A startup builds a new building and then dies

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com


Designing the Perfect Building

Once the commitment to fix everything wrong was in place, we were off and running on the design phase. We hired an interior designer and a great facilities person to manage the process. The exec staff started meeting about the design of the new building.

The staff weighed in on what color the carpet and walls would be. And there was a lot of discussion on what style of furniture was appropriate.

Our exec staff spent time worrying about who had the corner office, and what departments had the “prime” location (I was great at “office wars”). There was a lot of talk about the importance of natural lighting. And even better, marketing got to design the graphics for the lobby and hallway (bright and colorful neon) to better represent the color graphics business we were in.

We kept the board informed, but they didn’t have much to say since business was going so well, and a new building was needed to accommodate the growing company.

None of This is Good News

This is when things started to go downhill for SuperMac. The most obvious problem: the time we spent planning the building distracted the company from running the business. But there were three more insidious problems.

1. While offices for everyone sound good on paper, moving everyone out of cubicles destroyed a culture of tight-knit interaction and communication. Individuals within departments were isolated, and the size and scale of the building isolated departments from each other.

2. The new building telegraphed to our employees, “We’ve arrived. We’re no longer a small struggling startup. You can stop working like a startup and start working like a big company.”

3. We started to believe that the new building was a reflection of the company’s (and our own) success. We took our eye off the business. We thought that since we were in such a fine building, we were geniuses, and the business would take care of itself.

While our competitors furiously worked on regaining market share, we were arguing about whether the carpets should be wool or nylon. The result was not pretty.