Looking For Office Space Part 2: The Messy Middle.

Welcome to the second post in my Finding Office Space series. This a trilogy like The Godfather. Only nobody dies (I hope). In Looking for office space: A startup story.,we began our quest for a great new office. In the post you’re reading now I will share the middle of the journey, and reveal a plot twist, (oh yes there is a plot twist!).  In the next post we will finally be in our space, cracking open some cold chocolate milks, shooting Nerf hoops and talking about how the people down on the street below look like ants, only to realize they are actually huge ants that look like people.

Quick Background

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, first came to life in 2016. We opened for business with five former clients who wanted us to help them make some marketing magic. We started by using modern technology to form a modern team that didn’t need to be in one space to deliver really modern thinking.

That approach has worked extremely well. Our regular team consists of great talent in Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia and Florida. And business is booming!  Over the past 18 months we have worked with more than twenty brands in the US and Canada.

Despite the fact that platforms like Slack, Google’s G-Suite, Dropbox, Asana and Zoom made us feel like we were all under one roof, collaborating seamlessly, we decided it was time for our first office, in Milwaukee. But our rate of growth makes it dificult to know just how big of an office we will need 2 or 3 years from now.

The Options.

This summer we looked at eight different buildings. Here is a brief overview of what we saw.

The Sublease Special

The first space we looked at because a friend of mine knew we were looking for space and invited me to stop by to see his office opportunities. He ran a business that had both additional unused offices within their core space, and some turnkey office suites and conference rooms that they rent out. Both were interesting options, and I could see either working out. But it also felt a little like moving back in with my parents. I love my parents. But I wanted to see what else was out there.

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The first space we saw offered some great looking, ready-to-rent, super grown up suites. 

The Appealing Amenity Space. 

The second space we looked at was in a beautiful converted former Milwaukee brewery. Again, the owner is a friend and he told me he had some space that might work for us. The building was very cool, and well located. There were lots of extras: A gym, a pool, a common kitchen, available meeting spaces, lots of available huddle spaces throughout the building and a 24-hour concierge desk just steps away from what would be our suite. The space itself had a conference room, but no other private office. So we kept looking.

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This is a terrible picture of what was actually a nice space in a great building. The space was occupied at the time and all of my other pictures seemed too revealing of the occupant’s world to reveal here.  But if you look closely you can see my friend David’s elbow and white sleeve on the left side of the pic. That’s a classic elbow, right?

The Broker.

Then I called some brokers so I could see spaces that weren’t owned by my friends.  That’s when I found Mitch. Mitch is an eager and very professional recent college graduate of my alma mater, The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Mitch found a whole mess of options that gave me a great range to compare and contrast.

What we saw with Mitch:

The Big River Front Space

This cool move-in-ready space right on the Milwaukee River featured a high-visibility storefront that opened to a main intersection of the elevated skywalk system downtown Milwaukee. Also in the building was a major concert venue and a great steakhouse.  It was close to the downtown mall too. At 1800 square feet it was bigger than we needed. However, the management was willing to offer flexible terms to make it work. This was interesting.

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The view alone made me really want this space to work out. You can see the statue of Fonzie from Happy Days across the river.

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The Penthouse

The next space we saw was in a well-known high-rise building downtown. It had a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. It was right at 1000 square feet, which is what I felt was right for us now. But the price per square foot felt more like Madison Avenue. So I immediately removed it from consideration.

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This space had a great view. And a high price that was more suitable for a law firm.

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The Makeover Beauty

Next we saw a really interesting option.  It was an older building that had gone to The Makeover Center For Formerly Beautiful Buildings. And it came back looking dreamy.  Clearly the new owner knew how to spend money well to upgrade a building.  It had a very cool tenant lounge on the first floor that felt like an ad agency space.  There were large presentation rooms available to us. There was a gym, pool and racquetball courts in the building.  The space itself was just what we needed. 1000 square feet, with 3 office spaces/conference rooms already built. Plus good common space to boot (although I don’t really know what ‘to boot’ means). This was a real option.

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One of three office/conference rooms in the space.  This was a very attractive option.

The Custom Classic

Then we saw another swanky space on the Milwaukee River, across from The Big River Front Space.  The management team was really great. They took me on a thorough tour and made me feel like they were on top of their game. This would have been a great building. But the two spaces they had that were 1000 square feet would both need to be gutted and built to suit us.  That would likely require a longer lease term. But I was intrigued.

The Didn’t Love Shack

Then came a small, old building that Mitch threw in the mix so we could compare a cheaper option. But the building felt old and odd. The two spaces we saw in it both felt like they were in an old house. Thanks but no thanks. We moved on.

Easy Breezy

The final space we saw was the one that Mitch seemed most excited to show me. It was at the far northern end of Water Street, the North-South spine of Milwaukee, along the Milwaukee River. The building was simpler than all the others. It was a converted Mill building of some sort. There were no crazy amenities. No tenant lounge. No gym. No common space. But the office space itself was great.  It was just under our ideal size at 920 square feet.  It had a bit of common space and two large private offices with large windows facing the Milwaukee River. It also had a separate conference room. It felt really good. Plus the rep from the space said that they were happy to offer 1-year leases.  This was a great end to the office space tour.

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The front door to Easy Breezy.
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That’s Mitch.  He’s the one on the left.
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A view of the river and the super-easy parking.
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Western Exposure, River View, Exposed Brick & Electricity!  

The Narrowing Process.

In addition to looking at spaces, I conferred with you, my friends, family and blog readers. I asked you what you felt was important.  Four key pieces of advice came through loud and clear from people who had been through this process before.

  1. The best reason to have an office is to help build your company culture.
  2. You don’t need any bells and whistles in the beginning.
  3. Be conservative in the size (and cost) of your office. Go small (or stay home) and find something that works for the near term.
  4. Look for a short lease term our sublease. If you can do one year, do one year. Learn what you ultimately want during that time and don’t get locked into something longer. As a startup you just don’t know what the future holds yet. Unless you are a startup fortune teller.

All of this was great advice. It was helpful to get the experienced perspective of my former co-workers Jeff Hilimire and Raj Choudhury from Engauge. They have both started, lead, and found office space for multiple businesses in various stages of growth.

I also pow wowed with Bob Bradley, another former coworker and the former CFO of Cramer Krasselt. Bob has been an amazing source of wisdom and sage advice throughout this process. He also found multiple ways for me to save money. It’s what CFOs do.

Then what???

We decided to include 4 buildings in our RFP:

  1. The Big River Front Space
  2. The Makeover Beauty
  3. The Custom Classic
  4. Easy Breezy

The Proposals:

The Big River Front Space came back with a very reasonable and flexible option that let us pay a little more each month to slide our heavier payments to the future allowing us to financially grow into the space. But ultimately it was just a bigger financial obligation than we thought we should commit to right now.

The Makeover Beauty offered us the 1-year option we really wanted. But the price per square foot and the price for parking spaces was the highest of the Final Four.  This was too bad, because I really liked the building and the people we worked with at the property.

We knew The Custom Classic was a long shot, but we wanted to know what a build-out would look like. As expected, it looked like a long-term commitment. We felt we would likely need a lot more space in the next three years.

Easy Breezy was our Goldilocks.  Management offered us exactly what we were looking for. They proposed a 1-year term at a good price per square foot. The parking spaces were the cheapest of any we saw. And because the space had what we were looking for we didn’t need them to build or change anything. We would be an easy tenant for them. They would be an easy Landlord for us. Easy like Sunday morning.

So we began negotiating some smaller details with Easy Breezy.  They were reasonable and I liked how this was going. We had found our space. Or had we…

Plot Twist!!!

Just as I was preparing to break out some candy cigars and enjoy the birth of our new office space, I got a late night email from The Makeover Beauty.  The message said that they really wanted us as tenants, and they asked if there was anything they could do to get the deal done.

So I called them. I laid it all out. I told them about the square foot rate we would require, the price for parking spaces, the term length.  The extras that Easy Breezy down the streetzy was willing to offer.  They asked for 24 hours to respond. I said, ‘Yeah, like, totally, for sure.”

The next afternoon I heard back from them. They couldn’t match Easy Breezy.  I was actually happy about this. I would have thought less of them had they started with such a high rate when they actually could have lived with the lowest rate of anyone. But I appreciated their eagerness. They will be on the list the next time we look for space.

Where we stand now. 

After the brief pause in the process, we told Easy Breezy they were the date we wanted to dance with.  They sent a form for us to fill out so they could do some credit checking. That checked out (obviously, cause we are totally credit-worthy).  Now, today, I have the 19-page lease agreement in hand. So what happens next?  You’ll have to wait for the 3rd installment of the trilogy to find out.  Thanks for following our adventure!

 

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Looking for office space: A startup story.

Welcome to the first post in my Finding Office Space series. I am writing a Lord Of The Rings-type of trilogy.  This is the beginning, where we optimistically begin looking for a great new office. The next post will be the journey, conflict and rising action, without resolution. Then finally, after defeating the dark lord, a giant spider and unmasking some Scooby Doo criminals, we will move into our new space.

The Beginning

We launched The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency, in 2016. We started off working with five brands, all former clients who wanted us to help them make some marketing magic. We were really lucky to have great clients who wanted to help us get started. Or maybe it wasn’t luck. Maybe this was a product of building trust and a history of success with these clients. Nah. It was probably luck.

Like a technology company, we quickly formed a minimum viable product (MVP). It didn’t take much to get The Weaponry cranking. After all, our value is in our people. When you have great people with great ideas offering great service, you’re in business. Literally.

Modern technology has allowed us to create a successful business without a physical office space. What we quickly realized, was that when our first team members fired up their laptops, The Weaponry came alive. The technology we used made us one cohesive team.  Despite the fact that our initial team was in Atlanta, Seattle, Milwaukee and Columbus, technology like Slack, Google’s G-Suite, Dropbox and Zoom made us feel like we were all under one roof, collaborating seamlessly.

The Office

I was surprised when people asked me where we were going to have our office. A physical office was unnecessary. The office was wherever we were. We all had laptops and mobile phones. We were always on and always connected to each other.  We didn’t need 4 walls and a roof. Or two turntables and a microphone. And after enduring Atlanta traffic for a few years I was happy to not deal with a commute for a while. No offense Atlanta, but your traffic is not the jam. #expandmarta

Of course there are some benefits that come from having a physical space. But to be clear, they are a bonus. Not a necessity. In fact, by the time we decided it would be worthwhile to have a physical space we had become so busy that we didn’t have time to go look for one. That, my friends, is a good problem to have.

The Search Begins

Finally, a few weeks ago I had a free Friday afternoon. I drove around town like the property paparazzi, taking pictures of Space Available signs on buildings and then making a lot of phone calls. I was surprised that the process of finding office space wasn’t simpler.  If there is a comprehensive directory of all of the available office spaces in the galaxy, I didn’t find it.

Over the past few weeks I have visited eight buildings and seen twenty possible spaces. I have looked at cool riverfront lofts, an office in a converted brewery and high-rise suites overlooking Lake Michigan. I’ve looked at buildings full of bells and whistles. I’ve seen buildings that have lost their bell and can no longer whistle.  Now, I face some challenges in making the next decision.

Office Space Questions

  1. Do we take a conservative approach and only lease enough space for now?
  2. Do we rent a bigger space to give us room to grow?
  3. How much room should we have to accommodate for growth?
  4. Do we rent as-is space, or have it built specifically for us?
  5. How long should our lease term be?
  6. What amenities are really nice to have in the building, and which ones just don’t matter?

If you have experience with any of these challenges I would love to hear your thoughts. We have narrowed down to a few options and we are sending out our RFP within the next week. As we compare and contrast I’ll share my version of The Two Towers. Thanks for following the story.