December 13, 2015

For Toronto Startups, The Condo Is The New Basement


Last week, I met a potential client in what struck me as an unlikely location: a condo on Toronto’s waterfront.

The seventh floor of a condo building was the “headquarters” for the early-stage startup. At the table in the living room, four developers were writing code. The kitchen cupboard was stocked with bottled water and pop. The dining room had become a conference/meeting room.

I’m not sure why the condo-turned-startup-office surprised me. It was a creative solution by a startup that had recently moved to Toronto. Rather than spending money on a beautiful bricks and beam office, the startup embraced a practical, no-frills approach that met its needs.

Maybe the condo is the new basement: a low-cost place where entrepreneurs work on their ideas until they have enough traction to move into a “real” office. It is not as romantic as David Packard and Bill Hewlett working in a garage, but it reflects the reality of being a lean startup.

In Toronto, the startup scene is teeming with entrepreneurs. At the same time, it is an expensive city, particularly if you want to be downtown. Rather than getting locked into a multi-year lease, startups can take advantage of Toronto’s condo tsunami to find reasonable places to work.

When you think about it, condos are a no-brainer for startups. A one-bed room unit has enough room for six to eight people. There is a kitchen and bathroom, and employees can use amenities such as party rooms, gyms, swimming pools, etc. And I suspect there are lots of condo options given many units are owned non-resident investors.

Running a business in a condo is not a long-term solution but it does give startups financial and operational flexibility. It lets them manage growth without making a long-term commitment. As a startup adds employees, it can make the right real estate decisions at the right time. In the meantime, a condo meets their needs.

As Toronto’s startup community expands, condos could play a key role in the ecosystem. They could be part of the “toolbox” used by early-stage startups to validate their ideas and extend their runway. Maybe there will be floors in condos with multiple startups – think of it as a different kind of condo community with shared resources.

Do you know of a startup operating in a condo, or startups being creative with real estate?

If you’re looking to jump-start your startup marketing, I can help you make it happen – everything from messaging and brand positioning to strategic planning and content development. I published a book, Storytelling for Startups, that provides strategic and tactical guidance to entrepreneurs looking to embrace the power of story-driven marketing.

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