Startups, Get Your Finances in Order Before Leasing Office Space

This post was authored by Nathan Smith, a commercial real estate consultant and owner of Austin Tenant Advisors

As a startup or new business owner it’s important to be financially prepared before starting the process of looking for and leasing office space. Gathering your financial information and making your startup look financially strong in the eyes of a Landlord takes longer than you think so you want to do this well in advance. By preparing in advance you better your chances of gaining the Landlord’s confidence in your tenancy and increase your chances of negotiating better office lease concessions such as tenant improvements, rental abatements, etc.

Similar to how banks preapprove you for a loan, Landlords want to make sure you are financially qualified before they lease you office space, especially in hot markets like Austin, TX.   They will be investing time, resources, tenant improvements and other lease concessions in your tenancy so it’s imperative that you prove your financial ability & stability to pay any upfront costs and rent for the duration of the lease term.

Proving that your startup company is financially qualified takes more than a great business idea, having a large 401k, or a big expensive house.

If you are a startup company that has been around for a few years Landlords want to see current profit & loss statements, cash flows, balance sheets, and/or other sources of financing and funding. Depending on the landlord’s perception of your financials you may need to securitize the lease with a security deposit, letter of credit (LOC), personal guaranty or a combination of the latter. Your financial strength, lease term length, total lease amount, tenant improvement costs, & lease commissions will determine the amount needed to securitize the lease.

If you are a brand new startup with no track record or you’re an existing one with weak financials Landlord’s will probably want the person signing the lease to provide 2-3 years of personal tax returns and/or a personal financial statement. Depending on the Landlord’s perception of those personal financial statements they may require that the lease be personally guaranteed, need a larger security deposit, or need a letter of credit (LOC) that will cover the landlords up front costs to do the deal (e.g. tenant improvements, lease commissions, etc.).

Before you begin the search for office space, make sure you have your financials in order and have them ready to show Landlords. You might also consider having your business plan and pro-forma available to show your current and future financial projections.

Do all that you can to put your best foot forward, however because you are a startup Landlord’s still may require you to sign a personal guarantee, pay a larger security deposit, or have a letter of credit (LOC). You only get one shot at making a good impression! The more prepared you are and the better your finances look the better chance you have at proving to the Landlord that you can pay rent AND in receiving office lease concessions.

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Nathan Smith specializes in helping startups companies find, lease and/or purchase office space in Austin, TX. He has advised over 300 companies in finding the best office locations, negotiate new leases and lease renewals, facilitate relocations and expansions. Outside the office Nathan enjoys hanging out with his wife and two children in Bee Cave, TX and is an avid runner and cyclist that participates in many local triathlons and running events.

Close Encounters of the CRE Kind.

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The OfficeSpace team had the pleasure of hosting it’s first home town event for the CRE community in Seattle this past week. It was an intimate evening with an open format for answering questions on our broker services, product demonstrations, all of course while engaging with everyone on the latest commercial real estate talk in the Pacific NorthWest.

Perhaps the most surprising comment of the evening was how fantastic it was to speak with our team in person. More than once we heard “How often do you get to speak to a website face to face?”.  Being in the internet game with our heads down, working hard to make our site as efficient and user-friendly as possible for both the broker and the tenant communities, we sometimes forget how important that face time really is.

It’s a recurring theme in the tech start-up community as we “Eat. Sleep. Breath.” with our computers  and our “Eat. Drink. Learn” event was a great reminder to stop, drop everything and talk…in person.  We look forward to continuing this trend as we grow and continue to answer your questions – face to face, over the phone and of course, online.

A generous thank you once again to our sponsors, Gateway Construction and Complete Office Furniture who provided some fantastic give-aways and support of the evening.

We even managed to snap a few shots of the evening’s festivities as posted below.


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2013 Didn’t Bring An NBA Team to Seattle, But It Did Bring…

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What does Seattle have?  A thriving start-up community and established technology hub, world renowned coffee, an infamous independent music scene, a top ranked NFL team, the lush green of the Pacific NorthWest and so much more.

Sadly, 2013 did not bring back an NBA team, but there is a game changer in town. OfficeSpace.com’s long awaited new platform is about to change the way players in the commercial real estate arena engage with clients.

In fact, businesses and commercial real estate pros now have a new online stadium with OfficeSpace.com’s improved site and service for the Seattle market.

Since launching its new service 18 months ago, OfficeSpace.com has served thousands of tenants looking to lease office, retail and industrial spaces.  OfficeSpace.com allows tenants unrestricted searches of its comprehensive database with over 27,000 properties, at no charge, something typically not done in the traditional commercial real estate world.

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Today, we are proud to launch our free service in our home market of Seattle.  “We felt this was a great time to launch as the business community is thriving and there are a lot of eyes on Seattle right now.” says Susie Algard, CEO. 

Businesses can now search from over 7,000 available listings in the Greater Seattle area. We expect the number of tenants coming to access these listings will grow quickly, as we are the city’s only commercial real estate site offering this type of platform.

The new site has a clean design aesthetic with an intuitive, user-friendly map based search, photo rich listings, and advanced search filters, all of which were created to make the tenant search experience much more engaging and efficient.

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“With today’s launch, we are excited to be bringing more qualified tenants to the broker community.” says Algard. OfficeSpace.com’s new site was designed with these relationships in mind. The commercial real estate audience can benefit from several complimentary marketing tools, including nationwide tenant rosters, a no-software flyer creator, comprehensive market surveys, and upgraded property listings.

So, while the city sits waiting patiently for another opportunity to bring back the NBA, we’ll continue to up our game to better serve the Seattle market. We’re no substitute for a basketball team but we’re practicing our virtual jump shots none the less in hopes of a CRE MVP title.

OfficeSpace.com is now serving Seattle, Denver, Portland and San Diego with upcoming markets on the horizon.

Broker Banter – Questions & Answers (The Portland Chapter)

We’re the first to admit we don’t always have all the answers when it comes to the fine details of leasing and all the questions that come with it. That’s when we turn to our commercial comrades to aid with the broadening of our knowledge base.  This week we’ve gone straight to the source to speak with Portland, OR broker Kristi Ricker.

We connected with Kristi to talk shop, and in fact, where to set up shop.

OfficeSpace: What do you think is the most important question a tenant should be asking, that they never seem to ask when looking for space?

Kristi: Zoning, tenants need to learn more out about zoning. There are so many issues in this area and if you’re not aware of this in the beginning it could hurt your chances of securing your ideal space. It’s something you should ask your broker about as they’ll be able to determine how to move forward in narrowing down your search. It’s just not something that’s on the top of your mind when you’re looking for a space and it definitely should be.

OfficeSpace: What is the best tip in negotiating a lease you think all tenants should consider? 

Kristi: The longer the lease, the better you’re going to be able to negotiate, especially if you are going to need anything done to your space. People are nervous with the idea of securing a 5 year lease, they think “What if something happens?” – but they can always put a clause in allowing them to sublease (A lease of a property by a tenant to a subtenant.).

OfficeSpace: What do tenants focus on, that perhaps they shouldn’t when searching for space?

Kristi: Recently, I’ve had clients who have looked at a space and were concerned the buildings around it were being worked on or unfinished. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always paint a pretty picture of the neighborhood, especially when it’s an up and coming urban area. I recommend looking at the bigger finished picture and inquiring about what’s being developed in the area.

OfficeSpace: What area of town would you recommend to a Start-Up in Portland?

Kristi: The inner Southeast, Northeast and North Portland are very hot right now. They were predominantly industrial areas and now they’ve turned into these very creative pockets with great opportunities for startups, restaurants, retail and more.

OfficeSpace: What are you starting to see more of in Portland?

Kristi: Tons of startups, restaurants, breweries, delis – there’s a great food scene here.

OfficeSpace: And lastly, what makes Portland great?

Kristi: Portland‘s so diverse, we have a little bit of everything for everyone. Everything goes here – that’s what I love about it. I see all these new ideas here and they seem to work. If you have a crazy, fun new idea, there’s a great support network for that here. It just seems out of the ordinary things work here more than other places. Nothing is guaranteed but your chances of making it a go seems to have better odds in Portland.

Kristi has over 15 years of real estate experience in the greater Portland area and has recently started her own company.

Need Office, Retail or Industrial Space in Portland? Visit us here – OfficeSpace.com/Portland

Movin On Up! (Part 1)

Big News! We’re moving offices!

Our Current Space (the team hard at work!)

Yay! Streamers, confetti, balloons!

Excitement, pride, growth – all good!

Suddenly, those feelings were followed up by the pending loom of “ah nuts, moving means packing means boxes means design choices and so on and so on”… Just when we got comfortable and everything had a place. We needed to retreat to the “Living Room”..

The “Living Room”

Yes, there are many questions we here at OfficeSpace.com have now been faced with regarding our upcoming move. So we thought who better to share them with then you.

  • First we thought, what do we do with everything?
  • Do we bring our old furniture to the new location? Recycle it? Repurpose it? Resell it?
  • Start from scratch?
  • Hire a designer vs do it ourselves?
  • We’re a small team with a budget to match so how do we maintain our hip, cool, start up, tech office vibe we pin daily on our Pinterest board?

You might be asking, aren’t these some of the many things you deal with when tenants contact you about moving and finding office space through OfficeSpace.com? You’re absolutely right, but there’s something to the saying “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”. So, as we continue our adventure over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned and our progress as we approach moving day (October 5th!)

Do you have any office moving horror stories or perhaps any great recommendations or tips? If so, please feel free to send them our way.

P.S. We’ll be keeping this…

Obligatory “Office Space” poster

How to Launch a Product With a Budget Less Than a Direct Mail Campaign

We recently completed our beta launch in Portland OR in late January of this year and it went well as far as I could tell.  In the first 3 months, we had connected around 350 tenants to landlords, property managers or brokers.  Tenants had found space using our site and leases were being executed.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The challenge for us, however, had been educating brokers on our new service and how it actually works for parties, the broker and the tenant.

Nevertheless, when it came to launching in another city, I didn’t want to execute the same way.  What bugged me was despite the email campaigns in Portland highlighting our new service to brokers, I knew at best, only 20% of those emails were being opened.  We sent beautiful folders to every broker describing in detail how our service works but I was sure a large percentage of those went unopened and into the recycling or worse into the trash.  So, we began brainstorming other ideas.  Our goal – to reach every broker and explain exactly what it is we do and again, how OfficeSpace.com can help them.

This past week, we announced the launch of our new service, starting in Denver, while we were at an industry trade show.  Instead of sending out direct mail, we delivered customized gourmet cupcakes complete with an edible OfficeSpace.com logo to every brokerage in greater Denver – that was over 600 cupcakes in total.

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I reasoned even though it’s an edible item, certainly people would remember who gave it to them.  We built a campaign around our delicious delivery, building anticipation through our social media channels.  We created postcards to go with our cupcakes letting everyone know we were celebrating our birthday in Denver – and the cupcakes were free, just like our service.  We encouraged our recipients to use social media to tell us how they liked our gift and we waited.

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I can already definitively say this campaign was much more successful and cost-effective than our first and here’s why: when we began to make our follow- up calls, people wanted to talk to us.  They wanted to tell us that they liked our clever idea and more importantly, they wanted to know what the company was doing.

If we could be this creative just to get their attention, what would that mean for the types of products we could create to help them? We achieved what direct mail could not: a captive audience (with full tummies to boot!).

Susie Algard
CEO & Founder
OfficeSpace.com
follow us on twitter: @officespace_com
follow me on twitter: @susiealgard

A Successful Startup Story – Founder’s Instinct, Go Direct.

As I discussed on my last article, The #1 Mistake Many Startups Make When Managing Growth-Remember the Garage?, I wanted to share with you an anecdote from a well established web company in Seattle, that will remain anonymous, let’s call them Dot.com.

Looking Good, Billy Ray! Feeling Good, Louis!

The year is 2010, and Dot.com has done extremely well for themselves. The founder’s acquired the domain name and other assets for under $5,000 and proceeded to build it into a top 100 most visited websites in the US, over a span of 7 years.

They have gone through a couple of office moves. Each move they upgraded and eventually ended up in some Class A space in the heart of Seattle, which  has a fairly competitive office market.

Shortly after they move into their space, they are already needing additional space. They had a couple hockey sticks in their growth chart! The founder heard that the neighboring tenant was looking to sublease some space, exactly what Dot.com was looking for.

Let’s Make a Deal

The founder calls his trusted commercial broker who found them their current digs and instructs them to place an offer of $15/sf on a short-term lease on the neighbor’s space. The broker informs him that they didn’t even get as much as a response to our offer from the landlord’s brokers. The founder assumes that maybe the offer was insultingly low.

The next week, the founder just happens to run into the neighbor and decided to ask about the space, nothing to lose since they already rejected the offer.  It was clear at this point that the neighbor never even saw the offer. Much to the founder’s surprise, the neighboring tenant seemed remarkably eager for Dot.com to pick up their space. They shook hands and came to an agreement for $3.60/sf on the spot.

This is just one example where the broker channel was ineffective and this isn’t necessarily a knock on brokers but more a reflection of the commission based compensation model that brokers live in, a you get what you pay for mantra.

Bravo to the founder for going direct and cutting out the middleman; probably another reason why Dot.com is still so successful.

The #1 Mistake Many Startups Make When Managing Growth. Remember the Garage?

In a galaxy far, far away…

In the beginning, most start-ups follow a certain pattern:

  • Inspiration leads to the “killer” idea
  • Bootstrapping
  • Sourcing Capital
  • Recruiting an A-Team
  • Product Development
  • Building an Infrastructure
  • Iteration
  • Managing increasing Costs
  • Growth

There are many versions of the story but in my own career and listening to the anecdotes of many other entrepreneurs, most folks like you and I have sang and are singing the same song.

Boot Strappin’ 

In the early stages, everyone including founding members are wearing many hats.

  • You may be starting your empire from the confines of your garage.
  •  You may be able to delegate certain tasks to your founding team of two.
  • You may want to hire or outsource but the cost benefit may not make sense at this time.
  • This may not be most efficient but it’s cost effective.

Everyone is burning the midnight oil to get to market as quick as possible and the Agile Development model is adopted. Your development team is furiously taking feedback and the products and business models evolve. You and your team have proof of concept now and the future looks bright.

Your first two revenue models don’t produce as you hoped they would, so you scrap them and finally find a revenue model that works for you.  Soon, the revenue grows from a trickle to a stream and it looks like it will be a steady stream. Life is good and all the blood, sweat, and tears seem to be paying off. Team morale is high and even the instant noodles taste infinitely better!

You Did What With My Money???

Depending on your cash situation, this may be the time you seek additional funding. You’ve proved your concept, generated revenue, and now you’re looking to scale that model. I won’t go into valuation models, capital structures, or optimal equity distribution, but another major attribute that most investors want to see is fiscal responsibility.

When I talk about fiscal responsibility, I don’t mean extreme conservatism, as say an accountant would, but more of a prudent balance of risk, reward, and stewardship. There will be a certain amount of cash burn related to the Agile Development process as some features will be pushed to the side or scrapped all together, but cash burn that locks you into long term contracts that increase your fixed cost structure that may not contribute to the business are things to look out for. This may be one of the most overlooked aspects of the start-up life.

Pre-Y2K Hysteria

In the early go-go internet days, many companies got to this stage and proceeded to secure prime Class A office space with room to spare for their burgeoning venture only to find out that they over estimated the growth that they would experience. This left many start-ups in a precarious position, after all, most start-ups aren’t experts in commercial real estate.

There are many more practical options for office space nowadays. We will always have the garage to start out in, move to a shared or co-working space, perhaps graduate to an executive suite space, or look for a screaming deal on a sublease space offered by perhaps some of the less fiscally prudent start-ups out there.

Your Space Says A Lot 

Many successful entrepreneurs look fondly on their days of bootstrapping:

  • Remember when we had to float all our credit card balances to pay for the gear?
  • I miss those days all 5 of us were huddled on top of each other in the basement working 14 hour days.
  • It’s lunch time, 7-Eleven or the Gas Station?

Another common thread among many successful entrepreneurs is balancing image from reality. From the type of marketing spend to the type of office they lease. Don’t be fashionable, be fundamental. If you just raised money, it can be difficult to justify contracting for prime office space when you’d rather hire more people to get you to your goal.  Not only will your investors appreciate this, so will all other equity stakeholders.

For all you start-ups out there, the sublease space may provide you with the most flexibility and lowest cost to leasing office space. Unfortunately, this market is underserved and is sometimes difficult to find. Many brokers also aren’t very helpful in this type of space search as they have to put in the same amount of time as a normal search but only get paid a fraction of their commission rate, on a sublease.

Craigslist is the most common place to find the smaller sublease spaces out there and they do a great job of aggregating those spaces. However, as many of you are familiar with, the craigslist experience is not for everyone, especially those that don’t have much time to spend on sifting through endless ads. Let alone setting up tours and other logistical tasks.

As you can guess, I work for a start-up called OfficeSpace.com and we focus not only on larger spaces, but smaller spaces and sublease spaces as well. We are looking to solve the small and sublease space problem and we’ve launched our Beta in Portland.

Stay tuned for my next article, where I will share an example of another start-ups’ experience. All the best to the brash, brave, and entrepreneurial companies out there. All comments are welcome!

Image credit: http://creativehomeoffices.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Basement-Before-e1328914683809.jpg

Image credit: http://www.lifeknowledgefm.com/what-is-bootstrapping/