Ross Mayfield (CEO of Socialtext) has a great post that places his company’s recent venture capital financing (includes DFJ) and prospects of finding new company digs in the context of fourteen stages of a high-tech startup. To be frank, I find it interesting that launching a product is stage 12 and IPO is stage 14, but I digress …
What Ross calls "net-enabled bootstrapping" is really terrific. Ross writes, "I am convinced that being virtual is the best way to start a company."
This type of bootstrapping is really reflective of how today’s startups can be really creative to minimize costs of office space and to leverage resources around the globe. Some of the productivity technologies that Ross references are pretty much post-bubble technologies. Use ’em if you can. Face it – space planning is one of these underestimated things in growing companies. Plan for too much expansion, and the CFO can easily be writing off expenses as underutilized capacity, finding sublease tenants and negotiating contracts, etc. Plan for too little space, and people can be too disrupted by noise due to close proximity, intra- and inter-office moves, and support issues like telcom or network access. While people like myself are used to working out of a carry-bag (I call my bag "the football" like the President’s football) and in the hallways of client sites when space considerations get tight, not every one can work productively when strapped from a ceiling or to the walls when the company is busting from the seams.
All said, in past companies I’ve worked for that implement virtual teams (and I’m working for some now on the reverse end of the stick outside of HQ), some amount of face-time is necessary regardless of technology. Instant messaging, conference calling, email, etc. are all great things, but I find that the multi-party discussions of complex matters are often the things that suffer the most. Having a meticulous person involved in key multi-party, virtual working sessions is a must in my book. One should also be sensitive to how technology use (such as IM) in a bootstrap may discriminate against extroverts, salespeople, unstructured thinkers, technology shy people, or even those with repetitive motion injuries.
Ross also makes a great point that it is hard to celebrate victories with a remote team. Ross relates a cool idea of ordering pizza for colleagues. In company headquarters, I have seen many companies ring a gong or bang a cowbell when sales come in. So in the spirit of the virtual world, I would reference SNL’s episode of "More Cowbell" (as referenced by VC and blogger, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures). Ring that baby in toast of Socialtext’s financing and search for a home!