A positive attitude towards ‘digital start-ups’ and their growth.

‘It’s tough this office space lark in the UK, but change is coming, and it’s about time!’

Games, web, app or general software developers are driven by a need to be able to ‘flex’ in size as their product or the market requires.

If you are 5 people or more and ready to grow the business. With those new hires you will face a big challenge when it comes to finding a space to house your growing business.

It’s a fact that the cost and commitment when looking at office space lease terms and fit out costs, creates risk for start-ups and small development companies. Simply because it’s ‘new school’ activity meets ‘old school’ business practice.

The good news is, there are some agents, groups of Landlords and developers that now understand what a digital company actually needs. I.e. to grow beyond a few people working from home, but do it incrementally or organically to make it viable. ‘Grow because we need to, not because we can’ is the new mantra.

I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast meeting and presentation by a large property agent, Knight Frank. Eamon works in their Leeds office, and is a friend and contact in the ‘office space’ environment. He is someone I can engage with about digital companies. He helped me a few years ago source an office space for a games studio.

‘Fish out of water time? Could be!’

I didn’t know what to expect at this meeting. I’m a games industry guy, a consultant in tech industries and I often sport the classic comfortable check shirt and beard! I also had Pete with me from a Leeds based software company, Calls9. We were both casually dressed and in room full of dark suits and shirt/tie combos. This was a group of agents, investors and property developers.

The initial greeting on arrival had been very nice, the venue was Aspire in Leeds, impressive place. We sat at large round tables and after a little meet and greet we were all presented with a rather tasty ‘Full English Breakfast’. Beats the usual croissant and orange juice, I am a 16 stone Yorkshireman after all!

Breakfast finished and the big screen was up, with the first of the speakers introduced. What was the topic going to be? How office space was available in the city? The latest trends? The usual?

Well NO, to my surprise (although Eamon had previously hinted) it was a presentation about how tech companies make up a large part of the demographic of Leeds and the greater region. Identifying how it was time to understand what the digital industry needs in terms of ‘space’ when they grow. Lots of statistics really highlighted the value of digital sector clients, but that they have some specific needs.

PSSSSST! For those of us in the games industry, we’ve been creating innovative and fun spaces to inspire the teams in our studios to be creative, comfortable and motivated for 20 years. This is because we understand that looking after people is a really important thing. Whether in digital, games, services, web or non-games software, long hours can happen, work can is pressured and we are often crammed into one space. A ‘call centre’ office fit-out won’t cut it.

So back to the event. It was the first time I’ve seen or heard of an property agent deliver a talk into a group that convert buildings, invest in and sell/rent property, that was all about how there is a new way to service the digital sector. A way that everyone benefits.

Cool spaces, people centric, beautified, and for smaller companies. Opportunities to work with more flexible leases, and within cohabiting spaces.

This is music to my ears! I have many hardworking friends in the digital sector, games, apps and web services that want to expand but can’t afford to, or want to commit to 10 year leases. They need some flexibility in the size of the space they use/rent/lease. So they can incrementally grow based on successful products or completed projects. Or in fact reduce in size through lean or uncertain times in what can be a volatile sector.

There are many indie software developers out there that are in teams of two or three, or five or ten, that can’t afford office space. They could use co-working spaces, community spaces, and flexibility from landlords to help them grow into a space.

There is a group of people in Leeds. Friends of mine that are securing funding and creating hubs for small games companies and entrepreneurial developers to get together. To have access to resources, information, help and even receive funding. Companies like Jamie Sefton’s Game Republic and gatherings at events like GAMAYO that are run by games people for this indie scene.

These are industry people, they know what they need to do to help the digital and games sector flourish in this region. They are the ‘subject matter experts’ because they’re connected to the largest network of industry veterans in the North of England (and beyond).

So what’s the problem?

Well, the corporates and investors that invest and rebuild property can be seen as competitors for funding into the digital sector. Taking much needed cash from the industry help groups. It’s all about ‘just’ making bucks, to those investors and developers right?

Wrong (well maybe a bit right, property is business too). What I heard at this breakfast meeting was a need to drive towards catering for the digital sector. Understanding its flexible needs on space type and lease arrangements.

If you couple this with the knowledge in the region that I’ve mentioned. What you have is the best answer for digital start-ups and entrepreneurial software developers. Which is…

All that amazing knowledge and effort in the digital sector in this region, coupled with funding for growth for these start-ups. Partnered with landlords and agents that know exactly what start-ups need in terms of space, lease flexibility, co-working and expansion/capability. Thereby creating a fully complimented ‘growth journey’ for digital companies!

Imagine, industry experts and groups, working ‘with’ agents like Knight Frank, who have investors and property developers that want to embrace what digital has to offer. Working with software developers and going with them on a long term journey of support and growth. Expanding via cohabiting spaces, then taking a small office on a flexible lease. Now at 10 people they want to upgrade the space again. Staying with the same Landlord, in the same building with the same terms.

What you get is a 5+ year journey from a 2-person start-up to a 50 strong team becoming a multimillion pound digital company. Creating jobs in the sector, driving momentum for funding, and attracting investors to the region.

With the strongest relationships they can have. Access to networked industry experts, accessible funding and investment and Landlord support and commitment.

Start-ups then have the best chance of success.

Everyone feels the benefit of success. Why don’t we ‘just’ do that…

It feels like Knight Frank are leading the charge away from the ‘old school’ thinking, that was the clear message at this breakfast meeting.

If I can help Knight Frank get traction I certainly will, after all I was one of only two digital industry people in that presentation.

Change has to be driven all both sides.

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Mark Lloyd — Coach, Trainer, Mentor, Consultant.

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