THE REAL REPORTER
August 19, 2011
GEEK OFFICES PITCHING START-UP VALUE VENUE
By Mike Hoban
NEWTON, MA — Like many entrepreneurs taking the next big step, Fernando Trias – CEO of Athigo – was in search of suitable space to call home for his firm, a start-up that creates mobile cloud security solutions. With three employees and a growing business, Trias was having difficulty finding a property that would take care of his current needs and still accommodate anticipated expansion. After going through the usual tours, one broker suggested Geek Offices in Cambridge as an alternative.
“We couldn’t find anything flexible enough for what we wanted (with a standard lease),” recounts Trias. So in June, the company moved into new digs at 61 Chapel St. in Newton, where Geek Offices recently took their concept across the river into an additional 11,000 square feet.
Trias says that he’s been pleased with the decision. “You can start small and there are no big expenditures up front,” he relays in a visit to the property this week. “Here we get a kitchen, access to conference rooms, free wifi access and a printer. This has worked out quite well.”
Athigo has the aforementioned amenities, a small office for Trias, three cubicles, and all with an open-ended, expandable lease. And bearing a much lower price tag than similar business models operating in the area, according to Michael Grill, president of Fairlane Properties (of which Geek Offices is a wholly owned subsidiary). “Our business model is different in that we’re providing as inexpensive space as possible,” says Grill in a tour this week. “It’s a place for people to build companies.”
Geek offers a number of price plans— from $25 a day to $400 per month for a designated desk and $500 to $750 monthly for a private office — plus mailing address and full access to all amenities. There is a $100 charge monthly for each additional employee cubicle. Grill estimates that Geek is “about a third to a half cheaper than” competing venues available in Geek’s coverage area.
“We’re trying to provide opportunities for tenants to grow and hopefully become (full) tenants eventually for Fairlane Columbia, LLC (Cambridge) and Fairlane Chapel, LLC (Newton),” said Grill, referencing the entities which own 1035 Cambridge St. and 61 Chapel St.
Geek Offices was the brainchild of software engineer John Smith, who now serves as CEO. Fairlane purchased nine office condominium units totaling 65,000 square feet at 1035 Cambridge Street in 2008, with 30,000 square feet available for lease. A tenant had left behind a number of cubicles, and Smith devised the idea of turning the fallow space into offices for individuals and small startups.
But he soon learned that he would need the full participation of the landlord to make it work, who valued the insight. “He speaks geek, and he understands the language of the entrepreneurs better than I can,” Grill says of Smith.
After launching with a 3,400-sf suite in 2009, the Cambridge facility now consists of six office suites totaling 14,000 sf. The space houses 30 companies, with five of the suites fully occupied. The Newton operation sports exposed brick-and-beam ambience in the 80,000-sf Chapel Business Center. Including Athigo, six companies presently call the newest branch home, including digital media agency Fuor Digital and media firm Straight Ahead Pictures. Dominic Manganelli, entrepreneur and “resident geek” at 61 Chapel, was a tenant at Cambridge Innovation Center before moving across the Charles River. “CIC was great for one- or two-man projects, but this is a better environment for business,” opines Manganelli, although he rates CIC favorably in at least one aspect. “The food is incredible — they have the best snacks.”