PSFK: The Power of a Desk

PSFK: The Power of a Desk

The Power of a Desk.

By Lucy Farey-Jones
Partner, Executive Strategy Director, Venables Bell & Partners

Incubators. Accelerators. Combinators. Undeniably all great places from which to launch a fledgling company. But it may surprise you to learn that—incubator or not—every (and I mean every) business in America already has the exact thing they need also to help get a fledgling company off the ground:

A desk.

As a San Francisco business owner since 2001, I am all too aware of the dizzying yee-yaw of the price of commercial real estate. I am not sure if we are on the yee or the yaw right now but whichever it is, we are back on the part of the price curve that looks more like a line. These are the dollars per sq. ft. that start to lock out talent, which is never a good thing for the economy.

That’s why, back in 2011, we launched our first office space competition in which we invited local startups to pitch the partners of VB&P on why we should lease them a desk in our Union Square offices for the princely sum of $10 a year. The contest attracted hundreds of applicants, and we awarded space to three entrepreneurs: Christian Amundson, a filmmaker, who was working out of his wife’s closet; Luis Garcia, founder of Bixbee; and Tricia Compas-Markman, founder of DayOne Response.

As we approach the holiday season, we recently welcomed yet another company into our midst. Wisdom Labs are four folks integrating science and mindfulness to reinvent well-being in the workplace.

Here are three reasons why we’d like to encourage all companies to open up their space in 2015:

1. It’s good for the American economy and for the world.

Office space is one of the largest overhead components in running a business. And sometimes city rental costs are a barrier to even starting the business in the first place. Having to pay for space makes it harder for entrepreneurs to invest in the talent they need to grow their business.

In the four years since we launched the office space competition, commercial rents have increased by 60% in San Francisco. Yet, in that same time period Bixbee has grown 400% and DayOne has expanded to 14 countries and been able to deliver over seven million liters of clean drinking water to disaster-relief areas.

Now, consider the fact that there are 13 million employer companies in America and do the math for our economy.

2. You can’t put a price tag on camaraderie.

Turns out that the power of the desk is not just financial. Our entrepreneurs in residence have told us of the intangible power of being around people. The startup road can be a lonely one—donuts and camaraderie are just as important as dollars and cents.

3. Giving is the new getting.

Every time we see Tricia and Luis roaming our hallways it makes us happy. Research shows that people are often happier in the act of giving a gift than in getting one.

Famed Wharton professor Adam Grant has written a book on the topic, Give and Take. Grant told The New York Times, “Helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.” Additionally, Grant advises that if you give, you expand your network and business potential.

If you’d like to run your own office space competition, I’d be happy to share how we ran it. Just email me at

Happy holidays, indeed.

Venables Bell & Partners