Some coverage the company I work for received in the Chicago Tribune, highlight the unique office space and culture we have. It’s pretty cool stuff.
For the picture gallery:
When Mike Samson and Ross Kimbarovsky were preparing in 2007 to move into their urban-chic office at 1200 W. Lake St. in Chicago, finding the perfect chairs became a mission.
The co-founders of CrowdSpring, an online marketplace for logo, Web and graphic design, planned to go the Ikea route, until they stumbled upon Socrates Media, which was going out of business and selling 36 gently used Herman Miller Aeron chairs. After buying the chairs, Samson and Kimbarovsky learned they had originally hailed from Arthur Andersen LLP, the Chicago-based accounting firm that got caught in the Enron scandal.
“These chairs have a history,” Samson said, of their time with three failed firms. “First, we thought, ‘Is this going to be the kiss of death buying these chairs?’ They were bad luck chairs, but they were such a great deal, we risked it and said we’d break the cycle,” he said, knocking on wood.
But after almost four years since CrowdSpring launched in 2008, it appears the Internet startup, which now works with 96,000 designers, illustrators and writers representing 190 countriesdid, indeed, overcome the chair curse.
Samson said he spends most of his workday sitting in those chairs. He sat so much, he stopped driving to work from Evanston and picked up a three-mile walk to and from the Metra station.
Samson’s typical workday begins at 6 a.m., spending one to two hours working at home and then commuting into the city after breakfast. He makes a point of being home for dinner every night, even if that means taking work with him.
“It’s a cliche, but it really is important to have that work-life balance, particularly for entrepreneurs and startup founders,” Samson said. “It’s so intense and easy to slip into working 16 hours a day and completely shutting everything out around you.”
When at work, Samson said, he and CrowdSpring’s staff of 14 software engineers, customer servicepersonnel and marketing employees will gather in a conference room to meet with clients or off-site staff via Skype and Basecamp. He said the staff eats lunch together at a rectangular table about 90 percent of the time.
“It’s sort of become almost a hallmark of our company culture,” Samson said. “Ross and I went out tolunch every day (when we first started), and said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re startup founders. We can’t afford to eat out every day.'”
Samson’s soft-spoken voice matches the quiet, soothing vibe at CrowdSpring. The staff is surrounded by 15-foot-tall exposed-brick walls, dim lighting, shiny hardwood floors, wooden support beams and one gray room divider. Most staff members wear headphones while working, and a lot of communication is via instant messaging, “second nature” in the Internet business, he said.
“We were going for focus and quiet concentration, but with an open, transparent and fun atmosphere,” Samson said of CrowdSpring’s current space, which the company has occupied since 2009.
No “executive” offices for Samson or Kimbarovsky. They face each other at their desks — long tables in one corner of CrowdSpring’s space. The other staff members sit at equivalent desks in another section of the office.
“We share lots of financial data with the team,” Samson said. “We don’t have a lot to hide, so an open office and being visible to everybody is part of that whole idea of transparency.”
From his desk, Samson can admire his east-facing view of Chicago’s skyline. He also “loves, loves, loves the dynamic quality” of the “L,” which continually passes his window. Samson, who said he is “not big on photos,” has a lone framed picture of he, his wife and two children from a vacation in Maine. Next to that is a piece of sidewalk from Prague, which Samson calls “a phenomenal, beautiful city.”
Other artwork is minimal, too, comprising two brightly colored oil paintings, a gift from Samson’s friend, Andreas Agas, a New York painter who later forged a career in finance.
When it gets chilly in the office, Samson, who spent more than 20 years in the entertainment industry before staking out on his own, will often throw on a fleece he picked up while working on the set of the Hugh Grant movie “Mickey Blue Eyes.”
CrowdSpring’s “lobby” is its living room, which includes a shag area rug, red sofa with colorful throw pillows, black leather chairs and flat-panel TV. A Ping-Pong table sits in the center of CrowdSpring’s space, but Samson rarely plays, citing a general lack of ability.
“We sit in these chairs at our computers for 10, 12 hours a day,” Samson said. “And even though we don’t use (the Ping-Pong table) as much as we did when we were new and fresh, it’s good to get up and move around.”
A granite and stainless steel kitchen takes up the back of the space. Every staff member, including both founders, share the chores.
That everyone-involved attitude is how the logo-design marketplace got its own logo. When Samson and Kimbarovsky started CrowdSpring, they posted a contest online for a prize of $200. Their favorite design was by a janitor from Ottawa, Ontario, who worked the night shift and practiced graphic design as a hobby.
“Ross and I were holding back screams of excitement, trying not to high-five each other, because our theory had been that anybody, anywhere, could compete,” Samson said. “That was a big moment for us because it proved an important theory for us: On a level playing field, all that should matter is how good your work is.”
For more photos of Samson’s work space, visit chicagotribune.com/crowdspring.