Technology start-up valuations are a place where anything is possible. In my role as a client leader working with Fortune 500 companies and small technology start-ups, I get a close look at how these organizations build their businesses. I’ve learned to spot how some are designed for the long haul, and others, despite sky-high approval from Wall Street, are destined to flame out. The design of the workplace is usually a good indicator of which type of company you’re talking about.
In tech start-up parlance, a “unicorn” is a company valued at $1 billion. Companies that get to this mark in just a few years are mega-stars: Uber, Snapchat, Airbnb. These companies are must-haves for any top shelf investment house and get most of the public’s attention. Then there are “Dragons” which are even rarer than “unicorns:” these are companies that start out as “unicorns” but go on to return all of their value to investors over long and prosperous lives.
Problems arise when start-ups get caught up in the glitz and glamour of “unicorn” culture, creating an investment bubble out of an over-heated product that resists measurable metrics. That’s when you get a “toxic unicorn:” a company striving to reach inflated numbers through shortcuts and a focus on short-term returns. There, you can find all the trappings of stereotypical Silicon Valley work-as-play, but without much substance behind it: flip-flops, waterslides, and all-you-can-eat everything.
But technology companies that position themselves with the “dragon” mindset look a lot different, and the design of their work environment plays a key role. Long-term investments in staff begin with workplaces that enhance the building of institutional knowledge. People are an organization’s biggest asset, and small investments here can produce big returns. The best workplaces make it easy to share knowledge casually and spontaneously, with social hubs designed around people magnets (break lounges, food, and that one person that everyone needs to talk to). Select acoustically separated spaces allow private conversations or phone calls, and afford companies the ability to provide flexibility as they grow. When a project ends and another begins, these spaces use modular infrastructure to accommodate smaller or larger group of staff.
All of these features allow “dragons”, and those striving to become one, the ability to tailor their workplace to the needs of now and tomorrow. They promote staff retention, and provide a compelling reason for people to come into the office at a time when just about any task can be done from anywhere.
Every question you ask should start with: What is best for my staff? Creating a company that returns value to the market place again and again starts by elevating the value of employees through design.