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How Shutterstock Used Data to Cut Staff Commutes

How the stock photo company found the perfect office space and cut employees' commutes by 4,500 minutes a week--all with the help of Big Data.
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No doubt by this point you've read much about the brilliance of Big Data. But what is it exactly? And, more importantly, how do you use it in a practical way in your company? 

Jon Oringer, founder and CEO of the stock photo marketplace Shutterstock, has a few ideas. Oringer says his company runs on data and is doing some very sophisticated things with it. He analyzes everything from where customers create images and where they download them, to which types of images are trending in places like Serbia, Brazil, and Thailand. He uses data to create customer-facing and contributor-facing apps, which make it easier for people to buy, sell, and create images. All of this analysis has helped the New York City-based company sell 400 million images since its founding in 2003, and grow Shutterstock into a public company.

But Shutterstock also crunches numbers to solve business problems that are even more basic: For example, what's the best office space for its fast-growing staff of more than 300 employees? 

Using data, Shutterstock found its current home--85,000 square feet on the 20th and 21st floors of the Empire State Building, complete with two game rooms, a yoga studio, a secret library, cafeteria, 14 conference rooms, 13 team meeting rooms, and 23 pop-in rooms for department heads. The open, sprawling space has one rule--no one has a private office. But here's perhaps the biggest bonus: The location shortened most employees' daily commute.

Read on to find out how Oringer used data to may key decisions about the new office.

Finding the Ideal Location

Moving the global headquarters of a billion-dollar company is a big deal. So, Oringer wanted to make sure they only had to move once. With a moving budget of $10 million, Oringer was looking for an 85,000-square foot continuous space. Ideally, he wanted one floor--the old office was spread out on four different floors and an old elevator made it feel like you'd spend half your time waiting to ferry between floors. Once they found four different options, Oringer let data do the work.

"We took the four options and ran it through a zip code distance analyzer and found we'd save three minutes per employee by moving here," Oringer says during an interview in his new space. "We ran all the addresses of everyone who lives near here and works in this office. We looked at different areas and by moving from the Financial District to here [the Empire State Building], given the public transportation options, it actually saves a lot of time. If you multiply multiple minutes per day by the 300-some-odd employees who spend their days in this office, it adds up to a lot of saved time." (Four thousand five hundred minutes a week, to be exact.)

This staircase connects Shutterstock's two floors in the Empire State Building.

Discovering the Perfect Conference Room Size

Instead of offices, Shutterstock decided to have an open-floor plan with long desks and 50 conference and "pop-in" rooms--which are spaces for impromptu meetings or set aside for department heads to bang out work when privacy is needed. "This is what we needed, data isn't going to tell you everything," he says. "I had an office in our last space and I felt too closed off from people. I like how people can approach me here."

But to figure out how big the rooms needed to be, Oringer used--you guessed it--data. An employee figured out how to mine everyone's calendars to calculate how often they used the conference rooms and how many people generally attended the meetings. "We initially thought there were more larger-sized meetings, but it turned out we were wrong," Oringer says. "A lot of the meetings that were happening are usually two-, three-, or four-person meetings. We ended up cutting the size of larger conference rooms for smaller ones."

He then crowdsourced themes and names for the rooms from every employee and they were put to a vote. One game room, dubbed "Alice in Wonderland," features big white leather couches, black and red molding, Alice in Wonderland artwork on the walls, and a flatscreen TV with Sega's Dreamcast and two arcade games. The other game room, called "8-Bit," has a Ping Pong table and the walls are painted with scenes from the Nintendo video game Super Mario Brothers.

The secret library is accessed by pushing on a hidden door, neatly disguised by a painting on the wall.

Making Data a Part of Daily Life

Taking a walk around the two floors, which are connected by a 10-foot wide stair case in the middle, large flatscreen TVs show real-time business metrics. "It's important to have data visible to everyone around you--this is why we have these screens showing the number of downloads in real time happening around the world," he says. Another flatscreen is a "wormhole," or live camera feed into the Berlin office and another features popular images from Shutterstock contributors. 

Shutterstock broke 400 million images downloaded recently and sells three images per second. One screen shows a map of the world and a red dot pops up every time someone downloads an image. While Oringer speaks, a red dot appeared in India, Thailand, and Brazil. "It shows just how global our marketplace is. This image originated in Serbia and was downloaded in the United Kingdom," he says, pointing to a red dot on the screen. "This data constantly reminds me what we do here."

Check out the video below to hear Oringer explain how to build a business that solves a real problem.

IMAGES: Bilyana Dimitrova/Courtesy of Shutterstock, Bilyana Dimitrova / courtesy Shutterstock
Last updated: May 5, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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