How to Find the Perfect Office, According to a Founder Who's Moved His Startup 5 Times

SquareFoot's headquarters in New York.SQUAREFOOT

SquareFoot's headquarters in New York.SQUAREFOOT

Upgrading offices comes with a lot of questions: Exactly how much space do you need? How long of a lease should you choose? Do you splurge on a great location or pick somewhere less expensive but a little farther away?

Jonathan Wasserstrum has heard them all. As the co-founder and CEO of New York City-based commercial real estate company SquareFoot, he's helped fast-growing businesses including Casper, Instacart, Ollie, and Frank & Oak find new digs. He's also experienced firsthand just how daunting the process can be: His 55-person company, which features more than 300,000 office listings, has moved offices five times since it launched in 2012.

Jonathan Wasserstrum.COURTESY SQUAREFOOT

SquareFoot's nomadic existence began in Houston, where Wasserstrum started the business in his parents' attic. After graduating from Columbia Business School, he found his first office, in New York. SquareFoot moved to ERA, an NYC-based accelerator, at the beginning of 2013, and later that year relocated again to "a walk-up loft above a crappy diner." The company stayed there for a couple of years before moving to yet another NYC office. Eventually it outgrew that space and in April moved to its current location. Wasserstrum is confident SquareFoot will stay for a long time, though he still doesn't have a personal office--he prefers a messy desk in the center of the action--and says he sometimes takes calls from a dingy supply closet.

All those moves are a by-product of the company's steady success: SquareFoot, which has raised $13 million in funding, increased its revenue 100 percent from 2017 to 2018and is on track to do the same this year. (The company declined to provide its annual revenue figures.) Here are Wasserstrum's tips for founders in search of the perfect new office space.

1. Pick an office you can grow into.

Moving is expensive and also a "major distraction" for employees, Wasserstrum says, so it's best to pick a place where the company will be able to stay for at least three years. He estimates that you need roughly 150 square feet per employee (regardless of the floor plan) for everyone to fit comfortably--125 if the team is willing to get close.

While it may be difficult to predict your company's future growth--especially when it's just getting started--it's always best to pick an office that's on the bigger side. If necessary, you can rent out the extra space to defray costs. "We brought in a company that we know to co-habitat with us for the first part of our lease," Wasserstrum says, noting that SquareFoot currently hosts roughly a dozen workers from outside his team. Platforms such as DeskNear.Me, LiquidSpace, and PivotDesk, a startup acquired by SquareFoot earlier this year, can help you find freelancers or other businesses to temporarily take over any available desks.

2. Open offices are OK, as long as there are designated private spaces. 

SquareFoot uses an open floor plan, which means that conversations can carry from one part of the office to another. But while the open communication is useful, Wasserstrum stresses that it's important to have some private spaces too. Most of his client companies, he says, opt for a space that offers some flexibility in this regard. 

SquareFoot's headquarters in New York.SQUAREFOOT

SquareFoot's own office features a small lounge near the entrance for client or small-team meetings. There's an open area with couches and chairs where employees can catch up on email, have casual meetings, or read a book during lunch, as well as more closed-off "capsule spaces" with high-backed bench seating that offers a little more privacy.

Wasserstrum recommends having one conference room per 1,000 square feet of office space. He's noticed that at SquareFoot, conference rooms frequently are booked by just one person for a phone call, so he says the company is going to install small phone booths---an inexpensive way to give employees some space to themselves.