Office 2.0: Where’s Jack Bauer?

March 4th, 2008   |   by Frank Addante

We, at the Rubicon Project, moved into new office today. It is a very exciting day for us. Actually, liberating would be a more appropriate word. Before, we had 40 people squeezed into a 2,000 square foot office, designed to fit 15 people, max. Today, we moved into a 20,000 square foot office, 10X the size of the previous one. Personally, I believe that work environment is a critical factor for team productivity. Especially in a startup company where people spend most of their days, and many, many nights in the office…

I did a posting on our original office 9 months ago. There was a lot of thought that went into that first space, even though it was relatively small. That extra thought paid off. People that visited the office always took notice and commented about the welcoming, energetic feeling. We were able to create a very open environment that encouraged very active communication. As the office became overly crowded, that communication grew stronger. And, while it wasn’t the most convenient with the space limitations, it contributed to the strong culture that has developed here at the Rubicon Project. We knew it was a challenge, but we improvised. For example, on sunny days (much thanks to Los Angeles weather!), we pulled chairs outside into the parking lot and created make-shift conference rooms (see photo). We sure felt the space squeeze on a rainy day!

The tight space added to the charm. So, we wanted to be careful not to disrupt the culture. As with our first office space, we put a lot of thought into Office 2.0:

Style: “24”
The new office is where they filmed the first season of the show “24”. Jack Bauer’s office is prominently displayed in the middle of the space. Yes, of course we named it the “Bauer Conference Room”! The other conference rooms were named in memory of (President) “Palmer” and “Edgar”. In the middle of the office is a giant tented theater. We have learned that before filming 24, the space was used for the production of the movie, Titanic. The theater room was a screening room. We turned it into a conference and team meeting room, for our weekly all-hands team meetings. For those that watch the show 24, we named the theater conference room “CTU”.

Communication & Productivity
In the new space, there are over 20 walled offices with doors and a very large, open area. We could have easily put everyone in an office. Instead, we chose to put everyone in the open area. And yes, by everyone, I include myself. We wanted to keep the communication flowing. But, we also realize that it could be anti-productive. Particularly when it comes to phone calls. So, we turned all of the offices into phone rooms and conference rooms that are assigned/dedicated to each department. These phone/conference rooms can be used for team meetings or people can jump in a room for an hour or a few hours and use it as their own private office. We thought it was a nice balance. Sitting here for about 5 hours now, it was the right decision. I’ve learned more sitting in the middle of the office in the past 5 hours by absorbing the background conversations than I would have in 2 hours of meetings.

Since we spend a lot of time here, we wanted to create an environment where the team could kick back and chill out a bit. So, you’ll find a lot of huge lounge chairs, sofas and a separate bar/play area. We also installed free vending machines and expanded our Wii Lounge, added a pool table, ping-pong table, dart board and foos ball table. (Disclaimer: see bullet on “budget” below, we are not going to be one of those cliche dot-com stories…) We have a huge parking lot, so we also picked up a portable basketball hoop. We like to balance hard work and fun with healthy living and exercise. (Last week, we had a team kickball match at lunchtime, my team lost – this time!)

We are an extremely metrics driven company. We chose to mount flat-panel screens around the office with our Mad Cash Meter. It is a real-time view of how many ads we’re optimizing and how much money we’re generating for our website customers. We also use it to track our goals and keep the company updated on group progress. The visual screens are a constant reminder to keep us all very focused on our #1 goal of helping our customers make mad cash from the ads on their site.

We hold a regular event called Thursdays in the Mix. We’ve been doing them at local venues (bars, etc.). The event is focused on Southern California business networking and the advertising and technology industries. The events usually attract 300+ attendees and we usually have to limit the guest list due to venue size. Going forward, we are going to host the events at our office which will allow us to expand the guest list. We setup a bar area to support the event and the office has a huge courtyard which is perfect for entertaining. There’s 20,000 square feet of office and probably another 20,000 square feet in the enclosed courtyard.

The new office is just 2 blocks away from the old one. It certainly made the move easier. It is near Santa Monica, which is quickly becoming the technology capital of Southern California near companies like Yahoo!, Shopzilla, Fandango, LowerMyBills.com and even MySpace.com started here. It’s a great, central place for us to recruit new talent from many area of LA.

Here’s the best part (and the lesson). Relatively speaking, we spent very little money furnishing the space and making it our own. By keeping the area open, we avoided having to buy expensive cubicles which could run $2k – $3k per person. Instead, people have desks that cost $150. We bought our phone/conference room furniture at IKEA for less than $300 per conference room. For the theater room, instead of buying 50 chairs for $100+ apiece, we opted for black and red (our company colors) cubes for $33 from Overstock.com. We painted the space and added our signs and tagline to the walls which wasn’t very expensive. Everything we bought was either from IKEA, Target, Craig’s List or discount furniture stores. Overall, we spent about 25% of “normal costs” to setup our space but feel like we got 5X the value!

The team is totally jazzed about the new office. We really wanted to make it nice for them. They work extremely hard and are committed to building a great business. We’re looking forward to our new “home”. We strived to do something unique and stellar without a stellar price. I feel like we struck a great balance.

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