As Elvis Costello once said, ‘Every day I write the book.’ As an entrepreneur you make decisions every day that write the story of your business. Sometimes the decisions are large and profound. Other times the decisions are simply things you decided not to do. But in aggregate, your decisions tell the tale of your business. It is up to you to make the story worth sharing.
Desperately Seeking Office Space
In the summer of 2017 I could see a solid runway in front of my baby advertising agency, The Weaponry. (To be clear, the agency was a baby. We didn’t advertise the benefits of being or having a baby.) Having recently relocated from Atlanta to Milwaukee for family reasons, I began looking for a legit office space to serve as our world headquarters. Or in Amazonian terms, HQ1.
Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.
Like a scary rash, The Weaponry was growing at a rapid, yet unpredictable rate. So I began looking for a 1-year lease, which would provide short-term stability, yet long-term flexibility. I captured the entire search in a 3-part series, which I share again here, with hopes that it gives anyone with aspirations of having their own office a vision for how the process works.
We signed a 12-month lease on 1000 square feet of office space in the fall of 2017. (You can get a good look at our office here.) We worked hard to make the space look and feel like home. But the year flew by, and our initial lease expired on December 31st, 2018. We grew, as expected. But several of our new employees were in Columbus and Atlanta. So we still weren’t in trouble with the fire marshal in Milwaukee.
We really liked our location. So to prepare for the end of our first lease we looked at every available office space in our 5-story building. I appreciated the way our property owners worked with us as we developed a plan for our next chapter. I think they appreciated the fact that when they came to talk to us we didn’t look like we were about to pull a Baltimore Colts on them and skip town in the middle of the night.
What We Are Doing Now.
After much deliberation, this is what we signed into our new contract on January 2nd:
We are staying in our current space, for now. We are not yet feeling stretched to capacity. Plus, we love our current space, and have made it our home.
We signed a 13-month extension. Our landlord asked for at least a 1-year commitment. And although we looked at 1, 3 and 5-year options, a 1-year lease was the smallest financial commitment I could make. And given how much growth I see on our horizon, it is hard to tell what our needs will be like more than a year down the road. Why 13 months? A 12-month lease would have us moving between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. And I want to be home sipping eggnog.
Our rent went up 2.5%. That’s all I have to say about that.
We added a right of first refusal on another space. We saw 3 other offices in our building that were of considerable interest to us. But rather than moving now, we decided to put first dibs on a great space overlooking the Milwaukee River (like our current space) on the 5th floor. #Penthouse #NotTheNaughtyMagazine #IsThatEvenStillAThing
The space on the 5th floor would double our square footage, adding several more individual offices, a bigger conference room, a storage room, reception desk and a break room with water, a fridge, and dishwasher. The 5th floor location would also make me feel less guilty about taking the elevator than I do when I ride it to the 2nd floor.
We have decided to be conservative in our commitments. Yet we have a nice option if we outgrow our space in the next 13 months. Which is highly likely. I have discovered that as an entrepreneur you need to know when to be conservative and when to take risks. We think we got this one right. But I’d like to know what you think of our decision. I’m always up for some well-considered counsel. Leave a message in the comment section and let me know if you would have chosen a different adventure.
Welcome to the third post in my Finding Office Space series. This is a trilogy, like Rocky (which actually has seven chapters, but who’s counting?). In Looking for office space: A startup story. we began our quest for a great new office. In Looking for Office Space: The Messy Middle, we shared the middle of the journey, including an overview of all of the spaces we looked at. In this post we will decide which office we want, sign a lease, and defeat Mr. T (Clubber Lang). Then Eye of The Tiger willplay, the credits will roll, and I’ll share some pics from the new space.
My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, first opened for business in 2016. Technology, including Slack, Google’s G-Suite, Dropbox, Asana and Zoom connected and enabled our team immediately. So we didn’t need a dedicated office. But I highly value culture and a team atmosphere. So we began searching for a new office space in July. We knew our first office should be in Milwaukee. But our rate of growth makes it difficult to know just how much space we will need a year from now.
Looking for an office is a little like looking for a date. Here is a list of the criteria we included in our E-Harmony profile:
1000 square feet. This provides enough room for our current team, and room for us to get really cozy as we grow.
A 1-year lease. From year one to year two we will have doubled our business. We would like to maintain that trend. But we are not willing to bet the business on it. So we will not bite off more than we can lease.
Downtown location. We want the energy of the city, sure. But we also want to make the commute reasonable for everyone. And all roads lead to downtown.
Northern Downtown location (The North End). This wasn’t a mandate. But it was more than a tie-breaker. I live north of Milwaukee in the suburb of Mequon. Having moved to Milwaukee from Atlanta a year ago, I am eager to minimize my commute as much as possible.
A separate conference room. Our team needs to gather, get loud and have fun client meetings without disturbing the rest of the staff. So a fully open concept wouldn’t work.
A separate private office. We wanted to have a private office that anyone could use to have more privacy when needed.
Windows. I love the energy that comes with natural light. So we wanted significant windows that let in a lot of sunshine.
Inexpensive parking. Downtown parking isn’t fun or easy. But it is a necessity. So we wanted parking close by at the best rate available.
Move-in ready condition: We didn’t want to have to build or move any walls. That would eat up time and money, and call for a longer lease term.
A good feel. If you’ve ever shopped for apartments or homes you know that some places just feel right for you. The same thing holds true for office space. And underwear.
After looking at eight properties we narrowed the field to a final four for an RFP process. Easy Breezy,which I will now call 1661 North Water Street, was our Goldilocks. It met all of the criteria listed above. And the porridge temperature was just right.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo
The first step towards securing our new space was a credit check. Which felt kind of like getting tested to make sure we didn’t have any diseases. Which, of course, we don’t. Then the property owners sent a 19-page lease agreement, which is like a pre-nup. I say this because it was the highly unromantic part of what had been a romantic experience. But in the lease application phase you go from dreaming about the space to distrustful statements and lawyery clauses that add a little bitter to the glitter.
The lease agreement failed to mention a couple of important clauses from the original proposal. Like the month of rent abatement that the property owners offered (a free month of rent). It also had some wonky wording around the insurance we were required to carry. Our insurance provider and I were both scratching our heads over the language, which I now believe was just a cut-and-paste error from the landlord.
Please allow myself to introduce myself…
I had to co-sign for the lease as Adam Albrecht, the human. So if Adam Albrecht, the Founder of The Weaponry can’t pay the lease, Adam Albrecht, the regular guy has to pick up the bill. I found this to be an odd part of the process. But as Bob Bradley, my business finance advisor, and the retired CFO of Cramer Krasselt told me, bankers and landlords still ask businesses that have been around for 100 years to have someone co-sign. Those experienced businesses have a track record that allows them to reject such requests. The Weaponry, with no rental history, and little credit history, hasn’t yet earned that luxury.
Trying to finalize.
I signed all of the paperwork, printed out my proof of insurance, wrote out a business check for the deposit. Then I told Mitch, my broker, I was ready to stop by the property owner’s office to drop everything off and pick up the keys. He called to warn them I was coming the next afternoon. But when I arrived no one there could help me (despite the fact that there were 50 people in the office).
The receptionist was new. The person she tried to page couldn’t be found. And I had to run to a CEO roundtable meeting.
When I came back that afternoon they restored my confidence in the organization. A seasoned receptionist was at the desk. She summoned Daniel immediately, He greeted me at the front desk to take the paperwork and deposit check.
Then came the moment I had been waiting for. They keys. If you’ve ever bought a car, house or sturdy pair of handcuffs, you know how great it feels to get handed those keys. It signifies that all of the paper road blocks have finally been cleared.
But this was slightly different. Because when Daniel pulled the keys out of the cabinet to hand them to me there weren’t just one or two keys. There were 13. I had a whole mitt full of keys. I was like Edward Keys-hands. Or Schneider from One Day At A Time. It was a pretty exciting moment.
The Opening Ceremony
I left Daniel and strutted across the parking lot to my new office building. I got on the elevator and rode to the second floor. I got off and walked about 50 feet down the hallway to Suite #206. Then I fumbled though the keys to find one that opened the door to the office. My FIRST office, for the very first time!
The first key I picked worked. I opened the door and walked in.
I was present in that moment. I drank it all in. I was by myself, which was nice. Because it gave me a moment to reflect on my very personal journey.
Of course there are several other people who I wish could have been there to share that moment with me too. I’ll mention them in another post. But for now, I am thankful to be starting what promises to be an even bigger, better chapter in The Weaponry’s story.
Our official lease started November 1st. We have a bit of furniture moved in. Which I will write about soon. I’ve provided a few pics of the new space below. So, please take a self-scrolling tour.
Thanks for following our story. If you would like to know what happens next, consider subscribing to this blog. And please stop when you are in the neighborhood. Or, if you are really fun, smart, creative and adventurous, consider joining our team.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The best reason to have an office is to help build your company culture.
You don’t need any bells and whistles in the beginning.
Be conservative in the size (and cost) of your office. Go small (or stay home) and find something that works for the near term.
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.
We decided to include 4 buildings in our RFP:
The Big River Front Space
The Makeover Beauty
The Custom Classic
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 Breezywas 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…
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!
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.
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.
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
Do we take a conservative approach and only lease enough space for now?
Do we rent a bigger space to give us room to grow?
How much room should we have to accommodate for growth?
Do we rent as-is space, or have it built specifically for us?
How long should our lease term be?
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.