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.

The challenge

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.

The solution

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 that.

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?

Key lesson

You don't need funding to be successful in business. Just brains and a certain attitude to risk.

Top tip

Sometimes you just know that something is the right thing to do. Back yourself.

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