The library at work: BreezeCab
November 21, 2011, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A couple posts ago, we talked about the work that the the Urban Sustainability Library did to support Mend, an emerging sustainable furniture business. We’d like to continue the discussion of how librarians at the Green Garage are participating in business development (and determining best practices for embedded small business librarianship) by turning to another business that’s currently being grown in the greenhouse: BreezeCab.

BreezeCab, owned by Victor Bothuel, is a Detroit-based pedal cab company, providing visitors the opportunity to travel short distances in the city via an Earth-friendly bicycle taxi. It’s been around since 2007, but Victor wanted to overhaul the business, sharpen its focus, and establish a new business model that would better position the company for future success.

Victor with one of his pedal cabs

Members of the Green Garage community, including local business leaders and cycling activists, have been working for months on BreezeCab, gaining an understanding of how it already works, participating in anything-goes brainstorming sessions for possible new directions, determining the various urban networks (or ecosystems) in which it exists, assessing potential risks to its success, and determining the “3-D,” or triple bottom line, nature of the business, among much else. (To get a better sense of the work that’s been done, check out the BreezeCab wiki page.)

Susan Connelly Murphy, a Green Garage librarian who also holds an MBA and owns a market research/business intelligence company, has been part of the process the whole time. Along with the other embedded librarians at the Green Garage, she’s helping redefine community-focused librarianship in Detroit by actively participating in small business development from the very beginning.

During the BreezeCab development process, Susan’s experience and skill in information work encouraged an interest in BreezeCab’s ecosystems, in particular. One of the earliest understandings that the BreezeCab group came to about the business was that it was more connected to downtown and midtown Detroit’s hospitality and entertainment ecosystems than the city’s transportation ecosystem. (Riders in Detroit typically use pedal cabs to travel between major events, like sports games, and restaurants, hotels, and parking lots, whereas automobile cab riders crisscross the whole city.)

Susan started with this understanding and worked from there to make a Google map of a typical BreezeCab route, determined with the help of Inside Detroit. This valuable visualization was populated by downtown’s major hotels, sporting and entertainment venues, and about 20 or so restaurants: BreezeCab’s downtown ecosystem. Victor’s thinking of turning the map into something he can give to his passengers who aren’t familiar with the city, and he’s also figuring out how he can use it to generate advertising revenue.

When combined with Susan’s experience in market research, this work on BreezeCab’s ecosystems becomes potentially even more valuable. She’s noted that when it comes to entertainment/dining market data that could potentially be of use to BreezeCab, the lowest, most granular level currently available is for the whole Detroit metropolitan region (what kinds of food regional restaurants are buying, for instance, or what broad trends diners have come to expect).

But Victor’s pedal cab drivers, shuttling passengers to and from restaurants, hotels, and events, will have the opportunity to collect highly specific, hyperlocal, “street level” business intelligence that will be of use to both Victor and the businesses themselves. (Think: What’s the service like at that restaurant? The cuisine? The atmosphere? Who would it appeal to? What does one hotel have to offer over another? How friendly is the staff?) This kind of information-gathering will not only build community connectedness and understanding, it will create real value for the new BreezeCab, positioning drivers as knowledgeable agents, ambassadors on behalf of a city that is, famously, hard to really “get at” without insider information. With Susan’s help and perspective, this focus on street level data has become extremely important in reshaping BreezeCab. Victor wanted us to make clear how instrumental her contribution has been to his business’s transformation, citing “not only her information-gathering ability, but also her energy and her willingness to listen, envision the possibilities, and bring them to life.”

Her involvement didn’t stop there, though. She’s currently documenting the whole BreezeCab development process, something that will establish best practices for future embedded library work at the Green Garage. We’d say that the business greenhouse sessions are idea factories, but we’re trying to avoid the loaded language of industry — let’s say instead that they’re abundant idea gardens. Not all of the ideas will be of use to Victor, especially from the earliest design sessions, but there’s no telling what power an off-the-cuff observation might have down the line, or how valuable it will be for him (and others) to have all the ideas available in one place. Susan’s collected the various documents that were created during the brainstorming sessions and is in the process of scanning/photographing them and transcribing them into BreezeCab’s publicly accessible Wiki page.

Here she’s applying more traditional librarian skills, determining how the information can best be organized, making determinations about what’s more or less relevant, and making it all accessible. It’s important work, not just for Victor and BreezeCab, but also for the rest of the librarians at the Green Garage so we can apply this strategy to future businesses in development.

This is the new embedded librarianship, as we see it at the Green Garage. Librarians are involved with growing businesses from the very beginning, applying their skills and interests in information work and community-building to add value to the businesses and the development process. It’s pretty new ground, as far as we know, though if you’ve heard of something similar, we’d love to hear about it!

So far in this blog, we’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about librarianship at the GG as it relates to small business development, but that’s not all we’re doing. We’re also helping everyday Detroiters live more sustainably by referring them to knowledgeable members of the extended Green Garage community (people, as it turns out, are our best and most useful collection) — look for an update on that work next time!