Space and the New Start-Up

Tom Coburn, CEO, Jebbit

Space is like the omnipresent silent character in start-up mythology. Dorm rooms, garages, unoccupied classrooms at odd hours of the night…these are the storied incubators of some of tech’s tallest giants.

But what happens when it’s time for a start-up to grow up? Does space really matter if you have a great vision and brilliant programmers? If you’re looking for a first space, or a new space, how can you make the best choice for your team?

At Jebbit, everything we do happens in cyberspace—our businesses is about changing the way people pay for online ads. But as we approached the end of our time in TechStars in 2013, I found myself thinking about physical space in a whole new way. For a company that started out in whatever empty BC classrooms we could find, I knew we couldn’t just sign a lease for the first random office space we came across.

Here’s what my team learned along the way…and most of it has nothing to do with interior design!

Don’t get caught up in the hype. Here in Boston, some neighborhoods get a ton of attention for their start-up culture. That’s great, but we realized that the right energy didn’t necessarily come from being in an exclusively tech-heavy part of town, but rather from having the right mix of businesses around us. We fell for the Fenway’s mix of not just new businesses like ours, but also entrepreneurship in new restaurants, independent retail and places like the Handle Bar. That energy, plus its history and culture, add up to our perfect vibe. What’s yours?

Think about recharging nearby. What mattered most to us wasn’t finding an area filled with people like us working in their offices at all hours. We needed a place with plenty to do at any of those odd hours to keep us fresh. We do a team lunch every Friday at Sweet Cheeks (HELLO, biscuits), we go to movies and grab drinks together, and we have meetings at the restaurants and coffee shops nearby. It’s easy to walk around the park if I need to clear my head or even pop into a museum or catch some live music for inspiration at any hour.

Accessibility is essential. The best neighborhood won’t be enough if it’s not easy to get there—for your current employees, future hires, or anyone you might invite over. While most of our team lives in Allston-Brighton right now, we needed to be sure that our location would be accessible enough to meet our future needs. For Jebbit, that meant finding a place in a walkable, bike-friendly neighborhood that was also close to a T stop and a commuter rail station so that we weren’t shutting ourselves off from the rest of the city or the suburbs.

What’s inside counts, too (duh). We really wanted something open and the tower of the historic Landmark building, where we are now located, offered 360 views of city, big windows, bright light, and open space – it was so different from everything else we looked at. It didn’t feel like a “classic office” and for us, that fit.

We took advantage of the office “bones” and created an open floor plan so that everyone on our team could enjoy the space’s best features. Today we have orange bean bag chairs in the middle for group meeting or conversation, then it’s wide open with a lot of desks around the windows. White boards everywhere help us brainstorm on the spot.

Now that we’ve settled into our own place, it feels like our business is moving faster than ever. We love our space so much that we’ve even started hosting meet-ups for other tech and start-up folks—come by our office in the Landmark Center during Sox home games on Fridays (or email Amanda to get on our invite list).

We’re the ones shaping the new face of tech in our cities and making things happen. It’s time to break free from old ideas about space (just like we’ve broken free from everything else) and start bringing innovation everywhere.

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