"Put Numbers in a Spreadsheet" - An interview with Michael Slaby regarding the basics / best practices of measuring impact

"Put Numbers in a Spreadsheet" - An interview with Michael Slaby regarding the basics / best practices of measuring impact

In this illustrated podcast you’ll hear from Michael Slaby, someone who has spent his career creating and measuring impact. Michael is the former CTO and Chief Innovation Officer for the Obama campaigns, where he used technology and data science to help create national, grassroot support. He’s now the CEO and Head of Mission at Timshel, a technology platform that enables and empowers nonprofits to more accurately and efficiently scale their impact.

Map Lake Michigan: A Chicago Migration

Map Lake Michigan: A Chicago Migration

Today Goose Island kicks off its Lincoln Park Migration Week and we’re joining the party. Tomorrow we’ll celebrate by gathering Chicago movers/shakers/drinkers/thinkers for a sold-out event to toast Chicago’s lakefront with a collaboration we call “Map Lake Michigan.”  In less than 3 hours teams will  design a series of maps that illustrate what the lakefront means to Chicagoans. And the best part? Drink Tank will convert these insights into an interactive online map that will live on after the event, and will serve as a resource for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, an organization dedicated to protect and restore clean water, and build a sustainable future for the Great Lakes.

Sustainability & Storytelling - Session Notes

Sustainability & Storytelling - Session Notes

You know what they say, Drink Tanks are like hops: No two are the same. (Ok fine, no one says that, but feel free to start.) Last week's gathering of movers/shakers/drinkers/thinkers for "Sustainability & Storytelling" in Oakland was pretty special, and extraordinarily insightful. 

Sustainability & Storytelling: A Party with a Purpose

Sustainability & Storytelling: A Party with a Purpose

Like Drink Tank, Goose Island celebrates Chicago’s spirit of collaboration, supports innovation, and fuels conversations that matter. We’re excited to partner with them to amplify their community impact in Oakland during the “Sustainability & Storytelling” Drink Tank in partnership with The Trust for Public Land.

Lobster Hack: Cheers to our Maine Collaborators

Lobster Hack: Cheers to our Maine Collaborators

If you’ve attended a Drink Tank you know it’s a lot of fun to collaborate with strangers. What you might not know is that this “Party with a Purpose” is only made possible by a series of local conversations and collaborations to produce an event as useful as it is fun. This was especially the case during our visit to Portland, Maine, for “Lobster Hack.”

Why Consider the Lobster (Trap)?

Why Consider the Lobster (Trap)?

Everyone talks about building a better mousetrap, but shouldn't Mainers be talking about building a better lobster trap? On May 11th Drink Tank is partnering with local lobstermen, researchers, and makers to think about what it might take to do just that

Drink Tank is partnering with Lyft

Drink Tank is partnering with Lyft

We are a recreational think tank, it’s true, but we also strive to be a responsible think tank. We believe that everyone should get home safely and we’re also big fans of the sharing economy.

The Economy of Reciprocity

The Economy of Reciprocity


What if you had 6 minutes to talk about anything at all? Would you use it as an opportunity to share your philosophy on life and business? Drink Tank CoFounder Kate Garmey did exactly that at Idea Potluck, a neighborhood gathering where a hand-picked selection of Chicagoans get 6 minutes to present on anything they want. (If you haven't been to Idea Potluck, we emphatically recommend you check it out!) Take a listen to hear Kate's secret to life and business (as well as highlights from an almost-career as a marine biologist). Spoiler alert: Don’t be an asshat. 


Women's History Month: You're Not Doing it Wrong

Women's History Month: You're Not Doing it Wrong

March is Women’s History Month (it’s also national sauce month, just FYI). For all the reasons you might think, we care deeply about this topic. We also know that if you’re a woman, you might wonder if you’re even celebrating this month right. I mean, how can we, as women, compete with national sauce month? Sauce is so delicious

Fear not. Before you go down a internet rabbit hole to learn how sauce is making friends, influencing people, and "having it all", here are five things you can do to remind yourself that... we got this.

#1 - Ask questions of someone you admire (like, say, a female CEO of a tech company disrupting a major industry)

Kaitlin Reimann is CoFounder and CEO of uBack. uBack is a simple personal giving mobile app that makes it easy for nonprofits, donors and corporations to engage in philanthropy. In March uBack partnered with 1871’s Wistem, and Conciencia Ventures to host a panel on Women and Philanthropy. (For more about this event read Eric Lugo’s post here).

As moderator, Kaitlin asked such thoughtful questions that we were inspired to ask her some of our own. Read our conversation below:

Who is your biggest source of inspiration? Why?

My parents! They always taught our family two important lessons:  (1) No "should'ves" - meaning we always needed to work hard, challenge ourselves and to keep looking forward. (2) The truth behind "people may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel" - my parents have this incredible energy for life and that extends into everyone they meet where they can always be depended upon to support others, listen and have fun!

Is there a particular notion/sentiment/idea coming from the event you're most excited to implement or test? 

There are so many to choose from! I took to heart the call to action from the distinguished panel participants to contact our elected political representatives. As a person who is passionate about many different causes, I am concerned about the impact of our current political environment and budget situation and what that means for critical nonprofit support services. My fear is if we don't join our nonprofit partners and demand resolution and actions even more individuals in our local communities who are in the greatest need of these services will suffer.

Needless to say this is now something I am committed to taking on thanks to the wonderful female leaders who joined us.

What would be your advice to young women who want to "bridge the gap" / "blur the lines" between business and Nonprofits?

Be bold and chase your own possibilities. We are in an age where people know that the individuals who created today's challenges are not going to be the ones to fix them. Therefore, if you have an idea or see something that could be improved - take charge, collaborate with others and make it happen. We often think that our ideas are not plausible but we may be shutting doors to new possibilities before we even get started so I say - go for it!

To learn more about the work Uback is doing, visit ubackforgood.com.

#2 Be Brave (or at the very least have your mentor forward a Ted Talk on the subject)

Our good friend (and “wisdom owl”) forwarded this to us this month. We got halfway through before thinking, “You know who needs to see this? Everyone’s sister.” Bravery, like “owning it,” “leaning in,” or “rounding up,” might not come naturally to you – but cultivating that skill is worth the time it takes to practice.

“In the 1980s, psychologist Carol Dweck looked at how bright fifth graders handled an assignment that was too difficult for them. She found that bright girls were quick to give up. The higher the IQ, the more likely they were to give up. Bright boys, on the other hand, found the difficult material to be a challenge. They found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts.” - Reshma Saujani

#3 Find empowering advice on bullies and doubters (get this advice from the most powerful, intimidating/inspiring person of all time)

So, the resiliency in being brave is useful to your career, but First Lady Michelle Obama wants you to know that it also has the power to change society. Compelling encouragement.

"For me, when I was younger, it was always the doubters. And I don’t know about young people here, but growing up as a black girl on the South Side of Chicago, where the expectations of me were limited, as I was trying to make my way and do good in school and apply to good colleges, there were always people around telling me what I couldn’t do, always telling me how far I should only dream. And my reaction to that at that time was to prove the doubters wrong. That spurred me -- “I’ll show you.” They give you strength.


All of these unfairnesses and inequities, you all experience that every day in your life -- the bully, that loudmouth, that person who’s saying -- they’re there all around you. All that stuff just follows you into adulthood. They’re there no matter what.

So now, you’re practicing that strength. You’re practicing understanding your passion. You’re practicing utilizing your power. And that starts right at home -- mentoring your young brothers and sisters, your cousins, being a role model to the people in your community. That’s where change happens." - Michelle Obama

#4 Get to Work (and Get Paid)

Get Hustlin’ is a newsletter that should be required reading for anyone and everyone looking to take a FLOTUS-eqsue “I’ll Show You” approach to their career. Written by a talented team (who happen to be women), Get Hustlin' gives you the intel you need to get ahead. So go ahead, subscribe here. (Also, at the end of the day, you should get paid. Ann Friedman has advice worth remembering when it comes to remembering your worth.)

#5 It’s ok to call yourself a feminist (Canada Gets It)

Worst case, you can move to Canada*.   

*This is what worst case looks like in case you were wondering

What's a Drink Tank Like?

What's a Drink Tank Like?


You know when you go to an event, and it's full of interesting people, and everyone is excited and contributing ideas, and then... nothing happens? Yeah. We do, too. At Drink Tank, we know your time is valuable so we make sure not to waste it. We give serendipity a nudge by bringing smart, multidisciplinary thinkers together to solve problems, unlock creativity and make meaningful connections. And since our goal is to ensure that Drink Tanks are as fun as they are useful, it means that we're on the hook to maintain the momentum. After the event we send the "Distillation" to participants and hosts, a recap of key ideas, themes, and outcomes.

Curious what a Drink Tank looks like in action? Perfect. Check out the video montage below. 

(Featured Drink Tank Events: Betabrand, Braintree, Google, and The Onion) 



On Building Something Meaningful: An Illustrated Podcast with Victor Saad

On Building Something Meaningful: An Illustrated Podcast with Victor Saad

At Drink Tank, we believe in an economy of reciprocity – we think people who contribute their expertise and experience to the community should be able to access comparable support in return.

We founded Drink Tank to foster community pairings that result in useful connections to people, resources, and ideas.  Our events apply design principles to facilitate serendipitous moments that couldn’t have happened with one person working alone. We’ve employed our methods to help a fashion brand create prototypes based on ideas from its loyal customers, a nonprofit partner tell its own story through the eyes of talented creatives, and a tech company engage its employees to articulate and scale company culture. And while our format and location might change (we’ve convened anywhere from bike shops, to Airbnb lofts, to tap rooms and office atriums, all the way from San Francisco to Lexington) our goal is always the same: to create an environment of mutually advantageous exchange.

One of the best parts of running Drink Tank is that this kind of work introduces us to fascinating people who are in the process of building meaningful things.  Over the course of the past year we’ve collided and collaborated with entrepreneurs, philosophers, developers, designers, scientists, and artists from all over.  Victor Saad, founder and president of Experience Institute and the Leap Year Project, is one of those people. For the past two years we’ve worked with Victor and his team at the Experience Institute as instructors of Human Centered Design. There, we’ve observed first hand Victor’s unyielding optimism and dedication to helping others make a leap to something great. We’ve also observed just how hard it is to run a school, a successful kickstarter, and start a global movement at the same time. We recently sat down with Victor and asked him: What’s the process to build something meaningful?

Victor was kind enough to break down his response into five “easy” steps.  In the Drink Tank spirit of reciprocity, we are excited to share what we learned and hope you find it useful as you take your next leap. Go forth and build, friends.  And cheers to that.

On Being a Good Host

On Being a Good Host

At Drink Tank, we think a lot about what it means to be a good host. When we bring people together to solve problems we want them to feel comfortable, equipped and excited to work with new people. (This happens to be something we have in common with Google, who has been super focused on “Psychological Safety” lately/wisely.) This week we had the opportunity to meet with two of Chicago’s experts on hospitality – Chef Charles Webb and Alexios Milioulis. We asked them how they make people feel welcome, here's what they had to say: 

By understanding their needs/wants before hand, and how to exceed them. Giving them a warm experience from beginning to the end-  how they are greeted, the energy that flows in the space, "the psychology of place," putting them at ease as well. You need to guide them through their experience and journey-  food, beverage, lighting, music, ambience all play huge roles but ultimately it comes down to how people interact, and communicate on those levels. - Charles Webb

Little things set the tone for how people are going to take a dining experience. The fact is they could have a negative experience with the whole restaurant because the hostess was short with them, and that actually overshadows the truth behind the service they get from the server or what they’re tasting. First impressions are everything, but from there I like to identify who’s sitting down, what they're ordering, what they’re drinking. Anything and everything I want to know about them because next time they come in, maybe I’ll surprise them with their favorite drink. That sets you at a bar higher than most places because you’re not just doing the norm, you’re doing something that’s unexpected. - Alexios Milioulis, Hospitality Director for Dineamic Hospitality Group

Once you start to look for it, you'll see examples of making people feel welcome everywhere. Here are two examples of voice and tone that inspired us lately.


The Persistent Question: Why Chicago?

The Persistent Question: Why Chicago?

About The Persistent Question:

At Drink Tank, we’re lucky to meet interesting people on the reg and have the chance to ask them tons of questions. We’ve met people with different perspectives and backgrounds who’ve shared their excitement for what they’re building and who’ve been generous with their wisdom. Seeing this again and again, we came up with “The Persistent Question”. The set up is pretty simple: we choose a question and we ask of it of the people we meet. We pass along those answers to you here as a testament to the power of multidisciplinary collaboration.

This Edition's Question:


There is an authenticity to the midwest that I think is desired all over the world.

  Marketing practitioner and trainer, specializing in instruction design, Managing Director at Carbonate

Marketing practitioner and trainer, specializing in instruction design, Managing Director at Carbonate

  Communications consultant

Communications consultant

 I think Chicago is the best place for me now as I think the city is ready for disruption and change for the better. The last year was very difficult for our city and caused many people to further question what they believe in and how they can make a difference in their communities. 

Outside of the ability to vote, one of the greatest individual powers that we have is our voice. My passion is helping people find that voice along with the appropriate avenues to make that voice heard. And in the spirit of innovation and collaboration, I think we are starting to see more cooperation between government, business, civic and community organizations to discover what works and how to push forward.  I love that in the chaos, there is a great beauty in trying to define, and then exploring what's possible together.

  Maris Garcia is design research lead at  Greater Good , a design firm focused on social impact

Maris Garcia is design research lead at Greater Good, a design firm focused on social impact

We have a city full of driven, strategic, creative people. We also have a city facing significant challenges with education, health, safety and economic development. How can we have all this and not get to work?

  President of Lightspan Digital, a Chicago  digital marketing agency

President of Lightspan Digital, a Chicago digital marketing agency

In the past couple of years I learned how important a support system is to building a business and life away from where I started, in Romania. I have no family, childhood or college friends here. And no matter how much I'd like to believe I am so tough that I could make it on my own, I didn't. I have a rock-solid friend support system. I've lived in many places around the world and Chicago is where I made good friends quickly. In this beautiful big city there is a humanity that I haven't encountered elsewhere. People are open and honest, willing to give and receive. This is the city of big hearts.

There may be cities with more a venture capital/angel network, but Chicago feels like it has one of the most supportive investor communities. I've been in touch with hundreds of companies and can count on one hand how many I have left without feeling compelled to help through one way or another; even if it is completely out of our scope. Last month the most interesting outside-the-box companies I met were curators of saffron, and a connector of millennials to fine art and with each I felt equally compelled to be helpful than if I was pitched on an Uber or Airbnb type of company. It's just a great, creative city.

  Founder of  BrunchApp

Founder of BrunchApp

Launching a social communication app like Brunch in Chicago benefit greatly from our pragmatic culture of app users. In other words, you better have a really good product to get any excitement or attention around here. In the valley, excitement around apps boom and bust in a heartbeat. It often creates false positives and kills startups before before they can get off the ground.

Ideas, Bikes & Prototypes: Drink Tank + Divvy + Betabrand

Ideas, Bikes & Prototypes: Drink Tank + Divvy + Betabrand

It’s happening! Aug 6th will be one of our most fun collaborations yet. Join Chicago cyclists, makers, fashion designers and other creative, fun people for #Bike2Life, a Drink Tank featuring our partnership with Betabrand and Divvy. Together we’ll be making shit, and we’ll be making shit happen.

Why how did such a glorious union come to be, you ask? Great question. We met Liz Russof, Director of Betabrand’s Think Tank, earlier this year, which put the wheels in motion (pun intended, unless puns annoy you, in which case it was not). For those of you unfamiliar, Betabrand is a clothing community based in San Francisco, but worn with pride around the world. The concept is simple yet ingenious:  Betabrand’s community submits product designs through the website and crowdfunds ideas into existence in a matter of weeks. Products emphasize form and functionality, and share a wit and irreverence that is unique to the brand. (Think: Dress Pant Sweatpants, The Flashback Photobomber Hoodie, or the Work It Skort.)

Liz was looking for a clever and creative community in Chicago, and that’s where we came in. Like Betabrand, Drink Tank events unlock the power of community to make great things happen. We knew this partnership would lead to great things.

At this Drink Tank we’ll invent/design/pitch/iterate/dream up products and designs to improve the lives of Chicago’s cyclists. We invited Divvy Bikes to join the collaboration to ensure that our solutions would be meaningful would be useful. They shared research to help us understand their customer needs and motivations, and we used these insights to inform the Drink Tank “event tracks”. Check out these tracks to get your wheels turning-- the ideation and online submissions have already begun on Betabrand’s website here.

Got an idea that’s not quite ready for prime-time, no problemo. As an added bonus Liz will be offering Think Tank office hours while she’s in town. So bring your concepts from the Aug 6 Drink Tank, get your prototypes off the shelf, and sketch out those ideas that have been kicking around in your head: Now is that time to make them happen.  Schedule time to meet with Liz to get personalized coaching and tips, and suggestions to bring your ideas to market. Don’t be shy, she’s excited to meet you. Promise.

So join us August 6 to meet great people, enjoy Chicago beers, and help generate new products that improve life on two wheels and help put Chicago in the fast lane/bike lane during the first-ever Betabrand Midwest event.  RSVP directly on Eventbrite.

Special thanks to event sponsors Ancien Bikes for supplying the space, and Goose Island for supplying the hops.

Civic Hack / New Town Hall

Civic Hack / New Town Hall

Drink Tank: Lexington and the new Town Hall

Don't get us wrong, we're crazy about Chicago, but on June 5 we decided it was time for a change of scenery. We drove 735 miles to Lexington, Kentucky, to partner with the fine folks who work with OpenLexington and the city's open data to help bring a fresh perspective to this year's National Day of Civic Hacking (#hackforhange).

Wait? What is this National Day of Civic Hacking?

Ah, good question. National Day of Civic Hacking is organized by Code for America and happens nationwide in June. It was created so that developers, designers, government employees, organizers, and anyone with a passion for her community can collaborate to build useful tools to improve it.

This year we partnered with  Erik SchwartzMike Dillion, and Chase Southard to shake things up in Lexington. Turns out that not only do these guys know how to code and mobilize the developer community for civic good, they also know a thing or two about moving chairs and opening beer bottles. As luck would have it, we turned out to be the Dream Team of Collaboration. 

To kick off this partnership we first hopped on a phone call to understand their current process and challenges. Specifically, these guys wondered: 

1) How might we get non-technical people involved and make them feel welcome? 

2) How might we use this event to maintain the momentum for civic good in Lexington? 

The Drink Tank Community Accelerator 

We started with the users, not the code.  Remember the healthcare.gov debacle? It's hard to forget. The policy was considered a failure because the website didn't work: Users around the country clamored to signup on the new site but were unable to signup for health insurance. Increasingly, policy and the technology that powers it are interchangeable. For technology (or government) to work it needs to be designed with the user in mind. 

We asked questions. We themed this event around the idea of connecting citizens to local government resources. We started the day by asking participants to think of a question they have for local Lexington government that they don't know how to answer. We upvoted the ideas and questions as a group, and broke into teams to get to work. 

"In contrast to last year where we let people divide up in to prescribed groups with predetermined focus areas.  We spent the morning exploring questions/issues/ideas we'd liked answered. After voting for the best 4 ideas, we devoted our afternoon to working on them. A number of participants expressed their pleasure about the format this year." – Chase Southard

We included research as part of the solution design.  We encouraged event organizers to invite subject-matter experts from social workers, to educators, to community organizers. Teams spent time talking to users, researching existing solutions, and mapping pain points and user journeys.   


We made the solutions easy to understand: At the end of the day teams came back together to share progress, but this time we added a twist: Teams had to act out interactions with their solutions and explain their designs without using any code. 

"At the end of the day we presented our resource directory as part of a skit. The power of live theatre can never be underestimated." – Erik Schwartz

We ended with cheers (and beers).  


We had fun, Lexington. See you next year.

Additional Thanks & Parting Thoughts 

  • BuildWith for being our new wikipedia / index of inspiring links related to civic hacking
  • PublicGood and Jason Kunesh, who remind us to think about using tech as a smart way to capture (rather than impede) a person's instinct to help. 
  • Michler's Cafe and Beer Garden for being a beautiful place to celebrate a solid day of solutioneering with new friends. 
  • The Write Club and Longform (Ann Friedman episode) podcasts for the making the miles fly by (without a single speeding ticket).
  • Spotify for providing access to our favorite sing along songs
  • The 7-11 for providing hats that made our heads look awesome, and the trip feel shorter. 
  • Margaret Mead, for saying,"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Drink Tank: How it Works

Drink Tank: How it Works


1. Familiarize yourself with the theme.
You’ll receive an “Idea Card” when you sign in. The Idea Card is a tool we use to get ideas or challenges out of your head and onto paper. This is where you can write down or sketch the project/problem you’re working on, the thing that keeps you up at night, or the idea that’s kicking around in your head and just won’t quit. (If you're not actively working on an idea right now, that's ok-- some people prefer to make them up on the spot.)

2. Offer an idea/challenge that’s clear and concise.
When it comes time to writing down your idea try to make sure it’s easy to read and easy to understand. (Jargon is good in business, but not when you’re trying to convey your thoughts to people who don’t work in your industry. We’ve found short and sweet works best.) If you know what kind of help you’re looking for, do your best to articulate it: Let Drink Tank know how we can help!

3. Meet as many people as you can!
Drink Tank will be full of interesting, smart, and approachable people (we know this because like you, they all signed up for Drink Tank). If there’s someone you’d specifically like to seek out/connect with find us, so we can introduce you. And stay connected with us after the event to continue the conversation. (We’ll talk all about this on the day of-- we can’t exactly go giving away all of our spoilers now, can we?)


Drink Tank is a potluck of ideas. In return for your good times, productive work sessions and joyful networking, we ask that you offer something to the group. This could be a 6 pack, soda, chips, a fruitcake… whatever inspires. 


What We Talk About When We Talk about Drink Tank

Drink Tank is an exceedingly fun endeavor, made infinitely more so by the kind attendance and enthusiasm of you terrific people. With this, our first blog post, we wanted to illuminate and celebrate our origin story, guiding principles, etc, in a variety of formats.

A Montage, Mission Statement, and Value Prop

Hardscrabble Roots: Our first logo was a cardboard box and a nice guy we call Buckles 

Eventually we got the brilliant Alejandra Luaces-Riera to take another pass

Fun challenge: tell a story of Drink Tank in three screenshots

Sara, so glad you could make it!

Harder challenge: demonstrate the magic in only three images

Structure, Collaboration, Progress

Secret weapon: Filmmaker Andrea Raggio

Growing up she had a pony called Sparky. Learn more abt the biz.

Aesthetic Instincts: DIY, basically

Not to say we don't love a good Instagram filter

Co-Founders: The faces behind your invites

Kate Garmey and Annie Swank at your service

Bonus Section: a Slew of Panoramas