Chapter 13: Choose a Place to Work -
Tomorrow Toolkit for Entrepreneurs
Choose a Place to Work By Christopher Wink
Does a physical footprint matter? What should you think about in making that first move? There has been an explosion of colocation facilities -- coworking spaces, incubators, accelerators and other shared work spaces -- so how do you choose what’s right for you? How do you know when to get your own office?

Simonida Boscovic started Chicago IoT startup Vizlore from her home. Atlanta’s Futurus started with employees all working remotely. Philly-based design agency O3 World started with three people in a one-person office.

These arrangements are common, but growth brings a need for change.

As a local startup set starts growing up, they start needing different things from their physical presence. For all the ‘work from home’ policies and telecommuting and satellite offices, new companies still say it’s hard to replace the bonding and creativity that comes from IRL interaction.

Bosovic now works at 1871, a hub of Chicago’s startup community that offers coworking. Along with the personal benefits of more human interaction, she noted that coworking spaces like 1871 also offer an advantage for businesses.

“You hear lots of ideas. You’re not in a stuffy one-cubicle office anymore,” she said. “It’s good to have people around you who are there to motivate you. I think it’s crucial to be surrounded by the right people. Then you’re there at the right time when something comes along.”

That’s why we see an entire pipeline of options develop in maturing entrepreneurship hubs. First, it might help for some definitions:

  • Coworking spaces — physical places where communities of like-minded or otherwise connected independent workers and other small teams can come together to share resources.
  • Incubators — physical places that focus on hosting and supporting growing companies.
  • Accelerators — short-term programs with a set timeline for graduating companies and teams out of a facility.
  • Shared work spaces — a new wave of offices with flexible leases that offer shared resources and communal features but focus on more stable or slightly later-stage, if still small, companies.

In these and other places for getting work done — coffee shops, libraries, university research facilities, lab space — we’re seeing young innovative organizations start in one and grow to others. This too has been about reducing risk. Take small growth steps, without taking on a long lease, and get the network effect benefits of sharing office space near other growing companies that face similar challenges.

Philadelphia-based mobile couponing company SnipSnap, which was acquired in January 2015, is a perfect example. Founder Ted Mann, a former Gannett newspaper executive, started the company at his South Jersey home. After meeting and testing, he was accepted to the 2011 DreamIt Ventures accelerator class, won a startup demo event and moved to a digital media incubator focused on building a client base. Then the company moved to Venturef0rth, a shared work space it grew in until finally taking 2,100 square feet of its own office space. It was there it grew until being acquired and remains today.

Mann often says the steps they took in growing their team helped mitigate risk and maximize networking and support opportunities.

Despite all the possibilities for a distributed workforce, maintaining an office does wonders for “team unity," said Ted Mann, whose SnipSnap was acquired in January 2015.

So where do you start to find your own pipeline?

Your Checklist:

  • Focus on what you need now. Office space is a big commitment, so it’s worth considering how it will fulfill business needs. How many people are working on your team today? Will that change dramatically soon? Do you need mentorship and people to ask for advice or just a quiet place with reliable internet? What other kind of resources do you need — lab or kitchen space, an in-house administrative assistant or rigorous support? You need to do a self-assessment to know what your needs are, so you can then approach your options with a purpose.
  • Visit your options. Take tours and use events as a chance to see the options that exist near to you. What spaces feel right? What offer the amenities you need?
  • Don’t forget about the people. Any co-location facility is primarily made up by the people who work there. Get to know some members so you can understand whom you’ll be working around. Part of your own staff retention strategy will be about being near to other smart and engaged people.
  • Consider meeting a real estate agent. There is a stigma regarding commercial real estate agents but they can be helpful. Take a meeting to find someone in your network who has worked with one and get a recommendation. One unique difference about the collaborative tech startup community than other industries is how much referrals mean. As Philadelphia commercial real estate agent Dan Gummel said: “Law firms wouldn’t care that I worked with five other law firms but startups do.”
  • Account for all the costs. Jason Volmut of Chicago IT firm CPURX offers a reminder that it’s important to account for additional costs such as utilities, infrastructure and potentially additional employees. “The best piece of advice is to make sure that you account for the costs that are in addition to what your lease or your rents may be because when your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep becomes your downfall,” he said.
  • Right Now: Create a list of the 10 features you’d want in a working space. That way you can contrast how far or close an option is. How much do you want to spend monthly? Do you want a permanent desk or are you willing to be flexible? Do you want perks, like free coffee and games? What kind of people do you want to be around? What is convenient for you to visit daily?

The point here is that though your needs may change it’s worth thinking about why a place to work can help you and your early team.

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