Episode 6: Salimah Yvette Ebrahim (Artery.is)

In this colourful conversation Salimah, the co-founder of Artery, shares some unique experiences founding a 6 million member youth-led environmental network, working as a journalist in Africa, the Middle East (pre-Arab Spring),the US and more – all apparently leading towards co-founding her new company called Artery – a unique digital platform changing the way creative experiences are accessed, shared and supported globally.

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Qasim Virjee 0:08
back once again in the Start wall studio. At start, well, King west or main campus in downtown Toronto, it’s Qasim Virjee. I’m joined this time around for our sixth episode in the studio with Selena Ibrahim, one of our partners. The company’s name is artery Singh company sounds wrong. The movement I don’t know the the thing that is artery is what occupies her. She’ll be telling us a little bit about artery itself, but I’m really interested in hearing the backstory and some context around why it exists. So we’ll waft in Wayne and provide your ears with all sorts of goodness in a second. Salima, I’ll let you introduce yourself and let’s take it from there.

Salimah Ebrahim 0:52
Thanks, Qasim. Yeah, um, company movement community, really, that’s what we’re building. As Qasim said, I’m the co founder of artery. But before artery, I was a journalist and I worked around the world mostly in the Middle East and Africa, and even covered some US presidential politics. And before that, I found it environmental movement. And so I’ve been either building but

Qasim Virjee 1:17
I have to stop you there. I founded an environmental movement.

Salimah Ebrahim 1:21
It’s true. It’s true. Have you heard of the Spirit their castle? No, the spirit by really well, we’ve we’ve done our job mildly successfully. The Spirit bear was, is actually a white bear. It’s Canada’s panda that lives on the central coast of British Columbia. Wow. And on this one island on the central coast in the Great Bear Rainforest, very small island, about a quarter of a million hectares. One in every 10 black bears gives birth to a white cup. And when they discover this, the in the early sort of 20th century, they thought it was a misplaced polar bear, or maybe even albino, but they actually found out that it was a double recessive gene. And it was a subspecies of a black bear. And so the spirit bear when I was 1415 years old, we heard I heard about the spirit bear from a friend of mine, Simon Jackson. And we ended up creating an organization called the Spirit bear youth coalition, wow, in his basement over burgers and chocolate cake. And it started out as a letter writing campaign to bring awareness to encourage government to create a wilderness conservancy around protecting this bear because to save the spirit bear with to save the habitat and to secure the gene pool. And so it started out as a small letter writing campaign. And then over the course of the next decade, it turned into a global movement of we grew to 6 million people in 64 countries. And then we, we did save the spirit there. And so it was my first lesson at the power of giving people you know, a tool or a cause to self organize around and how you can really unleash that. So

Qasim Virjee 3:07
yeah, that’s a fantastic, you know, little sojourn into your history is a segue from the bio, but a while and you were a teenager when this all happened? Yeah,

Salimah Ebrahim 3:18
it was started. You know, like I said, when I was like 14, we really got going on about 15. And over that next decade through university, and even overlapping when I was a journalist in the Middle East, I would be by that point, by the time I was in my 20s, we had gone from a letter writing campaign that was like, very, very grassroots, like we were in every school in Canada and every high school and then later on in the US. But by that point, we had, you know, we had garnered some press, we had been named one of the 60 heroes for the planet organization. And it took our letter writing campaign to a global campaign of millions. And we did crazy things like we we were just two kids on the north shore of Vancouver with really no connections or resources in the world at that time.

Qasim Virjee 4:03
Who’s sorry, your friend,

Salimah Ebrahim 4:05
my colleague, Simon Jackson,

Qasim Virjee 4:06
are you still in touch?

Salimah Ebrahim 4:07
Oh, yeah, we I just I just had a beverage with him here on Ossington. And that was that was for me the other day. Ya know, he and I, you know, you’re bonded for life. When you when you when you do something like that. And, you know, neither of us, you know, the sort of the little backstory to that was, he had grown up. His dad was a journalist, and he had grown up sort of taking drives to Yellowstone in the summers, they had sort of very local vacations, whereas I went to go visit grandma in Nairobi. And he, uh, he remembers on one of those vacations, he was up in Alaska, and he heard that the Kodiak bear was endangered. And so he came back that summer, I think he was seven or eight years old, and he decided to raise do a lemonade stand and he raised $60. And he wrote a letter to I think it was President Reagan at the time in the US, and he sent the letter and the $60. And it just so happened that the decade long campaign to save the Kodiak bear was ending And a couple months after Simon sent that $60 In that letter, the Kodiak bear was saved. So he thought he saved the Kodiak bear. So when we met when, when we were teenagers, and he told me about the spirit bear, he’s like, we got this covered, you know, I said, you know, a letter and 60 bucks. And we’re like, Well, what if we get a couple of our classrooms writing letters, will totally save the spirit bear. So we thought we’d be done in a few months. And then it ended up being a decade, a decade long journey. And, you know, it was remarkable, because as a journalist, later on, I walked into places in Jordan and in Cairo, and met kids who had heard of the Spirit bear. So it was a real full circle moment for me. In terms of Yeah, thinking about all of this, all of us as a global community. So

Qasim Virjee 5:49
do you mind if we jump forward to your career as a journalist? Yeah. Tell me a little bit about I guess, about you mentioned being assumed assigned to the Middle East, or were you

Salimah Ebrahim 6:02
assigned this generous?

Qasim Virjee 6:03
Did you work for a particular agency?

Salimah Ebrahim 6:06
Yeah. So when I when I graduated, you know, university I did. I did international relations and Political Science and Middle East Studies, I was interested in the world, but there’s not a lot of 20 year old foreign correspondents, so they don’t send you there. The way that the journalism model worked, at least a decade ago, when there was a model was that you would sort of earn your stripes in the in the sort of the metro newsrooms in the city newsrooms, and then later on, and you’re on cuts and trees and so on. Yeah. And, you know, local, local government, and politics and all of that. And then later on in sort of your, your 30s or 40s, you would get these sort of positions, you know, in Jerusalem or Cairo. And for me, I’d studied Arabic, I had been focused on the modern Middle East, I was obsessed with Jordanian nationalism. All I wanted to do was get on the ground and learn and to be in the region. But that’s not the way foreign correspondents he worked at the time. So I said no to a couple of jobs in Toronto and New York on the metro desk, and I bought a one way ticket to Cairo. I didn’t know anyone. This would have been in Oh, 304. Okay, so just graduating. And I bought a one way ticket to Cairo. And I landed in Cairo with a bag and an address for the Cairo times, which was the only independent magazine at that point in Egypt, but really in the region, and lived in a little hospital maniacal for the first couple months. And then and then started writing for the Cairo times. And then, you know, slowly, paper printed in England, it was a magazine. Yeah, it was, it was a weekly magazine, published by was about a half of an Egyptian newsroom have foreign correspondents, it was a great place to be. And it was, you know, it was obviously seven, eight years before the Arab Spring. But really, it was a time where Egypt was having the first kind of tremors were happening again, in the last decade. Yeah, and I got assigned first to the vegetable market, like I wanted to cover like Gaddafi, and Mubarak and regional politics. But my editor sent me to cover, you know, the price of dates and recipes for eggplants. And so it was the best it was the best thing ever for my career, because I learned about, you know, worked on my Arabic, and you realize everything is really local. And if you understand what’s going on in the markets, or on the streets, you might be able to figure out what’s going on in the rest of the region. So from Cairo, I became a staff writer at the Cairo times. And then I went over to Jordan, Amman, where I was based, and I started writing for The Globe and Mail in Amman and Iraq. And then and then stories, I sort of sort of following my questions around Jerusalem and Beirut, and yeah, again, Baghdad, and then spent a lot of time in later on looking at environmental sort of bringing my past environmental background in looking at environmental war and peace in West Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia. Yes, obviously natural starting points for someone creating a global art startup. And then yeah, and then alongside of that, I jumped on the trail. Didn’t do that 1008 and covered then Senator Obama through the whole year of his campaign, and then later I covered him in the White House. So

Qasim Virjee 9:21
what do you feel like sorry to interject there, but what do you feel like being I guess, in DC in such a momentous time while whilst your recent home was going through the Arab Spring, we’re starting to all that so because the timings right, right,

Salimah Ebrahim 9:39
exactly. Yeah, I was in I was in New York and then dc around that time. You know, actually, that that’s where all of this actually started percolating into into what I’m doing today. That was actually a really important time for me. I had I had left around the Arab Spring In that I wasn’t sort of based in the region sort of full time, I needed a break. And things had shifted so much. And we all knew that the post Arab Spring, Middle East was going to be an entirely different climate. And and I took that moment to really sort of take stock of like, sort of the last sort of, you know, years that I’ve been reporting. And Nick lemon at the Columbia Journalism School, and treeshared Avacyn. I talked to them and they said, Well, I think you might have a book in you and why don’t you come and do a masters and a fellowship here? And and just take us take a sense of what you know what you want to do.

Qasim Virjee 10:36
So is this tree whose son’s name is also Sri? No, it’s I think his brother’s name is Sri.

Salimah Ebrahim 10:41
I don’t believe so. Sri

Qasim Virjee 10:45
is off Mike. Yeah, there’s Yeah, I believe so.

Salimah Ebrahim 10:48
Really? Well, he’s he’s a fantastic guy. And I remember I sat in his office and he’s like, he’s like, yeah, he told me to come and spend a year in New York. And it was that year in New York, where, you know, the Arab Spring had happened. And I had been back back here back in North America full time for the first time really since undergrad.

Qasim Virjee 11:09
Sorry, I’m making Yeah, so I have to stick on this. Maybe I’ll edit this out afterwards to save our listeners down my memory lane. Yeah. You know, journey here. But tree How old is he? How? Oh,

Salimah Ebrahim 11:23
I think she’s she’s in his 40s late 40s.

Qasim Virjee 11:25
Oh, my God, that is my friend then. It’s not his brother or cousin or father or Sri tree.

Salimah Ebrahim 11:29
He was he was a he was the Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia Journalism School. Then he was the first digital media director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then he was the city of New York’s first digital director for the city of New York. And now he he has a consultancy doing great things around the world.

Qasim Virjee 11:48
i It’s either my friend or his brother. Oh, wow, Sreenivasan. Yeah, they might have the same name. He throws a fantastic Diwali party every year. This was a long time. Back when I lived in New York. Here. No,

Salimah Ebrahim 12:01
no, I’m looking at it. Very healthy and not white. Okay, go

Qasim Virjee 12:06
forget my broken memories. Let’s go back. Okay, so sorry, you. So you went back in a couple of your peers, essentially, we’re telling you, yeah, no, so so there was

Salimah Ebrahim 12:15
the dean of the J school and the deans of the J school. And I thought this would be a really good chance to take stock. And, and like I was saying, it was the first time that I was back in North America, sort of year round in a while. And the thing is, when you’re when you’re over in Damascus, or you’re over in a man, or you’re over in Cairo, and you’re writing, you just assume people are reading. And of course, you know, they’re not maybe keeping up with the regional politics the way you are. But you assume there’s a there’s a threshold that’s being met have knowledge, global consciousness, global consciousness, right? Because, you know, when you’re doing a job in the Middle East, and certainly I was, I was not, you know, there were so many colleagues of mine that had been there for decades that had put themselves at far more risk than I had, and even local journalists, especially, but you do assume some level of risk. And so you have to have a purpose that’s bigger than, you know, just your paycheck or just your job. And for me, my passion as a journalist was always I want to write something so that you can see the other if I write about a family in Damascus, and you read that here in Toronto, or New York, you don’t need to like them. You don’t need to connect, but I want you, I want you to see them as humans, right. And I think so often, like we fall into these caricatures. So if you see someone as human, then all of a sudden, then all of a sudden, there can be some understanding or some empathy. And that was always my, my, my purpose as being a journalist. So when I came back to New York, I realized, oh, no, no, that threshold is not being met. And in fact, what was really challenging for me that I felt like I was in a crisis, actually, with my career at that point, because I felt that, you know, especially being in New York, which was the site over that last decade, from if you book, look at 911, right, and then you were here in sort of 2011 2012. In that decade, since that sort of seismic attack on the World Trade Center.

Salimah Ebrahim 14:11
There had been the Iraq War and all other sorts of conflicts. And this idea of a clash of civilizations had emerged, but really, like, for all the information that was then poured into that, that vacuum, there was no lack of blogs and articles and movies and documentaries on all this mainstream media, mainstream media coverage. But actually, what I found in sort of, you know, 2012, was we knew less or nothing, not much more, at the very least, about who an Iraqi was, or someone from Afghanistan than we did a decade ago. And I this crisis, because, you know, there was no lack of information. And here I was a young journalist who because I was filing with, you know, somewhat exotic Bilanz, Jerusalem, Cairo, Baghdad, all of a sudden my career was rising. Sure, but, you know, in a career real journalism about impact, I felt that I wasn’t, I wasn’t shifting anything at least. And of course, you know, there’s perhaps a medium and long term view to that kind of work. But for me, it was a crisis, because here I am. Yeah, having all this opportunity, writing about people who are being less and less understood. And because I’d had this experience building, like a global movement or an activism before I thought, you know, maybe maybe I should focus on working at the UN or the IRC or another organization, maybe I could be more useful. So that was a year where I took to sort of really explore that. And, and while I was doing that, I, you know, I cook a lot, I throw, like throwing a lot of dinner parties. And, you know, I was catching up with a lot of friends who were also back in, in New York, doing the same program, a lot of them had been journalists around the world, really well traveled. And we just started talking about our lives. And I started talking about, you know, the, the modern jazz scene in Cairo are the stuff that would happen in living rooms for the hip hop scene in Beirut, or the time that, you know, a group of friends staged the Vagina Monologues right in, in, in Egypt, and then also in Amman, and the poetry scene in Baghdad and the theater scene in Iran. And, you know, Qasim, it was, it was amazing, because more than anything I’d ever really written, or I think consumed, I could see that everyone around the table started to sort of, say, jazz in Cairo, or hip hop in Beirut. And, you know, they saw the other in that moment more powerfully, then, you know, written piece, because all of a sudden, you know, that essential role that causal culture plays in that I don’t need to know the history of a region or its context. But if I hear a piece of music, or I connect to a play, or I connect to an idea, I’m connected to you, right. And so that started that started building. And I had friends that had been to Cairo, you know, many times and said, Well, we’ve never heard modern jazz and Cairo. And likewise, for all of these things, and it was true that so many of these creative communities are invisible within our cities, whether it be in Cairo, when I was in New York, there’s an underground opera scene in Washington Heights that, you know, 1000s of people have been a part of over the last decade that not many people know about. Toronto has a poetry scene that happens in laundromats that people don’t know about. And so, out of that came, I met my co founder and, and out of that, came the beginnings of what’s now artery,

Qasim Virjee 17:30
okay. And the beginnings of what is no artery? How did it begin?

Salimah Ebrahim 17:36
It began with that conversation and the response to the conversation about he had been my co founder had, you know, he’s, you know, family’s got a Russian Jewish background from Queens, his dad was intact, as all his brothers were intact, he grew, you grew up taking apart and building community, you know, computers since he was a kid, but he had also been a journalist in Russia and South caucuses. And he had actually, during the Russian reset, pioneered a rural beat in the south caucuses and won a Fulbright for it. And, and so when we met, he shared a lot of the stories in you know, in South Georgia and and elsewhere, that I shared in

Qasim Virjee 18:13
Cairo, right. We’re experiential, cultural, cultural communities

Salimah Ebrahim 18:17
that, that that were largely limited or contained to themselves, or were only known through word of mouth. Yeah. And then so and then we started to talk about how, you know, culture is plays this role in allowing us to see each other but culture is so often in our media, written about as the performer. Yeah, but culture is the way is the room someone is in, it’s how they joke with their friends, how they are greeted, where they sit. And all of those intangibles are what allow us to really experience someone else’s world and see that. And so out of that those conversations in 2012, while all of you know, the ground was shifting around us, in terms of the sharing economy, Airbnb was really getting started, Kickstarter was happening. Out of all of that came this idea of a website or a platform that would connect you to the local culture of a place.

Qasim Virjee 19:14
Okay. And it’s interesting, because it’s really about taking the most potentially open, accessible means of finding out information and using it to make these kind of very personal experiences happen. Right? I think that that concept is become so second nature to think of the internet and platforms and web forums and websites, your notifications and all this stuff. I’m being being just something that’s utilitarian now, but conceptually, it’s very interesting to me to say, Yeah, let’s make these very intimate experiences not only let’s promote their occurrence, but let’s let’s raise their platform and make them accessible

Salimah Ebrahim 20:00
Yeah, I mean Exactly, I mean, this, this idea that artery is based on this central idea of performance and community in private spaces is is not a new one at all right? This is a very, very old idea culture, you know, the idea of culture and private spaces is as old as culture itself. If you look at chamber music, if you look at, you know, Harlem rent parties, you know, classical music emerge from living rooms, Beethoven would more likely recognize an artery showcase than he would something at the TSO, you know, and so this this, so we’re taking this really, in every city in town in the world, you know, not just in Cairo, or the South Caucasus or New York or Toronto. But in every city in town on the world. This exists in formal salon series performances, recitals. But all of that has been until now organized, what else to tuitions are limited to the creative communities that that are that are involved, or connected through word of mouth. And so what what artery is doing is it’s saying, Let’s introduce tech, you know, relevance and social trust into these communities. And connect them all on a scale that has never before existed. And so we don’t look at ourselves as being like, here’s something that’s completely new. We see artery is very much a not just a revolution, but a counter revolution, in how we connect to each other, not only around the world, but in our own neighborhoods.

Qasim Virjee 21:30
Let’s talk about the kind of the website and sharing how it works in a second. Before that. Okay, before that, I would love to hear a couple of stories of how artery you call them showcases, right, yeah, we home showcases, yeah, how? Just tell me a story about a showcase that you found interesting that you might have been at? Or how about one that you were at one that you were not, but heard about?

Salimah Ebrahim 21:57
Wow. Um, so because the showcases are, you know, it’s really important to say that artery is not an event organizer, right, we create the space and the tools for people to connect themselves and put on these performances. So every performance really different because it is a co creation between someone who’s opening their space. So their living room, their backyard, their storefront, their office, and someone who is performing something in culture, right, from a writer to an author to a dancer. So every single showcase is a co creation between those two. So no two showcases are alike. You know, one of one of the the first showcases that wasn’t just being attended by, you know, I wasn’t just hosting, or wasn’t being attended by my friends, which is what happens in the early days of a startup, right? was actually just a few months after we after we launched our test, our prototype, or MVP, as some of you might know, the word minimum viable product. No, I there’s been such a learning curve that when, when I quit my job, or lost my job at the White House, to found artery. I didn’t even know what MVP meant, you know, but Eric Ries lean startup and away we went. So if anyone’s listening it is known MVP is that’s okay. Just pick up lean startup.

Qasim Virjee 23:20
Yeah, if you’re sick of hearing that terminology, we’ll move on. We’ll

Salimah Ebrahim 23:23
move on from that as well. Yeah, exactly. I mean, essentially, we wanted to put out something small into the world and see if there was any interest. And, you know, for the first few months, it’s, it’s, you know, all the showcases were happening in my living room. And then there was one I remember that I saw pop up into the site. It was a Monday. And it was this sort of 29 year old lawyer. He offered his living room to about 20 people. And there was a jazz quintet in town from Boston. And they saw him and they sent him a message and they said, Can we do a pop up artery showcase for 20 people in your living room on Tuesday, and he said, great, and here I am sort of watching this happen being like who’s gonna come within a day and you want every experience to be good in the beginning, there’s a bit of micromanaging that you want to do. And it launched they launched it on the on the site on the Monday and they called it BBYO whiskey and jazz. And by I think it was Monday at three in the afternoon. By Monday evening and it sold out. By Monday late night hosted added 10 more spots, because you can do that in living rooms, you know, people are losing reason is because there’s now 30 spots, and by the next day, it was a Tuesday evening, I think it was seven to 830 there was a waiting list of over 70 people to see, you know, jazz in a living room. It was sort of in the annex neighborhood. And I remember I had nothing to do with it. And I remember you know, grabbing a bottle out of my cupboard and walking through in the snow and seeing a little, you know, a lot of our hosts make handmade signs that say artery showcase here and you arrive at the door and it says artery showcase. here and I opened the door and there’s, you know, 20 sets of snow boots. And there’s, you know, you know, at least 20 people in the space. And we ended up seeing a 60 minute jazz quintet with one intermission. And that was a showcase where most the first showcase where most people didn’t know each other, okay. And by the end of it, as we were all putting our stamp booths and walk back, we felt that we had, you know, we had each sort of made a room full of new friends, and seeing jazz from three feet away. And that was the beginnings of, well, I think, you know, I think we really have something here. I think people are not only craving, these intimate cultural experiences, but they’re craving community. And that’s really what’s come alive. For us. So yeah, so that was one I had, I had no role in organizing one that I did, which a lot of people still have to talk about was I did an opera in my bathroom, in your bath in my bathroom, and the biggest, I’ve a very tiny bathroom, you know, my entire, my entire space condo is 600 square feet. So it’s a bathroom within that. So. And the premise was this was a tenor reached out to me to do a performance of my living room, and I love opera. And that’s the cool thing on order. You get to see operas from a few feet away. And we were talking and the premise was this, you know, all of our voices sound, we’d like to think pretty good in a bathroom. And if your voice sounds good in a bathroom, imagine a tenors. Yeah. And so he created it as this amazing evening where the conceit was, you arrive in this in a tenors apartment the night that he’s doing a big performance of Carmen. And so the first act was in the bathroom where he was in the shower, fully taking a shower. Oh, well, I had to buy an exercise running. Oh, yeah. And he was taking a shower to buy an extra couple shower curtain liners because we realized, you know, it needed to be so and and then it began and obviously, you know, all I think there’s 25 people that that that showcase in my apartment, all of them couldn’t get into the bathroom, but they would filter in and out. But even if you were down the hallway, take a peek thing and come back, what would be in the bathroom would hear the acoustics. There was also an experience to be had of, you know, imagine you were living with a tenor, and you’re in the kitchen, and you’re hearing him in the bathroom. So all parts of the apartment were cool. The second act was then then there was an intermission, he walked to the bedroom. The second act was the bedroom. He was in a robe. He grabbed a robe, you walked in a robe, there was an intermission. And the second act was he was in the bedroom. And he had his tux on but his bow tie on tied. And he was he did a performance of still warming up in the bedroom. The third act was in the living room, and we’d set up a screen. And the living room was supposed to be that night at at the theater at scene Carmen. And there actually was a soprano in the audience that no one knew the highlight that jumped up and saying Carmen with him. And so what was really interesting about it was that it was the it was you couldn’t have that if without the space. And so the constraints of space actually can really open up like entire new worlds and new experimentation. Yeah, and then that was that was just another great example of, you know, artery is not just about taking what exists in the cultural world. And, and putting it in a backyard. Your home is not a venue, but asking what might be possible when we think again, right spaces

Qasim Virjee 28:22
rethink, we think the use case, yeah, that’s something that we do. It’s part of our Mo at start. Well, in general, it looks interesting, take a space over repurpose is not just office space, it’s something where you can have things like a studio in this building. And you know, our, I don’t know, various spaces that even in this building that were like the lounge on the fourth floor that used to be apparently, previous tenant, this was the big boss’s annex to his office. And if, if his staff closed a deal, they’d be invited to have a scotch, you know, in the big man’s office. And now he’s liberated. And it’s open delivery is a good word for today. Where we have, we have like 30 people Oh, is just doing typing out on their laptops and sharing the space and watching FIFA games right now?

Salimah Ebrahim 29:08
Well, yeah, no, and not just sort of, you know, pat each other’s back here too much. But it’s, it’s, you know, when artery was looking for a home, because initially, we’re working out of coffee shops and our apartments, and we were looking for a space, we really wanted a space that like embodied the values we had around community, because so much of you know, plugging into the normal co working spaces is just about feeling like, you know, an antenna factory or, you know, and I think one of the first conversations we had was, you encouraged us to think about the space as a stage. And you really were driven from a community first perspective, and I think that allows us to, you know, it’s tremendous amount of freedom, and anyone that gets to be a part of that, so,

Qasim Virjee 29:51
thank you. Yeah, it’s awesome. Pat on your back, pat on my back.

Salimah Ebrahim 29:54
Awesome. Yeah. Arteries start. Well, awesome. One, visit

Qasim Virjee 29:58
us what So this is Kingstree. 176 King Street West. Exactly. Yeah, it’s really interesting. Actually, we

Salimah Ebrahim 30:08
have offices next door to each other we do if you come up to the third floor you can cast them and I he’s got a fancier office. I you know, arteries like sitting outside the principal’s office right now. So we’ve got a few of you got to some humble desks and run had

Qasim Virjee 30:21
some unruly students today. I think you missed them, because you came yesterday. Did you hear about it? I know. So earlier today, one of our members had left the window next year desk open. Okay. And two new friends join us there are some pigeons that found their way to the end of the floor. And really, yeah, and they had deposited their blessings upon on the under the desks on the floor. And it was all in that corner. Yeah, right near our offices. And it’s funny because we called a couple of, of, you know, friends of these pets to come and take them away. And the charges were just astronomical for someone to just come and do that. We just were still inside. Oh, yeah. All like they probably got in on the weekend. You know, cuz it’s Monday, and they’d been partying all weekend and partying. And then I don’t know when they got it. And yeah, we discovered them today. And it took hours for us to decide what to do. I tried playing some Africa style. You know, we had Ian from Ilango with a big IKEA bag, trying to be this like, you know, try to be a big blue cloud to chase them. There was like drums in someone’s trying to be a clown. Sorry. Amazing. I don’t explain Yes. This is No, basically, he was just trying to be like a big presence, you know, to scare them towards the window. And I had a stick, trying to kind of like, you know, not prod them. But anyway, we tried. ever regret missing the morning guessing the morning, we try chasing them out of the window. And then it didn’t work. And finally, this is amazing. Cedric from my team course loves dancing owners, you know, the barista at the receptions, the best. Grabbed a mesh garbage can a little one that you’d have underneath your desk, and maybe it was your desk. I don’t know where he goes. And he managed to catch them. Yeah, you know, without any harm. And slide much like you would catch like a bee with a bowl and a piece of paper. He did that. And he got them out of the window. And all that happened before you came to the office today.

Salimah Ebrahim 32:30
Wow. This is, you know, I think we’ve been talking about full circles today off before we even got on to the mic. This feels vaguely full circle, because the day after I graduated from grad school at Columbia, and you know, after this sort of shifts were happening in my life. You know, you you you write a little bit high in yourself, you’re like, look at me, I’m mastered. And yeah, I’ve you know, I’ve got a few chapters of a book, and I’ve got an idea, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself, and you have that day, you know, you know, in the sun, and then you come home and I went to sleep and slept in a little bit and walk out of my bedroom door and a pigeon had gotten into my apartment and had you know, defecated over the entire apartment. So I spend the day after I got my got my fancy little certificate, cleaning up pitch and shit all day. And if there’s anything humbling, so I empathize with you. But you know, that started that that led that led me to here today where my desk again, six years later, is covered. So I can’t help but think that you know, sometimes the universe tells you that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Right. Right. I actually love that. I’m gonna I’m gonna enjoy that all. I think I think that must mean it must mean we’re on the right track,

Qasim Virjee 33:51
I think together in some way. Absolutely. Oh, that makes me very happy. Actually. Weirdly. Oh, amazing. What? Okay, so let’s wrap this up. Because

Salimah Ebrahim 34:02
are we already at? Wow,

Qasim Virjee 34:04
I think we’re doing okay, on time. We can keep going forever. But

Salimah Ebrahim 34:07
sure, we can. I can come back another time. What I

Qasim Virjee 34:10
what I’d like to do is I’d like to do something that mixes us on the mic with a performance, which might be interesting.

Salimah Ebrahim 34:18
Definitely. I mean, at first, I thought you were asking me to sing and know the people that create platforms for other people to sing. People that can’t sing create platforms for other people to say, so you, I don’t think you would want to pay me not to sing in an artery showcase.

Qasim Virjee 34:35
Okay, so don’t sing. But for the last few minutes here, let’s circle back on what you know, before I went down the the pigeon road was gonna introduce her Have you introduced a little bit of just the kind of product workflow like work here we were, what were What do you say? Walk through your workflow, how it works. Tell us how it works. someone signs up because they hear about it. How and what happens.

Salimah Ebrahim 34:58
Yeah, so So this slide Last year, we’ve we’ve been the site’s been invite only. And it’s really grown with we gave it to, you know, 50 of our friends. And it’s really grown from that first day, we’ve not really we haven’t done any paid advertising. There’s been, you know, a little bit of media recently around it. But all of it has grown from within the community in sort of network effects within the community. And so the way it works is that on artery there are hosts. And as I said earlier, a host is anyone anyone listening who has a living room, a backyard or rooftop, a storefront, and they’re performers. And a performer could be a chef, a musician, a dancer, a writer, an author, anyone who can performer exhibit. And both hosts and performers have profiles. And when they connect, they launch a showcase. That is usually about 15 to 25. People, these are very intimate experiences that anyone can RSVP, discover, RSVP to and pay to attend. So for example, let’s say that there are some cellists in Toronto, that are an artery and AC, you know, cost them that you have a space or a corner of start, well that you’re offering. You two can connect and create an artery showcase, create the number of spots, say $15.15 spots, and can launch that showcase. And now anyone in new looking at artery in Toronto, or the neighborhood can discover Oh, look, there’s there’s five showcases happening around us today. One happens to be cellos in this, you know, you space near start? Well, I mean, the address is private. And then you can RSVP and be sitting with you know, 13 or 14 other people enjoying cellos from three feet away, that might never have happened. So that that’s how it works. The way it actually grows, is most people go to the first artery showcase, because they hear about it through the host or the artist at this point. And then they go and once they you have to sign up because all addresses are private, because these are private spaces. If you’re hosting in your living room, you don’t want that public, right. And all of a sudden, now you are at the showcase. And for a lot of people they’ve they’ve never seen performance this close. But really they’ve they’ve they’ve never been in you know, a stranger’s home with 30 people. And what happens is they usually meet someone we have people that have started dating on artery will probably have a first engagement this year. And, you know, because of that intimacy, now that they’ve signed up, we can let them know about the next ones. And so you tend to find people go to their first one, because they hear about it through their through their own circle. But then, you know, they come again, and again, and again, you know, we’ve had people that go to the first one at the beginning of the month, and then end up going to three, three or four by the time the month is done. And, you know, often they’re just returning because they know that they’re going to hear a story from the artist, they know it’s going to be something that has an experimental edge to it that satisfies the creator’s curiosity and their own, but they’re really going to meet someone in their neighborhoods. And so that’s the way it works. You know, we started a year in Toronto. But in this last year with with our MVP, that’s the word again, artery communities have popped up in 15. cities around the world, yeah, across the world. So Iceland and Spain and Washington, DC and Boston and Vancouver and Montreal and Ottawa and Barrie, and Oshawa. And we even had, we’ve had invite requests from over 40 countries. We even had a host in a woman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that offered her living room and wanted to play a role in the cultural life of her country. And so New York and Toronto have been our largest, but yeah, it’s it’s really grown, you know, community by community. And, and I think that you know, about, you know, at least one person attending, every showcase sort of arises, says, well, I could do this, you know, if you ask them beforehand, do you want to host cellos in your living room, they’re only proxy as a venue. My home is not a venue, but then they go into my living room, and they’re like, well, I could do this. And then that’s how they end up posting and inviting 10 or 15 of their friends. And that’s how it’s grown.

Qasim Virjee 39:12
It’s fascinating. I mean, it’s kind of like this whole viral thing, based around just something so pure, something so honest, and something so personal. How do you have super holsters if you have super? Oh, yeah, recall them people. I will do this quite often.

Salimah Ebrahim 39:29
Yeah. Their house. Yeah, I mean, we have the majority of hosts who host wants to artery repeat. And we have a we have a lot of hosts that ended up doing this every month. And some of them, you know, have curated community in the past. So this gives them another platform to reach a new audience to open up their space in different ways to discover new creators. But then what’s really exciting is seeing people who have the first one that have never even maybe hosted a dinner party in the last year in their home. You know, hostess showcase. And, and, and start doing it again and again, because it really gets it really does get addicting. And, you know, I think when, when people think about artery, there’s this tendency to think about it is oh artery is, is, is putting on arts and entertainment and culture. But really I come back to this idea around community because if you look at our cities today, if you look at our lives today, yeah, we are, we’re, you know, there’s no lack of entertainment out there, no artery doesn’t need to exist, there’s so many entertainment options we have, even at home, we’re more entertained than ever, we have Netflix and iTunes, and all of that. And we’re supposedly, you know, more connected than we’ve ever been. But at the same time, all of that is making us increasingly isolated from each other in real life, right, and social isolation and loneliness, and the breakdown of social infrastructure that used to exist in our cities, our places of worship, our libraries, We’re all reading Amazon community centers. That is that is come right at the time when we’ve seen this rise of the attention economy. Yeah. So I think all the growth we’re seeing on artery is not just about people wanting more entertainment or culture, it’s wanting more community. Yeah, it’s wanting to be able to walk down the street and turn a stranger into a neighbor. And, and that’s really something that, that we’re excited about growing.

Qasim Virjee 41:29
In terms of the age set of participants on your platform. Is there other trends?

Salimah Ebrahim 41:36
Yeah. Um, so like I said, we gave the platform out. And obviously, I think a lot of people initially hear this idea and hear oh, there’s a poet and Alandra laundromat or a opera and a bathroom when they think that’s some hipster millennial stuff. And listen, like I’m a millennial like, they’re they’re, you know, millennials are like, you know, understand this and want to connect in these ways. But actually, one of the fastest growing groups are artery are retirees and Boomers. And here in Toronto, we’re starting to see as much of a split between sort of 50 plus showcases, and kind of 30 under showcases, and I think it makes sense, I think for a lot of people, those issues around, you know, you know, if you’re in your 20s or 30s, graduate, you know, you’re in the workforce. Now, maybe it’s harder to meet people or you’re, you’re looking to connect in deeper ways. The same thing, if you’re 50, plus, you know, your children have grown up, or maybe your partner has passed away, or you’re divorced, or you’re looking for a community. So that’s actually one of the really interesting things. And what we’re now seeing is that, in the beginning, it was you’d see the the boomer showcases, and let’s say, like the northern part of the city, and then in the West End, you would see all the millennial showcases was starting to happen is that, you know, you’re starting to see boomers so but in the junction and junction dwellers show up in that. So I think there’s real opportunity as we grow to, to have people essentially in a room together that might otherwise never have been in a room together. Sure. I think that is what really is exciting, because it takes me back to this whole idea behind why we created this platform. And while initially, it was very exciting to think of artery Toronto in the same as artery Baghdad, or artery Beirut in the same community as artery, New York, what’s really got me going in this last year is is this realization that different Grove doesn’t know different Grove, right, Scarborough doesn’t know Scarborough. And that perhaps one of the things blocking our ability to empathize with the rest of the world is that that gene, or that kind of muscle, that we have to have curiosity and trust in our neighbors, we don’t get to practice it as much these days. And so, you know, I sort of believe that if it’s something that’s practice in your daily life by letting people into your home or going into to other people’s homes, and I think it makes it so much easier if you can visualize sort of a neighbor as a, as no longer a stranger, right, then it makes it easier to think about someone in Damascus or Delhi

Qasim Virjee 44:07
first and that regularity beyond the physical

Salimah Ebrahim 44:12
curiosity. Yeah. And that sort of feeling that probably on the other side of those doors,

Qasim Virjee 44:17
something we think about it the generosity. Yeah. Yeah. And okay, so on that note, it’s really interesting, but we think about a lot at the Sinclair location. Start Well, have you been there? I haven’t. Yeah, but it looks beautiful. So it’s beautiful storefront. Yeah. And because it’s a storefront, we see interesting things when you’re like on your laptop working at the standing desk in the front window. It’s it’s ground floor retail on a commercial High Street in a residential neighborhood, right. So you have all sorts of families, doing commercial activities, but also on the way home and just kind of passing through as well. So you see from the window front, from the inside, you look out and you see on the Street, all sorts of people passing by of different age sets. There’s the old Greek guys next door, smoking cigarettes all day long and talking about the same thing and drinking espressos and all sorts of things. And then you have kids going to the karate class, you know, on the other side, and everything in between. And it’s interesting being in a quasi commercial identity there because like, you know, providing the community center that is yes, you have to pay to play at start well, you have to pay to be a member to get access to the space. But in that neighborhood, where the space specifically caters to people in the neighborhood, it’s a neighborhood, co working space is something a little different than, than our kin West Campus. Because of that, because it’s very small. It’s like 1000 square feet, we’ve got about 50 seats. So it’s big, but small, small. And it’s a very interesting thing, because we have a lot of members that are from the neighborhood, a few that are from outside, but the ones from the neighborhood, look out the window expecting to see people they know, looking in, and the majority of people that look in from outside are either one curious about the shop, or about start well, or otherwise totally oblivious to our function on the street. And literally looking at the window for reflection of themselves, you know, checking their hair. And you have so many occasions where people are looking and they see their neighbor, they see their friend, they see a family member, and they’re like waving to them. And those people are like, What are you doing in that place? Because we don’t have I think, even in this neighborhood context, the expectation of participation in space, you know, you’re either totally public in the park, or, you know, you’re shopping when you’re in a shop. And it’s really interesting to collapse that we’ve only

Salimah Ebrahim 46:46
harden that right, that’s only calcified. I’m a big fan of Jane Jacobs and, and her sort of idea of citizenship and cities. And we’ve just, we’ve actually just created taller and taller fences, like around our neighbors and our communities. And there needs to be a balance and when we think about public private space at what serves things like safety, and what serves all of these other things that that cities do to keep us safe and protected, but also what serves community. And that’s a balance that I think we’ve gone to one extreme. And what I think is interesting about the sharing economy as a whole, and I see arteries as very much part of that, in that the first waves have been around transportation and accommodation. We see artery is now tackling this next frontier of culture, and, and community. But what the sharing economy has really done is that essentially is a trust network. And, you know, it’s still very young, we’re still in this first decade of the sharing economy. But you know, the fact that now, you know, I’m used to stay in a stranger’s home on vacation and, and having a stranger stay in my home at times. It’s bigger than just, you know, an Airbnb or an Uber or an artery. Because those norms, what else will they enable to be possible? And how will we think about our cities differently? Or what we want from them differently? As some of those as that trust increases in some spheres? Because if you think about it a decade ago, if I told you no, you know, get into a stranger’s car, or stay in a stranger’s house, it would have been unthinkable.

Qasim Virjee 48:28
Well, I remember a decade ago, even from my vantage, you know, being a member, early member at the Center for Social Innovation, right, which even the title Yeah, you know, had to be somewhat grand sure to raise eyebrows enough to come and figure out what the place was. But in in Toronto, and Chinatown, that was the first real co working space perhaps in Canada, or second one in Canada, there’s one in Vancouver called, like the Hive or something was it was same time. But it was really interesting because even then, the place had to teach people about co working in order not to have them be able to co work, but to have the buy in that it’s okay to belong together, though focusing on separate work to the same space like that was a very new concept. It still is in many parts of the world. And, and this is, I mean, without talking too much about the economy of co working and how areas brands are positioning themselves, but the larger global brands that are selling the story in a kind of a more franchisee Holiday Inn Express way, or a loft way are doing it in a way that takes away from the potential in many ways for community interaction. It’s the promise of community interaction sold to the deaf, the attention deficit disorder generation, right, in a sense that like Come be in the same place because it’s the cool thing to do. Drink a couple beers together. And then you feel good because you’ve seen people. But it’s not about seeing and being seen. It’s about interacting and benefiting from each other’s presence. That’s just

Salimah Ebrahim 50:10
Yeah, and one of the co working and I find this in startups in general, too, and the culture around startups is that, especially if you look at who gets the majority of funding, who has, you know, what type of person has been the helm of startups and all the major startups, what you start to have is cultures that are optimized for one type of person, right. And I think that these co working spaces are no different. And anytime you have, I think, what we’re seeing with the sharing economy and these other trends that are happening with you know, a friend of mine, Jeremy, hi, Miss just wrote a book called new power, okay. And he’s the founder of purpose and old powers top down, and it’s very centralized. And new power is about agency, right? And it’s about mobilization of people. So whether it’s new powers and move movements, like me to we’re sharing economy platforms, like Airbnb, or artery, you know, the future of sort of power and organization is going to be how do you allow people to have agency to co create their own experiences? And I think a lot of the times, you know, you take an idea, like co working, and, you know, you make it you skin it with this idea of the sharing economy, but then you organize it internally in this very top down, highly curated way. And I think that’s where that’s where you get, you don’t you don’t get as dynamic communities as you could, if you will, if you trusted people to co create amongst themselves, right. I think that’s that’s really where the, the opportunity is.

Qasim Virjee 51:39
Something we’re experimenting with

Salimah Ebrahim 51:42
apps. Yeah, we’re really happy to be here.

Qasim Virjee 51:45
So what what can people where can our listeners expect from artery in the next little while? What’s changing? Or what’s getting better? Are there product improvements? Are there? Yeah, particularly? Yes. Yes, I did about tell us a little bit about the Yeah, your future.

Salimah Ebrahim 52:00
So the last year has really been about just really piloting, we’ve called it our pilot, and it’s grown. It’s grown sort of faster than we could have ever imagined. And really, now we’re taking a lot of that learning, and you’ll see an app coming out in sort of the next six to nine months. That’ll make it easier and easier for you to discover showcases for you to play a role to have your space open. And really, we have some very exciting partnerships coming up. And yeah, I mean, like we are in largely in Toronto in New York, and we’ve happened, as I said, in 15, sort of cities. But yeah, our goal is our goal is to be in every city in town over the next several years around you. So yeah, the best thing to do is just go to artery.is. And, you know, see if we’re doing a showcase in your city and come to one, you know, more than anything I could say is just come to one and, and really, yeah, start being a part of the community. I think you’ll find it quite quite wondrous.

Qasim Virjee 53:03

Salimah Ebrahim 53:03
wonderous. When I say that one on a day that a pigeon shat all over my desk. I’m ending it with a podcast with you with the word wonderous. So

Qasim Virjee 53:15
I think that’s a great closing note. It’s a pleasure chatting. Thanks. Awesome. Thanks for joining me on the microphone.

Salimah Ebrahim 53:21
It’s wonderful. Wonderful to be here.

Qasim Virjee 53:23
A last note, how do people get in touch with you? And what is the URL of your website again?

Salimah Ebrahim 53:28
Yeah, so you can find artery at WWW dot artery. What can I say? W that sounds so old school artery. It’s I feel like that sounds like

Qasim Virjee 53:37
yes, I’m

Salimah Ebrahim 53:38
I’m an older millennial everyone.

Qasim Virjee 53:40
Set up redirect. Well,

Salimah Ebrahim 53:41
I’ll say it again. www dot artery AR t er y dot I s I always joke to writers founding a startup we kept all of our vows. We’re really proud of that. artery.is and anyone listening can email me directly at just s@artery.is For love to hear from you. Yeah, let’s let’s make something happen.