In the past couple years, I’ve written a couple blog posts explaining how startup offices are like faces, which can basically be summed up in an excerpt paragraph – “they [startup offices] communicate what is going on in the inside. Of course, they convey an intentional outward expression, like a face does. But they also reveal subtle cues about a company’s core, just as a face does, too… A startup’s office directly speaks to prospective & current employees, customers, and investors… there isn’t one “right way” that companies’ offices should look. Quite the contrary. Just as all startups are different, their offices should be different as well. I think that the key is that the environment in which start-up employees work should match that of the company’s story and culture.”
I think all of the above is just as true for venture capitalists’ offices as well. Entrepreneurs can learn a lot about venture firm by visiting its offices. Are they in Class A space with a view? This can project prestige, confidence, and accomplishment. Are they funky and hip, as many media investors’ are, parallel to the domain in which they invest? Or do they look more traditional, conveying a sense of heritage and longevity? Does the space seem quiet or is it lively with activity? And of course, the location means a lot too, sending an important signal about priorities and audience.
So when we at NextView Ventures began to look for a new office space a few months ago, we weren’t just looking for a place for the three of us to work, but rather, we deliberately set out to find a space that spoke about us and our firm. This week we’re moving into offices at 186 South Street in the Leather District near South Station in Boston, and the choice is a reflection of who we are and the traits of the message we’d like to convey:
- Location near Entrepreneurs. The location is 15 minutes or less from Kendall Square / Cambridge Innovation Center / DogPatch / TechStars on the T’s Red Line and walking distance from the Innovation District and Fort Point Channel areas. It’s also few footsteps from the South Station commuter rail and even parking as well. Plus, there are quite a number of startups which call the Leather District home (partially because of the cheaper rents than Cambridge) including MocoSpace, CampusLIVE, Visible Measures, and NextView portfolio companies TurningArt and Boundless Learning. Within a stone’s throw are other startups like DataXu and CLOVR Media, as well as entreprenurial coworking spaces like the Bocoup Loft and WorkBar Boston. And that list (somewhat suprisingly) goes on and on. We wanted to be in a central location which was convenient for all entrepreneurs, our primary constituent, not just in whatever neighborhood is the latest hotspot.
- Open. The space is an open loft space with high ceilings and exposed ducts which fits our personalities and approach. We continually strive to be open, direct, and transparent with each other in our partnership, as well as in our relationship with entrepreneurs in our portfolio and outside. The three of us were looking for a space that felt inviting and welcoming, just as we strive to be within the community.
- Collaborative. While each of us has our own very small office, our intent is to primarily work and spend most of our days in a central area within the office where we have three central desks pushed together. Lee, Rob, and I have found that when we’re extremely proximate, natural collaboration flows and ideas are exchanged much more frequently and easily. So rather than coming to an office just to sit in a room by oneself, we wanted a space that fostered interaction by design.
- Room for entrepreneurs. We have already incubated one startup in our portfolio, Boundless Learning, and will likely do so again within this fund. We intentionally have room for one or two seed-stage entrepreneurs to hang their hat in our offices temporarily while they’re at the earliest stages of forming a company, but we don’t have room to house whole companies. (Our model at NextView isn’t an incubator, so our space isn’t set up for one.)
- “Micro”-brew theme. We’re aiming to create a modern feel for the place, almost make look like an upscale microbrew-pub: hardwood floors, contemporary furniture, clean lines, and exposed interworkings. It fits in with my blog post last year about our approach to venture capital. As the venture industry consolidates, it’s bifurcating into two winning approaches/strategies: the large-fund “Budweisers” who are multi-stage, multi-sector, multi-geography; and the microbrews which are dedicated/focused on one stage, sector, and geography. NextView is taking the latter approach in being a dedicated seed-stage fund focused on investments in internet-enabled startups along the east coast corridor (Boston-NYC), and we’ve decided to carry that theme even into our décor in our office. For example, when you visit, you’ll notice our conference rooms are named after microbreweries (e.g. “Dogfish Head”) with corresponding signs from the breweries themselves.
- Not typical. We’re not a typical venture firm, so we weren’t looking for a typical office and location. While there is a current migration, or even stampede, of venture firms relocating from Waltham to (or opening an office in) Cambridge/Kendall, we intentionally didn’t want to be just part of “the pack.” We’d like to think we’re different, and that carries all the way to where we’re located and how our office feels.
- Authentic. Lastly, we hope that the aesthetic of our space when you walk in reflects authenticity. Just as we identify best with entrepreneurs driven o solve problems realized through their own genuine experiences, we want our space to look genuinely ours. It’s not a stuffy / sterile corporate office, but rather has its own quirks and charms, actually reflecting who we are, how we work, and who we work with.
Rob, Lee, and I are looking forward to inviting over and hosting our friends within the entrepreneurial community to our offices once we’re settled in. In the interim, I’ll likely share some photos on this post once we’ve fully moved. Offices – both startups’ and VCs’ – are indeed very much like faces… and we’re currently smiling.