Cabin as a 3rd Space: Exploring an Evolution of Neighborhoods, Citizenship, and Cabins

Outline

  1. TL;DR
  2. Neighborhoods
    a. Definitions
    b. Context & Learnings
    c. How it could work
    d. Open questions
  3. Citizenship
    a. Definitions
    b. Context & Learnings
    c. How it could work
    d. Open questions
  4. Cabins
    a. Definitions
    b. Context & Learnings
    c. How it could work
    d. Open questions
  5. Case studies

1. TL;DR

What if we focused on helping Clubs grow into Neighborhoods by developing social 3rd spaces for Cabin Citizens? Here’s how it could work:

Start a Supper Club → Get 10+ Citizen Commits → Open a Cabin 3rd Space → Grow a Neighborhood

What I’m proposing in this post is essentially a merging of the learnings from the 3 experimental bets of the past season (originally outlined in Fall 23 Product Directions ) into one coherent product direction for Cabin:

It also draws heavily on recent community discussions, including:

In the sections below, I outline how Neighborhoods, Citizenship, and Cabins could evolve to fit this model.


2. Neighborhoods

a. Definitions

Current: A coliving house for digital nomads in nature, voted on by the community

  • exurban or rural
  • generally focused on coliving / short term rentals as a business model
  • broadly interpretable definition leads to wide range of offerings (see Cabin)
  • governance is top down (TCR) instead of bottom up

Proposed: A place where at least 10 Citizens have organized a local community 3rd space funded by Cabin

  • urban or suburban (still with access to nature)
  • focused on Citizenship access to a 3rd space as business model
  • more specific definition & clear, immediate value to existing community
  • governance is do-ocratic and demonstrates local collective action

b. Context and Learnings

Two of our most popular product :fax: Memos have been about building Neighborhoods for Families:

We’ve known there’s strong community interest & clear alignment with our long-term vision of building a network of modern villages for intergenerational living. But we haven’t taken bigger bets in this direction yet because of the risks summarized here: The Neighborhood for Families.

We believe “core pain point” and “size of market” are 10/10, but had doubts on “feasibility of execution” and “ability to be 10x better than alternatives”, based on the assumption that we would try to build them in within the existing framework of rural coliving environments:

However, as we’ve seen from the successes of projects like The Neighborhood in SF, Radish in Oakland, and Fractal in NYC, many of these issues can be mitigated by building closer to existing urban areas where you don’t have to get people to relocate and do greenfield development.

According to @prigoose at Fractal, the two key components to make this type of project work are:

  1. A recurring dinner party
  2. A third space

These are both things we can help coordinate and provide to local communities interested in building a “Fractal for X”.

c. How it could work

Steps to Start a Neighborhood

  1. Host a monthly Supper Club to begin building community in a local area
  2. Get together with ten Citizens and commit to $100-200 / month subscription
  3. Cabin rents a community third space (aka a Cabin) that is locally managed by Club Steward
  4. Citizens get access to their local third space & stays across the network
  5. People visit neighborhoods and eventually start moving there

Potential side quests

Other opportunities for Clubs to pursue as they grow include include:

  • Civic engagement (eg trash cleanup, park potluck, natal support group)
  • Urban improvement (eg build a park bench, fix a pothole, start a garden)
  • Relocate the squad to a solarpunk village (eg buy land and build power, water, sewage, and housing systems)

Or, in the words of @savkruger:

d. Open questions

  1. Should we transition the definition of a neighborhood and deprecate current city directory listings that don’t match this new approach?
  2. How could we evolve the product to create a Neighborhood Race style leaderboard where people could see existing Commits and join a neighborhood?

3. Citizenship

a. Definitions

Current: A subscription membership ($420/yr) that gives you a laundry list of benefits that are difficult to summarize:

  • Connect with community globally

    • Visit or live at 25+ properties
    • Connect with 350+ Cabin Citizens across dozens of countries
    • Stay 7-nights at the Citizen Clubhouse Neighborhood Zero
    • Attend a seasonal Citizen gatherings (4 x year)
  • Participate in building locally

    • Receive 25 ₡ABIN each year + 10 ₡ABIN per referral
    • $450 reimbursement for hosting Supper Clubs
    • Found a Cabin neighborhood, outpost or local chapter
    • Vouch for others to join
  • Access special benefits and gatherings

    • Cabin gear welcome gifts and merch drops
    • Tickets to conferences and events
    • Discounts and perks with partner organizations
    • Citizen NFT & physical passport card (numbered sequentially)

Proposed: A subscription membership (~$100-200/mo) that gives you 24/7 access to your local community Cabin and 24 nights per year at any Cabin in the network.

b. Context & Learnings

The current Citizenship benefits are based on user research that we completed as part of Network Citizens

However, they have a few issues:

  • they’re complicated, multi-faceted, and hard to summarize / explain simply
  • they’re a big bundle of things, but often people are buying for only one or two pieces of the bundle
  • we’re seeing some traction, but doesn’t feel like we have clear product market fit

There’s an opportunity to radically simplify the core membership offering and orient it around tangible, local club goods. Or, in the words of @camlindsay:

c. How it could work

Citizenship would essentially become a coordination game for local Clubs to crowdfund new Cabin 3rd spaces to create a Neighborhood. It rhymes with an idea we pursued last year: Neighborhood Race, but with lower stakes than greenfield development (see Neighborhood Race in the History of experiments). How it could work:

  1. Any current Citizen can create a new proposed Neighborhood location
  2. Anyone can go to cabin.city and commit to a $100-200 / mo membership to a proposed location
  3. When 10+ people have committed, we activate memberships, they become Citizens of that location and we rent a Cabin (3rd space)
  4. More Citizens can continue to join the Cabin, and we work with the Club Steward to grow to a number of Citizens that can sustainably support the 3rd space

d. Open Questions

  1. What do we do about existing Citizens / benefits?
  2. Should we have membership tiers or different costs for different locations?
  3. Will there be a sufficient demand at the price point that covers the cost of renting Cabins?
  4. What happens to vouching? How do we vet who joins an existing space?

4. Cabins

Definitions

Current: Used to describe the brand, community, and city

Proposed: Used to describe the brand, community, city, and 3rd space

Context & Learnings

Over the past season, we ran an experiment in turning Neighborhood Zero into a subscription membership club (see Clubhouse). @charlie shared the learnings from this experiment here: Deep Work Club Experiment Learnings

The experiment had mixed results: some revenue generated through local club memberships, but a low conversion due to the demographic and distance from urban center. Charlie’s recommendation was to orient more towards families and/or consider spots closer to urban areas:

@savkruger shared some great thoughts about the value of building local clubs towards a 3rd space here: Clubs -> Neighborhoods - #5 by savkruger, as well as in a follow up call that we recorded (@Matai can hopefully share the video).

c. How it could work

10+ Citizens come together and commit to a monthly membership. We rent an apartment or house as a 3rd space that meets the following criteria:

Building

  • Kitchen
  • Dining Room
  • Living Room
  • Coworking space
  • 2+ bedrooms

Location

  • Housing cost & availability
  • School quality
  • Walkability
  • Access to nature
  • Access to airports
  • Vibrant downtown

(see more here on ideal location criteria: Exploring Villages for Families in Colorado)

Community

  • Running a consistent monthly Supper Club
  • 10+ committed Citizens
  • Someone willing to take on the role as Steward for the space

Operations

  • Landlord willing to rent for 3rd space
  • We can install a Ring camera, lock, etc
  • Playbook & support for Stewards
  • Liability insurance
  • Monthly cleaning crew

d. Open Questions

  1. Can we find spaces willing to rent to us under this arrangement?
  2. Can we find spaces with a reasonable tradeoff of amenities and cost to make this viable?

Case studies

Here are six specific examples of where I think this model could thrive in the Americas:

  1. Spy Pond - Massachusetts
  2. Larkspur - Northern California
  3. North Boulder Park - Colorado
  4. Neighborhood Zero - Texas
  5. Ojai - Southern California
  6. Prospera & Morazan - Honduras

There are many other places with a strong presence in our community that could also be good fits but were not included as case studies for brevity, including:

  • North America (Portland/Seattle, Washington; Venice, California; Toronto, Ontario; Alameda, California)
  • Central America (Guanacaste, Costa Rica; San Juan, Puerto Rico)
  • Europe (Berlin, Germany; London, UK; Sofia, Bulgaria; Lisbon, Portugal)
  • Asia (Bangalore, India; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Taipei, Taiwan)

1. Spy Pond - Mass (@grin)

Heading northwest out of Boston, after passing through Cambridge, you come to a charming small town called Arlington. If you keep going, you’ll be in Lexington & Concord. Arlington sits on Spy Pond, which is a neighbor to Walden Pond. It’s just been sitting there, quietly in the middle of famous American landmarks for hundreds of years:

It has a neighborhood that sits between the town’s small urban area and Spy Pond nature preserve. There are athletic fields, schools, bike paths, and a train station a mile away:

In particular, the houses around Spy Pond Field in between town and the pond form a lovely core of low setback family and multi-family houses with front porches:

To get specific and tangible, here is a 3 bed 1 bath apartment on the market right now for $3400 / month. This is a great example of a potential Cabin 3rd space:

2. Larkspur - CA (@jon)

Across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco is the town of Larkspur. It has a charming walkable downtown, regular ferries to SF, extensive bike paths, beautiful parks along the marshes of the San Francisco Bay, and hundreds of miles of trails on Mt. Tam.

The town’s central urban district feels out of the 19th century, complete with a hundred year old saloon called the Silver Peso. It’s delightfully walkable and packed with popular restaurants:

Right next to Mt. Tam, there are apartment buildings offering 2 bedroom units for $2900 / mo:


3. North Boulder Park - Colorado (@savkruger)

Boulder runs along the edge of the Flatirons, from south to north: UC Boulder, Downtown, Pearl Street, North Boulder Park

Near the park, there’s a 3 bedroom bungalow with a huge backyard for $4k / mo. Just imagine the gardening that could be done here:


4. Neighborhood Zero - Texas (@jon)

Neighborhood Zero is tucked in the Texas Hill Country, 45 minutes west of Austin. It sits on 50 acres near Hill Country natural destinations like Pedernales Falls States Park, Hamilton Pool, and the Highland Lakes.

Neighborhood Zero features a Texas-scale expanse of rolling hills, scrubby forest, and winding creek. The sky spanning sunsets and stars makes you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, even though it’s a quick drive to Austin. The property has several houses, gardens, a tool library, solarpunk infrastructure, and art installations built by the community.

The original container home built on the property makes for a perfect Cabin (that’s what it was designed for). It has 4 ensuite bedrooms and and a large open kitchen / dining / living room. Let’s assume something like $3k / mo rent:


5. Ojai - Southern California (@Matai)

Halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara sits the Ojai Valley, a pocket of beautiful farmland and mountains north of Malibu:

The Ojai Valley combines fantastic weather, beautiful nature, and fertile farming land:

Throughout the Valley, there are a number of emerging eco-villages, intentional communities, and collaborative farms—places like this where we might be able to establish a Cabin 3rd space:


6. Prospera & Cuidad Morazan - Honduras

Looking out over the barrier reefs of tropical Roatan is Prospera, a special economic zone in Honduras located on Pristine Bay.

In addition to a large greenfield development zone, there’s a fully built resort with a combination clubhouse, hotel, pools, restaurants, apartments, and single family homes. They even have their own onsite Montessori school and dive shop:

In the greenfield development, they are finalizing their first residential building, the 14 story Duna tower. Here’s the rendering (left) and real, nearly complete first tower (right), from my recent visit:

As I shared in Reflections on Vitalia, Prospera, and popup cities, there may be an opportunity to get an apartment in Duna (possibly for free) that we could open as a Cabin:

As an added bonus, adjacent ZEDE Cuidad Morazan is already a Cabin neighborhood, and rents a barebones 2 bedroom apartment for the shockingly low rate of $150 / month:

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Steps to Start a Neighborhood

  1. Host a monthly Supper Club to begin building community in a local area
  2. Get together with ten Citizens and commit to $100-200 / month subscription
  3. Cabin rents a community third space (aka a Cabin) that is locally managed by Club Steward
  4. Citizens get access to their local third space & stays across the network
  5. People visit neighborhoods and eventually start moving there

Love this, especially steps 2 & 3

Fractal’s first third space was started by people in the community who are financially stable and willing to take a risk. They have been subsidizing the space for awhile, although they’ve been taking steps towards sustainability & profitability and I suspect they’ll reach it. And we’ve definitely seen a flywheel where demand for moving here increased after we started a third space that so many people living in other neighborhoods and cities visit.

Fractal 2 doesn’t have a third space yet, and we are considering doing something like step 2 - basically crowdfunding the start and spreading the risk across many people.

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Thanks for sharing—I’d love to connect with the folks running the third space!

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Do you a link to Fractals third space? Thanks

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Really nice job on framing this out Jon. I live in Milwaukee WI (90 min North of Chicago IL) and metro area is about 1 million. I think this could be a great place as well for this type of thing. I will keep an eye on this as see how you guys are doing as right now it’s just me in this area, however a close friend is looking at land that would be the perfect fit for this and I’ve shared a little about the Cabin concept with her. So for now I will continue to watch progress before jumping in.

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Super cool, Katie. I worked at Growing Power there for a few months and agree that it could be a very good setup there. People need it!

As things progress with what @jonbo (my boyfriend who’s distinct from Jon Hillis lol) and I are building in Boulder, CO, we’re planning to start a guild at Cabin to help support those who want to build neighborhoods in their area get started, share learnings on what’s working in different contexts, etc. and would love to have you to help make I what you’re imagining happen. .

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Ah How cool. Growing Power is great, although not sure what they are up tp post Covid (will need to tune in) I was involved al ot more back in 2012-2015 in my food activism days, Growing Victory Gardens, and Permaculture etc.

Will wrote a great book that I may need to revisit in the lens of Cabin… Amazon.com

Thanks for helping me resurface all this knowledge in myself and I would love to stay connected and support what you are building in Boulder.

Katie

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welcome to the forum @KatieFelten!

Even if you’re not quite ready to dive in to building a neighborhood, I’d love to hop on a call and learn more about you & where you live. I’ll send you a DM to connect if you’re up for it.

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This was a really interesting read.

I’m excited by the supper clubs → third spaces → neighborhood flow . I’m curious to know how third spaces will make Cabin enough money. If you only get 10 citizen commits, how do you justify spending more than that revenue on a third space? A third space in Venice Beach will certainly be much more expensive than one in Johnson City. That question aside, I love that Citizenships only become access upon 10+ commitments - that solves a tricky coordination problem. But maybe the actual n of Citizens varies by market? I’d hate to add complexity, but $1-2k/month will not get a worthwhile space here.

Love that the new definition of neighborhoods could include urban environments (so long as there is nature nearby - which there is in Venice)!

More open questions:

  • How do you incentivize a Club Steward to do a good job? :thinking:
  • Is the third space only open to Cabin Citizens?
  • Might be confusing to rebrand what “cabin” means instead of introducing “clubhouse” or “outpost” or a new term.

Third space brainstorming/random thoughts:

  • I know what my community in LA would want from a third space is a combination of studio space, coworking, and maybe a small stage. People want space to co-create, especially musically and for filming content. 1-2 bedrooms would be a nice add on - especially if a club steward lived on site, but is probably secondary to the creator amenities I describe. Proximity to nature (aka the beach) would also be something that this community wants.
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Thanks for the questions, @jxn.

Yes, 10 was just an example for what an MVP might look like in a less expensive market. Yes, maybe the local community could set a goal based on local market conditions and then they just have to get that many $150 / mo commits for Cabin to go open the 3rd place.

I think it’s probably free membership + the desire to see their community dreams come to life. Perhaps there could also be a stipend for community events that they’d manage. But I think most of the motivation is going to have to be intrinsic for this to work.

Yes, I think it would have to be for this model to work. Maybe there could be day/overnight passes for purchase?

Very helpful to get a sense of what type of 3rd place your community would get excited about. One thing I love about this as a product offering is that it is highly customizable to the local community’s interests. Cabin provides the container, but the local community fills it.

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So if it’s the case that a chapter has to get enough commitments to cover the rent, then what’s the primary advantage of why a group of folks would want to do this through Cabin? Why wouldn’t they just independently sign a lease? Is it because Cabin assumes the risk (if some members later deactivate?).

Seems reasonable

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I think there are probably many reasons why a group wouldn’t want to take this on without Cabin’s support:

  1. The financial commitment of signing a long term lease
  2. The risk of people not following through on their payments
  3. The cost and effort to carry liability insurance
  4. The pain of managing ongoing payments & membership for a large group
  5. The upfront costs of furnishing the space
  6. The need to recruit additional people beyond the immediate friend group to get enough members
  7. The challenge of finding a space willing to enter into this kind of lease with a group of friends
  8. The legal paperwork and community guidelines necessary to make this viable
  9. The playbooks and peer support from a network of other people doing similar things in other places

But this is just my hypothesis—I’m curious what would make this valuable for what you want to do in Venice Beach & why you haven’t tried to do this on your own yet.

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These are great! They resonate with me (esp 1-5 + 7) and validate this as something I would be interested in. The bull case for Cabin is of course that after signing the lease, more and more people buy Cabin memberships such that Cabin starts profiting.

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My TLDR

Love the vision and feel there needs to be more development of the Member → Steward Journey, with a focus on using Clubs to reinforce that journey and provide an alternative way to develop a Neighborhood if you’re not ready to lead the creation of a 3rd space.

The Full Thing:

I can feel myself getting excited as I write this on my way to hangout with the Cabin crew at ETH Denver :heart_eyes:

Caveat before I move forward: I copied all the text from Jon’s post into a Notion before the flight, but I don’t have access to people’s comments, so apologies if I say things people have already said.

While I have thoughts on this post, I’m going to focus my response on my core fascination in all of this: the Member journey vs the Steward journey. While one person can certainly be each, I think it’s essential to treat them as separate journeys, because each has its respective needs and motivations that represent the individual’s growth and evolution as a person (just as Airbnb needs to treat customers and Hosts differently).

My hypothesis is that if we nail both of these journeys, an exciting citizenship flywheel will emerge:

  1. Stranger seeks alternative community & finds Supper Clubs → becomes a Cabin Friend
  2. Cabin Friend gets excited by, continues to attend, and be involved in Cabin → becomes Member
  3. Member sees progress, gains motivation and investment → becomes Steward
  4. Steward evangelizes the mission and sends-up their bat signal → Stranger hears about Cabin

This progression is clearly simplified, but I think there needs to be some serious attention paid from what happens from Step 3 to Step 4, because it’s massive and the fate of this vision shared by Jon hinges on making that transition make sense for Members who are interested in being a Steward.

I happen to be one of those people! So I’ll speak to my experience here:

I’m hearing a much larger emphasis on 3rd spaces and not nearly as much of an emphasis on Clubs as I heard in the State of the Network a lil while back. As a potential steward, the task of running a club feels infinitely more manageable and doable than starting a 3rd space. I feel excitement, motivation and a bit of nervousness to start a Cabin Club in The Bay, but I feel intimidation, avoidance, and hesitancy when I think about starting a 3rd space in The Bay.

This is for a few core reasons:

  1. I’m not looking for another part-time job - I’m incredibly happy and full with the level of projects in my life that have hard requirements of me and my time. Creating a 3rd space is a massive undertaking and would require serious incentives for me to clear the space in my calendar to prioritize making the space I think 10+ Cabin folk would appreciate
  2. There’s already a great 3rd space in The Bay - The SF Commons is incredible and already serves this function of the 3rd space in my area. I’d much rather put together a partnership with an awesome existing 3rd space rather than start my own.
  3. I’m looking to create a social fabric that will unfurl into longterm co-housing - Cabin Suppers, Lego play nights, the Cabin poker league, a survival course, a men’s group, and an AI study group are all things I am very excited to host for the Bay’s neighborhood. I’ve found these forms of gathering are perfect for providing the space to deepen friendships and maintain connection to those who stimulate curiosity and joy. From the healthy social soil these clubs helped foster, a 3rd space can grow.

My Headline

While renting a 3rd space is a wonderful and necessary step towards the ultimate goal of Cabin, it feels premature in the Steward journey. Clubs feel like the natural place to start as a Steward in order to mature towards creating a 3rd space. Hosting clubs for 3-6 months ensures the Steward will have a healthy email list to reach out to about hosting a 3rd space once they’re ready for it.

I’m super stoked to help with this and can’t wait to get goin’!

My questions

  • What is a 3rd space and how does it interact with Clubs?
  • Is a 3rd space the same for a family as it is for a young professional?
  • Are there multiple Stewards to a neighborhood?
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