Feng Shui for Startup CEOs

Feng Shui: \ˈfəŋ-ˈshwē, -ˈshwā\

“A Chinese geomantic practice in which a structure or site is chosen or configured so as to harmonize with the spiritual forces that inhabit it” 

Yesterday after our annual meeting, I was sitting with a handful of our portfolio CEOs and the subject of staying on top of what’s going on inside your company came up. Matt Warta (CEO of GutCheck) shared with the group that he has chosen to eschew an office and prefers to sit in the open area along with the rest of his team. “I love being in the middle of my team, it’s the only way I really know what’s going on.” This isn’t a new practice for startups. GutCheck still has less than 20 people and it’s still relatively easy (and probably critical) for CEOs to sit at the center of the team and serve as a coach, role model and evangelist.

However, as a company grows, it seems that most CEOs eventually move to an office for a greater degree of privacy. One CEO I know however has bucked that trend. I first saw Pete Gombert (CEO of Balihoo) do this a few years ago when they expanded into their new space. The company was growing fast and moved into the entire 3rd floor of The 8th Street Marketplace in Bodo, Boise’s trendy creative district, complete with high ceilings, exposed brick & huge wooden beams – definitely one of the coolest startup offices I’ve ever seen.

When choosing offices, Pete (as founder and CEO) obviously got the pick of litter. Corner office with big windows and a gorgeous view of downtown Boise and the mountains. Closing in on 80 employees at the time, all members of the management team also got nice offices. There was only one problem, he hated it. He felt that both he and senior management were becoming disconnected with the team which was across the office and down a few stairs in an area that has become affectionately known as “The Pit.”

Balihoo’s “Pit” (you can see Pete in the far right, smack in the middle of the action)

So what did he do? He moved himself and the whole management team down to The Pit in the middle of the action and the individual offices became rooms for quiet meetings and conference calls. According to Pete, “I felt like my decision making process and that of my team was incomplete because it lacked the context of understanding the consequences of our actions. The value it brings in both context and transparency far outweighs the downside of being in my ivory tower.  It’s not for everyone, but I will never work another way.”

I’d love to learn more about how startup CEOs think about this.

  • Phil Reed

    Good post, Mark. The Chairman – CEO of Fiat – Chrysler has his office in the middle of the engineering group. An alternative to having an desk in the middle of the action is the concept of “management by walking around” , which is one of my personal favorites. Thanks, Phil

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