Coming Home: Journey of an Entrepreneur
Written by Kasha Ely
After graduating from Cedar Ridge High School in 2005, local entrepreneur Joshua Collins did what many small town kids with big ideas do — he left. His career as a custom software developer took him all around the world creating complex software systems for the U.S. Dover Air Force Base, Department of Transportation, Department of Labor and foreign governments.
He eventually settled in Raleigh and took a job as a growth strategist, guiding businesses through the process of creating effective business strategies. In this role, Collins quickly realized there was a niche he could fill serving local businesses and startups that often lack the resources and manpower enjoyed by larger companies.
“At my last job, I saw the small businesses struggling in the early stages because they were having to manage all these things like branding, social media and marketing, and it took them away from focusing on working on the business and they ended up just working in the business,” he says. “So I wanted to bundle all of those things together at a price point that they could afford.”
When he decided to start his own business, he began the process the same way he tells his clients to begin theirs — by asking three key questions.
First, what did he love? That answer was easy. He was constantly seeking creative outlets during his career, whether through music, graphic design or photography. So whatever he ended up doing, it had to allow him to tap into his creative side.
Next, what was he good at? His career so far had shown he had an aptitude for strategic thinking and developing technological solutions for big picture problems.
Finally, how could he combine these two key factors into a service that would create revenue?
In June 2018, Collins founded The Digital Butler, a one-stop-shop providing everything from brand strategy guidance to custom logos and websites. He soon quit his job to pursue his business full-time.
Then, shortly after beginning his journey as a business owner, the unthinkable happened. His father lost a leg to Type 1 diabetes and Collins knew he had to be there to help with the recovery. He had to go home.
“My concern when I moved back was that it was actually going to be detrimental to me as a new entrepreneur to be away from the Raleigh market where there were, I believed, a lot more opportunities. But on the contrary,” he says, “I was delightfully surprised at how much my hometown had changed, and I’m still here.”
His first weekend back, Collins attended West Fest, a small music festival in West Hillsborough, where his high school friends were playing in a popular local band, the Eno Mountain Boys.
“I saw the boys play at Mystery Brewing and I was like, what’s going on?” he recalls. “There are bars. There are open mics, there are concerts, there are more businesses...this is cool.”
“As somebody from Hillsborough back when it was just a bedroom community, to see so many people making this home and it being a place where you can come as a, at the time, 30-year-old entrepreneur and start your business and be able to get business just being here...it’s a testament,” he says.
“I really thought I was going to have a really hard six months starting my company while I was taking care of my father, and then I was going to have to move back to a market where there was a lot of opportunity to get clients and grow my business. But it turns out I could do that in little old Hillsborough.”
The Digital Butler took off, attracting clients near and far. At the same time, Collins also connected with established entrepreneurs in town, including Matt Fox, Scott Pasley and Gregg Pacchiana. This led him to take on leadership roles in major town projects, including the annual River Park Concert and the founding of C3, Hillsborough’s first coworking space.
The idea for C3 formed organically among the partners, who realized they had the opportunity to support the entrepreneurial community in a meaningful way. They refurbished an old bank building on Churton Street to create a much-needed haven for local entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote workers, complete with open work spaces, offices and conference rooms. To make it more comfortable, they also provide other business essentials, such as a stable high-speed internet connection, Counter Culture coffee and local beer on tap.
In an effort to make C3 useful and accessible to everyone, they offer three levels of membership. This includes:
$20 day passes giving visitors access to the space, printing, internet, parking and coffee
Flexible $150 month-to-month social memberships that includes all of the above plus discounted rates on conference rooms
3-month club memberships for $275/month that include everything above plus a dedicated desk, an ergonomic chair, four hours in the conference room each month and a discounted rate on any additional hours
Offices that are also available to rent 6 months at a time
Collins says the response from the community was immediate and enthusiastic. By the time his end of the project was complete, following a soft-launch in July 2018 and the official launch a month later, all the offices were rented and they were almost at full capacity for club memberships.
The response from town government and local organizations has been positive as well. Many local groups and businesses, such as the Hillsborough Arts Council and Yep Roc, regularly use C3 to host meetings and larger events. Recently this included the Plein Air Paint-Out in September 2019, organized by the Hillsborough Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission and Application Architects.
“I really love Scott, Matt and Greg. They are so committed to this community and opening up C3 to these local organizations,” Collins says. “You know, Scott said to me, and I say it all the time now, ‘All ships rise with the tide.’ And it’s true.”
While C3 has big plans for the future, including an ongoing discussion with the Hillsborough Arts Council to transform the building’s upstairs into a dedicated space for local artisans, Collins is continuing to grow The Digital Butler as well. After reconnecting with his friends in the Eno Mountain Boys and becoming their manager, he brought on EMB’s founder and lead vocalist Dillon Shambley to build out the next phase of the business: Digital Butler Productions.
In this new division, Collins and Shambley focus primarily on multimedia production for bands and musicians, including logo design, poster art, iPhone photography and soon, film and audio recording.
“Even in the creative outlet of The Digital Butler, I’m still confined to a business’s brand and growth strategy and what they need and want, whereas music opens me up to more of the artistic side of it,” he says, “where I can get a little crazy with the poster design or an album cover art piece or something like that. So I’ve definitely enjoyed tapping into that niche.”
Beyond simply producing innovative art pieces, their goal is to help open new doors to local bands by helping them build up their brand image and strategy.
“If you’re wanting to be on a record label and the record label goes to your website and your old band members are still on there, it hasn’t been updated in a while, that has an impact,” Collins says. “If you have it polished and put up new photos, videos and pull all these things together to be functional, then it impacts people in a positive emotional way.”
Throughout his time back in Hillsborough, Collins has continued to forge connections with people and organizations in town. He says one of the most meaningful changes he’s noticed since returning is a huge growth in diversity — perhaps not demographically, but in terms of the general mindset of the community, politically and culturally. He attributes much of this change to the bustling arts scene that emerged during his time away.
“You know, I was talking to Anders [Osborne] and Samantha [Fish]’s camps [during the River Park Concert] and telling them how important this was for our community and how much I appreciated them working with us because it was a free concert, and they worked with us on pricing and everything,” he recalls.
“And I said to them, we have a very polarized political County, but do you think one person [at the concert] went, ‘What side of the aisle do you sit on?’ No, they didn’t. That’s not what it was about, it was about that moment. And the arts for me, that’s what I feel like builds the community.
“We have this kind of growing town that is still miraculously holding onto its sense of community. People come here and they feel welcomed. You know, they don’t feel like, ‘I just moved and I’m on the outside,’ people come and they’re able to fit in. People welcome good humans with open arms here.”
C3 Hillsborough Co-working space opens on Churton
Featured in The News of Orange County
Hillsborough will follow the the shift away from traditional office space to coworking space when C3 Hillsborough opens downtown later this month.
C3 Hillsborough, built on community, culture, and collaboration, opened their doors for a soft open house during Last Fridays on June 29.
Located in the former SunTrust bank building, the space will offer different levels of membership, including daily rates for those who need a table and outlet for a couple hours, floating desk space and designated office space monthly memberships.
Upon entry, the front window is lined with bar stool seating. Restored brick walls feature two large murals, one of Tupac, the other Einstein. Mayor Tom Stevens’ paintings line the length of the office walls.
Desks and tables are placed around the room, some standing alone, some fashioned to facilitate conversation. Open cubicles are separated by steel pieces from Prescient, the previous business to occupy the building. These height-adjustable tables, along with most of the pieces inside, will be moved to fit the need of the space as it ebbs and flows.
The old bank vault has been repurposed into a conference room with a video call option, complete with a custom wormy maple wood table from Bull City Designs.
Small phone booths, dubbed as the “confessionals,” are situated beside the vault. They will be soundproof, allowing focused work and private phone conversations.
Separate office rooms have been created, but the most coveted room may be the converted drive-through bank teller office.
That is just the first floor. If this space is successful, the upstairs space – a gigantic hardwood floor space, once a general store with large paned windows overlooking Churton – will be renovated into a community office and event space as well.
Though the space will not officially open until mid-July, this renovation has been the talk of the town.
Online Facebook community groups have long been curious of what was to come from the blue-shuttered two-story historic building that overlooks Churton Street: a boutique hotel, a new restaurant, traditional office space? Though in question, the community seemed to know the business to come was bound to be interesting with the ownership trio. Partners Gregg Pacchiana, Matt Fox and Scott Pasley teamed up after concluding that a joint effort in purchasing the space would be best.
Fox is an owner and partner of several downtown restaurant hubs including The Wooden Nickel – and the Nickel 2.0 – LaPlace Louisiana Cookery, and the former Bona Fide Sandwich Co. spot.
One of the two realtors with Churton Street Realty, Scott Pasley, is also the owner of Nash Street Tavern and various other West Hillsborough properties.
Pacchiana was previously the president of Thalle Construction, a Hillsborough-based international construction company. After over 20 years in corporate construction, he sold Thalle in 2015 and took a step back to enjoy the place in which he lived, spend time with family, and instead of traveling for business, down shift and travel for pleasure or volunteer work.
This trio knew each other prior to purchasing the building in early 2016, as they were active in the community. They came together to create something “Hillsborough-centric,” Pacchiana said.
They saw the need for a space where the vibrant community of artists, writers, and small business owners could come and “hang their hat.”
The concept of a coworking space is to facilitate creativity, innovation, and sustainability. With a range of professions and expertise under one roof, this type of office space has been proven to produce a thriving network and community within itself.
Large coworking spaces such as WeWork and Regus have popped up throughout larger nearby cities such as Cary, Raleigh, and Durham. The partners behind C3 Hillsborough look to have a smaller, “neighborhood vibe,” Pacchiana said.
Instead of the corporate feel one might find at one of those large offices, this Hillsborough coworking environment will be laid back, with a heavy focus on collaboration.
Though C3 Hillsborough will offer drip coffee for its members, Pacchiana noted that this space will not be a replacement for the local coffee shop, keeping the aim to sustain and build thriving businesses. If you want the “fancy coffee,” CupAJoe will still be the mainstay. This office space will be a new hub for people who have been working at home or in a very small office and are looking to work alongside and interact other with other people.
Even in the formation of the space, C3 Hillsborough has remained local.
Joshua Collins of Digital Butler did the company branding, outside flower boxes were done by local Mary Susan Reed Daniel, and all IT work was done by Eric Garrison with WTE Solutions.
Their website, c3hillsborough.com, will offer collaborative tools for specialties within the coworking community. Members will be able to network through the website, which will extend into the larger community.
The daily rate, which includes regular drip coffee, water, high-speed internet, and outlets is $20.
A social-level monthly membership includes amenities of the daily rate, with access to the floating desk space and conference room access with a fee, and will cost $150/ month.
A membership level will offer the social monthly options, a filing cabinet, and access to the conference room, coworking space events and workshops, and 24/7 access to the building. This will cost $275/ month.
Dedicated office space, which would hold about 2-5 people per office, will be on a negotiable rate based on size and need. All of these options come with downtown parking space.
At Last Fridays, the owners were made aware of the increasing need for a small private meeting rooms for local attorneys to meet with clients. As the space was created to change based on the communities needs, closed door offices like these will potentially be available on an hourly or daily rate basis in the future.
C3 Hillsborough is taking applications online through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They hope to keep rates affordable and to keep tenants primarily in Hillsborough, rather than those commuting from larger cities.