I joined Toastmasters International to improve my speaking skills. I’m not terribly nervous speaking in front of people, as a divorce lawyer I do it all the time in front of judges. I have spoken to groups as small as three people and as large as 300, so for me the improvement needs to be in the delivery of the information. I ask: How am I communicating and what can I do to be more effective and efficient in my speaking?

Little did I know that would be meeting so many other people with such a diverse range of backgrounds. From the nervous first-time sales person to the highly accomplished corporate executive, the Westside Toastmasters is a commune of cultures, companies and characters.

One of our newest members is a guy I call Marathon Mike. At 24 he’s one of the new crew of entrepreneurs who have found their way to Toastmasters. His story is another example of why I love Santa Monica and all that we offer.

Marathon Mike is Mike Townsend, a 6-foot-something man with blonde hair, eyes the color of hand burnished oak and the body of a runway model that he keeps in top form by running marathons, hence the nickname.

He’s not your typical engineer turned Internet startup geek. With his close cropped hair, he looks like he belongs on an obstacle course barking at new recruits for the military, but once you speak to him, his quiet and confident demeanor changes all that. I met him about six months ago when he was checking out the Westside Toastmasters.

Mike had joined us in the community room at Santa Monica Place one Wednesday night to see how we could help make him more effective for his new company. He was in the process of co-founding along with Nate Stewart, this new venture called Zingcheckout.com. It is an online point of sale service that allows companies with multiple retail outlets to process their sales orders over the Internet and allows for management to track sales at any computer or mobile device, and interact with their customers. Of course there is the capability that allows customers to link their purchases to their social network which builds brand loyalty for the retailer.

Zingcheckout.com also has the ability to do automatic discounts based on loyalty, it allows a retailer to set up promotional features and increases the transparency of product pricing — which is good for the customer.

I chatted with Marathon Mike at his company headquarters this past Sunday, which is located inside Coloft on Santa Monica Boulevard. I’d been curious about Coloft for a long time now, as I would ride by on my bicycle and see people working away. Coloft is a membership based office space where hipsters who are starting their own companies rent space and informally collaborate. It was born out of a frustration with the noisy environs of the coffee shop scene and by loneliness. The founders were working together but they wanted more quiet, and more social life, but didn’t want the dreaded corporate lifestyle. They saw a need and created Coloft, which has a very open and breezy office feel that reminded me of my days working at GeoCities on Main street. It’s like a commune but for capitalists.

Coloft is the recipient of this year’s Innovation Award at the State of the City banquet being hosted by the Office of Sustainability and the Environment where the Santa Monica Daily Press is a media sponsor. But Coloft is more than just an office space, they offer startup meetings to help the budding entrepreneur, companies like ZingCheckout.com, to get their sales and marketing or programming or design work completed. It’s all very hip and fun which makes me want to start a business just so I can hang out there with the cool people.

Cool people like Marathon Mike, who are changing the world. His company will make multi-store retail businesses more profitable and more responsive to their customers, all while making reporting easier for the managers. He will be demonstrating ZingCheckout for new and not-so-new businesses that need online point of sale reporting this Thursday at the State of the City event.

I went to Toastmasters to improve the effectiveness of my public speaking and I found that, but I also found a community of people who are building new and exciting ventures and taking adventures in their lives. Which is similar to what Marathon Mike found at Coloft.

If I only received what I thought I wanted from Toastmasters, I would have robbed myself of meeting new and interesting people.

People like Marathon Mike.

David Pisarra is a Divorce lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969.

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