Swap.com not only enables sharing through swapping…they live it through their shared office strategy. Here, Jeff Bennett, the Swap.com CEO, explains his views on office sharing.
When I joined Swap.com, we had a team of seven and were renting an office in downtown Boston. To implement our expansion strategy, we needed to look for new office space.
Throughout my career, I have worked in many kinds of office settings. In addition to my work at Lycos and NameMedia, I have had the good fortune of advising several young ventures over the years. One of my observations from these experiences is that it is very difficult for young companies to generate the energy and buzz that is oftentimes required if they are in their own, separate space. It is not impossible to make this work, but it is difficult.
I have also come to believe that for emerging businesses, an open-floor plan is ideal for communication, collaboration, and osmosis. A company’s office environment is really important to set the correct tone and atmosphere — lighting, colors, and appointments. It also has to be in the right location, serving public transportation, bicycling, walking and parking.
So, when I set out to find a new home for Swap.com, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to find. I thought of the coolest offices that I had visited over the last few years.
I loved the office that we built from scratch for NameMedia. The color choices, the open work spaces, and the plentiful conference rooms all lent themselves nicely to the venture. But, this site was outside of the city. I needed to find a cool location in Boston or Cambridge based on the commuting needs of our team.
Having visited them several times over the last few years with founder and CEO Dave Balter, I also loved the offices of BzzAgent, a buzz marketing firm that was located in the South End of Boston.
I called Dave to connect again. Maybe it was serendipity or just luck, but in my meeting with Dave, he indicated that their space was too big and they had embarked on a program to sublet to other cool and emerging companies. It just so happened that there was a spot open.
We toured the available space. My mental check list of open-floor plan, great natural light and lighting fixtures, colors and appointments were all met and exceeded. It had everything the NameMedia space had.
There was shared space — and some shared infrastructure items (fax, etc) — where the BzzAgent team and other companies could socialize. It was not just the interior of the office that made the space great. The shared office was in Boston's South End, a super-cool neighborhood that has great restaturants and housing, as well as a burgeoning creative / artist community.
And to support our current commuting patterns, everything was accessible by public transportation, biking, and walking. There was even parking! This was not your average urban work center. I immediately called the co-founders to have them check it out.
BzzAgent and the other companies that were sharing the office are all creative and technology-oriented companies. They are all young and entrepreneurial, as well. I think it is important if you are going to share office space that there is an overarching ethos that is consistent with you and your company.
Another consideration that is important for any company, especially young ventures, is building out office space to meet your needs. This can be incredibly expensive. For us, moving into the BzzAgent space was ideal as it was already built out with furnishings and a computer room, as well.
Of equal importance to the consideration is the leasing process. Most new ventures have a very hard time predicting next year… never mind three, four, or five years out for a conventional lease. We would need to sign a lease to co-locate with BzzAgent, but for a reasonable period of time.
The last big concern is always about how you manage growth. We hope to get big as the leader of the swap category, but we don't want to have to pay for the Googleplex yet. In the BzzAgent lease, we could pay a base fee and then expand these fees along the way as we expanded.
The Hub in Rotterdam. Photo credit: Patrick Tanguay
When sharing space, you need to be more conscious of your neighbors. The team cannot always have the conference room and we have to plan ahead. We also have to be good citizens with noise and cleaning up our messes. With some mindfulness and proper planning, it all works out.
To be honest, the first day was an adjustment. My staff had gone from a tiny space that was somewhat cloistered into a very open office environment with many people buzzing about. Ultimately though, our own team started to more openly collaborate and communicate as the floor plan lent itself to this more easily.
These are considerations that everyone must keep in mind. I am a big believer in sharing office space for all of the reasons that I have mentioned above. The impact on Swap.com has been enormous in our development over the last year.
Top Tips for Office Sharing:
- The office environment should fit your needs and enhance your productivity.
- The other company's ethos is consistent with your business.
- The office is built out.
- There is flexibility within the lease on term and increasing payments as you go.
- There is enough space for your company to grow for a period of time without moving.
- Your team imbibes a mindset of being a good citizen to others you are sharing the office with.
I hope this helps give a perspective for some who are considering sharing office space. I welcome your comments or questions.
It's not just Jeff who enjoys the shared space. Here are some comments from people in the mix:
"Shared space means shared positive energy and good leftovers. I love the space."
– Andrew Baizen, UI Design
"It's like going to work for a startup… but playing in a big pro stadium when I walk into the office in the morning. The schoolyard competitive spirit comes out in me. It is cool!"
– Meg Travis, Marketing Director
"Sharing space just feels normal — and right. The spirit of collaboration and the feeling of creating a high tide to lift all boats is alive and well nowhere more than in a shared startup space when the companies and personalities involved are well matched. "
– Melissa Massello, GM Swap.com Events and Swapaholic
More about coworking and shared office spaces:
5 Essential Tools for Starting a Coworking Space
What's Working in Coworking
10 of the Best Coworking Spaces in the UK