Stop Working at Starbucks

Scott Francis
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Ok, its no secret that I love coffee and cafes with wireless.  But as I’ve said before, I think having an office is important. But recently two authors have made the case much more eloquently than I have.  James Reinhart’s post, “Why your start-up needs to get out of Starbucks and into an office right now” makes a great case for why working at the local coffee house can be undermining your start-up. He points out the main deficiencies:
  • 75% productivity (this might be generous)
  • Lack of space for whiteboards, etc.  The virtual tools don’t replace real stuff yet.
  • Boundaries between work and play dissolve in an unhealthy way.
  • It doesn’t save much money (office space is cheap).
I’d add to this:
  • If you have to take professional calls, the coffee house, and the busy street outside, are *not* appropriate places to do so.  Neither is home, with the dog barking in the background.
  • You can often sublet space cheaper than the market rate from another company that isn’t able to fully utilize their space yet.
So he’s given us the cost-benefit justifications… and that’s where the “Locker Room Theory” comes in, which captures the essence of how I feel about having an office. Today, many people believe in the distributed model – many executive teams are spread all over the country (or globe) and connect only virtually.  Many start-ups believe in the model.  But David Dufresne’s reaction:
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that at all. As far as I am concerned, business is all about people. Building a winning tech company is mostly about people and having a strong team dedicated to a strategy and executing it together. Being a hockey fan, I will use a hockey team as the analogy for a portfolio company. Being on the road is like being on the ice. That’s where you score goals. That’s where you win that big contract. That’s where you build momentum; grow a sales pipeline, forge partnerships, hurt your opponent, drop the gloves if needed, etc. But, when players are not on the ice, they are in the locker room. The locker room is where it’s hot and where it stinks of hard work and empty cups of coffee. It’s where you regroup in between periods, look your teammates in the eyes, listen to your coach and team captain, get ice for that bloody bruise, adjust your strategy and tactics. It’s also where you celebrate after a game. Open that case of cold beers every Friday at 4PM. Get back to the whiteboard to figure out what went wrong on that goal against or sale lost to a competitor.
I think this is great insight, and if you don’t mind a hockey analogy, it works well.  In our business (business process management consulting), we can’t avoid being a distributed team.  But we do our best to make it feel closer (investing in videoconferencing, for example), and we very much believe in our investment in a headquarters so that when we are together, we can *really* be together and hash things out. When people ask me why BP3 has office space, I don’t have trouble explaining why.