Leasing out spare desks helped us afford an office
Our small, bootstrapped internet company, Genie Ventures, was
facing the familiar problem of wanting to run before we could walk
- or, in this case, wanting a professional, creative and really
nice working environment before we could really afford one. So we
put our heads together and came up with a plan.
There reached a point where three people crammed into the spare
bedroom in my house became unsustainable. First, we needed to
attract new, high-quality staff to our startup; second, we needed
the credibility of a proper office to impress suppliers and
customers; and third, perhaps most importantly, my girlfriend was
getting angry about cleaning up our mess. The problem was that
small offices in Cambridge are invariably horrible, and we didn't
want to tie up all our cash in rent, rates and deposits.
We came across a great office (a converted old-fashioned bakery)
which as large enough for 12 people plus a meeting room, reception
room, and even an enclosed patio. Far too big for our three-person
company, but we wanted it.
We had a realisation that we could let the spare desks to local
freelancers (there being no such other scheme in Cambridge) and
theoretically cover 100% of the rent. We had previously rented a
desk in a shared office in London, so we knew the model was
possible. We sneakily started marketing our desk scheme before we'd
even moved in, in order to gauge interest.
We borrowed the cash from family for the deposit and to furnish
the place, then advertised the desks for free on local freelancer
newsgroups and listings websites such as Gumtree. We were pretty
surprised when we managed to let six of the eight free desks before
we had even moved in, and filled the other two shortly after
The plan worked so well that we even ended up launching the UK's
first website for spare desk space. We're still at The Old Bakery
now, and as we've grown we've simply reduced the number of desks
that we rent out. How flexible is that?
You don't need funding to be successful in business. Just brains
and a certain attitude to risk.
Sometimes you just know that something is the right thing to do.
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