Back to the future: How Content COLAB got its start

It is tempting to look to a central point of origin to describe how Content COLAB got its start. This classic trope seems to be the usual place to begin things judging by the proliferation of “Our Story” sections or “founder videos” that startups use to discuss their genesis. As B2B and B2C customers we have become accustomed to these messages: they are effective at conveying values and aligning interests, creating certainty, and demonstrating that your company bears a family resemblance to successful ventures in the same space. This strategy reduces the risk of losing would-be customers to the unknown while also meeting customer expectations about what a founding story should be. As the most salient example, today’s urban-based artisanal producers have effectively leveraged this strategy to connect with a demographic well versed in its key messages.

For the most hyperreal example, consider this parody:

We appreciate founding stories that hew to this form, but in our own founding story it wouldn’t quite work. For one, it wouldn’t fit our industry sector and what we are hard at work on trying to achieve—a global problem-solving consulting group that specializes in content creation, business development, and project management. Secondly, it wouldn’t accurately convey the trend toward greater and greater decentralization in today’s marketplace for services, a trend which our business leverages. Instead of complicating matters, we’ve decided to tell our story of how an idea evolved into a business simply by using a clear, linear narrative.

Joe and I first met 10 years ago as graduate students researching the former Soviet Union. After we completed our degrees, we both ended up working in Russia at the same time. I was a consultant project manager for the U.S. State Department-funded National Security Language Initiative for Youth. Joe was a freelance writer and editor for a number of regional media outlets. I later went on to a full-time expat position as the development manager at the Eurasia Foundation in Kazakhstan. Joe assumed the full-time role of program hub director at American Councils’ Moscow office. I returned stateside in 2012. Joe returned in 2014.

Back in the U.S. we continued to pursue consulting opportunities. I held myself out as a proposal development consultant, going to Tajikistan with Handicap International and supporting the proposal development efforts of World Vision. I was the publications editor on the Central Asian Republics Regional Economic Growth Project and the Montenegro Economic Growth Project. I continued my work with American Councils, managing the Critical Language Scholarship Program in Russia as well as going on CLS Program participant recruiting trips to over 25 universities in California. At the same time I also branched out into providing business development and communications services to Cutting Edge Capital and the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. Joe would return to the U.S. and work remotely with media groups and educational organizations in Russia, China, Denmark, and the Netherlands, act as a creative consultant on a textbook project with the University of Texas, and manage an urbanization survey for the UN, recruiting, training, and managing consultants across Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.

After some time consulting independently we realized that we could deliver greater expertise and flexibility by consolidating our services into a single service provider. Attuned to these benefits, we met in Maine in the spring of 2015 to map out our strategy for building a consulting firm focused on our areas of expertise. Today, nearly a year after our meeting in Maine, we’ve put Content COLAB’s infrastructure in place and are harnessing our skills, talents, and networks in order to solve our clients’ challenges.

In our story, we’re not saying that inspiration or “dawn of time” personal dispositions weren’t a part of our own founding process, as so excellently parodied above. They most certainly were—and are—as Joe and I continue move in the direction of what aligns with who we are as people: entrepreneurs with a strong sense of value creation.