Technically Media moved into new headquarters: here are some lessons

We at Technically Media moved into our new headquarters in May.

It was a triumphant moment — after months of construction and negotiation and planning. Depending on how you count it, this was either the third or fourth office our company ever had in Philadelphia. More importantly it’s our first proper private offices, a true headquarters for a growing digital media company.

Here are some lessons I learned about getting here.

First a review:

  • From February 2009 until December 2010, we alternated meetings at our homes (mine in Frankford, Hartranft and Fairmount).
  • From January 2011 until September 2013, we got our first ever offices, at Temple University Center City.
  • From October 2013 until October 2015, we got a far more serious and fitting office by being colocated with venture capital firm First Round Capital.

  • Then in October 2015, we moved to the Curtis Center, an iconic building on Philadelphia’s Washington Square Park. …But the construction of our office was majorly delayed, so we were in rather dated and ill-suited temporary space through April 2016.
  • From May 2016 until at least October 2018, we’ll be headquartered on the freshly renovated top 12th floor of the Curtis Center, which once housed one the country’s great publishing companies.

The Curtis Center is owned by Keystone Property, which is radically developing the historic building — which features a celebrated mosaic mural. We occupy perhaps a quarter of that top floor, which we share by design with one of the primary locations of coworking company Benjamin’s Desk, a young real estate company whose founders I’ve personally followed since their founding. I’ve always been fond of them, their team and their hardworking approach to building community across multiple sites. They offer us tremendous value and superb community — lots of smart people cross paths with us daily.

Remember: we’re a community journalism organization. For all our innovations and approaches to bringing soul and impact to digital media, we have the budgetary constraints of a very mission-minded business. We aren’t a venture-backed scalable software company or a digital agency with robust profit margins: we are exceedingly lean.

Still, with the help of BD (and our own effort), we give our staff a really special experience. We worked really hard at giving our team an absolutely sterling office life. Here are some examples of simple pleasures, that go beyond the ability to work alongside smart and brilliant people:

  1. Bathe in natural light — See more below.
  2. Enjoy the history — We chose the Curtis Center in part for its historical publishing roots.
  3. Appreciate the views — We’re on the 12th floor looking out onto historical Old City.
  4. Never be thirsty — we iced coffee on draft for our staff, access to La Colombe-roasted hot coffee, a sparkling water machine and an assortment of teas and cold filtered water. Oh yeah, we also always keep beer in the fridge, and I tend to have some alcohol worth having (whiskey or gin) in a cocktail I make from time to time.
  5. Share in the treats — Yes, between our own internal culture groups around food and team celebrations and sharing food from events and other group efforts, pretty regularly meals and/or snacks are covered for you.
  6. Trick out your own desk — Though we have an open floor plan, everyone gets her own desk and lockable drawer space.
  7. Use the flex space — With BD, we get to offer lots of different places to get work done, from phone booths to breakout benches and other areas.
  8. Use Apple TV, Chromecast or hook up HDMI — The two conference rooms adjacent to our offices use tricked out large flatscreen TVs.
  9. Regular offerings — BD regularly offers shared programming, like member lunches, drink tastings and health and wellness offerings.

But it didn’t start with BD. I looked at a dozen properties and talked about many others, both formally and informally. In fact, my cofounder and I had negotiated a lease with a different location and were due to sign and finalize the agreement the very same week that I was pitched by a BD founder. I learned lots along the way.

Here are some things I learned:

  • Predict your headcount. This proved tricky for us, built on several spreadsheets. By early 2015, we had 10 people working out of our headquarters with plans to more than double over the next year. Would we keep adding our Philadelphia-based team? Would we continue to grow at all? We were looking at three, five and even longer-term leases. We settled on projections to grow to a maximum of 25 in our office.
  • Know what you need. We were flexible about desk spaces (my cofounder and I had no interest in private offices, for example) and preferred other amenities: even modest event space, a limited kitchen, some personality, modern aesthetic, a landlord we wanted to work with and the opportunity for staff offering. We also prioritized being in the Center City corridor over additional space.
  • Establish a budget: I’m not gonna lie to you, I didn’t really understand square footage figures before I went through the process. I spent a lot of time with our budgets and square footage needs. It became clear quickly that we’d need to be creative to get as many of the outcomes we wanted for the budget we had. In short: we’d never be able to afford all of what we wanted on our own. This quickly influenced our choices.
  • Get an agent (or don’t): Many work with real estate agents to find new places coming online. We knew many and thought to, but ultimately worked directly with a few property managers.
  • Know what you offer your landlord: We are a (relatively) stable and high-profile tenant, as our coverage and audience are full of the kinds of other tenants landlords want. One real estate agent called us “the kind of honey any landlord wants.” Our team is connected, diverse and well-known collectively and as individuals. We host lots of events that also attract growing companies and given the amount of attention we pay to property developers and managers, we have insight in a good place to be, so any choice we made would send a nice message to other companies. All of this went into our own negotiation, as we knew some landlords would see as a prize more than others.
  • Colocate when it makes sense. We put a lot of thought into how we could get as many amenities for our team as we could given the budget constraints a community journalism outfit like us still has, while still establishing the privacy we wanted for a company of our (growing) size. As part of our deal, we have private offices but we are effectively members of the BD coworking community, which is working out splendidly. This was the only way I could ever conceive of us accomplishing all of those goals.
  • Don’t forget the extra costs. One of the many factors that went into us deciding to go with this coworking arranement was the litany of extra costs and effort that come with being fully independent — cleaning services, kitchen-space amenities, utilities, internet maintenance and programming. We also thought about how in our past space, we liked that other people would visit the offices for other reasons and so our team could bump into them. BD offers a lot here and so we don’t have to dedicate staff resources or budget to them.
  • Plan for natural light. One of my lingering concerns at the first location and my cheeriest sells on the location we landed on was that it is overrun with natural light. It’s easy to overlook but it makes me, and I have a hunch much of our staff, as happy as just about any other feature.
  • Get a champion. I have a couple contacts from Keystone Property, which is intentional, as they are ultimately our landlord. But primarily and intentionally we work almost exclusively with BD representatives. And BD does do a really excellent job with creating face time and open dialogue. I know who I can call and they do pick up the phone.
  • Decorate mindfully. We are being very intentional in how we decorate our offices, aiming for a particular aesthetic and trying to share a message in a way that makes us happy. Do the same, don’t rush into it.
  • Construction overruns are real. We moved into temporary space at the Curtis Center in October 2015, already later than originally planned. After months of delays and various passed deadlines, we moved into our offices in May 2016, more than eight months after originally planned. This was largely because of construction delays — as part of the building’s overall renovation, bathrooms needed to be made ADA compliant, which wasn’t originally planned. I did see the construction and understood the delays. It happens, we planned for some of this delay. It just became way more than we realized.
  • Construction overruns are easy excuses. I love BD. But there’s little question to me that construction was also used as an excuse. They got us out of an agreement we were close to making with another property manager by pledging an earlier date that, looking back, was never possible. So there’s a balance: understand construction causes delays but, I personally believe, even the best property managers can hide behind them.

But all in all: we are in the office space we want to be. Our headquarters are as beautiful and well-lit and as full of staff amenities as I could ever imagine.

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