to be featured in support of San Diego’s social enterprise ‘leaders’. The Moniker Group – which specializes in hospitality, design, events, and community development – is a family of 12 different brands and seven companies, operating across more than six different venues. Moniker is primarily known for co-working, event space management, as well as spatial design and hospitality.
I recently spoke at length with Ryan Sisson, Founder and CEO of Moniker Group, to discuss the role his companies are playing as a model as well as a support among the growing impact economy.
Origin Story: Moniker was launched in 2010 out of necessity, Sisson said. “I can’t remember exactly what kind of vision I had for the future, but at the time, my friends and I had an opportunity to do some consulting for a non-profit organization. In order to create a contract and open a bank account, we needed to have a business. In the process of coming up with a name, one of the guys wrote on the white board ‘what is our moniker?.’We threw out a lot of names, but just came back to Moniker as a cool enough word to make into our brand. I liked it because it could be anything. Almost 10 years later, we have lived up to that original desire of being many things – now represented across the seven companies that make up the Group today.”
Sisson also described the formation of the company. “It never occurred to us to register as a non-profit,” he quipped. “We started the company as a partnership, but transitioned into an S-Corp a couple years after. I think as a corporation we knew we would have more flexibility with shares over time. It was hard to predict how it would all develop.”
Better Together: In a group such as this, teamwork and synergy are important. “I’ve used the Avengers as an example of what our company as a whole looks like,” Sisson said. “We have all these separate businesses that have their own story lines but then there are times when those companies come together to create their own story, when sometimes the larger team is needed to accomplish a project.
Real Life Prep: When considering the key factors that shaped Sisson and his management style, he said, “The most influential part of my upbringing has been my faith. It’s really the fuel behind everything I do – inspiring vision and a desire to inject purpose and impact into our work, and pushing me to take risks that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. Apart from faith, it is difficult to define what matters most to me or to Moniker. Secondly, I have to point to a passion for this region. I grew up in southwest San Diego County and have lived in San Diego my whole life. I love our city and the people that are a part of it. I plan to expand Moniker outside of San Diego over time, but we began with a desire to have a tremendous impact on our own community.”
Impact Measures: Experts say you cannot manage what you cannot measure, but we all know impact is harder to measure than financial metrics. According to Sisson, “this is a work in progress for us. We’ve recently launched our four main areas of impact – Neighborhood Development, Community Development, Business Development, People Development. My hope is that this will not only help us focus our efforts so we are more effective, it will also help us track the impact of our work. The data points will vary to include: dollars given or saved, number of people participating in events, etc. We can also measure the value of our real estate holdings and the difference our presence makes when we move into a neighborhood. In addition, we are working to create a methodology for employee development that we can use to help our staff to reach their full potential. There are a lot of areas where we can leave our mark; we are gradually becoming more intentional about the process.”
What Does Success Look Like?: Sisson described the first community space the group operated, the Moniker Warehouse in East Village. “We opened the warehouse about eight years ago with the vision of making it a hub for community, church, creatives, and entrepreneurs. We had small office spaces we rented out, hosted our first workshop, and created an event space.”
When describing the most inspiring social enterprises they worked with, Sisson said, “Not long after we opened, an organization called David’s Harp Foundation moved in and created a state-of-the-art recording studio. They’ve been in the warehouse ever since, expanding multiple times. Their work is around music for at-risk youth. The impact they have is truly life-changing for these kids and we’ve had a role in it for almost seven years now. We support them in a number of ways and simply try to ensure their home is what they need it to be in order to fulfill their mission. They would say that being a part of the Moniker Warehouse has been instrumental in their success as an organization and we consider them an extended part of our family.”
“This has been tremendously rewarding journey in a number of ways,” Sisson said. “Firstly, our company has survived. It’s not easy to create businesses that are successful. To some degree, the most rewarding element is being able to do what I love and create for a living. Secondly, I’ll say that Moniker General (complete with coffee shop, cocktail bar, and retail store) has been my most rewarding project, and the hardest to manage. When I walk in on a random weekday morning and it’s full, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. We built and curated a place that people want to be in, where they want to connect with others. Since our company is built on impacting people’s lives, and we know it’s working when they share their time with us.”
Pushing the Technology Envelope: Technology intersects with Moniker mainly in the form of service platforms utilized by the various businesses. According to Sisson, “We try to keep our systems as light as we can and we’re still not big enough to require internal software systems of our own, but we’ve really leveraged the power of Shopify, Square, Gather, Bamboo, Insightly, Monday App, and a few others.”
Advice for Others Supporting Social Enterprise: Sisson offers the following hard-earned insight to other social enterprise leaders: “It will be harder than you ever expected and it will be more rewarding than you could ever dream.”
Thankfully, Sisson and his team continue to create community through innovative venues and brands, making it easier than ever for social enterprises to find a home here in San Diego.
Please add your comments below and let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) who you would like to have featured next.
Editor’s Note: “Impact” - a series brought to you by Carter Crockett and Fresh Brewed Tech – features key insights from San Diego’s impact ecosystem, those with the grit to build a better world, one social enterprise at a time.