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Keep Your Startup Virtual (davidcancel.com)
41 points by dcancel on Nov 11, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments

Even in articles like this, there's an assumption that eventually you'll have to get office space. But companies like Automattic and 37signals make me wonder. Especially if you had a strong focus in hiring and developing processes to facilitate virtual teams, could you go indefinitely without having a headquarters?

I didn't take that from this article. The key question was : “Is getting an office space going to help grow my business?”. Sure seems like David's saying that if you never answer a firm yes, you never need one.

At some point we know that we’ll have to get an office space. You usually reach that point when you need to hire outside your personal network or grow beyond a certain size, the exact size depending on your situation. When it’s time to move it out of your house or the coffee shop, you will know. It’s time to move out only when the the answer to the question “Is getting an office space going to help grow my business?” is a firm, “Yes.”

To me, that reads as an assumption that, at some point, you'll have to get an office. But what I want to know is: can you build a virtual Fortune 500 company?

It depends on quite a few things. At Akvo.org (11 people) we have rented office space, very strategically placed at the entrance to one of the meeting spaces/hubs in our sector. Nearly every CEO who works in the sector walks past our massive posters and office in a year.

But we also find that the fast paced environment our partnership people work a lot better when they can sit together and bring in people to see them at a fixed office.

We are sub-letting, but we have a headquarters. However, the majority of our people (6 people) work from home. And anyone can telecommute whenever they want.

I believe Automattic and 37signals both have office space. The former in SF and the latter in Chicago.

I think the founders don't work there full time at either, but I'm pretty sure some people do.

iirc 37signals has an office. It's just that everyone has the option to telecommute as much as they want.

They also have almost half their team scattered around the world.

Unrelated to offices, but twice a year they fly everyone in for a weeklong retreat somewhere (not the main office, more like a resort, country house, etc)

Yeah, I think doing stuff like this would be crucial, maybe even more like once a quarter.

100% agreed. I've participated with a startup/think tank recently (http://webecologyproject.org) and while we could have had offices- we didn't. It worked so much better for the most part.

Our downside to this was twofold however:

1) We choose our team poorly & it was too big. That isn't to say that these aren't all simply wonderful people, but for making a highly efficient machine- it was a hodge podge of people with various levels of interest, skills, experience and commitment. We crept up to 10-12 people quickly and since it wasn't a formalized business structure at first this seemed ok. We were however all in the same geographic location (Cambridge).

2) We had too many meetings, which people stopped attending and become ineffective. These became a time sink. People would defer conversation to the meetings instead of our internal email list (which for some conversations is the right thing to do), but then these became lengthy 4-5 hour meetings that stopped getting things done. Our coding slowed. Decisions stopped being made, interest was lost slowly.

These are points very specific to our group and I totally agree on holding off on office space until you MUST have it. Keeping costs down and excellent workflow up initially are a must. Just don't try it with 10 people and don't kill people with mandatory meetings. Use IRC or some other tool religiously.

If anything, look into a coworking space like Betahouse (http://betahouse.org) or New Work City.

I agree with the point that you don't need office space early on. The key is being in constant contact with the other team members. Some developers love to chat/IM on skype all day long from home. It depends on your team dynamics.

But once in a while, you need serious face-to-face brainstorming. That's where your coffee shop probably saves you. No one has designed a tool yet that allows several people to really have a brainstorming session remotely (hint for a future YC startup: if you have a solution to this problem, go for it).

Completely agree with the premise David. I'm running CheapToday.com virtually. We have 7 people working remotely w/ Board Members in London but with LOTS of interpersonal collaboration & communication. Video conferencing has helped quite a bit. Essentially, money goes to essential needs - people & customers/marketing. Very liberating & cost efficient. Highly recommended approach.

Your blog's design is extremely familiar. It might be wise to differentiate it a bit more.

Could someone explain why this was downvoted?

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