Making the choice to move our business into its own office is one of the more difficult decisions we’ve made in our journey to date. For 7 years, we hung out in an incubator – Spark East – well past our incubation stage. Incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, and working remotely in home offices are the bedrock low overhead strategies of the modern entrepreneurial era.
While these methods keep overhead low and allow businesses to reinvest in other ways, what they don’t allow for is the ability to create a sense of community that is aligned with their brand and vision. That’s the crossroads we’ve been at for the last couple of years. Not only was not being in our own space impeding community engagement, but it could also undermine our talent attraction efforts, at a time when we were poised to grow.
We live in a small-ish urban-ish Michigan town, called Ypsilanti, which is next door to the economic behemoth that is Ann Arbor. We’re about 25 minutes west of Detroit and our team is spread across three counties in the Metro region. The prospect of choosing a location and finding an affordable office to lease was daunting at first, but then it became easier as we thought about where our sphere of influence is – firmly in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area. Then the choice is simple. Ann Arbor is unaffordable for a small business like ours, and Ypsilanti is cooler. (Our Ann Arbor friends will hopefully see the balance of reality and levity in that statement.) Ypsilanti it was!
Because of the economic forces in the area, the Ypsilanti store front leasing market has been getting tighter by the month. Why a store front and not an office suite buried in a multi-story building? Because it’s about engagement. We have been a quiet part of the community for years, but without visibility, without the opportunity to engage in street level events and to colab with business neighbors, we might as well just keep hanging out in a lower-cost co-working space. If you’re going to move into your own office for the sake of engagement and visibility, do it with gusto.
So, we buddied up with a realtor friend (shout out to the one and only Tyler Weston) and surveyed the options. They weren’t pretty, I’ll be honest. We felt like Goldilocks. Some offices were too small, some were too torn up, some were not where we wanted to be, some were too expensive. But then, we found one; ironically, right across the street from the incubator we’d been hanging out at for all these years. We walked through and fell in love. It’s a space we knew we could grow into, which means that it was also a huge leap of faith for our team.
We debated, we asked our community which was wiser – a smaller lower cost office we would most assuredly grow out of within a year or two, or a larger higher cost office that might feel sparse to begin with but that we would not likely need to leave for several years (or ever). Interestingly, our community was split down the middle. It was clear that both strategies had their merits and downfalls.
In the end, we chose 220 – the larger office – and five months later we moved in on February 1st, 2019! As my husband, myself, and our three year old walked through the space at the end of move-in day (well, truthfully, she ran, we walked), we marveled at the incredible boldness of our vision and actions.
That’s the thing about entrepreneurship; it requires a level of bravery we don’t often openly talk about. As a team, we will either succeed or fail and every one of us – which is now seven – has willingly chosen to try, knowing that the outcome could go either way. In order to try, we must accept whatever we’re dealt and be at peace knowing that we at least took a chance on ourselves, our colleagues, our clients, and our community.
Our intention is to blog throughout this process, to show you how we transform the space, what logistical travesties and curiosities we encounter, and to share the history of the building as it reveals itself to us. You may hear from different voices on our team over the next few months, or maybe just mine. We’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out. #aMetaphorForLife
Last, but not least. We want to express our appreciation to the several managers we had the pleasure of working with over the years at Spark East. Shamar Herron, Kyle DeBord, Jake Albers, Joe Licavoli, and Ben Harrington – you all made us feel welcomed and part of your community. Thank you friends, and feel free to point across the street at another successful east side graduate. 😉