Beyond Boundaries: Jake Sacks' Visionary Impact on USC's Creative Landscape

Arts & Culture

Jake Sacks is a force to be reckoned with, but do not be surprised if his force finds you first. Senior student and entrepreneur at the University of Southern California, Sacks is set on fostering spaces that liberate other artists to collaborate with one another. Don't mistake his community building for mere networking; Sacks is determined to disrupt the transactional nature of typical conversations at USC. 

Enter 3rdSpace, Sack’s brainchild; a transformative initiative that transcends traditional artist events. It nurtures the cross-pollination of ideas among individuals who dare to think outside the box through a formal dinner followed by an intimate art exhibition.

The inspiration behind 3rdSpace is rooted in the success Sacks found in his previous venture, The USC Founder’s Club. Sacks started this club and fully headed the work that went into making it the nation’s largest undergraduate founder’s society that is sponsored by the university and 5+ venture capitalist funds. Prior to this, Sacks was already building a restaurant review-based app hngr. 

If you thought it stopped there you would be wrong. Sacks is also a host at Sunday’s at USC, which is similar to 3rdSpace’s initiative but open to all, as opposed to 3rdSpace exclusivity. This is an environment for people of diverse backgrounds in academia to converge in a unified space and play an equally important role in the overall productivity of the space. Together, on sundays, students work on their passion projects for 5 hours before demoing their progress to a larger crowd.

Jake Sacks is not just a name; he is a catalyst for change, creating spaces that transcend the ordinary and redefine the way artists and thinkers connect at the University of Southern California. During our conversation about 3rdSpace, Sacks exuded passion and was primed for action. He shared insights into this venture, drawing inspiration from 15th-century Florence, where the Medici family's investment in artists led to a flourishing artistic community. Artists flocked to Florence, drawn by both the financial support and the thriving artistic environment. As galleries sprouted, the Medici family undertook a distinctive approach, a topic we delved into deeply during the interview. Currently not making a personal profit, Sacks is wholeheartedly dedicating himself to this endeavor.

Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Tell me about 3rdSpace - how did you come up with this idea?

The Medici effect. Specifically at USC, we have the top design, dance, and art schools, and one of the top technical schools in the country and whether it's the fault of our social structure or academic coursework there is no overlap in our studies and even more interesting. Despite sharing a campus with the top students from each of those places they don't even know that each other exist. When students take on the mindset that it’s the fault of the larger institution, it stymies innovation. Whereas when the community looks to build the bridges internally, beautiful things can bloom. So the question is, how do we create this social dynamic that is not a networking event. Networking is the source of transactional relationships, which is not a solution to lack of creative overlap.

What made you feel that you would be the right person for this job of redefining networking events?

I have been hosting dinners for founders at USC for two years, and those dinners are special because I have learned when people feel they have achieved some level of success and they belong in a space and are with others like so - there is no judgment. There is more willingness to talk to people authentically with real admiration. I just love how hard these people work and want to help facilitate their success. The founders’ dinners were really special because having all these people in a room trusting that no one is trying to simply take, lets inspiring things unfold. It's also different since it is a dinner not something like a cocktail event or a mixer, where you are holding your drink leaning against the wall whereas breaking bread together is sharing a whole experience. 

So for those who do not know what this already looks like, could paint this picture of the dinner?

We bring together a set number of people from across creative spaces: dancers, artists, painters, filmmakers, and something a little different which is to include technologists and startup founders. We have a guest chef come on, someone with a culinary past or dreams of a culinary future to curate 5 to 8 courses, and following the dinner we take about three of our guests and we highlight them. We do not pay our guests and instead make it a shared space where you just ate with these people and now they get to show off their work and vision or whatever it looks like. The floor is theirs. Because once you pay a performer there is a hierarchy. 

How much do these dinners end up costing? 

The dinner ranges between $50 and $80. This money goes to the ingredients for the chef, and then we pay the chef on top of that. 

When you say we, who are you referring to?

Sophia and myself. She is in charge of design and brand, our first pillar of 3rdSpace, where I am focused on the second pillar which is people and operations. Our third pillar is event curation, which involves the tablescape and end to end experience our guests have which we share both our ideas on. However, we want to have two people on each team with us overseeing everything so we just brought on two more people. It is really important for us to have someone manage that so we can be hands on with the guest experience.

What made you want to do this passion project with Sophia?

All of the best things that have ever happened to me, come as a result of approaching strangers. Sophia was working on her design portfolio at a Theta brunch, which I had never even been to - I had been one time. I asked what she was working on and now we're friends. That was a year and a half ago. She has helped me since with other projects of mine like the app Hngr, and the stuff she would do was always so wildly impressive. 

Tell me a little bit more about Hngr, was that a venture before 3rdSpace? 

Hngr is an app - like Spotify for restaurants and naturally, I was bringing together my most creative friends and the idea was they would go to a restaurant and review it on the app. Nobody gave a fuck about the app, but people were raving about the dinners and people they were meeting. It took me a long time, like a month, to realize something I had put so much love and energy into wasn't received well. It was the pivot of not only do I love hosting events, I did it with the founders’ dinners, but this is what people want and love, so what if I put a brand on it? So I called Sophia and said we should brand this, and she was in.

When branding that, what made you think of calling it 3rdSpace? 

In the 90s, and currently in Europe, people have a 3rd space. People have their work space and their home where they are comfortable and spend most of their time, and then their 3rd space. Oftentimes it's a park, or coffee shop, and a place where you gather where your community just is. The only solid representation of a 3rd space, especially in America are churches, synagogues, and mosques. So with a 3rd space - how can we replicate the comfort you have in yourself at work and home in a place you don’t have ownership over. We believe that your 3rd space can be where you feel most you and a sense of belonging, specifically for creatives when surrounded by other creatives. 

What are some behind the scenes logistical tactics or even a mindset that you incorporate to ensure its success?

We are very intentional with taking people from past events and putting them into future ones, so that we can create a sense of community while bringing new people in. So we always try to have 25% of people be repeat guests with 75% new, while we are so young and early we want to try and maximize the amount of people we can introduce the space to. Also I haven’t really talked about this much, but after Hngr I became hesitant to pitch my ideas because I thought it would be a thing everyone knew and when it was not that, I subconsciously became fearful of pitching another idea because of people not trusting it since it didn't work out with Hngr. As a result, I have been really downplaying 3rdSpace and just telling people who ask that I am just doing the things I love - which is true. But there is this guy who I really admire, more than anyone in the world, and he dropped out of Stanford a few months ago to move to New York for this thing called Prod. Prod is a nonprofit and what they do is they surround the smartest kids in the world with the best mentors in the world and help them get funding for billion dollar ideas that can leave mega impacts on the world. We [Philip Bogdanov] were talking over dinner a few nights ago and talking about 3rdSpace and I was downplaying it, and at the end of the dinner when I asked for some advice, shit on me telling me anything I said, he said, “I love everything about what you are doing, but it is a bit of a red flag that when you’re talking about your idea you are downplaying it. You need to have conviction with yourself. It doesn't matter who I am, but you always need to be selling yourself or how is anyone supposed to take you seriously.” To me, that can feel often egotistical but I think I need to start telling people what I really want. 

On that note, we graduate in less than three months, what do you want with 3rdSpace following that big day?

I want to become comfortable with telling people what I want for it even if it's not maybe achievable, even saying that I do not know why I said that. In my brain I should be fully convinced it is achievable. I really truly want to create the next generational membership club. I want to create a space that brings together creatives and a unique and thoughtful experience for them. Essentially, recreate SoHo House for the next generation, especially given the fact that SoHo House stopped accepting applications. There is a whole new market building up. Do you mind looking up Usal Projects - it is just a bunch of events. Imagine if there are those events post-grad where everyone there is like a 3rdSpace person. That is how you can rebuild your community and maybe battle post-grad slump too. This organization is built around events, not people, which is phenomenal, but I want my value proposition to be rebuilding a community, leaning into the Medici effect idea of bringing together the right people and seeing what magic can come of it.