Where Work Gets Done

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Michael Buenaventura

August 20, 2012

“Sign on the dotted line.” It’s a relatively harmless expression, right? Simple and to the point. To an entrepreneur or

To an entrepreneur or founder, it means so much more than merely putting ink on paper. Leasing proper office space can be a significant milestone for a startup. Whether you have secured a closet-sized room in the back of a laundromat or you recently leased 10,000 square feet of prime real estate in the trendiest office loft space in the city, office space can be cause for celebration. When is it the right time to move from your parents’ garage into an actual office? What amenities should be included? These questions will be answered. Here are four quick tips for choosing where to work, when to lease and how to choose your workspace.

Here are four quick tips for choosing where to work, when to lease and how to choose your workspace.

#1: Separation of work and home. Achieve this as fast as possible.

Early days as a startup are far from glamorous. If you are lucky, you start with some funding that can afford you the opportunity for luxuries like an office, proper office furniture and even an office administrator. Realistically, you are part of the vast majority that cannot afford these luxuries and you are relegated to kickstart your business from the following locations: your home, your parent’s home, the local coffee shop or even the local library.

The cost of an affordable office space should be your first revenue goal. The separation of home and work is essential. You will focus much better without the distractions. Most importantly, it will force you to start acting like you are running a real business.

“We started TaskUs from the guest bedroom of my parents’ house. We set up a card table, Jaspar and myself on either side, and went to work. The clear advantage of this space was that it was free. As a self-funded (aka no funded) startup, this was not just nice. It was essential. It even came with free WiFi (thank you, Mom and Dad!). The downside was that we could not take client meetings, hire interns or employees from this space. It was a great launching pad, but we used all of our initial revenue to move into an office. That office was a simple $800 per month room by the Santa Monica Airport. Simple, but also necessary.” – Bryce Maddock, CEO at TaskUs

#2: Create a work environment that encourages creativity, but go easy on the toys.

Remember, you’re not Google… yet. Designing a workplace equipped with slides, plasma screens and more arcade games than the local arcade can be incredibly fun, but deadly to your office productivity. Many startups invest in lavish office amenities in an attempt to lure the brightest employees.

This is a common mistake.

Job seekers are well aware that startups have a marginal success rate. Working at a “cool office” can be a nice perk, but your employees will ultimately appreciate company culture and opportunities for personal career growth much more. Focus on fun team building activities, keeping the fridge stocked and continuous office improvement. Leave the pinball machines, pool tables and other gaming equipment for when your company goes public and you decide to build an office campus.

“Have your team work from the office to foster collaboration. Host drinks, dinners, poker games and movie nights to network with the community. Open your office up to other people to work from. Get every last drop of utility out of your rental dollars.” – Bryce Maddock, CEO at TaskUs

#3: Remember, it’s not just an office. It’s also your recruitment center.

Proper office space is an essential part of your company’s progression. Your clients will understand that you are an early-stage company that cannot afford Class A office space yet. Leasing office space will provide immediate legitimacy and help ease any concerns that you are not a real business. Despite incredible advances in technology, location is still incredibly important. Even if your business is solely located on the web, it can be quite beneficial to be headquartered in tech hotspots like Silicon Beach, Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley. Leasing an entire office space might be outside of your budget. Get creative. Check out co-working startup offices like Coloft or launchpads. They provide immediate communities that will help get your business off the ground.

“In the early days of TaskUs, we would always try to keep our interactions with our clients strictly on the phone. For starters, we probably looked ten years younger than we actually were. Also, we were working out of our parents’ homes. When clients would ask where our office was, we would conveniently change the subject and push to meet them at their office or somewhere else. Finally, leasing office space was not just convenient, it was necessary.” – Jaspar Weir, President at TaskUs

#4: Limit Your Risk. Don’t sign anything unless you absolutely have to.

The current real estate market has brought considerable leverage to the leasee. The lessened importance of phone lines, physical connections to broadband internet and massive server storage rooms have made unconventional office spaces possible. Don’t commit to a long term lease or pay a huge security deposit if you can avoid to. Explore every opportunity and don’t be afraid to make an offer on any space or property. The price tag might read $10,000 per month, but a motivated lessor could settle for much less if the price works. As an entrepreneur, you are well-versed at finding alternative solutions. Real estate should be no different. Avoid conventional real estate practices and commit to the right leasing opportunity for your business.

“Moving into an office is a big step. The three rules for success are: 1) Do not move into an office until you have to move into an office. You have to move into an office when you have more than a couple employees, unpaid interns or you are hosting lots of client meetings. You, your partner and your dog do not need an office simply because you are tired of sleeping and working in the same place. If you are doing a startup the right way, let’s face it, you shouldn’t be sleeping much anyway. 2) Do not sign a lease, ever…if possible. When you have to rent an office, rent a month-to-month office, or even rent a desk at a co-working space. This way you can move back into your house when you run low on cash in a month or two. 3) Use your office! When you finally rent your own office, get full use out of it.” – Bryce Maddock, CEO at TaskUs

Many founders wax poetically as they look back fondly on their early days. Selling all of their possessions to fund necessary technology purchases, living off of Cup-of-Noodles and asking their parents to turn down the television when they are on an important client call can be quite frustrating. Use these daily annoyances as motivation for driving your company to the point where you can afford office space. When the time comes, make smart decisions that will result in securing a great work environment for you and your employees.

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