Doing The Right Thing

In a startup there is no more important task than choosing what to do. Even a minor improvement in focus can yield huge results. With better decisions you can get away with a smaller team, less overhead, and less outside funding.




The Problem

By most measures 2013 was a huge success for our startup. All our core metrics improved substantially, but our product didn’t change much. We were getting bogged down with small features, maintenance and bug fixes but failed to deliver big improvements to the user experience.

We keep track of our work using two lists: One for big ideas that we want to build one day and a second “to-do list” for items that are scheduled to be worked on. I would prioritize the to-do list each week, trying to insert big ideas into the workflow. Despite my efforts, everyday a new bug or small feature would suddenly become a priority.  Those little things consumed our development time and the big ideas rarely made it in.

To cut through the noise we tried scheduling a one week sprint on a big idea.  We picked a project on the Monday and delivered the feature by the Friday afternoon.  For the first time in a while, we managed to get one of our big ideas out the door.

Feeling energized by that experience, we took on a more ambitious project for our second sprint. By the Friday small stuff had crept back onto our to-do list and we were only half finished our big idea. Argh!

It seemed like sprints had potential, but there was something missing in the way we chose our projects and defined their scope. I wanted a new process that would do three things:

• Ensure we consistently worked on big ideas with big impact
• Limit scope creep and keep the product simple
• Provide time to cover inevitable bug fixes, maintenance & small features


The Solution

We started off the year by deleting the to-do list completely. We kept our list of big ideas, but all the little fixes & features were gone. We were apprehensive about loosing all those notes, but I was confident that this purge was necessary to get us on a better path. Once it was done it was incredibly liberating. Without the weight of the to-do list we could do anything. The whole year opened up in front of us.

We started by creating a loose roadmap for the year.  Inspired by Ian McAllister’s post on roadmapping with themes, rather than projects, I took our goals for the year and assigned a corresponding theme to each. I then lined up the themes across each month on the calendar. A month is enough time to get deep into a subject and really make meaningful change.  But it’s not so long that we would have to worry about ignoring other parts of the business.  The roadmap also allowed us to think though how different themes would fit together over the course of the year.

Now every Monday morning the team rolls in with no pre determined list.  Instead, everyone has to pitch their idea for what we should work on that week.  Ideas have to be on theme, but there is no other restriction on what qualifies. We each score ideas by two categories: simplicity & impact.  The idea with the most points is what gets worked on. Full democracy.

Scoring on impact encourages team members to think about what will really make a difference to the business.  Scoring on simplicity ensures that we take on projects that have minimal ambiguity, are achievable within the week, and minimize the complexity of the application.

Each Monday we stop work on the prior week’s project. If there are features that we didn’t get to, they are either deleted or put in the icebox for the end of the month. Having that discipline to stop work on Monday and question the impact of what we’re working on ensures that we aren’t held back by sunk costs.

Over the course of the month we keep track of all the small stuff in a separate list, the icebox. By the fourth week it will have filled up with all sorts of minor fixes that now need to be addressed. So we take the last week to catch up on small stuff. Some teams set aside one day a week for bug fixes, but we’ve found that having a full week for bugs and small stuff works well because you can take on mid sized projects that are annoying for users but not huge priorities.

On the last Friday of the month the to-do list gets purged.  We look back at the results of our projects to see if they were a pass or fail. We also discuss our process and how it might be improved. Then we delete everything in the icebox and start completely fresh on a new theme the following month.


The Result

With this new process in place we work on big ideas every week, and it has made a huge difference. Cutting off our projects at the end of each week and purging the ice-box at the end of the month has forced us to consider what is important now and prevented us from doing things that might have been important six months ago, but are no longer relevant.

Pitching to the team has forced us to refine our ideas and discourages people from spitballing without a supporting argument.  The two dimensions, simplicity & impact not only encourage people to select ideas along those dimensions, but also to optimize for them.  How could an idea be more focused, more impactful or more achievable?  That’s been an awesome and unexpected result. Not only is our selection better, but so are the ideas themselves.

With this new process in place SpaceList is getting noticeably better each week. We are no longer behind the curve, we’re ahead of it. More that that, we get into the office on Monday morning knowing that we are going to work on something that matters.


How We Found our Space

When we moved into our own office the entire team was infused with a feeling of excitement and potential.  This was a place where we could make great things happen.

I was really hesitant to make the jump to our own space.  Overhead like insurance, internet & maintenance costs that were buried in our membership fees at Growlab would come to the surface.  Yet with seven people the cost of operating out of the shared office began to push $3,000 / month.  After a quick look at the market, it was clear that we could create a better environment for our team at a similar expense.

We started with a broad size and location filter.  We were looking for anything from 800 – 2,000 square feet, in this part of Vancouver:

The Zone

We got just over 100 results on SpaceList, and a few more from Craigslist.  Interestingly, we found some retail & industrial units that would have made really cool offices. Everyone on the team created their own top 10. There were some standouts that we all agreed on, so we went from 100 to 15 pretty quick. (Agents take note: many listings came without photos, and none of those made the cut.)

With our short list in hand, we got in touch with the reps to set-up tours.  Phone calls were by far the most effective way of reaching people.  We packed 10 tours into one day.


We saw everything from Class-A, T-Bar space in the central business district to stick & brick lofts in Gastown.


After walking 12 kilometers and touring 10 spaces we had a much better idea of what was out there. Some units lacked a kitchen and or a meeting room.  Those gaps really forced us to think about what we wanted to use our space for.

I nerded out a bit and built a scoring system for each of the spaces we were considering. Looking back at this I realize that I should have used the /SF price in my metric instead of monthly rent.

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 9.26.07 AM

The table allowed me to identify outliers.  We wanted a special deal, better than market.  We found that in the unit from which I’m now typing this blog post: 608 – 55 E. Cordova.  This is what made it unique:

  • The price per square foot was $1.50 cheaper than any other unit
  • It was the largest unit we looked at, which would allow us to sublet a few desks if we decided to
  • Zoned “live/work” it allowed us to use a very favourable residential lease


Being totally candid, we rented this office because it felt right.  The view, natural light, private patios and 15′ ceiling height were not just unique… the physical openness was peaceful and full of potential.

Every morning I am excited to walk into our new office, watch the sun rise while making a cup of tea and get to work helping others find a place that will inspire them.


Shared Offices & Co-working Spaces in Toronto

Are you starting the next billion-dollar company and looking for a desk?  Toronto has one of the best and most diverse co-working options.  Here is a collection of inspiring workspaces in Toronto:




22 locations in Greater Toronto Area, including Sun Life Financial Centre, Eaton Centre, Bay St. and Yorkville Ave., Yonge and Davisville, 161 Bay St, University Ave, King Street West, 151 Yonge Street, Yonge and Adelaide, North Toronto, Etobicoke, Parkway Place, North York and Scarborough.

View Regus Listings on SpaceList


Acme Works

Acme Works is a new co-working space located at Toronto’s West End on 229 Niagara Street. The 8,600 sq. ft. space, once home to Acme Textiles, is renovated in 2013 to create an industrial luxe vibe, which features polished concrete floors and wood finishes reclaimed from demolished buildings and storm-damaged forests. Membership options include day pass ($25/day), shared tables (from $190/month), dedicated desks ($495/month) to dedicated offices and suites (price varies).


Bento Miso

Brick-and-beam building in Queen West. The 5,300 sq. ft. space is home to Toronto’s indie game developers, startups, community meetings and tech events.

There is no slacking on Friday 4/20 at @bentomiso.



Located in Roncesvalles Village. Facility consists of a large open workspace, a boardroom, and a communal kitchen. Memberships range from drop-in ($25/day) ,lite ($100/month), part-time ($255/month) and dedicated full-time ($375/month).


Centre for Social Innovation

CSI is a social enterprise that creates community workspace and incubates new ideas. First opened its door on Spadina in 2004, CSI has expanded to Annex, Regent Park and is opening a forth location in New York City.



Open concept coworking space and event venue on Bathurst street. Rental options include day pass at $25 per day, full-time coworking membership at $290 per month, dedicated workspace and private offices.


iQ Office Suites

iQ Office Suites is full serviced workspace housed in the historic, five-storey Dineen Building in Toronto’s Financial District on Yonge Street. Memberships include co-working lounge ($299/month), dedicated desks and private offices.

See more iQ Office Suites on SpaceList.


MaRS Commons

Workspace for entrepreneurs in IT, communications and entertainment industries. MaRS offers support in mentorship, financial help, market research or workshop for its network of startups.


Project RHINO

Toronto’s “founder-friendly” co-working space. Located at King + Bathurst, it is the best coworking space in Toronto according to TechVibe. Full-time membership starting at $250 per month and it includes dedicated desk, 24/7 access, high speed internet, colour-laser printer, conference room and all events.


Workplace One

Worksplace One is a three-storey brick and beam space located in downtown west near Queen and Bathrust. Membership options include virtual office ($99/month), co-working lounge ($200/month), dedicated desk ($500/month) and private office.

Shared Offices & Co-working Spaces in Montreal

In part 2 of shared offices & co-working spaces in Canada, we will visit shared office options in Montreal.




Regus provides executive suites, office space, day office, meeting space and virtual office in 5 business centres: University Street, Le 1000, Complexe Dix 30, Laval and Montreal Airport.

View Regus Listings on SpaceList



ECTO is cooperative co-working space with four membership options from daily ($25) to monthly ($250 per month).



Coworking and shared office space for small businesses, startups and freelancers in 5500 sq ft of space. Located in the Plateau Mont-Royal. Shared space rate is $219 per month includes 24/7 access to the office, exclusive use of a desk and a chair, Internet access, printers, meeting rooms, kitchen and all other amenities of the office. Closed office spaces are also available for rent.


RPM Startup Centre

Startup acclerator, co-working and event space in Griffintown district. 8000 square feet space with one board room and two meeting rooms. Rental options include single desks at $400 per month to private offices.


Station C

Open co-working space located in the heart of Montreal’s Mile End that offers a mix of shared and reserved desks as well as closed boardrooms. Flexible memberships include drop-ins, 3 days week to 24/7 unlimited.

Station C Lounge


Know of a local coworking office? List a space on SpaceList for free. Onward!

Shared Offices & Co-working Spaces in Calgary

Home offices are lonely - 23112006159

Working alone is lonely.  Over the next few weeks, we will profile the best co-working spaces in Canada for entrepreneurs, freelance consultants and startups.  First stop, Calgary.




Regus provides executive suites, office space, day office, meeting space and virtual office in 7 business centres: Sun Life Plaza, Bankers Hall, Hanson Square, One Executive Place, Macleod Place II, Garrison Green and Quarry Park.

View Regus Listings on SpaceList



Located in Inglewood.  A startup community hub and coworking space with over 50+ startups.  AcceleratorYYC offers mentorship programs and workshops for entrepreneurs.  Memberships range from $25/annual virtual office to $300/month full-time 24/7 access.

from AccleratorYYC on Facebook



Located in Calgary’s vibrant Kensington neighbourhood.  Features include modern desks, ergonomic chairs, filing cabinets and receptionist support.  Access to rooftop patio, community events, beverage and light snacks.   Rates start at $300 per month.

from Assembly on Facebook


Cowork YYC

Provides deskspace for creative freelancers and startups.  Rates are $225 per month for Lite membership and $450 per month for dedicated desk.

from Cowork YYC website


Know of a local coworking office? List the space on SpaceList for free!

Attract, Retain and Grow Business.

One of the most fundamental parts of any business community are the buildings and tenants that occupy them.  Regions suffer when buildings are left vacant, yet, businesses often struggle to identify these vacancies when looking for a location.  High vacancy rates hurt communities and business improvement leaders, while economic development officers are in a great position to help.

The challenge is that there is no MLS for commercial real estate, or any one location where all of the listings can be found.  Fragmented information is available on broker websites, but a simple scan of the marketplace is remarkably difficult to accomplish. At SpaceList, we’re solving this problem by making listings easy to find, filter, and act upon.

Economic developers are in a great position to help connect businesses with vacant spaces.  Funded by commercial real estate property taxes, these leaders also have their finger on the pulse of the business community.  Armed with websites that give a great overview of the region and the existing businesses, BIA’s & EDO’s are the perfect agencies to help fill vacancies.

Today, we’re launching a listing service that integrates directly with BIA & EDO websites.  It brings all the functionality of SpaceList to your website so your visitors can quickly evaluate their options. Visitors to these websites can now explore available commercial space in the region and connect directly with the companies marketing it. More connections with less work.

SpaceList Fusion gives you the tool kit to tackle vacancy problems in your region. Find out how organizations like Richmond Economic Development, Gastown Business Improvement Association and Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association are already using this solution to attract new business to their region.  Click here to learn more.


10 Ways CRE Brokers Are Like Sharks

In honour of Shark Week we wanted to compare lands’ fiercest mammal to the scariest fish of the sea. Here are just a few similarities between commercial real estate brokers and sharks.

1. They are always on a surfing vacation.

2. They never stop moving.

3. They aren’t afraid to show their teeth.

4. They come at you like a tornado.

5. They like to eat meat.

6. They are territorial.

7. They know how to have fun.

8. They are thick skinned.

9. They can smell a deal from a mile away.

10. And of course, nobody messes with them!








When It’s Time To Get Your Own Office – The Math


This post is the 3rd in a 3 part series on when you should get your own office for your startup.  In previous posts, I covered the alternatives to consider before signing a lease and your responsibilities as a tenant.  In this post I’ll show you how to compare the costs of your coworking space to an office of your own.

The first thing you’ll encounter when put your membership fees at a coworking space against your rent in an office is the difference in pricing.  The commercial real estate industry uses $/square foot/year ($/SF/YR), which makes it easy to compare different sized spaces.  Coworking uses $/member/month, which makes it easier to estimate your costs.


Even though these two options look very different, I’ll show you why they’re pretty similar.  A person generally takes up ~150 square feet in an office.  So 8 people will take up ~1,200 square feet:

So both of these options give you about the same amount of space.  To compare the costs we have to take into account the stuff that’s included in a coworking space that you don’t get as a tenant:

Recurring Expenses like extra insurance, internet, & office supplies will probably cost you around $2/SF/YR

Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment (FF&E) can range from $10 – $30/SF depending on whether you buy your furniture from Herman Miller or Ikea.  Let’s stay on the low end and call it $15/SF.  We’ll want to amortize that cost over the length of the lease.  Let’s say it’s a 3 year lease, so your annual FF&E cost will be ~$5/SF/YR.

The Build Out can get very expensive.  The minute you start moving walls, electrical outlets or HVAC you will be incurring major costs…easily $100/SF on a custom office space. That said, most spaces that are suitable for a 10 person startup are already built out, so you shouldn’t have to do any work.  Let’s assume that you’re on a startup budget using the space “as is” and spending $0/SF/YR on construction.

Given the assumptions I’ve made, the coworking space and the office both cost $3,600/month.  (Keep in mind that you’re making a larger commitment with an office).  Some coworking spaces offering discounts for teams of 4 or even 8 people.  If that’s the case you will likely find that those will be your cheapest alternatives.

But this is just math, of course.  It doesn’t account for the cultural and productivity benefits you might gain or loose from moving out on your own. I hope this helps you wrap your head around the decision about getting an office.  To get you started, here are few spaces that might be worth checking out.

When to Get Your Own Office – You’re On The Hook

This post is the 2nd in a 3 part series on when you should get your own office for your startup.  In my last post, I covered the alternatives to consider before signing a lease.

The best part about getting your own office is the huge amount of freedom it provides your company.  You can do almost anything you want with your new space.  But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that along with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility.  In coworking, packaged office & many shared office arrangements nearly everything is taken care of.  You just roll in with your laptop and try not to make too much of a mess.  The overhead costs get buried in your membership fee.  When you sign a lease for your own space, those expenses come to the surface.


[Please be mindful that commercial leases are complex.  Leases vary widely from city to city, building to building, and tenant to tenant.  Always get qualified legal advice before signing a lease.]


1. Rent

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about commercial leasing is that when you sign a lease, you are committing to pay all the rent each month for the entire term of the lease.  If you decide to move out, you continue to be responsible for the rent.  So if you sign a 5 year lease, and rent is $2,500 / month, that’s a $150,000 commitment ($2,500 X 60 months).  If you’re half way through your lease when you decide to move out, you’re still responsible for the remaining $75,000.  Furthermore, because most startups have limited credit history the landlord typically asks the founders to sign a personal guarantee.  So even if your company folds, you could still be responsible for ponying up the cash.


2. Additional Rent

There are typically two components to rent: Base & Additional.  You could write a book about the nuances of rent, but suffice to say that base rent goes to the landlord, and additional rent covers the costs of owning & operating the portion of the building that you occupy.  Property taxes, building insurance, maintenance, management fees and some renovations.  Again, this varies widely.  At the extreme, “true” triple net leases give the tenant complete responsibility for any and all costs that are incurred.


3. Build Out

The condition of your space when you take it over can vary from a fully demised with walls, lighting and kitchen appliances to a raw “shell” with no walls, electricity or plumbing.  Often the landlord & tenant share responsibility for getting a space from shell condition to ready for occupancy.  A common inducement from landlords is to reimburse the tenant for a portion of these costs (called a “Tenant Improvement Allowance”).  You should know how much the work will costs and who will pay for it before you commit.


4. Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment

In the best case scenario you rent an office that is already built in a way that will suit your team.  Even then you’re going to need desks, chairs, signage, and if you’re an addict like me you’ll need a high quality coffee machine. If you’re moving from a coworking or packaged office space they probably provided all that stuff for you.  These expenses will be new for you but when you move you should be able to take most of this stuff with you. (see: fixtures vs. chattels)


5. All The Small Stuff

The alternatives that I mentioned in my last post are typically turn key.  You show up and you’re ready to go on day one.  You don’t get that in a lease.  You show up and there’s no wifi, no desks, no chairs, no office manager…  all these little things sound small but it’s a lot to manage.


Despite all this the upside is a huge amount of freedom.  You can do some really amazing stuff with your office.  A great atmosphere will make your team happy to be there, and that is definitely worth investing in.


Next up: The Math.

When to Get Your Own Office – The Alternatives

One of the greatest milestones in your startup’s growth is getting your own office space.  With near complete freedom to setup & use the space as you want it’s a defining moment for your company.  But signing a lease is a big commitment and you should know what you’re getting into before you take the plunge.

What follows is the first post a 3 part series on what to consider before you go out and sign a lease.  The next post covers your responsibilities as a tenant, followed a cost comparison between coworking spaces & a direct lease.

The Alternatives

It’s very rare for a startup to rent their own office on the first day of operations.  Typically you’ll want to start slow and commit to more space for longer periods as the company gets established.

1. The Garage

The quickest & cheapest way to get space is to work from home.  Apple & Google famously started out of their founder’s garage.  With no rent, no commute and a fully stocked kitchen working from home is pretty appealing.  For a lot of consultants it’s all they’ll ever need.  But it gets tough when there are kids in the house or when the team grows beyond the founders.

2. Coworking Space

Coworking has taken off over the last decade and it’s a fantastic option for startups.  The holy grail is to find a space that allows you to start small and add desks as your team grows.  Foundery has a great tiered pricing system.  Some spaces like MaRS Commons, RPM Montreal, & Launch Academy provide great resources for startups beyond the square footage.  They can also be a great place to meet cofounders and stepping stone for accelerator programs.

3. Packaged Office Space

Groups like Regus, Intelligent Office, & a host of independents cater to businesses that need temporary or virtual offices.  They also work well for lawyers & accountants who might be looking for a more formal vibe.  These business centres are often setup in A class office buildings at desirable addresses like 100 King St. West.  The agreements you sign here are closer to a lease than a membership, and can be more expensive than the typical coworking setup… but it varies. The line between what constitutes a coworking space and a business centre is blurring… which is a good thing.

4. Sharing an Office

Established companies sometimes have extra space to sublet to likeminded people.  Again, the options here vary widely from an individual desk with the rest of their team to  sharing half the space.  You could end up with great access to all the amenities you could ever want or you could get stuffed into the back corner with no windows.  It’s certainly worth asking around to see what your options are.

5. Your Own Digs

Clearly, there are a lot of options to explore before you commit to signing a lease.  When you finally do, the only limits are your budget & imagination.  The biggest difference here is that you get your own door, you can build the space exactly the way you want, and you’ll have a host of new responsibilities.  If you grow really big you might look at buying your own building or, for that matter… your own campus.


Next up: The responsibilities you’ll have to consider before becoming a tenant.