As you may already know, we opened our first physical office in Bangalore earlier this year. And now, we have another exciting announcement to make – on July 9, 2023, we inaugurated our second office in Chennai.
The journey to find the perfect office space in Chennai has been quite an adventure, one that spanned nearly six months. We meticulously scoured the city, searching for a location that ticked all our boxes. It all came together at the eleventh hour as we diligently coordinated the interior work, furniture setup, internet connectivity, and cleaning services. While there are still some finishing touches to be made, we are delighted to have found our new home in Chennai, complementing the fantastic office we already have in Bangalore.
We wanted to share our office-hunting escapade with you and highlight some valuable lessons we learned along the way in the hopes of helping others who are currently in the process of finding their ideal workspace in Chennai.
Why a second office in India, and why Chennai
When deciding to launch the company together, the founders of Atomicwork had three cities in mind for the physical office: Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad.
After a few weeks of using temporary offices and coworking spaces in HSR Layout, we moved to our first office in Bangalore. The city was our first choice because the majority of the founding members were located there, not just because our CEO Vijay lived there. 🙂
It made sense to us to open a second office in India, both to follow our employees’ location preferences and to access local talent. And Chennai was an obvious choice, given that many of our founding team members had worked in Chennai at some point in their careers, for companies such as Zoho, Freshworks, Chargebee, and the like.
The fact that Chennai and Bangalore are close to each other also helped, as it would make it easier for people to move between offices, while setting up their base in one of them.
We want them to have the convenience of choosing their preferred location, while still being able to meet up with their teammates whenever necessary. We’re certain that Hyderabad will join this list in the future as the team expands.
Our office checklist
It needs to be accessible. Once we started looking for offices in Chennai, we knew we wanted to pick a location that would work for everyone; both our current employees and new hires. What’s the point of opening an office if no one wants to go there and if it’s so far away they’d rather work from home?
It needs to be spacious. The office had to have enough room to not only accommodate the Chennai team but also manage visitors from Bangalore and other places. We also wanted a couple of meeting rooms (or at least phone booths) in addition to the workstations. This was critical as we are a hybrid team, and we need to have dedicated spaces to get on quick calls and meetings.
It needs to be in close proximity to eateries. We wanted to make sure that there would be plenty of food options within walking distance, as opposed to having to drive somewhere just to get lunch. After we opened our office in the heart of HSR Layout in Bangalore, close to a number of restaurants and cafés, we knew we could not settle for anything less with the Chennai office.
It needs to be at the heart of the ecosystem. We wanted to have the SaaS ecosystem around us for support. Considering we would be starting with a small team in Chennai, we would need all the positive vibes we can get to stay motivated, be it in the form of friendly companies next door or people whom we could turn to for help.
It needs to be budget-friendly. Obviously, on top of everything else, we wanted to find a space that was available for a good price. As a pre-launch startup, we do not have the luxury of paying exorbitant rent or designing a fancy office for ourselves. We had to be frugal and get the best value for our money while still finding a place that met our other requirements.
The story of how we landed the Chennai office
Our original plan was to get a temporary space for 3-6 months and take more time to find an office that we really liked. But most of the options we saw initially didn’t feel right, even for a few months. They simply didn’t meet any of the criteria we had, and some of them felt downright depressing.
A few months into the search, we got introduced to CBRE, and it made things significantly easier for us.
The CBRE team was well-connected to the local ecosystem and all of the local providers for both conventional offices as well as co-working spaces. They understood our needs immediately and within a week were able to show us spaces that were not just well-located but almost met most of our requirements. They were also able to negotiate on our behalf to make sure we didn’t exceed our budget.
We had to choose between small spaces in great locations that just had desks and larger spaces in not-so-great locations with private meeting rooms.
Right before we made a compromise and chose from one of the coworking options, a new warm-shell space opened up in Global Infocity. We found it thanks to Kula, a friendly neighbor SaaS startup full of people we had worked with in the past.
They had just moved into a larger office at Global Infocity, and right next to their space was a tiny 1122 sq. ft space that looked pretty abandoned. It was literally the smallest space in the entire IT park that housed a million people, with offices spanning entire floors and 100x the size in comparison.
Now there are several reasons why this is such a great deal.
- Global Infocity is a Grade-A business park, situated on the IT corridor on OMR. Not only is it easily accessible, but it also offers a plethora of amenities such as 24/7 access, extensive security measures, a food court with numerous restaurants and cafes, and plenty of parking options. It also has great nice-to-haves like fancy lobbies with high-speed lifts, well-maintained common areas, a couple of bank branches, an open gym, a daycare for kids, and fun activities for everyone.
- Typically, these facilities would only be available to large companies, but because of the small size of our office, we could enjoy them at a fraction of the rental cost. Moreover, thanks to this being a conventional space, we could pay per square foot instead of per seat, thus saving 30-40% of the cost for a 25-seater office in comparison to a managed coworking space.
- The tech park is a bustling hub of SaaS companies, both big and small. It is a familiar place to those of us who had worked at Freshworks for a fair few years before joining Atomicwork. In addition, several other familiar companies are either already here or are keen to do so when they get the chance.
The only catch for us was having to take care of the space ourselves – designing the interior, purchasing furniture, hiring someone for upkeep, arranging for water delivery, servicing the air conditioning, testing the fire alarms, and a dozen other tasks.
This would obviously mean more overhead in terms of cost, time, and effort, which is also why most startups generally prefer coworking spaces to independent offices. But this space had too much going for it for us to let it go, so we decided to make it work.
How we found the office vs. what it became
We signed the contract at the end of June and planned to inaugurate the office on July 9th, with less than a fortnight to spare and a lot of work still to be done. It seemed impossible at first, but we pushed through, knowing that we could make some smart bets.
- How it started: The office space was used by a company two years ago until they vacated it during the pandemic. Fortunately, there were still functional, old-fashioned cubicles and two doorless meeting rooms. Unfortunately, the place was dark and musty and didn’t feel very welcoming.
- Step #1: We managed to persuade Global Infocity to help us with refurbishing the office, including the repainting, the lighting, and repairing some damages, on short notice. It was fairly easy to convince them because they were already prepared to do the work for the other client who had vacated the space.
- Step #2: To move quickly, we opted to work with the same vendor who was renovating the space to get other essentials in place, such as fresh carpet, doors for the conference rooms, security locks for the entrance, AC health check and fire safety assessment.
- Step #3: We learned that Amazon had vacated an office space nearby and had left all their old furniture behind. After a discussion, we were able to secure 20+ chairs and a table from their ex-office as they had written off their assets and were about to discard them. We got help from Urban Company to clean the furniture so it would look as good as new.
- Step #4: Thanks to Kula, we managed to get vendors for internet, router setup, and water delivery. We also found a cleaner from the building to clean the office every day and get paid for a couple of hours’ worth of work. Step by step, we completed our tasks and were confident of reaching the finish line.
- Step #5: As all of this was happening, we sent out invitations for the inauguration, and booked flights and hotels for the attendees. The day before the event, we made arrangements for a pooja, homemade food, and gift hampers for the guests.
- How it got done: We had the inauguration on Sunday with some of our employees, their families, and other guests from outside of Atomicwork. Some of our colleagues, including Vijay Rayapati, our CEO, had to wake up at 4:00 AM to take a flight from Bangalore. It was a packed day, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless!
Lessons learned, and tips for fellow office hunters
- When you’re considering options, it is very important to involve your entire team, the people who will work out of the office, and think collectively. This cannot be one person’s decision.
- There are no offices that will just work for you. You need to realize that it takes real effort to make it work for yourself and for your team. You can’t outsource the whole thing to someone and make it feel like home.
- There’s a thin line between being extravagant and being frugal, and you’ll need to know what will make a difference for your team every day. You can be a startup, but you need to invest in your employees too!
- The key is to have patience and know when to act when you run into some luck. We were hours away from making a completely different choice, but in the end, I believe we acted at the right time.
People who made this possible
- Tony and Eapen from CBRE – for being a true partner, showing us so many office spaces, convincing us that we could make Global Infocity work, and making the deal happen. And they did all of it for free, which is unbelievable!
- Achu, Sathya from Kula – for guiding us through their office setup experience, helping us with every decision, and letting us work out of their office for several weeks until we were ready to open our space.
- Mrs. Latha and the Global Infocity team – for offering us the space as soon as it became available, giving us great terms that we could accept right away as a startup, and getting things ready quickly.
- Vijay, Kiran, and Parsu – the founders of Atomicwork, for giving us the freedom to look for a space that we really liked and the budget to set it up the way we wanted. For making the Chennai office happen, in the first place. Parsu, in particular, has been looking for options relentlessly since January, between his Singapore and Bangalore trips.
- All of the Chennai employees and their families – who supported us throughout the search and turned up for the inauguration ceremony on a Sunday, kids in tow.