Office Space · Bay Area

Setting up shop in San Francisco - thoughts on suburbs v the city?

Kate Hiscox

October 25th, 2014

We are considering setting up shop in San Francisco. Our Chief Architect lives in the East Bay area - Lafayette/Walnut Creek and we have been discussing the pro's and cons of putting the office out there instead of the city. This would provide a reverse commute for those in the city and provides a no commute option for the engineering talent that live in that area. Clearly the costs are substantially less too.


Stephen Johnston Building innovation ecosystems

October 25th, 2014

We've just moved to SF / SOMA (2nd and Howard) and rents are high but it's better than our previous location because we literally bump into people all the time. We're in a co-work space, which I'd recommend for a small company (we're 5 people) as having your own office could be isolating. Desks in the co-work space are $700/month. So SF / SOMA if you imagine bumping into people and having easy meetings is of top importance. It may be hard to get people to visit Berkeley - or you'll find yourself coming into SF for meetings all the time anyway. However when you get to scale and need a bigger place and depend less on co-work colleagues, East Bay might work better then. 

Shingai Samudzi

October 26th, 2014

Good points, Stephen.  It comes down to culture and business priorities.

If you're a company whose core competence is tech, Stephen's suggestion is good.  If your focus is more specific industry focused (and not related to social media in some form), East Bay would make more sense.  Keep in mind also that there are numerous coworking spaces gaining momentum that side of the Bay as well.

Shingai Samudzi

October 25th, 2014

We were in the same boat.  We eventually chose Berkeley for many of the factors you considered.

Additionally, one fringe benefit of choosing an East Bay city/suburb rather than SF is the level of impact and influence available relative to the local startup/business infrastructure.  The political/financial/resource benefit of being a bigger fish in a small pond - yet still having proximate access to SF - is something often overlooked and underrated by many startups.  Being in an environment not over-saturated by startups generally means closer access to public officials and local investors seeking to draw startup economy to their city.

Being involved in the development of a startup friendly business ecosystem in Berkeley (as well as serving on their Chamber of Commerce), if you'd like to chat offline I could give you more info about prospects in that particular city

Michael Rothrock

October 28th, 2014

Hi Kate,

I second Dale's comments.  I have lived in the area for 16 years and worked in tech the entire time.  Most of the younger people that I've seen move to the area want to live in the city, not the suburbs.  Many of the older techs who've been here a while have either moved to the city (like me), or have built a life on the peninsula because that's where the jobs started.

Getting to SF from the peninsula is doable, especially with caltrain.  Getting to East Bay is a giant PITA.

Keep in mind that the job market is highly competitive.  Personally, I wouldn't take a job outside the city, since there are so many opportunities right here.  I'm sure many other people, especially the top performers who can take their pick of jobs, have reached the same conclusion.

Joanan Hernandez CEO & Founder at Mollejuo

October 27th, 2014

Hello Kate,

I'm an outsider, so take this comment with a grain of salt.

If I were in your position, I would -at least- consider Oakland.


Dale Cook CTO at Voxy

October 26th, 2014

Kate, Lived in SF for 18 years before moving to NY in June. By opening in the East Bay you'll be removing a large portion of the pool of possible engineers. South Bay people will be hesitant to make the commute (terrible traffic, awful public transport options, better options locally). Younger engineers who pay a fortune to live in SF are in no hurry to go to Walnut Creek (bad commute, better options in SF). Even engineers coming from Oakland would rather, generally, be in the city since there are better after work activities etc. You are going to have to complete hard for good talent and placing your office in a less desirable location will not help. In the end your engineering costs will far exceed your office costs so you want to get best bang for your buck there. If office costs are really that big of a deal then you should be considering a distributed team instead. Just my 2 cents after spending 15 years building engineering teams in SF. Dale