When Your Startup Needs a Bigger Office
Next week we’re moving to a bigger space.
We moved into our first SF location less than 10 months ago. After our recruiter and our office manager, I was the third full-time employee. Our space was 7500 sq ft; a decent size for a startup establishing its first presence in San Francisco.
The office was spartan: exposed ductwork, few interior walls and an elevator that ascended at a glacial pace. Our building was in a less traveled part of SoMa, surrounded on all sides by construction projects. And at 3PM each day, the street below transformed into a stream of cars noisily inching towards the Bay Bridge.
But the office also had character. The four-story building was constructed in 1916. We had exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, high ceilings and plenty of natural light. The office was a rectangular open space, flanked by two conference rooms and two phone rooms (each slightly larger than a closet).
Our first SF office was a good place to grow a team, and that’s what we did.
We’ve gone through the office selection process twice now in SF. Here are some things to consider when your startup needs a bigger office.
Type of Lease
In SF where there is a high-concentration of startups, you have many options. Traditional agreements involve renting directly from a landlord, or subleasing from someone who does. Landlords will typically try to lock you into five- or seven-year leases.
If you’re a smaller startup, you should seriously consider shared or co-working space. In SF, some of the better known co-working spaces include: (in no particular order) WeWork, RocketSpace, Founders Den, PariSOMA, Citizen Space.
Our first SF office was a sublease from another company, which gave us a better rate and shorter term than a landlord ever would.
You’ll need enough room to grow into, but not so much that you’re burning unnecessary cash on a monthly basis. So look for a spot that has 100–150 sq ft/person for your target staff size.
Our goal was to have a team of 60 people in the SF office as we grew. At 7500 sq ft, that put us at 125 sq ft/person. This makes for close quarters but still enough space to maintain a small footprint desk and smart use of common areas (kitchen, game room, lounge seating) to be productive.
What helped us out tremendously was our floorplan: essentially one large bay which provides maximum flexibility. As you can see, we maximized the use of our current office with close placement of desks.
When it comes to real estate, it’s all about location.
Choosing an office near mass transit will help your employees every day. Our first SF location was walking distance to two different BART/Muni stations, 2 blocks from the Transbay Terminal, less than a mile from the Ferry Building and 1 mile away from the Caltrain station! Our team members use nearly all of these modes of transport every day.
Some employees will also drive to work, so proximity to parking garages should also be considered when choosing an office location.
Also keep in mind other amenities that your team will appreciate such as coffee shops, restaurants, and nearby bars for celebrating milestones. We often have people from Sydney or Austin visiting the SF office; having an affordable hotel nearby has been extremely useful.
Once you’ve established your business and have raised significant capital to scale, you need to get a legitimate office. But you’re at a startup, so you know the importance of maintaining a budget.
You’ll need to strike the right balance between office size, location, and lease type to arrive at a fair market price. There’s an overall shortage of office space in San Francisco, but you’ll be surprised at the difference a few blocks makes in $/sq ft.
Our first SF office was off the beaten path. Ours was the only office building for blocks, surrounded by construction sites, and adjacent to the Bay Bridge onramp. In exchange for this, we had a good sized office at a price that fit our budget.
Finally, you need to find a space that resonates with your company and the culture you want to build. It will be different for each startup, but you’ll know it when you see it.
Our first SF office had warm tones and rich textures of exposed brick, hardwood floors, and high ceilings all bathed in natural light. It was functional and welcoming at the same time. It was a prototypical startup space, and it just felt right.
During my initial tour, I noticed the signage of the previous occupant: a startup that had just been acquired — by my prior company! Call it fate, karma, or whatever else, I took it as a good sign.
Today we packed up our items and started the moving process. We had an all-hands meeting in the afternoon to commemorate the move and reflect on our time in the office.
I asked the team: Who’s going to miss this office? Almost everyone raised their hand.
After a few more meetings, the movers arrived. I looked at our glowing neon logo on the wall and made a final check-in on Foursquare (yes, I still use it).
Our new office is a fabulous space on Market Street that we built out to specifications. I’m looking forward to the move, but will remember our time at 501 Folsom with fondness. So much happened for our team in the span of 10 months!
We are the primary tenants of our new office, and will be subleasing a portion of the space until we need it all. Contact me if interested!