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Innovation Is Hard. Real-time Is Even Harder.


10:32 AM

I receive an email from Andrew Farah of Density.

Here’s what it said…

I signed up for Workfrom a few minutes ago (found you through ProductHunt: http://www.producthunt.com/e/coffee-hunt). Going to try out one of the recommended locales this afternoon.

I was wondering if you’ve got a second to chat? I run http://density.io. We measure realtime busyness with small sensors. Thought it might be useful for some of your locations.

Especially here in SF, a couple of the listed locations can get swamped.

10:33 AM

I’m on Denisty’s website digging a little deeper — I’m excited. Real-time information about activity at the venues we feature on Workfrom has been something my cofounder Jewel and I have been angling for since nearly day one.

I respond to Andrew’s email. 24 hours later we’re on the phone connecting the dots.

He’s got hardware and an affinity for talking about human centered data in ways that just make sense.

I’ve got a community of nomadic professionals who deserve more innovative connections to the spaces they work from everyday.

The math is easy. We both see it.

San Francisco or Portland?

Density is a San Francisco based company and we live in Portland. Our network of places has reached across the globe but our strongest relationships and most concentrated membership is in Portland.

We have weekly meetups in Portland where good work gets done alongside one another.

Density detects human entrances and exits using small, anonymous sensors that sit about waist-high alongside a venue’s public doorways. It seemed installing this hardware would be a much easier task in their own backyard and therefore we decided to reach out to several places we listed in the area and invite them to be part of an upcoming pilot.

The response we got was underwhelming. It was clear we didn’t have the personal capital with business owners in SF like we do in Portland. It’s hard to try new things and shop owners are busy. An innovative way of gauging busyness simply isn’t something many shop owners have considered possible before now.

What now?

Andrew gives me a call one afternoon and the topic is a pilot in Portland. He’s been thinking about our network in Portland and while the cost of installing sensors outside of his home area will undoubtedly increase, the power of existing relationships in Workfrom’s backyard cannot be easily replicated.

Portland Gets Real-time Capacity

Andrew books a flight to the Rose City. A few days later we’re meeting in-person for the first time at a local Cuban spot for some food and next steps.

He’s got his longboard (this thing is pretty slick) and a bag full of sensors, tools and installation materials in tow.

We hit the pavement for a few days of installations and getting to know the local Workfrom community.

Andrew installing a sensor at Bare Bones Cafe — a Portland favorite remote working spot.


This was an especially challenging installation at Crema. The power source was located 15 feet above the entrance.

By the end of the visit we’d outfitted four locations with sensors, got some work done at one of our weekly meetups, shared a few drinks and ate some great Thai food.

We’re on a roll now!

Jewel and Andrew in Downtown Portland where we stopped working to celebrate.

The Reality of Hardware in The Wild

Shit. A few weeks after installations, a bunch of the sensors go down all at once. We’ve planned for some hiccups and Jewel and I were prepared for ground support duty on issues that couldn’t be touched from afar.

Hardware is a special beast and we’re software people. When Andrew and his team couldn’t talk to their babies in the wild, it meant we had to visit each location while they walked us through troubleshooting over the phone.

Sounds fun right?

Several days are spent playing electrical engineer in support of our shared interests.

I can only imagine how it felt to be so far away — trying to support your valuable hardware — let alone walking me through troubleshooting the tech.

None of us were thrilled. Innovation is hard. We got it done.

Wheels Up. SFO to PDX.

The problem is several dead hard drives. The fix is relatively simple but it does mean another trip to Portland for Andrew. He doesn’t hesitate.

I offer up our extra room for this trip. We’d become friends. Working so passionately in the trenches together has a way of making that happen.

Andrew and I share similar visions and we’re both dedicated to making them a reality. Let’s get up, eat breakfast and make it happen.

The next several days are spent replacing hard drives, discussing the future and having some fun.

We took some time to play some darts, but luckily I escaped just before he finished me off. Look at those ridiculously long arms!

Great things don’t happen overnight and patience is a virtue. The sensors come back online and we pushed forward with great success.

Today, real-time seating capacity at several top coffee shops and cafes in Portland is a reality.

The Density + Workfrom teams have plenty of work ahead of us, but it’s clear we’re the right people for the job.

Innovation is hard but it should be…

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