[tweetmeme source=”ChazGunningham” only_single=false]Despite the lofty title, dear reader, this post is nothing about “the environment”, but is in fact about the environment. Sorry, a puzzling beginning, I grant you, but stick with me.
One of the best things I read on the MBA program, all those years ago, was Amir Bhide’s ‘Bootstrap Finance‘ paper, which argued that far from picking the crack team and spending money on impressive office fit outs, the best start ups were lean and mean, biding their time until they really knew what their business was about. (“Ideas come about from being out there, so just get out there…“). Amazon.com famously used old doors as its first office tables, and when I started a dotcom in the late 1990s, I remember using whatever furniture we could muster for our first office. Later we climbed the dizzying heights of IKEA tables (flat rectangle and 4 screw in legs) which were repainted at least once in funky blues and oranges and lasted us 8 years.
However, having been through a recent office upgrade (moving next door into our fabulous new purpose built 3 storey affair) I can say that the office environment does indeed matter – for current staff, clients, morale, and probably hiring/retaining good staff too. Now the organisation I work for is almost a century old, and has moved at least 4 times and so it is hardly ‘blowing startup cash’ on lavish new premises. In fact, by selling the old building and using that to build the new one, it has not had to raise any money from anywhere to upgrade.
Having been in the new building for a month now, I can say that it has lifted everyone. Open plan takes some getting used to, but you can’t help feel good coming into a sparkly lift and rising up to the top floor which overlooks Subi Oval on one side, and suburban tree/rooftops on the other. Everything is new, shiny, confident and 2012. (The last office was very 1977, and fading fast.)
I remember living opposite a dotcom 10 years who did 98% of their business in the States, yet emblazoned their building with huge branding statements over looking a busy highway. They did not need to advertise to the 30,000 cars that streamed past every day, so I asked their CEO, “why did you do that?”. “To make our staff feel good” he said. Plain and simple. Make them feel good coming to work, make them stay, and tell others how proud they are of the company.
In my ‘spare time’ I am also Chair of the local independent primary school, which my own children attend. The school’s 50 years old and the buildings are tatty. The parents have raised many tens of thousands of dollars to improve the branding, entry way and various grounds projects. Why? For much the same reason. To make the kids feel proud of their school, and the teachers too (and to attract good prospective teachers), and the parents and prospective parents. It’s the same deal.
So, while a start up should certainly not blow its hard earned/borrowed/invested cash on shiny new offices, being able to do so when ready can have certain advantages. After all, you spend a lot of time at work don’t you? Why not make it a nice environment?