internet advertising

Setting up Shop – Picking an Office Space

June 10th, 2007   |   by Frank Addante

My apologies for not doing a posting sooner, I have been “communication challenged” due to an office move for the Rubicon Project. Most would agree that moving is always a big distraction. So, I’ve decided to do a post about setting up an office space and all the things that go into the decision making process: what’s the right size? location? type of space? lease term? configuration? feeling? decorating? etc.

It’s a tough market in L.A. for finding office space. And, we were very selective about the kind of space that we wanted. It was important for us to find the right space. As they say “dress for the occasion”, I believe your office space is a very, very important part of building the company’s culture. It doesn’t have to be “the perfect” space or anything that’s over the top, but it has to suit the company’s personality. It defines the company’s image and it’s everyone’s “home away from home” — especially for fast growing, hungry, hard-working, late-hour-driven startups.

I’ll break it down into sections:

1. Location

The two biggest factors for us in picking a location were: a) something central for future employees and b) something near other companies in our industry that we might want to recruit from. For us, being near Santa Monica was key. We ended up with a place that is at the intersection of two major freeways (the 10 and the 405). Also, having something walking distance to lunch/dinner/happy hour options was also a key factor.

2. Size

It is always tough to “right-size” your space requirements. You don’t want a space that’s too small because you don’t want to be moving every 6 months and wasting rent (for the remainder of your lease term). Yet, you don’t want a space that’s too big and sitting empty. Around the Santa Monica area, it happens to be a landlord’s market with less than 6% availability. Space is tight. Expansion possibilities are slim. We looked at spaces that would last anything from 4 months to 18 months. We ended up choosing a space that would last us 6-9 months, based on price, the “feeling of the space” and availability. We had to sign a 1 year lease, but, we figured it is better to eat 3 months rent if we can’t sublease it than to get an over-sized space and keep half of it empty for 6-12 months.

3. Type of space

For me, this was one of the most important factors. We really wanted a space that was very creative, fun, interactive and open. We didn’t end up with the perfect space, but we ended up with the “perfect space for now”. We heavily personalized it and made it our own. We painted, we selected creative furniture and we arranged the furniture in such a way that it gave it a very open and interactive feeling. We thought of creative ways to turn it into space where we could host a couple of parties/events, in addition to the ones that we’ll be having at restaurants, clubs and bars in the area. (Office warming party to come soon!)

4. Configuration – offices, cubes, meeting areas, etc.

We wanted to create more of a “lounge” than an “office” (a comfortable place to work). Moving into a slightly smaller space, we didn’t have a lot of options or space to waste. Especially, since we will likely end up cramming a lot of people in as we prepare to move into a larger space in the future. Another big factor was offices versus cubes and desks. We decided against cubes, as we wanted to create a very open environment for active communication. So, we set up a bunch of desks in different shapes and put them together in a way that gives people their own personal space, yet keeps an open feel.

Another thing we considered was how to use the actual offices. In our space, 80% of it is open space and the other 20% is 4 offices. We turned one into a conference room and another one into a “lounge” with sofas, ottomans’ and comfortable, funky chairs and a flat-screen TV. We put whiteboards in the “lounge” and it doubles as both a place to socialize/rest/play and a great meeting area. The TV doubles as a projector for presentations. The two remaining offices are actual offices, and the only two. I thought long and hard about whether I should sit in an office or in the open area. While I really wanted to sit in the open area, I realized it wouldn’t be practical. I spend most of my time on the phone or in meetings or interviews. So, I’d likely be a distraction to people. As a compromise, I set up my office as 25% desk for me and 75% open meeting area. I want to be careful not create a culture of “offices and cubes”. So, I made the office very open and inviting and I plan to keep the door open all the time (I even considered removing the door altogether). Also, I have a laptop, so I’m going to work in the open area as much as possible. I need to absorb the information and energy of the team and participate in the cross-communication.

Lastly, we selected office chairs that are easy to roll around so people can move from desk to desk to interact and meet with their fellow team members, again, encouraging active communication.

5. Decorating and style

Presentation is everything, whether it is how you dress, a power point or how an office is designed. Our office is part of the way that we present ourselves to prospective employees, vendors, clients, partners, etc. It is an extension of our company’s personality. We are a creative, Internet advertising company, so we wanted to design our office to reflect that. Being a startup, of course, we needed to design on a tight budget. We were able to find great stuff at places like Ikea, Craig’s list, Target and local discount furniture stores. We painted the walls, which is an easy and inexpensive thing to do and it made a big difference – vibrant colors such as purple, bright green, red and even gray and black…

6. Getting it done fast!

We knew that moving into the space was going to be a big distraction. So, we decided to divide and conquer. We did the majority of the heavy lifting in the first three days. On the first day, we had everyone in the office building desks, unpacking boxes, etc. and got the painter started. If we were on the TV show, “The Apprentice”, our team would have definitely won that task! We were like a machine. On the second day, we organized all the furniture and on the third day we put in the finishing touches and setup Internet, phones, etc. On the 2nd and 3rd day, half the team stayed home and continued working (to keep the product development momentum going) while the other half finished up the office. Now, it’s done. It was a distraction, yet it was important to get it right, but we tried to make sure it had minimal impact to our progress. (photos below)

All in all, I think we ended up with a great space that really suits our personality and will serve as a good home for the next 6-9 months to foster the kind of culture that we want to create and promote. And, we did it all for very little cost! Now, it’s time to work on filling those seats with A++ people.

I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of the office ambience and feel. It’s important not to rush through it and really think about the feeling and interaction you want to create in the office environment…

I’m curious, what do you think are the important elements for creating the right office environment? If you have any thoughts/suggestions that you want to share with others, please add your comments to this post.

Here are some pictures of our work in progress:

Before:

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After (the almost finished product):

(still waiting for some furniture and a few whiteboards left to hang!)
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Day 1:

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Day 2:

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Day 3:

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