Invitations bring possibility. They are a path to an uncertain destination. An invitation to coffee might spark a series of events that results in a new career; a lifelong friendship could be the result of saying yes to a neighbor with an extra ticket.
Invitations vary widely in a significance, of course; intimate wedding of a lifelong friend on one end of the spectrum, webinar on the other.
A personal invitation is a compliment, an act of kindness (yes, even Will you help me move?). Someone wanting to share a thing, experience, or need with you is always a good thing.
When we started imagining how invites to Uncommon would work, we kept coming back to that thought. Each person who joins receives a membership to share. We wanted to create something with the right weight.
We've all received email invites to random apps and networks ("Jason wants to be your friend on..."). We knew Uncommon should be different, but how?
What if it was a tangible invitation? I loved this idea, but as we started thinking through what it would take, I hesitated. I remember talking with a few founding members at the time and describing the idea, with the caveat, "We should probably start with a simple email invite." Everyone loved the physical invite idea, though, and thought it was a much better way to introduce people to Uncommon. So, we decided to give it a go.
One question followed another...
Do we send the invite or does the member? It would be much more personal coming from the member. Plus, what if they wanted to hand the invite to the person over coffee? Okay, we'll need to send the invite to the member first. That means we'll need a mailing address when they join.
What should the invite look like? We wanted something colorful, friendly, and substantial. I wrote the invite, Marius designed the card, and etherbrian drew the front porch illustration. Nicholas expertly guided the paper choice and printing process. We then tracked down the perfect envelopes for the invites that also fit within the main envelope. This way it would be easy for the member to deliver or mail it.
How do we make each invite unique? This was the biggest dilemma, but it turned out to be my favorite part. The invites include three blanks. When someone is ready to share their invite, they visit the invite page on the site, which creates a unique three-word phrase. (You can likely imagine how long we spent coming up with suitably uncommon words.) They write the same three words on the invite card and pass it along. When the person joins, we know who they are and who invited them.
Brad and Andy developed the web pieces. In the end, the whole project took a few months. Not only was it a significant investment of time and effort, it actually demands a fair amount of time and effort of the people sharing and using each invite; certainly much more than clicking "Send Invite" on a web page, then "Accept Invite" in an email.
We don't do things differently just to do things differently. They should serve a larger purpose. In the case of these invites, we hope they demonstrate that each person matters to this community and is worth a little extra effort.
Whenever someone joins after being invited, I get a huge smile on my face and think, "It actually worked!" A person joined, received an envelope in the mail, opened the envelope and read about the invite, chose the perfect person to share it with, visited the site and created the unique phrase, wrote it on the invite, handed or mailed it to said perfect person, the friend opened the invite, visited the site, and joined.
There is a lot of room for things to wrong there. No investor or growth hacker would ever approve. But there are also a series of signals at every step that Uncommon is something different—a community and front porch that is thoughtful, creative, and welcoming.
The last dispatch asked, What's your most memorable New Year's Eve?
My most memorable New Year's Eve was December 31, 1999. I went to visit a friend in New York, and by mutual agreement we stayed as far from Times Square as possible. So we went to Excellent Dumpling House in Chinatown for dumplings, and then we spontaneously decided to walk back and forth across the Williamsburg Bridge, meeting a handful of people in New Year's paper hats also crossing the bridge, and wishing them all a happy new year. An hour or so before midnight we went to a bar on the Lower East Side and sat around drinking whiskey sours until it was time for the countdown. That was the New Year's Eve everyone was afraid of the Y2K glitch (remember that?), but when midnight rolled around and nothing untoward happened, we toasted the year 2000. I wouldn't move to New York until twelve years later, but I think in some ways it's one of the most New York experiences I've ever had.
One winter my sister and I drove down from Ann Arbor, MI, where she was going to graduate school, with her pup Lomeo. Being a cool, older sister with all the sweet dance moves and a love for music, we ended up at the Beauty Bar in downtown Austin. That evening was nothing but 90’s, old school hip hop (We are talking clllll the JAMZ!) and there was an LCD Soundsystem cover band that played in the middle of the event, with a full on laser show. It was so perfect. We ran into old friends, had fun dancing, and it felt like everyone else at the bar was there to just be in that moment and enjoy the energy.
We left a little before midnight to see the fireworks go off on the Congress bridge, taking a pedicab as our speedy chariot, of course. The bridge was essentially gridlocked with humans and traffic as the fireworks went off. A cab driver wished us a happy new year, as he gave into the parking lot that had become of the road. He took a picture of us with the bright flashes of lights in the back ground- we even took a selfie with him, in good cheer.
I spent New Year’s Eve 1999 delivering pizza. I was 19 and home from college, and someone had to cover the shift. While my friends were partying together, I criss-crossed town hour by hour, and when the much-dreaded Y2K arrived, I was halfway back from my second trip to a far-off apartment whose order we had botched. My faithful Ford Tempo was running low on gas, but when I got back to the store we had another order all ready to go—and it had been waiting almost an hour. I decided I could make it to the delivery location on my last little bit of fumes. This turned out to be incorrect. So that’s my most vivid memory of any New Year’s Eve: sputtering down the empty National Road in Englewood, Ohio and praying the car would make it all the way to the last open gas station.
And, you know what? It did.
I think it has to be the time we went to visit family in Sydney. My then-fiance, parents, sister and I spent a week in the countryside in New South Wales with my aunt and cousins. We then drove all the way up to Sydney (a journey that included avoiding a kangaroo that had leaped in front of our car on the freeway) for New Year's Eve. Our Aussie family had booked dinner at a restaurant in Darling Harbour, so that we could see the fireworks, and I remember a lot of family conversation, laughter and dancing. My dad had just had knee surgery, but he loves dancing, so of course he didn't hold back! After the countdown and fireworks, there were hardly any taxis to get back home (though we did find one for the parents). This meant jostling with hundreds of other revellers on the subway, and not being able to bear my heels any longer on the walk home. I can still feel the concrete under my bare feet.
New Year's Eve hasn't ever been a particularly big holiday for me or my family. We've enjoyed the chance to spend quality time with family and friends, but not really more so than other weekends. Two occasions from the past few years that stick out in my memory, though, are: a campfire on the beach north of Ventura, California and a 12-hour drive from Santa Fe, New Mexico back to Austin. This year we huddled around a campfire in Austin with a good friend too; quiet, peaceful and relaxed.
News and such
Wishes and Wonders, the third edition of Table for Six, was delightful. It's amazing to see the new perspectives and connections that result from every conversation. Thanks to everyone who took part.
We recently added the option to search for prompts on the site, in addition to members and favorites. It's quite handy to find related prompts alongside a favorite thing you're searching for.
Finally, our family wrapped up the year with our lists favorites, as I mentioned last time. I love seeing how the categories change over the years. This year, we finally added Favorite Coffee Shop :)
If you did something similar, do tell!
What memorable invitations have you sent or received?