Today I was walking to my favorite Starbucks in Santa Monica, on Broadway and Lincoln, and I passed by one of the most interesting and cool places in town, Coloft, an open space for startups. While peeking through the windows of Coloft, I saw a guy working there on his desk, with his Macbook Air laptop, headphones on, etc. What I just witnessed was the perfect example of the idea of startups that we have today: big open spaces, laptops everywhere, good decorations on the walls, guys working hard while listening to some cool music, etc.
This stereotype of startups’ offices mostly comes from the fact that many of the big startups’ offices really look like this. I have been very lucky to work at Twitter for one year, from 2009 and 2010, and I call tell you that Twitter’s offices were exactly the same. Big desks, open space, Mac laptops everywhere, cool decorations, fancy headphones and amazing music.
The reason why many open spaces or collaborative spaces and most of the startups’ offices look the same is very simple and it can be explained in two ways: (i) first, people believe that in order to replicate success, you have to follow the steps of the ones who had success before you; (ii) also, this kind of offices represents the way young and smart people really work and how they interact with each others (you need open spaces because you want to get in touch with all your co workers to share ideas, you want equal spaces because you believe each and every employee is a member of a sole team, you listen to music while you work because it helps you to focus, you love wonderful decorations because you are a creative person, and so on).
I love love love this kind of environment and the way Twitter’s Offices were was one of the reasons why I deeply loved every day of my experience there.
Then something hit me. While everyone today talks about Twitter, Facebook, etc. as the examples of tech startups, we can’t forget that the idea of tech startup really started in the 70s, thanks to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the two gurus who built Apple Inc. from scratch in Job’s garage. So, basically while today the mythos is to create your own startup in a coffee shop or at a collaborative space, in the 70s I am quite sure that everyone tried to replicate the success of Apple by working in garages! The different environment makes sense. At that time, personal computers did not really exist, internet was just a dream and that’s why a space such as the one at Coloft would not have worked.
Then I thought about Y Combinator, the king of incubator programs in the World. While Y Combinator does not offer, per se, collaborative spaces to the startups that they admit in their program, Y Combinator’s name blends so well with the stereotype of nowadays startups that I am sure 99.99% of the people that think about this program automatically picture their offices exactly as the offices of Coloft, Twitter, etc.
This is why, ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a picture I just got from one of my most recent trips back in time 😉 I took this picture in Los Altos, CA, in 1977.
In the picture you can see a young Paul Graham while he is waiting for the next bunch of applicants for his brand new incubator. In the back, you can see the collaborative space of Y Combinator at that time, a series of garages ready to be used by the lucky candidates to create amazing things and imagine the future. These garages, of course, are a perfect replica of Steve Jobs’ garage. Each startup admitted will receive an investment in the amount of $4,600.00 (the 1977 equivalent of the average $17,000.00 that Y Combinator gives to startups). All candidates will have a chance to tour the local Xerox’s offices to find inspiration. On the final day of the program, candidates will have a chance to present their ideas in front of a panel of potential investors, such as Very Young Chris Sacca and Young Ron Conway.
And remember, the deadline for application is expiring soon, you should submit your ideas asap.
*just to be on the safe side, this post should be considered as ironic. I have no intent to offend anyone