By Michael Woloszynowicz

By Michael Woloszynowicz

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lean Office Design for the Bootstrapped Startup

So you've launched your self-funded web-based startup and can no longer keep working in your basement. You need to setup a working space for your employees but don't have a fortune to spend on furniting it. I've recently been tasked with this very challenge and here are my suggestions to anyone in this situation.

First off, why is your office setup and design important? Well, for starters if your not a terribly well known startup and can't afford to pay extravagant salaries, attracting talent will be one of your greatest challenges. If a prospective employee comes to your office and see's a poorly furnished space, their immediate instict is that the company is cheap and doesn't care about providing its employees with a comfortable work envorinment. One of your key differetiators from a large corporation can be a fun office that people love to come into every day. Secondly, since you're a startup, it is likely that the people working for you will be there for 10+ hours a day so why not make it enjoyable for them and keep them as productive as possible.Fortunately all this can be accomplished at a fairly reasonable cost.

Let's begin by considering what elements your office space should have. Ideally the office layout will be fairly open to promote collaboration and offer an ample amount of natural light. If light is scarce, invest in some good quality bulbs as this can make a huge difference when one is staring at a computer screen for 12 hours.

Once you've found the ideal space, the challenge of furnishing it begins. As you begin your search for office furniture you begin to realize how expensive it is. Since you are dealing with an open space, the electrical is likely to be provided by a ceiling drop so you'll need a workstation to feed the power into. New workstations range from $1500 to $5000 each, which certainly adds up when you are buying 5-10 workstations. Workstations can be found used for $600-$1200 each, but I don't recommend going this route. The second hand market is littered with mismatched, damaged, and out of style units that are never quite what you want. What I therefore recommend is the route I have chosen, purchase a set of 4 six foot panels and arrange them to form a cross configuration. Then purchase 4 free standing 6 foot x 6 foot wooden L shaped workstations to arrange in each corner of your panel setup. The panels will feed power and you are free to choose whichever desks you want. Surprisingly this turns out to be much cheaper as one panel with power will cost around $350-$450 (depending on height) and a wooden workstation will run about $500-$600 bringing your total cost to around $900 per workstation. You will end up with a modern looking setup at almost the same cost as a used one. As an added bonus, installation of this setup will cost about $100 per workstation vs. $200 if you buy a standard panel based workstation. So besides the obligatory workstations, what else should you get for your space? I suggest the following items:

  • A couch/lounge area, sitting in one place is never fun and if your team works with laptops why not let them move around, plus a lounge area gives them a place to sit, think, and brainstorm
  • An espresso machine, programmers work late into the night, we drink a lot of coffee and really appreciate having an espresso machine in the office, plus it will save time as your staff won't have to drive to a nearby coffee shop
  • Tons of white-boards, this will help people brainstorm and plan, and is an absolute must for any software company
  • Comfortable chairs, although expensive at $400+ it will keep your employees happy and productive
  • Dual monitors (21" or greater), monitors are dirt cheap and will make your employees at least 10% more productive so they will pay for themselves in a week 
  • Make it fun, paint the walls a cool color, hang up some pictures, add your logo as a mural, this makes it an inviting place to come in, plus colors can stimulate different parts of the brain (blue makes you creative, red makes you more careful)
As a budget, if you are setting up your office for 5 programmers I would expect to pay around $15k. It may seem pricey but a nice office can be a strong tool in your arsenal for attracting and retaining top talent.

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  1. Good tips. Consider energy-saving tips as well, as operating costs can eat any start-up.

  2. Good point gollywobbler, energy costs can become extremely important.