It took 10 months for my co-founder Nate Lustig and I to get from the ‘garage’ to the ‘couch.’ During the 6 months or so of the ‘garage phase,’ we mainly worked separately from our apartments, sometimes meeting up at the UW-Business School for a whiteboard sesh as needed. When the glorious Madison summer arrived last May, we began working together more often, and used none other than the beautiful terrace at Lake Mendota as an office. Only in hindsight is it clear why we began working more and more together than apart. First and foremost, each passing day meant we had dug our heels that much further into the loose, ungrounded soil that is a startup, and thus we were continually taking ourselves more seriously. Secondly, day-to-day tasks slowly but surely began to require more and more verbal collaboration and strategic planning, instead of discrete simple tasks that could be done individually from anywhere with an Internet connection.
As the long, warm summer days began to shorten and cool, we could no longer rely on the terrace as an office. So this last October, Entrustet.com officially moved into our first office. The rest of this blog is going to discuss specific ways we set up our office and different tactics we’ve come up with to try and use the space effectively. But if you’d like more information about why and when startups should get an office, please refer to Nate’s post about just that very thing.
Considerations for choosing an office:
- Location. It pays off big time to be in a place where there are other businesses around. Having ther startups in the area is great for idea brainstorming, meeting up for lunch or a drink after work, and using as a resource for exchanging information. Having other service providers (accountants, lawyers, etc.) around is clutch as well, for obvious reasons. Being near a university is a huge bonus as well, if possible. Universities are great places to find cheap services and potentially new employees when that time comes.
- Price. Obviously startups don’t have cash flowing out the wazoo, so this is probably going to be the single most important (and limiting) consideration. That said, you can always at least make sure you’re getting your bang for the buck, whatever the price may be. If the landlord doesn’t already includes wireless, some utilities, a mailbox, etc. then use these as leverage points when negotiating the price.
- Accessibility. Ideally you’d want the office to be walking distance from home, or at least easily accessible on a bike or by public transportation. Remember, you are your own boss, so if the office is hard to get to, you make end up taking more “sick days” than is good for the business.
- ‘Feel.’ When you walk into the office space, pay very close attention to how you feel. Upbeat and energetic, or bored and lazy? Homey and comfortable, or too hot or too cold for comfort? Isolated and repressed, or free and open? Windows are an enormous mood elevator, so consider the additional cost of an office with a window, assuming the price jump is within your budget.
- Size. Give yourself room to grow from the get go, or else you are literally and metaphorically limiting your company’s potential. How many people can fit in your office? Are there open offices next door in case you bring on another person? I’d suggest starting with an office that comfortably seats 2 times the number of people on your staff at the time.
What to put in the office:
- Whiteboards, whiteboards, and more whiteboards. There is an incredibly cheap version of the whiteboards you’ve grown up with, and they’re available at Home Depot and many other large home/office improvement stores. Check out this article describing the boards.
- Plants. Having living, breathing, colorful vegetation in your office can do wonders for your mood and aura.
- Decorations. This doesn’t have to mean expensive photos and inspirational posters, but rather anything and everything you and your partner(s) enjoy looking at. In our case, we mainly just put up the goofiest stuff we could find. There’s a picture of me in a speedo from when I was 5 years old. There’s a free trials of viagra posted on the corkboard. There’s funny move quotes all over the whiteboards. Get creative. Make the office a place you want to go to, and your productivity will naturally increase tenfold.
Here are some pics of our office to give you an idea. Calling all young entrepreneurs: shoot me an email of your startup’s office pictures, I’d love to see what other Gen Y entrepreneurs are doing for office space these days.
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