When my brother and I started Less Annoying CRM over four years ago, we were on opposite sides of the country. He was in Boston, I was in San Francisco, and we were able to work seamlessly together thanks to the magical powers of the internet. However, as the team grew (we've grown from three to eight people in the last year) we noticed limitations with the remote work model. It was clear that in order to grow into the company we hoped to become, we would need a real office.
I'm excited to announce that we have found our new home in St. Louis, Missouri. We moved into the T-REX technology incubator earlier this month, and we've been busy setting up our first company office. In this post, I'll describe our experience and answer some questions we've gotten so far.
Why St. Louis?
There are many reasons we chose St. Louis including:
My brother and I grew up in St. Louis, and all eight members of the team went to Wash U in St. Louis. We have strong ties here even though most of us left after college.
St. Louis is uniquely affordable for a city of its size. It offers nearly all of the resources you'd find in cities like San Francisco and New York, but at a fraction of the cost. When you're growing a bootstrapped business, being able to afford twice as many employees and spending less than half as much on office space makes a huge difference.
Because we aren't trying to raise money from investors, the benefits of larger ecosystems don't apply. San Francisco is an amazing city if your goal is to meet as many investors as possible. But we don't care about investors, we care about our customers. And our customers aren't primarily in San Francisco, so there's no need for us to be there. (Note: I don't mean to imply that it's hard to raise money outside of SF, just that fundraising in particular isn't something we were considering when picking a location).
St. Louis is serious about helping startups succeed. We just finished participating in an awesome finalists weekend for the Arch Grants startup competition, and there are many other great programs going on here to provide a support system for companies like LACRM. We've already received orders of magnitude more help and encouragement after just two weeks in St. Louis than we did after 4.5 years in San Francisco.
In my opinion, the #1 thing that sets St. Louis apart from any other city is the available talent. Pretty much everyone seems to agree that the most important thing for any startup to get right is the team, and St. Louis makes that easy.
To give you an example of this, we had a booth at the Wash U career fair last Spring. From what I saw, we were the only tech startup there, and one of only two software companies (Microsoft was the other, and I don't think they were actively hiring). Let me repeat this: students at a top 15 university are not being recruited by ANY tech startups (except us). Wash U is a world-class institution that, for whatever reason, doesn't have the visibility and name-recognition of other top schools. This makes it a uniquely great place to hire. St. Louis also has a number of other excellent universities pumping tons of talent into the job market.
How's it going so far?
We've only been in our new office for two weeks, but so far it has been amazing. The space we're in right now (T-REX in downtown STL) is full of other startups, so we feel right at home -- there's a sense of energy and enthusiasm working here that was never present when we worked remotely. Not only is it a great environment, but it's incredibly affordable. We have desks for eight people including a completely private four-person room and we're paying about what it would cost to have one dedicated desk in a shared workspace in San Francisco.
There are also a ton of really exciting programs related to startups in St. Louis. I already mention Arch Grants, which hosted 46 startups in St. Louis last weekend where we competed for one of about 20 $50,000 equity-free grants (that's right, they give you $50,000 and don't take any equity in return). That by itself is enough to make St. Louis pretty unique, but there are also a bunch of startup accelerators, co-working spaces, etc. which make this feel like a very bustling community.
So LACRM doesn't like remote work anymore?
We're still big believers in the benefits of remote work, but it's not right in every situation. Our current policy is that our customer-facing employees (support, biz dev, etc.) need to work from our St. Louis office, and non-customer-facing employees (programmers, etc.) can work remotely. There are a few reasons for this:
- Our customer service team's collaboration is normally high-frequency, low duration. They might need to ask someone else a quick question during a demo with a customer, or switch demos because one is running late. These interactions are much easier in-person. Programmers normally have longer, less frequent meetings, and those are easily handled remotely.
- Customer-facing employees need to be working when our customers are working, which basically means that they need to follow normal US business hours. A programmer can work in the middle of the night, or from the other side of the world, so remote work is great for them, but that doesn't work as well for customer service.
- Our customer service reps need to be sending a unified message, and that's hard to do if they barely even know each other. When a customer calls, they should be able to expect the same experience regardless of who picks up the phone on our end. Having everyone in one place is a great way to ensure that they're in sync, and it makes it much easier to ensure quality as we scale the team.
Having said all of that, our plan is to let our non-remote employees work from home about one day per week. As great as it is to finally have an office, there are a lot of major benefits to working from home, and we don't want our customer service team to miss out on those benefits entirely.
If you need us, you know where to find us...
We've always said that LACRM is built to last. We don't want to get acquired by a bigger company, and we're doing everything in our power to ensure that our customers can continue using Less Annoying CRM for the rest of their careers (and hopefully hand their accounts down to the next generation of small business owners). Having a real home is a big step toward that goal, and if everything goes according to plan, you'll be able to find us in St. Louis for decades to come!