In its early stages, a start-up is an unpredictable and dynamic entity. Bound by tight budgets, it survives on a do-more-with-less philosophy. With collaboration at its core, the work culture is markedly different from that in a traditional company with systems in place.
The physical space where it all begins can have a lot to do with the making or breaking of a business. As 23-year-old Suchita Salwan of Little Black Book Delhi (LBBD), a “curated” cultural guide for Delhi, puts it: “It takes a lot to quit everything else and start something of your own. The only thing that drives you is love for what you do. And if your space reflects that, it helps you work; it’s like a reminder.” LBBD’s two-room office in Jangpura, New Delhi, is dotted with curios of the city, the teams’ favourite things, and provides a warm, comfortable, homely space for writers to come in and work from.
As entrepreneurs mushroom across the country, we peep into the workspaces of three new start-ups—LBBD, 91springboard and Qyuki—to find out how their office designs lend to their work.
Change is the only constant
A start-up lives in a state of flux. So the workplaces are in transition too. Starting with the usual two-member team of co-founders, with more like-minded people coming on board gradually, the office space needs to be able to expand accordingly. An arrangement where things can be put together and improvised on is a good idea.
A month-old start-up, 91springboard, a “co-working facility” in Delhi, works out of a 10,000 sq. ft space, a warehouse-turned-office, with shared workstations. It is a professional space with all the basic facilities like Internet, power backup, a cafeteria, IT and administration support, as well as some mentoring, consulting and funding options. When co-founders Varun Chawla, Anand Vemuri and Apurv Agrawal sat down to design their office—along with Sunil Tyagi, a designer who started his own business a few years ago—they fleshed out the underlying requirements of a start-up office. With their own past experiences in entrepreneurship, “with some failures, some successes”, the team understands what facilitates work in a new business and what retards it.
“Start-ups are fluid. They make progress in three months and move out quickly,” says Vemuri. “They can’t even sign a six-month lease. For us as well, fluidity works because we can’t have very permanent infrastructure that’s strictly allotted to someone. We go with the concept of hot-desking, an office organization system where multiple workers use a workstation at different times and days. You come, you work, you leave. The next day you sit somewhere else.”
Working within budgets
In a lighter vein, a lot of entrepreneurs will give you the beg-borrow-steal answer when asked how they’ve funded their business idea. But manoeuvring on a shoestring budget is a reality that all start-ups are faced with. Qyuki, a Bangalore-based start-up, decided to take a recycled-design strategy to do up its office space and save some capital.
“I believe in eco-design and we were constantly looking for solutions while doing up our office. A conference table would cost me about Rs.50,000-60,000. So we reused an old cart with a glass tabletop as our conference table,” says Poonacha Machaiah, CEO of Qyuki. A half-open autorickshaw picked up from a junkyard was repainted and decked up to use as a reception counter. It also gives Qyuki’s office a garage theme, which works on another level.
Little Black Book Delhi’s (LBBD) office is a lesson in how to do more with less. Salwan and her partners are scouts and know where to pick up what and at the best prices in Delhi. Their lantern lighting fixtures were bought from Chandni Chowk. Their work tables were custom-made by their local family carpenter. “We were having a hard time finding something in our small budget. The carpenter made exactly what we needed,” says Upasna Gupta, partner at LBBD. A two-part desk, it can be joined together to make a conference table, or used separately as work desks for two people.
Collaboration is the key
“In most offices, we don’t communicate as much as we need to,” says Machaiah of Qyuki. An interest-based network, Qyuki provides a platform for musicians, film-makers, cooks, graphic artistes, writers and anyone with creative work to share, collaborate, cut albums, shoot music videos and meet like-minded people. Backed by composer A.R. Rahman and film-maker Shekhar Kapur, Qyuki is significant for its curation as well.
Their Bangalore office is designed to enable teamwork. A space for sound editing doubles up as an animation studio. The reception-cum-meeting hall has movable seats made out of old car tyres that can be arranged differently to enable brainstorming and discussions. “Open plans work in start-ups like no other. Our work involves that the right brain and left brain function in tandem. Apart from that, start-ups need transparency. If there is bad news, bring it up fast,” says Machaiah, who also wanted to break down hierarchy. “I sit anywhere, wherever I find a chair. It shows that I’m accessible and decision making is faster,” says Machaiah.
Chawla of 91springboard agrees. With a good mix of conference rooms (10) and open-seating work bays (that can accommodate 150 people), 91springboard allows for a collaborative work culture as well as the privacy of glass-walled cabins.
“Historically people wanted to be in cabins, then they started doing cubicles, then people just went into these open workspaces, because communication is easier and faster,” says Chawla. “You’re working, tapping away, and you overhear a conversation, and you give your inputs there and then. You’re more aware of what’s going on in your company. It does take away a little bit from privacy, but that’s why we’ve scattered the place with so many conference rooms. If you need to make that private call with the HR or accounting, you need to hire someone, fire someone, or figure out an increment, you can do that easily. In start-ups, 90% of your work is collaborative and this environment suits collaboration; 10% might be confidential,” he adds.
Enable a work-play balance
Most start-up offices have a strong element of quirky and fun going on. 91springboard has a mezzanine-level recreation centre with a gaming arcade. Qyuki has a terrace, a breakout area and a pet dog. LBBD’s inner room is like a cozy living room with floor seating and cushions, and a French press that is their pride and joy. It makes you wonder how they get any work done.
“I think you should let people self-manage. You need to give them an environment where they choose when to chill and when to work. Anyway, if they get carried away with distractions, they’ll fail at whatever they’re doing, and that’s a lesson learnt early,” says Chawla. He believes that people are more productive in smaller pockets of time when they are working in a relaxed environment.
And since start-ups don’t work on a 9-5 timeline, but more like 24x7, it’s good if your workplace is comfortable, convenient and inspiring. Salwan and Gupta of LBBD have surrounded themselves with chairs, racks, wall posters, and books from their personal collections, giving an easygoing, write-from-the-comfort-of-your-home vibe to it. Qyuki has a bunch of engineers jamming in between work while discovering talent and giving it a platform. With conference rooms named after video games like ‘Mario’, ‘SimCity’and ‘Contra’, 91springboard has an interesting, geeky air about it. Every office is a reflection of the people who work there, “and that’s important for start-ups, since work is home, work is fun, work is love”, says Gupta of LBBD.