Don't Even Think About Buying a Desk
Not long after some entrepreneurs achieve their first business successes, they improve their workspace. They recruit a big customer, and so they outfit their offices with tech toys. They sign a big deal, and they figure they're entitled to a new chair or a desk.
They've earned it, they tell themselves. But if they were really smart, those entrepreneurs might do the exact opposite. Having a stripped-down, utilitarian workspace—a crappy office, if you will—can be the sign of a promising entrepreneur. In fact, here's a simple, crazy idea: If you don't want to be chained to your desk as an entrepreneur, maybe you shouldn't have a desk to begin with.
Sound a bit extreme? Of course there are any number of virtual companies now, but we were struck in interviewing Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch for our new book Breakthrough Entrepreneurship that he worked almost entirely out of his car. When he needed to sit down and write something, he did so at the bars where his customers worked and drank.
“I literally did not have a desk for years,” Koch told us. “I couldn’t make beer in an office. I couldn’t sell beer in an office, so I didn’t need a desk. If I had to go sit somewhere it would be in a bar. It would be with the customers.”
Boston Beer Co. is now the largest American-owned brewery, so apparently working 100 percent remotely didn't hurt Koch very much. And, we think there's a key lesson in there. There are at least four ways that stripping your workspace to the barest essentials can help your business stay focused and improve your odds of success.
1. It gets you out to see your product in action.
If you're going to run a beer company, the best place for you to spend your time is likely around bar owners and beer drinkers. Imagine the opportunity for feedback Koch had about how well Samuel Adams beer was selling, what people liked and didn’t like about it, and how popular his competitors' brews were. As long as he didn't consume too much of his own product before heading back to his car, he was in good shape!
2. You'll meet your customers.
By literally working in bars, Koch was always out among his customers. He was there in person to listen to what they wanted. Over time, he could adjust his sales pitch to meet their preferences. Plus, he had the chance to network and meet more customers. You might not meet the CEO of a great new company you'd like to recruit as a customer in a bar or a coffee house—but we guarantee you won't meet him or her when you're squirreled away in an office somewhere.
3. You don't waste money on unnecessary overhead.
Office expenses can pile up. In any startup, funds are at a premium. Even if it's impractical for you to literally not have an office like Koch did, maintaining a minimalist aesthetic usually costs less.
4. You're forced to stay focused.
You can't accumulate as many things if you don't have an office to keep them in. Less paper, fewer gadgets—anything you can do to eliminate distractions and stay focused on your product and your customers is a good thing.
Granted, a 100% office-free start-up doesn't work for everyone. And remember the lesson from Koch—he didn’t work from home. He worked where he found his customers. If you have to be in an office to lead employees or work on product development, there might not be a way around it. But still, the office-free start-up is a great model to keep in mind. At the very least, it keeps you focused on the fact that you're an entrepreneur to build a business, not an office.
JON BURGSTONE | Columnist | Professor, UC Berkeley
Jon Burgstone was co-founder of SupplierMarket, acquired by Ariba for $1.1B. He now teaches at Berkeley, where he helped launch the Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. He is co-author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship.
BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist
Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.