In January 2008, when I founded iThemes in my home, I didn’t originally intend to build a local office like we have now. I was just fine working from home and having a remote team scattered throughout the world.
But one of our first team members we brought on was local to me and specifically asked for an office. He said he would work better in that environment and that his house would likely be a big distraction for him.
Reluctantly, I sought and found a small office that we shared (it was about 275 sq. ft. and about 2 miles from my home) and ended up thoroughly enjoying “going to an office” again.
So far we have had 4 “offices” to date …. and it’s brought me back to some ideas I had collected and seen over 15+ years of working in different workplaces.
Additionally, the rich benefits we’ve been able to see as a result of our workplace environment — camaraderie and communication are worth it alone — I’m a huge fan of creating a shared workspace that inspires people. It becomes a magnet for great people and a factory of amazing results.
So on the heels of the Creating an Inspiring Workspace post, where we give an overview of the current iThemes workspace, I thought I’d share a lightning talk I gave at OpenBeta in Oklahoma City in the fall 2010 on this subject.
It’s called Building a Workplace that Doesn’t Suck.
Here are my thoughts on what it takes to create an inspiring workplace (with my slides below):
Work and workplaces shouldn’t suck, they should inspire — Over the past 15+ years I dreamed about finding or creating the ideal workplace and this is what I came up with: I want to go to work somewhere where I love what I do, get paid well and fairly to do it, love the people I work with … and give my life to something bigger than I can do by myself. (Coincidentally, most everybody else wants this too.)
If you don’t like it, change it — Life is too short to suck. If you don’t like your job, your workplace, change it. This is freakin’ America after all. I won’t beg someone to stay. I’d rather encourage to leave.
Fact: Happy people work harder, better, longer — and I like being around happy, fulfilled, energetic, excited, passionate people, don’t you? Complete wellness begins and dominoes with your career (see Well Being: The Five Essential Elements). Happy people love their jobs and live fulfilled lives in other areas generally. Being happy in your career is foundational.
Discover your team’s strengths and shuffle the batting order accordingly — I want to discover what people are passionate about and what they are best at … and turn them loose to do it. I prefer finding people who have strengths and finding ways to plug in that power to our team. Unhappy people are in jobs that focus on weakness.
Empower people to be mini-entrepreneurs — allow entrepreneurial work (without the B.S. admin stuff). Entrepreneurs want autonomy, freedom, control … unhappy yet talented people leave because they don’t have it … give them it with boundaries and without the hassle.
Your team is your extended family — Love, care, protect, provide for them. If you don’t actually love or even like your team …. I hope you fail fast and take as few victims with you on your crash.
Recruit for initiative, drive and fit — I will always hire for these qualities over talent alone. The most talented person could be the most destructive person to your culture.
Break bread together — We have daily retreats together at lunch. Sharing meals is amazing for camaraderie.
Ignore the noise — meaning remove the noise. Eliminate all distractions. Screw the competition. Flush bitterness and jealousy quickly. Focus only on what matters. And that’s your team, your work and your community.
Embrace communal living — Let your team make their workspace their second home and what they want it to be, together.
Lead with vision, inspire with purpose — Give people purpose, and a vision of life together. Compelling visions and stories with purpose inspires greatness.
Develop your own language — We have inside jokes, do stupid videos. Our species, our brand speaks our language. Having a language for your tribe creates bonds.
Sharpen swords — Help your team sharpen their sword and hone their craft. It’s about Mastery (see Daniel Pink’s awesome book called Drive). Provide the right training and tools for your team to excel.
Get dirty — Take out the trash, literally. Do everything and more that you expect your team to do.
Eat dead trees — and force feed them to your team. Learning doesn’t stop after you graduate. Foster an environment of lifelong learning.
Cut out the cancers — Quickly before they spread, and infect and poison your culture.
Take a roadtrip — We have taken several roadtrips together and amazing things always come as a result. In the summer of 2010, we rented an RV and roadtripped to a conference in Boulder, Colo. But whatever you do, take regular retreats out of town. Force each other to be together and get to know each other.
Have fun, working hard — Challenge and push people. To be and do better. To reach and exceed their potential. Settle for nothing less. Have fun! Celebrate. Cry. But Be Happy. Celebrate!
In this video Matt Danner from iThemes gives an overview of our 2,400 sq. ft. office located in Edmond, Oklahoma, a northern suburb of Oklahoma City.
Matt was instrumental in helping us design a workspace we’re all proud of. Needless to say it’s not finished and it’s the v. 4 of our iThemes Office. (Yes, that means we’ve had 4 offices now.)
Like everything we’re constantly improving to match our needs and offer the best, most inspiring and efficient workspace we can.
Our objectives for this space were simple: we needed a larger space to do more and house more of our team. And we wanted to make this space uniquely of own playground.
For me, it was important that our team have an inspiring and comfortable workspace. And we found a great and affordable space to do so and were pumped to make it happen.
Here are the main areas Matt talks about:
Dev Area — we put all of our core dev team in one long area and in clusters of IKEA desks with whiteboards everywhere to foster collaboration and camaraderie
Idea Lounge — This is where we can get away and not distract other team members to brainstorm and discuss things. We have regular meetings here. Again, more whiteboards
Studio — In v. 3 of our office, we converted a private room into our first studio. We do a weekly show (iThemes.tv) and with v. 4 of our office we wanted to take it to the next level. We bought nice couches, and outfitted it for a nice look. And we’ve dedicated the biggest private room to be simply our studio. That’s how much it means to us. Sometimes we use this for private meetings, a change of scenery to work from, to do webinar training or whatever else comes to mind.
Break Room — We stock the fridge and breakroom with all kinds of snacks, drinks, and even cheese dip or whatever else the team puts on the board.
Two Private Offices — I have one private office and we currently have an open private office that’s used for our shirts and a temp office for anyone who needs it.
Big Garage Space / Conference Table — This big area has a 42″ flat screen TV, AppleTV with Netflix. The team will often bring food back and watch TV or short movies during their lunch. It’s used more often for this than anything else. Yes, there is a garage door here to open when it’s nice outside.
Just found this business pitch template and explainer video today and although it’s meant primarily for startups seeking funding from investors, I think the formula is a great basis for a one-sentence business plan.
Being clear with what you’re doing — or at least your initial idea — is so beneficial. If you can’t communicate well what you’re doing then it’s very likely your potential customers and others can’t either.
The pitch video is called Mad Libs for Pitching by Adeo Ressi … and here’s his basic template:
My company, __(insert name of company)__, is developing __(a defined offering)__ to help __(a defined audience)__ __(solve a problem)__ with __(secret sauce)__.
This month, I celebrate three years of full-time entrepreneurship with iThemes, and I’m super proud to look back on the lessons I’ve learned and experiences I can share with others seeking to get on this roller coaster ride.
There’s 24 tips packed in here … which I hope to be unpacking in more depth soon but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy and put them to use in starting your business.