I wrote a post back in November right after Jesse and I moved Entrustet into our first office about why we decided that it was time to get an office. I also covered how you can tell it’s time for your startup to get an office. I wanted to share how we found our office space and how you can find cheap or free office space in any city.
We pay $250 per month for office space, right on the Capitol Square in Madison. Along with State Street and the University Research Park, Capitol Square office space is among the most expensive in the city. So how did we do it?
We talked to our attorney and he offered to rent us space in his office, as he had unused space. Unfortunately, his office is on the west side, so it was not within walking distance. We thought this was a cool idea and tried to find other people who were closer to downtown. We talked with other established businesses, but most were not sure about offering an extra office to us.
At a Capital Entrepreneurs meeting, we were taking with some of the other startups and realized that a few of the companies had extra offices that they were not using. One of the companies, Hardin Design and Development, offered us a small office for $150 per month. The office was probably only 12×12, but it got the job done. After we started to expand, we moved into another, larger office on the same floor. Hardin also rents another office in their suite to Momenta Technologies, another cool Madison startup.
Besides the price, it’s been a huge help for us to be in an office with other people in the startup world. We all compliment each other’s skill set. When Jesse and I have technical questions and we don’t want to bother our own tech team with a phone call, we can walk over to an office of programmers and get a quick answer. When we’re looking for connections, it’s great to have 2 other startups right there. It’s not just a one way street: we also help out the other companies in our office by sharing our social media and marketing skills. Check out Fred Wilson’s post on coworking spaces for more info on how/why this works.
Another benefit is that we’re not lonely. If we had rented a small office where we didn’t know anyone, we would have been very isolated at the beginning. We share conference rooms, a small kitchenette and some of the same electronics. It works out well for everyone. We’ve created a sort of makeshift coworking space, because one does not exist in Madison (yet).
So if you’re looking for your first office, here’s what you should do:
1. Figure out what you need
How many people? What location? How much are you willing to pay? How long are you willing to commit for?
2. Reach out to your network
Talk to your lawyer, accountant, mentors and other business connections. Since most companies don’t normally rent out spare offices to startups, you’ll have to propose terms. If you don’t have any/many or none are a good fit, move onto the next step.
3. Contact established startups/tech companies in your area
Most startups/tech companies are open to other entrepreneurs, especially if they are not in the same industry. Introduce yourself, say you’re looking for office space and see if they have any recommendations. You can always see if they have any extra space and offer to pay for it. Many startups would love to add a small revenue stream while they don’t need all of the offices in their space.
4. Be flexible and respectful
If you are sharing space with another company, you must be respectful and flexible. If the company you are renting from needs to grow, they may have to tell you to find new space somewhere else. Always remember that they are doing you a favor and that they are opening their doors to you. If you are not respectful (think leaving dirty dishes in the sink, monopolizing the conference room, making lots of noise, distracting other employees) sharing their space will not work.
I actually think there could be a cool business built around this idea. A website could match up companies that have extra office space with startups looking for affordable space on short term leases. The site could take a cut of the rent or a finders fee from the entrepreneur, or someone could just write it for free. I bet there are tons of companies that have extra offices that they would like to rent out to interesting, high growth businesses and I know there are entrepreneurs looking for affordable office space on month to month leases. I get emails every week from them.