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[Discussion] How to Design a Startup Workspace?
19 points by vijayanands 1291 days ago | 34 comments
The Minute a startup gets funded, there is the usual expenses to the report - Macs, Bean Bags, a colorful coat of paint, music in the lounges, but surprisingly I've seen more productive work out of a team that still has its old Dell hardware, and headphone plugged coders hacking away.

There is nothing wrong with a new coat of paint and a great working environment, but dont go buy that pool table yet (or invest into fancy pantries) - if you cant justify a link to productivity.

With that context, Would love to hear your thoughts on the bare essentials (think you are bootstrapping) on what "design" elements, you believe adds to the productive workspace culture.

Eg: Long 6 x 4 tables w/ pluggable power sockets with the entire team around makes a big difference.

11 points by robytj 1290 days ago | link

My name is roby and I ran a bootstrapped startup (TapToLearn / June software) till we got our first million customers on the app store and over 500K in revenue. We were part of the YCombinator class of W2012.

AT my first startup O2 in my spare bedroom, a large CRT and a Tubelight reflecting onto it led to my eyesight going from -0.5 to -3.5.

I spent enough time before I started my next startup in terms of learning about and investing on a basic setup including

1. A quiet workplace where my team did not have to see anyone else, we could write code for long hours without any disturbance. Our pantry had a a small fridge (housewarming present), a old microwave (corporate gift) and a gas stove i borrowed from my parents. We could make tea at late nights which is all that we required.

2. Mac Book Pro's with Dual Monitor 19 inch Dell displays (in the early days of XCode having Interface Builder and Code Views on separate monitors helped productivity), these days 1 large monitor is preffered by most of us. (we did not splurge money on these, we bought older models, refurbs and still continue to do so, mostly at 50% discounts, ensure that you know your neighboring Reliance iStore guy, we bought most of our stuff on 31 March on last day clearances at 50% off)

3. Featherlite contact chairs (no discount here but the most comfortable programmer chair, i have now used one for 12 years) @ Rs 7500 current prices

4. Large Desks that are L-shaped of atleast 6 ft by 6 ft (multiple monitors remember) but also allowed us to peer review products as they were built

5. LIGHTING : cannot overstress this, we spent enough time and initially even rented part of our office to a company that makes beautiful lighting (www.xal.com), we don't have any of their fixtures but bought overhead lights that are non reflective @ 1450 each from a company called Abby Lighting in Mumbai, we have the cheapest one called Vanilla Sky (http://abbylighting.com/vanilla_sky.php). This has served us well.

As a bootstrapped company, you may not get too many discounts for small purchases, we looked at our network and saw other larger companies that were making these purchases and got our stuff as part of their order.Buying brands in a lot of places does not matter, look at functionality first.

As Paul Bucheit and everyone else at YC says, your office furniture should be cheap but tasteful. So getting help from an architect friend of yours to help complete the space or get his spare furniture from his project is a really good idea.

Last but not least i would say what changed our office was having our Pet Labrador - Charlie. We still had the same stress of a startup, but somehow having him around took a lot of it away. Today our company and our lab are 3 years old.


1 point by samtheman 1290 days ago | link

Can you describe the think about large desks a little more? How is a 6x6 desk L shaped? How many people were 6x6?


1 point by jr3611 1283 days ago | link

Our desks are 6x2 + 4x2 in an L Shaped Configuration, so the total workspace available to a user is about 20 sq ft of desk space plus enough space around him. we have about 16 workstations in our current office.


11 points by tr 1291 days ago | link

As a trained Architect I have a few inputs (precautions?) and insights to share:

- Human beings are designed to work in bursts of cycles. Make sure your environment accommodates relaxation as much as productivity.

- The colour of the light used has serious implications on the eyes, brain and productivity in general. Stick to 6500K or 'daylight' lighting.

- Do not design your space with the furniture you have. Decide on the furniture with the space available instead. Compromises you make on this can prove costly in efficiency / usability.

- In humid climates, its ok if you dont have paint on the walls but make sure you have air conditioning.

- Each person in the office must have a dedicated workspace / zone. A large table with one chair-space is not a sustainable solution. Discomfort will eventually catchup.

- Avoid all expenses on eye candy and invest in ergonomics (chair / table setups that have comfort driven design).

Feel free to ask for specific guidance :)


2 points by vijayanands 1291 days ago | link

+1 Lighting is THE biggest mistake I've seen startups make. Can you elaborate a bit more on that? I know that Roby John of Tap2Learn had a lot of amazing insight on that. But if you can do a "Dummies guide to lighting in the workplace" that'd be awesome - and some links to some not-so-expensive lighting as well please?


2 points by tr 1291 days ago | link

Lighting is a highly specialized subject. Just like SaaS services, advising is impossible without usage/case specific parameters. Scientific and aesthetic understanding of lighting is crucial to ensuring optimum design and implementation.

If there exists a dummies guide, I suggest that you avoid it altogether. If you are serious about gaining an understanding of lighting design, this would be a great resource to start with:



2 points by vijayanands 1291 days ago | link

Awesome resource. Thanks :)


3 points by indus 1288 days ago | link

My name is Indus, I run a slightly funded startup called Bitzermobile. Here's what we have done:

1. We patronized one furniture store (HomeTown in Marathahalli). Though they say no discounts, I have used LinkedIn to get names of people and saved loads.

2. Chairs: Got chairs at 6K. I was wary about buying expensive chairs, but read a study somewhere about chairs and programming. Bit the bullet.

3. Tables: Only 2 kinds of tables between 3K-5K for each one of us.

4. Seating: The tables are arranged like a square with open vertices for people to walk-in and out. The center of the square is filled with chairs, with people facing outwards (Our backs to each other). There is enough space in the center of the square for the chairs to move around.

5. Laptop/Desktops: We patronized another store who gives us a heavy discount on products which are never officially discounted (Sorry, can't name the store nor the product as I have been sworn by their retail manager).

6. Monitors: We buy 22" Viewsonic only. We do not buy monitors from the above store as that category has a less discount. The monitors are bought from a distributor in BTM Layout.

7. Accessories: All of us have a nice Logitech headset as we skype a lot with the US team. Plus, Microsoft wireless keyboards and mice.

8. Pantry: No pantry. We use the bakery downstairs for unlimited supply of tea, coffee, puffs, ice-creams, drinks. This give us an opportunity to walk downstairs, unwind and come back. We keep a running account and batch process on 1st of every month.

9. Decor: Normal yellow paint. No fancy stuff. We invested in Wii and people are busy competing with each other instead of looking at the walls.

10. Lighting: Normal tubes. Noticed that people dont switch it on until the sunshine is dull.

11. We also got a standing fixture of 12 feet x 2 feet between two pillars. This allows us to bring our macs and stand and work. It also doubles up as our lunch area and for short ad-hoc discussions.

12. Internet: Tikona as our primary internet provider and BSNL as backup.

13. Lunch: We use itsmymeal.

All the decisions were based on a funded vs frugal quotient. We are based out of Bangalore. Hope this helps.


2 points by vijayanands 1287 days ago | link

Indus, with "The center of the square is filled with chairs, with people facing outwards (Our backs to each other)." - are folks ever consciously trying to avoid others looking at the screen? We had a setup like that in IITM, and it felt like everyone was under the pressure that someone was looking over their shoulder. do you face it? Just curious.


1 point by indus 1287 days ago | link

The youngest dude doesn't like it..didn't hear complains from others :)


0 points by vijayanands 1286 days ago | link



3 points by sassyboy 1291 days ago | link

There needs to be a space where one can have quick short naps whenever one feels like a nap. No disturbance, dark room, comfortable for a nap. I personally find myself much more productive after a nap, followed by a cup of tea.


3 points by ahimanikya 1291 days ago | link

I know some people don't like Mac stating value for price, but MBP has worked very well for us. I am going to list few things that we did, hopefully it will be useful for others.

- 8x4 tables with electrical sockets and RJ 45 fitted on table top, this not only looks great it also helped us to keep the cost low, big size whiteboard one for each table area.

- We got the chairs from a manufacturer who supplies to featherlite (2K each) + we have bunch of bean bags as well

- We did not go for A/C, rather we put enough fans for each tables (In Bangalore this is fine)

- For lighting we picked factory style hanging dome light, goes very well with the open and long tables...

- We have a decent pantry with 4/5 adjustable stool for lunch.

- CCD Coffee machine with good option for various flavor of tea bags (leased so no initial cost)

- UPS for 3 hours power backup (not high end, since they all do the same thing)

- Battery operated adjustable air purifier and paper dispenser

- Finally we use Synology 5 bay 10TB NAS, which acts as our VPN server, Proxy server, backup server, intranet web server, wiki, source repository (SVN), cloud file server, media server etc.


2 points by vijayanands 1291 days ago | link

An interesting article on the same: http://www.possibility.com/Cpp/SoftDevOfficeLayout.html


1 point by storemonk 1278 days ago | link

At StoreMonk.com we have a mantra that I learned from my dad, "The environment you work in during the early days of your startup drives the culture of your company". I've seen this first hand with Dad's law practice over the years with he running a mid size firm & operating 3 offices with over 25 full time lawyers working for him... I learned that this totally depends from startup to startup - We are a small angel funded startup & we love our white noise, & have figured that a human environment helps your productivity, we have no gimmicky Idea-Paint or Ping Pong Tables although we find there is nothing wrong with bean-bags or macs or a fully stocked fridge with snacks & redbull. It really helps us relaxed & saves a run to a 24 × 7 to grab a midnight bite or a bowl of soup (I’m just kidding, we do that too; sometimes). Key is to have fun & build product you love & your customer adore with passion, irrelevant to the frugal aspect associated with startups, who says you cant kick-ass unless you are on a ramen diet. It very important to say that my first start up actually started from a borrowed cubicle at my dad's firm when we grew over 5 people he put some money in our hand & kicked us out, we literally came on streets from a posh commercial building in Defence Colony that dad owned to a small Pigeon Hole office near Quatab on rent for mere 7000 bucks (We even had to close our office washroom for few weeks since a pigeon laid egg in the basin, we were too excited to throw her nest away & let it stay until they flew #truestory)...

Some things are important; a silence zone, a conf area, a phone call booth (yes we have a no call policy & actually made a booth out of cardboard in a corner to make personal calls), you must have a play zone too; nothing beats steam like a macho showdown between your teams weekend “Halo” matches, a Guitar helps too (please avoid drums, we tried they don't work), you must have a super awesome library too; nothing fancy on shelves but if you have super awesome friends like us & maybe use Dropbox you can have an amazing library of design & dev books worth $1000’s shared with you for Free.... Most importantly have an open house; call your friends over for a movie night or a week off brunch.

From what I’ve learned is that you can have a really awesome kickass space with a very small budget. All you need is the place to be filled with passion & have a part of your soul.


1 point by nutanc 1290 days ago | link

One other thing which is almost indispensable is a Whiteboard. The more, the merrier. We even have http://www.whiteyboard.com/ and had stick up whiteboards in our old office space. They are really useful in thrashing out ideas.

I also believe, that startups as a rule should have some stress relieving elements. It could be a TT table(15,000+around Rs.200/pm), or a simple PS2/Xbox(can be a second hand one from a team), or a good projector which can also be used to beam movies on Friday nights. We have found that rather than going out, putting on the projector and watching a nice movie with the team helps in bonding(make sure someone sponsors the popcorn :) )


1 point by mlakshmi 1291 days ago | link

Quiet environment, lighting (we do not need to have fancy lightings) but good LED table lamp would suffice.

One reclining chairs where the stretch. I would have dedicated small room (private) where the hackers can take quick nap (works in Google and Oracle)

Hygienic pantry with good coffee,tea (high quality) making machines. Healthy snacks (nuts and local dried fruits and fresh fruits)

More green plants with pots

If they have more money:

Golf putter with a hole. Good for the coders to divert their mind also it does not make noise. Couple of stretch bands so that they can stretch during their work.


1 point by Brajeshwar 1291 days ago | link

People always tend to focus on good tables more than chairs. I say, get crappy tables but very good chairs. For Hardwares, let the person who'll work decide - Mac or Linux or Windows. Big Dual Monitors really helps. Get the fastest Internet Connection you can get, it's never enough.


1 point by wiglaf 1291 days ago | link

> Long 6 x 4 tables w/ pluggable power sockets with the entire team around makes a big difference.

Only in bursts, IMHO. People should have a place of their own and gather around big tables when the need arises.

A decent pantry helps immensely. Good quality tea and coffee alone can make a big difference. Unfortunately startup pantries are often neglected or suffer from penny pinching.

Sound proof windows if you can.

Place whiteboards around the place, not just in "meeting rooms". Even better get rid of formal "meeting rooms" altogether.

+1 for ergonomic chairs. Standard issue revolving chairs suck.

(Stepping on culturally sensitive territory here) Have a recliner or two. People should be able to take a comfortable break or (cue raised eyebrows) a nap, particularly if you expect them to work 9+ hour days.


1 point by vijayanands 1291 days ago | link

Agree on the Long table.

Can you give a bit more elaboration on the Pantry? I heard of a startup which had a fully stocked fridge and that didnt end well either. Can you cite examples of your own startup - if you can? Especially if you think it warrants a specific space to be carved out when being thought out itself.

From a cost perspective - when you are designing a workspace, I wouldnt worry about coffee / pantry and all that - thats a recurring expense, and you can start anytime.

A space to catch some rest is a valid one. I saw a recliner in Google Hyderabad's office right in the way to the cafe. The logic : You can get some rest, but if you can snore away. And when you are resting in public, consciously you have a good justification - you probably did commit some release code the day before. Some folks seem to dedicate a "room" and that can work against you.


1 point by wiglaf 1291 days ago | link

I'll try without revealing too much ;)

Office pantries that I've seen tend to stock mediocre brands of tea and coffee. Get rid of those Lipton tea bags ASAP. Ditto with mass market coffee. Stock decent tea leaves or bags (they are not terribly expensive) and coffee (Nescafe perhaps? I'm not a coffee drinker so others can help).

Stock your pantry with stuff people will gladly eat. Junk food is popular but not many realize that so are fresh fruits. Have enough plates and cutlery so that peeling a mango or slicing a watermelon is easy.

Keep rotating the menu! Thinking a bit like a struggling restaurant owner looking to innovate won't hurt even if you are a VC/CEO.


2 points by sushrutbidwai 1291 days ago | link

As far as coffee goes - I had very good experience with morphy richards coffee maker and coffee powder from barista. Machine costs 5.5K and cost per cup came around 12 bucks with very good quality milk for a capuccino. Totally worth it.

Also I am of the opinion of spending less on entertainment in the office and spending more on outings or other activities. Though outings dont work well financially once you grow bigger than just handful of people.

Edit: Outings - movies, watching sports together, out of town trips or just bike/car rides.


1 point by vijayanands 1291 days ago | link

Great feedback. Only Question: Are you a startup entrepreneur or someone working for a startup? I am trying to figure where the bias is coming from.

That said, fresh fruits are a brilliant idea.


1 point by prateekdayal 1291 days ago | link

> but surprisingly I've seen more productive work out of a team that still has its old Dell hardware, and headphone plugged coders hacking away.



1 point by vijayanands 1291 days ago | link

I'd name, but despite the point, its sad when developers go and buy Apple hardware as if its magically going to boost productivity (especially when they are bootstrapped).

Tools help, definitely, but most often its the discipline and the user who drives productivity. no?


1 point by avlesh 1287 days ago | link

If you guys are still looking for a name, here's one - WebEngage :). Long tables. No cabins. No bean bags. Too many chairs. Too many sockets. And ONLY DELL. Well, we just closed our next round and don't intend to change this.


1 point by jace 1286 days ago | link

I didn't know Dell makes anything worth buying. I've looked at their catalog several times and always come away unconvinced.


1 point by avlesh 1286 days ago | link

As they say - beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I have been using Latitude for over 6 years now. No pain.


1 point by prateekdayal 1291 days ago | link

True. However I think good hardware helps. Frameworks are getting heavier and slower and testing etc is resource heavy. Ofcourse, they can only make an already productive dev more productive. But the same applies to office setup, bright colors etc too


1 point by vijayanands 1291 days ago | link



1 point by saurabhnanda 1291 days ago | link

+1 to this post. I'm in the middle of solving this problem as we speak / type. Also, what's the best way to build / buy good ergonomic furniture?


2 points by tr 1291 days ago | link

building it on your own would not be a good idea. Best way to buy would be to test it your self to start with. Do not buy in large quantities straight away.

Ergonomic chairs are notorious for feeling great for the first few minutes and turn out to be fatiguing for long use. Buy one that feels great, and make sure you test it out for the long haul. Then purchase more as necessary.


2 points by vijayanands 1291 days ago | link

Absolutely. And Working in Bean Bags is great in Concept, but gives you a very bad backache on continual use with a laptop.


2 points by jace 1286 days ago | link

You know what works for me? That folding wooden couch/bed that's made of strips of wood and comes with a flexible mattress on top. In couch mode it has an acute angle that gets you to slide back on to the backrest, so you don't slouch and your back is always well supported. I can sit on one all day with no discomfort.

A slight acute angle on any chair has the same effect, but I haven't seen a chair <10k that allows adjusting this. All of them have reclining backrests, which is the absolute worst thing to have in an office chair.


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